Bible Apps Are the New Printing Press
In the summer time of 1979, just some years after Jimmy Carter introduced the time period “born once more” into the mainstream American lexicon and Steve Jobs made the house laptop part of on a regular basis life, two engineers at Intel hatched a plan to create a brand new sort of know-how firm.
Kent Ochel and Bert Brown’s new endeavor would mix their spiritual religion and their lifelong want to construct their very own firm, enabling them to do one thing unprecedented—they might convey the Bible into the digital age and put it on each private laptop on the earth. Early the subsequent 12 months in Austin, Texas, on the crossroads of the American Bible Belt and the burgeoning laptop business, they created Bible Analysis Techniques and set to work merging their technical know-how with their love of Scripture.
In January 1982, they launched the primary model of The Phrase Processor for the Apple IIe, making it the first commercial Bible study software program available on the market. Softalk journal hailed it for together with an entire and searchable textual content of the King James Bible, promising it might “assist the intense Bible pupil” and evaluating Ochel and Brown’s accomplishments to Gutenberg’s printing press.
As the private laptop business and Bible software program market grew alongside each other within the Eighties, students and non secular folks alike started to surprise if computer systems would possibly essentially change faith and, extra particularly, how the shift from printed books to digital media would remodel the practices of Christians, who for hundreds of years had been referred to as “the folks of the guide.” What would occur to Christians as they turned “the folks of the display screen”?
Before the appearance of Bible software program, Christianity had undergone two earlier shifts in using media. The primary was the shift from the scroll to the codex within the first century, which some students argue turned an id marker for early Christians that distinguished them from Jews and pagans.
Though the codex was not initially thought-about worthy of one thing as weighty as Holy Scripture, early Christians seem to have discovered the codex simpler to make use of: sooner for locating passages, able to holding extra info, and higher suited to journey. On prime of the know-how of the codex, Christians added numerous improvements corresponding to visible thrives, parallel columns, notes, and different research instruments, together with divisions which might be just like our fashionable chapters. However the expense and time it took to provide a full copy of the Bible meant that common Christians couldn’t afford their very own Bibles and solely clergy had the privilege of studying from them.
The second main know-how change got here within the shift from the handwritten codex to the printing press within the fifteenth century. Historian Elizabeth Eisenstein argued that the printing press was instrumental in spurring lots of the large-scale cultural modifications in Europe, together with the scientific revolution and the Protestant Reformation. Certainly, Martin Luther, who wrote his 95 Theses (1517) greater than 75 years after the development of Gutenberg’s first printing press (1440), himself declared the know-how to be “God’s highest and extremest act of grace, whereby the enterprise of the Gospel is pushed ahead.”
What would occur to Christians as they turned “the folks of the display screen”?
As with the codex, printers took benefit of recent know-how so as to add new options to the Bible that might go on to form how the Bible could be learn. Maybe essentially the most highly effective was the creation and standardization of the chapter-and-verse numbering system.
Right now, these numbers are so widespread that the common reader would possibly assume they have been a part of the unique biblical writings, however the fashionable versification scheme we use in the present day was created by French scholar and printer Robert Estienne for his 1551 version of the Greek New Testomony. The printing press additionally drastically decreased the price of Bibles, enabling the creation of extra translations, research options, and different improvements.
The digital or digital revolution represents a 3rd shift that’s simply getting underway. Faith professor Bryan Bibb writes that “the present shift from codex to display screen can be each bit as decisive because the historic shift from scroll to codex within the Greco-Roman world, or the shift from hand-lettered to printed manuscripts within the Late Center Ages.”
Picture: Illustration by Michał Bednarski
The digital revolution is simply too new to really assess whether or not it is going to create a brand new Reformation, however we’re far sufficient into the digital Bible’s creation and use to start analyzing the actors behind the business. Technological change is usually framed when it comes to the know-how itself, with authors asking questions like “Is Google Making Us Silly?”
However as an alternative of attributing personhood and company to know-how itself, we are able to assess know-how extra clearly by pulling again the veil and investigating the individuals who create Bible software program—programmers, entrepreneurs, and Christian enterprise leaders—and their position in reshaping how fashionable readers encounter Scripture. Who’re the Gutenbergs of in the present day, we would ask, who’re bringing the Bible to us on display screen, and what are their motivations and beliefs?
