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The Value of Reading Scripture in Print

Posted by M.Ferris on

Nothing will show you a generation gap like the media one uses to read the Bible. Roughly stated, the older crowd reads in print, younger Christians in electronic format. The benefits of a Bible app are many; portability, and having the Bible always at the ready, for example. Plus, the possibility of having several versions, and perhaps study tools along with that are also advantages. On the other hand, the advantages of print Bibles are considerable. Nicholas Carr’s 2010 The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains is a jeremiad against the diminished attention spans that come with online reading. His book is backed up with formidable research, but even anecdotally; ask yourself, when you read online, are you generally reading long articles or shorter snippets of things? And if you’re like most people, you are far more likely to jump around from page to page – to hyperlink. That convenience is a tremendous benefit of online reading. So, while I’m not suggesting you give up your app entirely, I am suggesting that I think what Carr observed has merit, and especially with the most important of books, print should hold sway over our reading.  Now at the risk of being labeled a Luddite, let me add that I use a Bible app with some frequency. I also have an app for the Greek New Testament, which is incredibly convenient. But, for my daily Bible reading, I use a hard copy Bible. The benefits of this, in my view, far outweigh the convenience of app reading. The value shows itself in a few ways:

Distraction-free reading. A print Bible doesn’t give you notifications, it doesn’t ding when another commentary has a message. Since apps live in the smart-phone ecosystem, there are all kinds of things working against concentration. In short, where Bible apps live is the land of distraction and multitasking, and as many have discovered, multitasking is a ruse. Concentrating on the words of Scripture is a single-threaded activity that should have all of our brain. Apps – even Bible apps -conspire against that. I have found that just plain staring at the page is a real aid to soaking in what the inspired writers have recorded. Plus, I find it annoying at times that I have to look at the words through what is really a small view port. You’re reading in the New Testament and you want to look at something in the Psalms. It takes several taps, going to the table of contents, finding the book, finding the chapter. It’s quite inefficient. It’s still far easier to just flip over the physical page, keeping a finger in the NT so you can go back to where you were. Staring at a page, poring over it, is a way to counteract and overcome the effects that Carr discusses in The Shallows. Is there anyone who can’t do with more focus on God’s word?

The following two benefits apply more specifically to writing in your Bible, but I think they are worth considering.

Organizing your thoughts. For years, I didn’t write in my Bible. My wife has always done so, and a few years back, I started using a wide margin journaling Bible, and it has been a tremendous aid in my study and reading. When you encounter an idea, a theme that recurs throughout Scripture, writing this in the margin at each occurrence is a great help in remembering and in being able to bring this to mind. Take, for example, a big-picture idea such as the Abrahamic covenant. Can’t you get that from a study Bible? You can, but someone else has done the work for you. You value the gems you mine. I’m not suggesting that you discount the scholarship behind study Bibles. I use study aids extensively. But it’s good to check your conclusions in these resources after you’ve come to them, and adjust if necessary.

Creating your own cross-references. Research has shown that when we write in longhand, it has an effect on comprehension. Briefly stated, if you are typing something, it just doesn’t stick in the same way it does when written in longhand. That’s why putting a note in your app isn’t the same as writing it on the page of a Bible. There’s nothing like doing the leg work yourself to come up with passages that are linked to one another. You simply remember more.

If you haven’t read the Bible in hard copy in a while, take and read (and write!)