The paper Bible has fallen on hard times over the last decade as smartphones have made a surge in appeal and Bible apps have become ubiquitous and (finally) usable. But there are still very good reasons why Christians should seriously consider giving the paper Bible the priority it once had. Let me explain.
1. Avoid distractions
Everybody recognizes that our mobile devices are a source of distraction. If not for us, then certainly for others. So it comes as no surprise that using a Bible app instead of a Bible exposes us to an unnecessary source of distractions.
Not only does your phone provide you with email, Facebook, Twitter and other notifications, but even Bible apps have distractions built in. The very nature of the phone beckons us to touch it and interact with it in a way that arouses curiosity and cues activity. These cues are absent in a paper Bible.
Have you ever used a Bible app that didn’t ask you to review it? On a mobile device, it’s like even the Bible is trying to distract you from reading the Bible.
On a mobile device it’s like even the Bible is trying to distract you from reading the Bible.
2. Avoid temptations
The problem with distractions is that they become temptations. The notification is the hook. Once you’re in the app that notified you, that app is trying to keep you there. In short, app developers are designing their app to make you dependent on their product or solution. Why? They want (or need) your money. Where your attention goes, your money eventually follows. You can read books on this movement to develop dependency. (actually, it’s really interesting).
Once again, it’s not just Facebook. Of course, Facebook will show you all the other interesting things going on – all of which is tuned to appeal to you visually. But even Bible app developers add to the problem by encouraging you to share the verse or passage you’re reading (with a link to their app of course). Once you share, you’re warmly invited to soak in the 160 character messages or the visually appealing world of social media again.
Before you know it, you’ve just spent 5 or 10 minutes there. The distraction became a temptation and your concentration was crushed.
3. A paper Bible requires more intentionality
I mentioned above that where our attention goes, so too does our money. The same is true of our personal development. We develop in the direction of where we put our focus. A paper Bible requires you to focus more on it.
First, you have to actually pick it up, or remember to take it with you. This forces you to remember and requires your soul to engage more fully in what a Bible is used for. Going back to our model of the three functions of the heart, a paper Bible requires that we engage our volition in deciding to pick it up or take it with us. This stimulates our desires and thoughts about the Bible.
Intentionality in reading
Not only this but during that time when you’re reading it, there are no distractions (by comparison), so you can engage a deeper level of thinking. Research indicates that we read differently on a mobile device than we do on when we pick up paper. The reason is that the devices themselves train us to flitter over text rather than read linearly, which means when we read from a Bible app, the way we read is consistent with the way we read other things on the same device. That means instead of reading for clarity; we tend to jump around the screen, skimming and flitting based on the message the medium delivers best.
Needless to say, God gave us His word in written form for a reason. Among those reasons are so that we would read it carefully, deliberately, reflectively and deeply. This is not generally how we read the Bible on our mobile devices.
4. A Bible provides sensory engagement
A paper book is something we touch. Certainly, like a mobile device, a book is a medium, but it is a single-purpose medium. It is a medium that intends to engage us in a specific way. There is a weight to a paper Bible that we can feel. When we move, it responds by folding, bending and turning. A paper Bible conveys texture which engages us in a way peculiar not only to books generally, but to that specific book.
We can also see the way the Bible looks. We notice the words as we flip through the pages. We see the layout of the pages, and we remember that layout (an advantage we’ll talk about more in the next point). Every Bible engages the hearing as we flip the pages. A Bible also engages the sense of smell, whether it’s the leather binding or the smell of the print on the pages.
Flattening the experience
All of this means that using a Bible is an experience in its own right – perhaps an underrated experience. The Lord provided us with these senses in part to engage our heart. A paper Bible can do that, while a Bible app on a mobile device flattens the sensory experience so that it is no different to using Facebook or email. In this way, Bible apps on mobile devices cheapen the Bible by depriving us of its sensory experience.
Bible apps on mobile devices cheapen the Bible by depriving us of its sensory experience.
5. You learn the Bible
Another critical issue that arises when we lose the sensory experience of a Bible is that we lose the ability to learn it. We’ve already mentioned that we read the Bible differently on a mobile device. This means that we’re less likely to remember the text that we read because our brain files what we read on a mobile device with all the other trivial information we take in on it. But this sensory loss is much deeper than just the way we read.
It’s well established in the educational world that the more senses we employ in learning, the more likely we are to retain what we learn. When we reduce the sensory perception of a paper Bible, we reduce our ability to learn. For example, it is easy (and common) to learn where to find a verse in a Bible by its location on the page. Philippians 2:6? It’s on the second page of Philippians, two-thirds of the way down the left-hand column on the left page.
There is also the ability to learn the order of the books of the Bible, which takes place over time as we flip through the pages of our Bible. On an app, we remember where buttons are, not the order the books flow in. These buttons also deprive us of seeing the length of the books. In other words, the sensory experience of a paper Bible teaches us a navigational path through the pages of the Bible. Why? Because we lean on context as we use the Bible. We locate books of the Bible in a context. We find verses in a context. This context is provided to us through our senses, and this sensory interaction facilitates discoverability.
To put it bluntly, as our touch, sight, and mind interact as we engage our Bible, we learn more about the Bible than we do with an app.
As our touch, sight, and mind interact as we engage our Bible, we learn more about the Bible than we do with an app.
6. Using a paper Bible is a message…
To your family
When my children were young, it occurred to me that I wanted them to see me reading a Bible. It also occurred to me that when I’m on a mobile device, they have no idea what I’m doing. As a parent of teens now, I’m often asking my children what they’re doing on their mobile device. This isn’t a problem with a paper Bible. When I use a paper Bible, everyone can see what I’m doing, and as the leader of my home, that is a good thing. As an example to my spouse and children, that is a good thing.
