You shouldn’t use your phone as your bible. Yes, I know, like, everyone does it. And yes, there are some very convenient things about (some might even say advantages to) simply using your phone (or tablet) as a bible. You can’t really forget it; you can get multiple translations or even study helps; you don’t need to carry something extra around with you. True, perhaps. But…
There are several important reasons why, if you haven’t already, you should locate or even go buy a real, ink-on-paper bible and begin to make that the bible you carry to church and read for your personal times in God’s word.
So here you go.
Why you should read and carry a paper bible:
- It minimizes distraction for yourself. Does this even need to be said? No matter how into what you’re reading you are, reading on a device leaves you open to the interruptions of alerts, social media, text messages, and even calls. Even if you’re on a tablet and minimize those distractions, there’s still the ever-present temptation to click links, check other apps, look up the weather…etc… You might be thinking, “Right, but I still have my phone on me.” But that’s beside the point. First, with a real Bible in your hands, you can turn your phone off or at least put it on do not disturb. Second, there’s a real mental (cognitive?) difference between having an alert pop up on your phone, which is not the bible you’re reading, and having it pop up right on the same screen as the bible you’re reading. And especially when you’re not in public–do yourself a favor and put as much distance between you and your phone when you’re reading your bible. When we’re focusing on the fact that we’re in the presence of God, maybe it’s better to not bring the whole rest of the world with us.
- It minimizes distraction for others. That is, when you’re in church, it’s clear what you’re doing if your bible’s on your lap and open. It’s not clear what you’re doing if you’re looking at your phone. And here it is important to remember what church is. It is much more than a common meeting place for isolated individuals. The church is a body, where we’re all connected, and where we are directed to consider each other ahead of ourselves. And it’s just a fact–even the mere presence of phone nearby is distracting. Fingers tapping a glowing screen pull at their neighbors’ attention in a way that an open bible does not.
- It allows the canon to be a canon. What does this mean? The canon is the technical name for the collecting and joining together of documents the church recognized as inspired. If a piece of writing is in the canon, it is recognized as the inspired word of God, or, as we say–part of the bible. If it is not in that collection, then it is not recognized. Why does this matter? Well, holding that bound book in your hands is a physical reminder that inside that cover is God’s word, and outside is not. The tablet or phone, by contrast, works by the opposite principle–it is a portal to include everything, all together, all on the same screen. In other words, the very way these devices work breaks down the idea of a separate body of received truth from God. It’s not just that they can access corrosive content, it’s that they are constructed on the idea that there is no such thing as legitimate evaluation of content–that everything is equal and no one can say what’s better or worse. On the screen of the device, everything appears together, and in the same light.
- It helps you learn the bible more quickly, and more thoroughly. Sometimes people think that to really learn the bible you’ve got to know semi-secret, little-known facts about weird verses, or tons of ancient history, super-deep theology, or things like that. But actually the best, and often neglected, way to learn the bible is…wait for it…just to learn the actual words of the bible. Know the sentences and paragraphs that are written. Know the characters and stories. Know the songs and poems. And this is key–one of the best ways to know what’s in the bible is to learn where these sentences and characters and stories are in the bible. Before you understand Daniel’s prophecy you’ve got to know where the Book of Daniel is! Before you understand what “let he without sin cast the first stone” means, you’ve got to know where to find it in the bible. The physical experience of reading a paper bible works with the way God made you to help you more quickly encode these things in your brain. Where’s the book of Esther? It’s…right about…here…in my bible. These spatial connections, along with the physical act of turning pages and touching paper, are important ways God’s given us to help our minds work better. Devices ignore this, short-circuit the process, and prevent those things from helping you.
- It helps you memorize verses better. This goes with the last point. Where does it say “I know the thoughts I think towards you”?…Well I know it’s in the lower left corner on the left page. Knowing where verses are in books, seeing what comes before and after them, and yes, even knowing where they are on the page is a main way you’re going be successful in committing scripture to memory, or at least finding a verse when you need it.
- Your mind works better reading ink on paper than looking at a screen. I know there are studies out there on this. Go find them. Students who use paper and pencil do better than students who use laptops. People who physically write remember more than people who scroll through PowerPoint slides. This extends to reading. Something about those glowing screens messes with our minds. To be honest, I think we all kind of know this deep down anyway.
- Less phone use is better, in general. These devices are not good for us. If you can exercise dominion over it, then great–use it for the powerful tool it is. But if we let our device use bleed over into areas where other things are better for a particular job, then we’re just being lazy, and we’re cheating ourselves. With the way these things try to literally infiltrate our whole lives, and with the mind-deadening effects they have, and with the amount of evil they so easily transmitted, it just makes sense that a mature Christianity would involve as little phone use as possible.
Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ever read the bible on your phone or use a bible program to look up verses or other info. I love the Blue Letter Bible app and the Olive Tree app. There are times and places for that.
But as for your Bible…go with words on paper.