The Superiority of Hardcopy Bibles for the study of God’s Word

Dear BPCWA worshipper, Last week, we saw some pros and cons of using electronic Bibles.  I’m sure that the techies could easily add much more to that list of pros.  Yes, we love that technology, and who can live without that technology in today’s world?   But carry a Bible to church?  That’s just for the older folks, I’ve got my tech gadget that I can use.  Is this what church will become in the next generation?   Why should I use a hard copy paper Bible in church and during my quiet time and personal devotions?  Is it just about the pros of using an electronic Bible outweighing the cons?  Read through last week’s pastoral and refresh yourself on the disadvantages of electronic Bibles.  Besides the disadvantages of using electronic Bibles as stated last week, I want to begin by looking at why, based on the current technological environment, hardcopy paper Bibles are to be preferred for use in church, and even for your own quiet time.  So please read on.

The advantages of a paper Bible.  1) Encourages proper comprehension for public and private study of the Word of God.  It is not surprising that research has shown that while school students have a preference for technology and are familiar with it, yet they would actually opt for hardcopy textbooks.  The Sydney Morning Herald on National Education, Mar 31, 2019 reported that “research into why young people prefer hard-copy textbooks ‘points to greater perceived comfort, comprehension, and also retention of what’s been read,’ . . .  ‘Some have found that there’s less immersive involvement [in digital text].’” Earlier research in 2017 “found there was little difference in the two formats when students were asked about the general themes of a text, but the printed version made them better able to answer specific questions”.  Also, on April 17, 2019, abc10 wrote on “Out with the new, in with the old: Australia schools paper textbooks over tablets”.  It quoted a research that “Although tablets help with math and science skills, print textbooks are better for comprehension and deep thinking. A study conducted in 2018 found that a student’s overall comprehension and response to specific questions were significantly better when they read printed texts”.  “Deep thinking” is what is needed in the study of God’s Word.  In the 8 April 2018 article of Science Alert on three studies that supported “Evidence Shows Students Still Learn More Effectively From Print Textbooks Than Screens”, students responded that while they and although they overwhelmingly preferred to read digitally, yet they admitted that while “the medium didn’t matter for general questions (like understanding the main idea of the text).  But when it came to specific questions, comprehension was significantly better when participants read printed texts”.  Should not the Christian be more honest and acknowledge what even unbelievers recognize?