What we’ll discover is that of all Christian traditions, evangelicals stand aside for his or her involvement in each the manufacturing and consumption of digital Bibles. In reality, after the preliminary wave of Bible programming experiments within the Nineteen Fifties and Nineteen Sixties, practically all the foremost firms and ministries concerned within the creation of digital Bibles—starting with tutorial software program within the Nineteen Seventies and persevering with via the private computing period of the Eighties, the launch of the web within the Nineties, and the cell period of this century—have roots in evangelicalism.
As well as, the church buildings and people most definitely to include digital Bibles of their religion are evangelicals. Muslims, Hindus, and different spiritual teams create purposes for his or her followers, and nonevangelical Christians have created Bible software program, however essentially the most commercially profitable desktop purposes, essentially the most extremely trafficked web sites, and the highest-ranked cell Bible apps have been all created by evangelical people, firms, or ministry organizations.
These technological entrepreneurs delivered to the digital Bible enterprise a distinctly evangelical outlook on the Bible as an object and as a non secular textual content, and their beliefs about how tradition, media, and faith work together have been mutually formed by the transfer into digital media.
Within the first full-length guide on digital Bibles, Liquid Scripture, theologian Jeffrey Siker notes that YouVersion, particularly, “is clearly evangelical in scope, and proudly so,” and he goes on to argue that the app itself promotes evangelical methods of desirous about Scripture, its function, and the methods one ought to learn it.
Equally, Tim Hutchings has argued that evangelical builders who create Bible software program have successfully, though unintentionally, employed social scientist B. J. Fogg’s idea of “persuasive computing” to privilege evangelical readings of the Bible of their purposes. YouVersion, he argues, prioritizes each day studying and research patterns that result in evangelical conclusions in regards to the textual content.
Whereas Ochel and Brown could have considered their plans to mix religion and ministry with enterprise and media as novel, actually this impulse has deep roots within the historical past of the evangelical motion. As historian Timothy Gloege has shown in his evaluation of the origins of Moody Bible Institute within the late nineteenth century, evangelicalism could be understood not solely as a set of doctrinal beliefs or non secular attitudes, however as a versatile outlook able to adapting to financial and technological shifts and which sees a parallel between profitable enterprise outcomes and non secular improvement.
As Bruce Shelley wrote within the Nineteen Sixties, “Evangelical Christianity is just not a non secular group. It’s not primarily a theological system. It’s extra of a temper, a perspective, and an expertise.” At occasions, this temper takes the type of a conservative outlook that fears know-how and its doubtlessly adverse ethical affect, however different strands of evangelicalism readily make use of know-how in service of their larger mission, exemplified by Billy Graham, who embraced and mastered radio and tv.
Extra just lately, YouVersion has been so profitable in understanding the facility of contemporary know-how that it was featured as a case research in behavioral engineer Nir Eyal’s book Hooked: Learn how to Construct Behavior-Forming Merchandise. This flexibility and pragmatism relating to doctrine, practices, media, enterprise, and politics are the very issues that made evangelicals uniquely suited to be pioneers of the digital Bible business and the first early customers of Bible software program.
The evangelicals I’ve interviewed for my analysis, each builders and finish customers, emphasize the significance of the Bible of their worship and private spirituality. In addition they prolong this with an expectation that common Bible engagement will result in non secular change and pair it with a flexibility and openness about how they accomplish this aim. For the builders, this may be noticed in the way in which they transfer fluidly between discussing enterprise and technological success alongside non secular and missionary success. They don’t equate the 2, however they’re snug with their being interrelated and intermingled on a parallel trajectory.
Of all Christian traditions, evangelicals stand aside for his or her involvement in each the manufacturing and consumption of digital Bibles.
Whereas many Bible software program firms have totally different enterprise fashions and technological emphases, their outlooks on media, ministry, and enterprise are likely to share a set of widespread traits.
First, they’ve a hopeful outlook, exhibiting a internet constructive view of know-how’s potential for Christian ministry and private progress. Though they’re conscious of the doubtless adverse facets of contemporary know-how corresponding to distracting notifications and skim studying, they have a tendency to consider it’s higher to be part of know-how improvement than to retreat from such a major side of contemporary life.
