When the Best Bible-Reading Tool Made Bible-Reading Worse
The unintended consequences of concordances offers a warning to Christians today.
I open my Bible to 1 Peter 2:8: “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” By “open,” I mean I get out my phone, tap on the Bible icon, and type the verse in a search bar.
With another tap I can underline the sentence if I want. Highlight it. Snip and save it into another file to reflect on, sans context, at some later date. In my Bible app, there’s also a little gray box that looks like a speech bubble from a comic strip, and if I tap on that, it opens up to show me a reference: Isaiah 8:14. It’s not hyperlinked to that verse, so instead of jumping to the prophet, I’m encouraged by the tech in my hand to close the box and keep reading 1 Peter: “They stumble because they disobey the message.”
As we enter into a third decade of what literary critic Sven Birkerts has called “reading in an electronic age” and biblical literacy reaches new lows, what impact does this tool have on Bible reading? How does it shape our interpretations?
There is a long debate about the correct understanding of sola scriptura. But no heir of the Reformation has ever taken it to mean we should read Scripture without any outside help. Protestants, in fact, have historically embraced innovations that might increase engagement and comprehension, from common-language translations to study Bibles, commentaries, illustrated editions, and abridgments, not to mention smartphone apps.
You don’t have to harbor deep suspicions of progress, though, to wonder if the tools we use to read the Bible might, in some way, reshape how we read. And if so, do they reshape it for the better, or the worse?
My own research on the history of dispensationalism suggests that our …
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December 7, 2022 at 03:01PM