The Bible has always been at the forefront of technology. At first blush, that might seem like a strange claim. After all, the Bible is ancient, written thousands of years ago in cultures with very primitive technology. But, if you delve a little deeper, you will discover that the Bible has always been closely aligned with communication technology advances.
About 1800 years ago, the codex was an innovative technology that allowed longer texts to be bound together in pages rather than on long and unwieldy scrolls—an innovation that was popularized by Christians for making copies of the Bible and ultimately gave birth to the modern book as we know it. Over a thousand years later, one of the first things to roll off the printing press invented by Johannes Gutenberg was the Bible. Even in modern times, the Bible is at the vanguard of new technologies. One of the first apps available, when the App Store launched in 2008, was the Bible app YouVersion.
There is a good reason why the Bible is always right there when technology is advancing: Christians care deeply about God’s Word, and we are highly motivated to take advantage of new opportunities to spread the Word. The codex allowed collections of individual book scrolls to be exchanged for a single bound book containing the entire Bible. The printing press made it possible to distribute thousands (and now millions) of copies per year at much lower costs than making copies by hand. Computers and the internet made the Bible more accessible through search functionalities and virtually free distribution worldwide.
The effects that technology has had on Bible distribution and accessibility are staggering. Still, there are also reasons to look a little more closely at some unintentional side effects of each technology. Consider the differences between applying the codex technology to the Bible 1800 years ago and using smartphone apps to the Bible 12 years ago.
When the codex appeared, it enabled Christians to collect all of the books considered Scripture together in a single volume, organized intentionally from Genesis to Revelation to tell God’s story through the entire canon of Scripture. Though it can be argued that this had some unintended effects on understanding individual books of Scripture, the positive results were far more significant. It provided a coherence for the whole of Scripture that was previously much more challenging.
When smartphone app technology was applied to the Bible, a dream of virtually free, the Bible’s global distribution became an overnight reality. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide have installed and use Bible apps on devices virtually everywhere they go. Those are staggering Bible distribution numbers.
Yet, in most Bible apps, the Bible has been atomized into individual chapters or verses that flicker on and off the screen with a flick of the finger. Habits of in-depth reading are difficult, if not impossible, when interacting with text on a smartphone screen. The unintended effects of this sort of environment for reading the Bible are difficult to quantify, but it is hard to deny that something is lost in the transition from the printed page to the digital screen. The benefits of applying this technology to the Bible are not without costs.
Recently, Tyndale House Publishers has attempted to bring the benefits of all three technologies—the codex, the printing press, and the smartphone—together in a way that combines all of their strengths to give people an experience with the Bible that hasn’t been available before.
Called the Filament Bible Collection, this concept pairs a print Bible with a smartphone app that provides access to study notes, profiles, devotionals, interactive maps, and even videos related to each page. The combination of a simplistic Bible is ideal for undistracted reading with an app that provides targeted help when needed. It also leads to greater confidence for everyday Christians to understand God and themselves better by engaging deeply with the Bible.
No matter what technology comes next, you can be sure the Bible will be part of the narrative in some way because Christians will never stop innovating when it comes to sharing God’s Word.
Keith Williams is passionate about helping people know and love God better, specifically by creating Bibles that are designed to build as many bridges toward understanding as possible for modern readers. He has been working with Bibles at Tyndale House Publishers since 2005. After twelve years working in editorial on projects including the award-winning Chronological Life Application Study Bible and Swindoll Study Bible, he has been leading the Filament Bible project since its inception in 2015.