The comprehension of God’s Word both in public and in your private devotion is critical for your spiritual growth.  Handphones are, by virtue of design, small and compact.  Hence, this means that everything is also condensed in size.  Certainly, one can set font size settings on your handphone.  But even so, it usually means that you only read a few verses at one time.  To read the context of the passage, one has to scroll forward or backward.  If it is a large portion that you want to read, you will have to scroll several times.  This is not the best means of meditating upon the Bible.  As I often say, the context is always very important in understanding a passage.  Why did Christ say what He did?  To whom was He speaking to and who was present?  Where did this occur?  To get all these answers, one would have to scroll numerous times back and forth, by which time we may well have forgotten what was the earlier screen about.  Paper Bibles have the advantage of the reader being able to grasp the larger context by a quick glance before and after the passage.  At a glance and without having to read through every verse, paper Bibles also enable one to flip through several chapters to get a feel of the key lesson that is being taught there.  Is this so important that we should forgo certain conveniences of using electronic Bibles in church and during our devotions?  Without a doubt.  Once you ignore the context (ie, it is not convenient on a handheld device to get a grasp of the context and so you don’t bother), you are unconsciously programming yourself to interpret the Bible just based upon that verse – which can be misinterpreted out of context.  If you are used to doing this in church, you will feel comfortable under any kind of preaching in any church, as long as the preacher pulls a verse from the Bible, even if he spins his own tale out of it that is out of the context of the passage.  If this is what you get used to month after month, in the long term you will begin to wonder “what’s the big deal about context?”.  2) Encourages memorisation and retention.  Do you remember doing your devotion from a hardcopy Bible?  And you somewhat remembered reading a passage from the left column of the Bible the day before?  As you flip through the Bible for different verses, you get familiar with where each book is positioned in the whole Bible.  Typically, hardcopy books are better at encouraging study and memorisation.  After all, children are already taught to use computers from a very young age in the school system.  It is not because children are not adept at technology.  They use textbooks because even the education system recognises that books allow for better understanding and retention.  Even if your children type their study notes into the computer, when it comes to studying for their critical exams, do they do so only by staring into the computer or printing it out?  3) Visible reminder of the canon.  God has preserved for us 66 books in His breath-inspired Scriptures.  A paper Bible divides these into the Old and New Testaments with a clear segmentation.  Besides that, as you flip the Bible, you get a sense that Genesis is the start of God’s revelation, as it’s at the beginning of the book.  Reaching Revelation at the end of the book, you get the sense of the chronological finality as God’s perfectly preserved revelation reaches the last chapter.  As we flip through the pages of each book of the Bible during our devotions, we have a sense of which are the longer books and which are the shorter books.  We sometimes say we learn best from the visual, and we love the visual.  Nothing is as visual of the history of God’s revelation as the sense of God’s Hand in the history of mankind being accomplished as we flip through the books of the Bible and get a sense of the passing of time with each book that we flip over.  4) Clear delineation of Bible Versions.  When you carry a hard copy Bible, it is easy to identify which Bible version you are using as it is easily recognizable from the cover.  On the other hand, it is difficult to supervise the Bible version your child is using for their church or Quiet Time devotion, if they read it off a tablet or their handphone.  5) It doesn’t timeout.   Most of our devices have settings that timeout after a certain amount of time.  We often set these durations to maximise our battery life.  However, this may mean that as we do our devotions and are pondering or thinking upon something, the display timeouts on us and it turns off.  Yes, you may initially think this is trivial.  And yes, the timeouts can be adjusted, but seriously, do we juggle with those settings each time we use it to read the Bible?  On the other hand, with hard copy Bibles, we don’t have to be concerned about having to keep “looking” at the screen or swiping at it just so that it stays active and doesn’t timeout.  Our devotions and time studying God’s Word ought to be a period where we spend significant periods of time quietly pondering what God says in His word.  We don’t want to have to remind ourselves to keep swiping the screen to keep it active. 6) Personalised.  Yes, the electronic Bibles do have note pages and allow for highlights and underlines.  But these cannot replace the notes that one makes on their Bible.  The parts where you double underlined a particular verse and hand wrote something close to your heart next to it.  The thumb leafed pages that testify that it has been your daily companion through many years.  That special memory of blessed times spent in communion with your Heavenly Father.  I may have several Bibles that I’ve used through the years, but all of them bear a special memory of a part of my Christian life – the Bible I used through my FEBC days, the Bible I use when I preach, the Bible I use for my studies at home, the list goes on.  As our children grow, we fondly remember their first Bibles.  And how when they learned to read properly, they finally “graduated” to their first “adult Bible”.  This is something that an electronic app cannot replace.  It is a memento of the Bible marking our stages of growth through life.  7) Some things have no replacement.  The Bible is a part of Christian history and maintains a Christian identity.  During the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic church burned Bibles.  The printing press which allowed every Christian to have their own Bibles paved the way for the Reformation.  After my conversion, one of the first things I learned is that Christians bring their Bibles to church, which I gladly and rejoicingly did as part of my identity as a Christian while going to church as well as being seen with it in school.  When I took the bus to church, it would be with my Bible in my hand, my testimony to the world that I was a child of God who was going to worship my God on Sunday.  An elderly couple in BPCWA said they never forgot their children, one by one after their conversion, carrying a Bible in their hands on Sundays to go to church.  It made them wonder what was in their hands that made them so devoted.  You get a sense of what a person believes in when they carry a Bible in their hand on Sundays and find them holding and reading it on weekdays. In time, the parents too were converted.  Often, to depict God’s word pictorially, we use a Bible.  In photos of weddings, rings are depicted on top of a Bible.  You probably don’t expect a pastor to preach on the pulpit with only a tablet, without his Bible.    Our hymns sing of how “Its pages burn with the truth eternal, And they glow with a light sublime.”  A Bible distinguishes Christianity from other religions in a way that nothing else does as clearly.   

My brethren, I hope that the past 2 pastorals have served to present what are the advantages and disadvantages of using electronic Bibles, and most importantly the clear advantages of using paper Bibles for concentration and most crucially, for comprehension.  At times, electronic Bibles do serve their good purposes as reference tools and for quick checks on some things.   But when it comes to worship, church Bible studies, and times for undivided quiet time devotion, I would strongly encourage all BPCWA worshippers to use paper Bibles.  Unless under exceptional circumstances, we would however require all who preach, teach both adults and children, facilitate at Bible studies, and interpret to use hard copy Bibles for services and Bible studies in church, and at Nursing Homes.  Anyone who is assigned to handle the Word of God in church even on weeks when they are not facilitating but are part of the congregation should show the example by using paper Bibles. Electronic Bibles are useful and good under certain circumstances, but paper Bibles are best suited for the study and meditation of God’s Word. 

Yes, electronic Bibles may seem to be working for you, but even as the world recognizes the superiority of hardcopy texts for in-depth specific comprehension and understanding, let us choose that which is excellent for studies to rightly divide the Word of Truth!

 “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed,
rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15

Yours in our Lord’s service,