Second, they’re extremely engaged entrepreneurs and savvy enterprise leaders able to constructing profitable technological and artistic programs. Most of the profitable Bible software program firms have been began by folks with expertise within the know-how sector, and the evangelical penchant for integrating not solely know-how but in addition cultural tendencies and enterprise strategies served their firms effectively.
Third, they’re pragmatic in strategy, making selections based mostly extra on what “works”—in each ethical and enterprise senses—than on any systematic beliefs or route from an authority. The corporate leaders seamlessly transfer between markers of non secular and monetary success, and they’re prepared to attempt virtually something so long as they will discover information demonstrating its effectiveness. They take severely the decision to make disciples of all nations, and they’re excited in regards to the potential of know-how for serving to the church accomplish its mission.
Collectively, these three traits could be mixed into an angle that I name “hopeful entrepreneurial pragmatism,” a abstract of the strategy evangelical software program firms take towards the digital Bible. It’s a helpful framework for understanding why evangelical Bible app builders have been so profitable and why evangelical readers are so open to embracing these apps.
Evangelical readers, too, convey with them the significance of usually participating in devotional and Bible research actions and the assumption that they’re to learn the Bible for its capability to “transform lives.” The Bible is not only a non secular textual content for evangelicals, however a deep supply of non secular life and reference to God. The digital Bible provides them quite a lot of new technique of undertaking these objectives and deepening this connection. From personalised studying plans to Bluetooth-enabled audio variations, they’re open to all of the choices introduced to them if it helps them develop into extra like Christ.
They acknowledge that a few of these are higher for undertaking explicit sorts of Bible engagement (e.g., print for devotional studying, digital media for searches), and but the churchgoers I studied admitted that their heuristic for selecting a Bible was typically quite simple. They selected what I wish to name the NAB, or the Nearest Obtainable Bible, which, because of the excessive proportion of smartphone possession, is usually a phone-based Bible app.
This adaptable strategy to each know-how and the Bible then reinforces evangelical concepts in regards to the nature of Scripture and the aim of religion. And but, potential issues with screen-based media, corresponding to elevated distraction and decreased comprehension charges, at occasions undercut the perceived features provided by digital Bible know-how.
Whereas fundamental factual comprehension is essential in Bible studying, the non secular expertise one has whereas encountering the textual content could also be much more central to 1’s religion. The information I discovered and summarized in Individuals of the Display screen recommend that Bible readers are likely to see a kinder, gentler God once they examine him on a display screen, and but they report feeling extra discouraged and confused by the encounter. Conversely, print readers have a tendency to emphasise extra of God’s holiness and judgment however report feeling extra fulfilled and inspired by the encounter.
Additionally it is essential to acknowledge that these modifications within the habits and hermeneutics of in the present day’s readers aren’t totally akin to the earlier media shift to print. The place the print Bible totally changed the handwritten codex, in the present day’s Bible readers typically use screen-based Bibles alongside a print Bible, and so they add audio Bibles to the combination, making a multimedia expertise. This implies a wealthy new surroundings for exploring the connection between tradition, Scripture, and know-how.
Bible software program improvement has taken place in 4 waves. Within the first wave, the preconsumer tutorial period (Nineteen Fifties–Nineteen Seventies), the one folks utilizing computer systems to work together with the Bible have been students doing linguistic evaluation. This shifted within the second wave, the desktop period (Eighties), when the primary client purposes have been launched. These purposes, corresponding to ThePerfectWord, Logos Bible Software program, Accordance, and PC Examine Bible, have been designed primarily for research and exegesis and utilized by pastors, seminarians, and students.
Within the web period (1995 onward), web sites like Bible Gateway and new translations just like the NET Bible started showing on-line, and their presence expanded digital Bible utilization past the workplaces of pastors and linguists into the houses of normal Bible readers.
Lastly, within the cell period (2007 onward), marked by the discharge of the iPhone and YouVersion’s Bible app, discussions in regards to the digital Bible entered the mainstream as bloggers debated whether or not preaching with an iPad “sends a completely totally different message to the congregation” than utilizing a printed Bible or just represents a pure transition within the digital age.