To your church
The same is true at church. Have you ever glanced across a few seats and seen someone looking at their mobile device? When people look at you on your mobile device in church, what are they thinking? Are they wondering what you’re doing? Do they assume you’re following in your Bible app? For many, they don’t care. But others are distracted by people who are distracted at church. That doesn’t happen so much with a paper Bible.
To your pastor
As a preacher, it is also a joy to see people listening, taking notes and highlighting the text you’re talking about. Of course, you can do this on a mobile device, but the pastor doesn’t have a clue what you’re doing, so it is of no value to him. Of all the people who get distracted by you on your mobile device, your pastor is the most likely to be wondering if you’re listening while he’s preaching. A paper Bible helps avoid that problem.
7. A paper Bible is more personal
“I forgot my Bible.” We’ve all heard those words a bunch of times. We might frown when we hear that, but there is built into this phrase the idea of ownership. It is my Bible. Contrast that with “my phone” on which I have installed a Bible app. The connection we have with a paper product is stronger than the connection we have with an app on a device. Perhaps this wouldn’t be such an issue if there were only one Bible app. But there are many Bible apps, and we change them regularly reducing the sense of ownership even more. Rather than reaching for a specific item for a specific purpose, we select an app to serve my usability patterns. That is the nature of the software ecosystem. We have a loose association with an app, but we can have a personal connection with our Bible.
When we own a Bible, we have tangible ownership of that leather-wrapped text block. In the same way that our money follows our attention, so too our attention follows our money. If we purchase a paper Bible, especially a nice one, we are likely to invest more of ourselves in that product.
The more we invest into a Bible, the more valuable it will become to us. This text block is no longer just “a book” it becomes “my” Bible. It is a highly personalized tool that embodies history and meaning that has accumulated through usage. It is a tangible part of my life and who I am as a person. Certainly, we can lose a Bible and survive, but the more valuable it becomes, the more of loss we would feel if we were to lose it.
8. Marking up your paper Bible adds further value to it
Part of this history and meaning is rooted in how I use my Bible. I’ve previously given 13 reasons we should write in our Bible. By writing in our Bible, we invest it with additional levels of meaning and importance. But beyond this, marking up your paper Bible is simply better than marking up your mobile device.
For starters, it is simply easier to write notes in your Bible, or at least it is more natural. We’re taught to write in books from a young age, and handwriting is (still) a necessary part of our education. With handwriting comes the additional sensory investment which helps us remember not only what we write, but where we write it and why we wrote it. Typing or tapping on a mobile device deprives us of this.
Further, once written, notes on a mobile device (or Bible app generally) are not immediately visible when we look at the text, which means we’re less likely to revisit those notes and less likely to remember the significance of why we wrote that note. We lose the significance of that lesson on a mobile device because the app hides it from us.
Since we are less connected to Bible apps and tend to change them, we also don’t always remember to transport our notes from one app to another, and we lose them. Worse, if we lose our password to the app, or in some cases change mobile devices we can also lose those notes. Granted we can lose our Bible and its notes too, and we do change Bible’s occasionally, but this is much more predictable and thus avoidable or calculated than the accidents that easily happen with technology.
9. A Bible will survive you
We are a generation that is stuck in the now. Mobile devices serve the present well because they are highly personal and portable. But what about when you’re gone? It is unlikely someone will go through your mobile device to see what was important to you there. But when your time on earth is over, and your family calls your pastor to take your funeral, he’s likely to ask to look at your Bible. Why? Because if He’s going to preach at your funeral, he would like to do so from a passage that had meaning for you. He will know this by the wear on the pages, how you’ve marked it up and what notes you’ve written. He probably won’t look for that on your mobile device, but your Bible will survive you and provide a testimony of your walk with the Lord.
If you have family who loves the Lord, they will also be interested in your Bible. They will want to know what was important to you. Even if they are not believers, there is a good chance that one day those closest to you will leaf through your Bible. Leaving a Bible that is well used, well loved and well marked up will tell them what you loved and treasured, and can lead them through the gospel.
By contrast, your mobile device is something relatively new, highly personal, more generic and even likely to be wiped and passed on for someone else’s use.
10. A Bible is always on
I don’t know if you’ve ever run out of batteries on a mobile device. Perhaps you’ve needed internet access for a Bible app at church. Or maybe you’ve been harassed by popups and advertising in your Bible app. None of those things is an issue with a paper Bible.
A paper Bible is always on, never needs to be connected to the internet and doesn’t annoy or distract you with advertising. Your Bible is a single purpose tool that focuses you on one purpose – knowing God through His revealed Word.
Your Bible is a single purpose tool that focuses you on one purpose – knowing God through His revealed Word.
There is a place for electronic Bibles though…
This article doesn’t teach you should never use mobile devices for accessing the Bible. What it does teach is that a paper Bible should be your primary means of receiving what God wants from you. You should use it for your quiet time, when you’re in a Bible study, when you’re listening to a sermon, when you’re teaching your family and when you’re ministering to others. But you should take advantage of Bible apps for two key reasons
First, Bible software is very useful for searching. Whether it is a verse you can’t quite remember or you’re looking to see how a word or phrase is used in the Bible, an electronic Bible is going to be very helpful. In this sense Biblical library apps such as Logos Bible Software provide immense value for systematically studying and growing in knowledge.
The second area the Bible on a mobile device is helpful is in the dark. That backlight is great to allow you to read when the lights are out, or even to light up your paper Bible.
You may have an old Bible that you enjoyed using. It may be that you need a new Bible. Either way, get it out, use it and let it change you.
Have you found advantages in your paper Bible? If so leave a comment and share your thoughts below.