Within the decade since its first launch, YouVersion went from a small web-based experiment in user-generated content material to being a staple in Apple’s listing of the highest 50 free iOS apps, making it the most popular Bible app and a hard and fast a part of the spiritual technological panorama.
However this panorama additionally extends past smartphone apps to incorporate desktop Bible research software program, Bible web sites and instruments, and social media the place customers share Scripture with each other. The tendencies point out that within the 40 years since 1982, when Ochel and Brown launched the primary business Bible software program, digital Bible utilization has gone from zero p.c of all Individuals to over 35 p.c.
The American Bible Society’s annual State of the Bible analysis includes a number of tendencies that point out that the variety of Christians who use digital media to entry the Bible has been steadily growing over time, and they’re doing so utilizing many various types of media. In 2021, 59 p.c of respondents mentioned they most popular print general, however within the eight years between 2011 and 2019, the quantity of American Bible readers who used a smartphone to entry the Bible grew from lower than a fifth (18%) to greater than half (56%).
After asking about totally different types of media, surveyors ask in regards to the consumer’s general desire: “All issues thought-about, in what format do you favor to make use of the Bible—print, digital, or audio?” The information present that through the interval of elevated digital media usages, the share of members who reported a desire for studying the Bible in print has persistently hovered round 75 p.c.
As one would possibly anticipate, this varies by era, with Gen Z being the primary age group to fee print at below 50 p.c. The truth that three-quarters of Bible readers use digital media at the very least a number of the time, however two-thirds nonetheless favor print, signifies that there’s room to discover the interaction between media and the settings by which one is most popular over the opposite.
Print and digital must be understood much less as a strict dichotomy and extra as a broad spectrum of Bible engagement experiences.
Within the early 2010s, some State of the Bible survey respondents attributed their latest enhance in Bible studying frequency to downloading a Bible app, suggesting that the novelty of Bible apps could have performed a major position of their habits. That is an indicator that evangelical Bible software program builders have, simply by creating apps, influenced the way in which Individuals have interaction with the Bible.
Just as builders want to concentrate on the facility they and their instruments have over our studying habits and hermeneutics horizons, readers want to concentrate on the methods by which medium and message are inseparable. The brand new patterns of Bible engagement out there to us—studying Scripture on a display screen, sharing Scripture on social media, looking in a language we don’t communicate, listening to Scripture within the automotive—aren’t any extra impartial than the appearance of the printed Bible a number of centuries in the past.
On this digital period, I might encourage you to combine outdated and new, memorize not simply search, meditate not simply share, hear not simply learn, don’t simply hear. As you utilize totally different types of media to come across Scripture, mirror on them with others in your religion group and work collectively to make selections out of conviction reasonably than comfort alone.
One of many first questions I requested the members in my research was how they felt their engagement with the Bible had modified since they first began utilizing Bible apps. Lots of them shared tales of their pleasure and frustration with digital Bibles, however a number of stunned me once they mentioned they usually used digital Bibles but it surely had not introduced any change. This initially puzzled me, till I learn one responder’s clarification: “I turned a Christian after the appearance of the smartphone.”
These phrases remind us that, as a brand new era encounters the Bible for the primary time, they won’t expertise it completely orally as within the days earlier than the printing press, or primarily in print as was the case for the previous a number of centuries. As a substitute, for them, “the Bible” will all the time be a multimedia class, and they’ll have extra advanced selections to make about which mixture of Bible media they need to use.
If the evangelicals on this research are any indication, the subsequent era will proceed to search out methods to faithfully navigate no matter comes, embracing new know-how whereas holding on to what they consider is important. Because the prophet Isaiah would possibly say, know-how will advance and media will change, however the Scriptures will stay endlessly.
John Dyer is vp for enrollment and academic know-how and assistant professor of theological research at Dallas Theological Seminary. Textual content from Individuals of the Display screen: How Evangelicals Created the Digital Bible and How It Shapes Their Studying of Scripture by John Dyer. Copyright © 2023 by John Dyer and printed by Oxford College Press. All rights reserved.
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