Digital Versus Print Bibles?


Two questions for readers:

  1. If you’ve been relying on digital versions of the Bible for a long time, do you find yourself resorting to keyword searches for finding verses rather than committing to recalling book, chapter, and verse?
  2. Has using digital versions of the Bible made using printed versions more difficult?

I’m interested in your feedback.

18 thoughts on “Digital Versus Print Bibles?

  1. I’ve allowed myself to get too distracted these days and so here’s my pattern.

    For personal study – almost 100% digital (primarily Logos or ESV on-line)

    For group discussion – Thompson Chain Reference NIV (good old fashioned print) … but this is focused on a few passages central to the discussion

    For just getting a healthy dose of Bible – audio while at the gym on some sort of aerobic machine

    Non-Bible reading – print; i.e., I find that if I have a book in my hands it’s a theology book of some sort but it’s not the Bible itself

    Net, I find I’m normally not really reading through books of the Bible any more but I’m listening to them.

  2. I almost only use Esword for reading my Bible. This started because years ago I started doing my quiet time in the middle of the night and so do it in the dark. I do rely on searches, but I don’t think it has made reading a regular Bible more difficult. During daylight hours I still pick up my regular Bible to read. In ways I prefer paper version, but my favorite thing about esword is the ability to do word studies and see what words really mean.

  3. Stephen

    I bought a PDA in 2001 and have been using a digital Bible pretty much exclusively since then. I started out buying a digital NIV, because that’s what I was using in print, but ended up writing my own Bible software (I’m a programmer by trade). Now I have NIV, NLT, NET, The Message, KJV, Maori and Spanish versions, all in the palm of my hand. I primarily use NET for personal study, NIV while in church (that’s the version in the pews) and occasionally KJV if that’s what the preacher is using. Spanish and Maori when the context requires it. But I can switch between versions with just a tap, so the debate over Bible versions became obsolete long ago.

    The handheld digital Bible gives me the ability to place endless bookmarks and to write notes that are always with me. I have sermon outlines and notes going back ten years, that I can search and retrieve by date, tag or keyword. What was the theme at the 2005 Youth Retreat? Hold on a minute. I’ll look it up. And give you the list of speakers, what they said, and what passages they referred to. You need some insight into Joseph? Hold on a minute. I’ll just do a search. In the last ten years there’s bound to be somebody who preached on him.

    A few years ago I was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disorder. The condition waxes and wanes, making reading occasionally difficult. A print Bible is sometimes impossible to read, and the digital Bible’s ability to change font size has become an effective solution.

    In the transition from print to digital I found that to some degree I lost context. A pocketable PDA won’t fit as much on-screen as the double-page spread of an open Bible. So I read in small chunks. There’s no sense of scale. For example, in print the Psalmist might spend two column inches railing against his enemies, and then eight column inches extolling the wonders of God. It adds perspective to the idea that yes, maybe things suck, but God is bigger and better and more wonderful than these temporary trials. In the digital version, the text is the same but it’s page down, page down, page down, three or four verses at a time. That perspective is gone.

    With a print Bible I also tended to memorize verses by geographic location. That is, I could turn to the page and locate the verse because I knew it was toward the bottom inside on the left. I didn’t necessarily have to remember the actual chapter and verse numbers. Looking up verses was quick and organic, and context-rich.

    That’s no longer the case with digital. Now it’s either a bookmark or a keyword search. These have their own advantages and are better than print in their own way, but I miss the contextualizing of print.

    I don’t miss the weight. The NET Bible, with 60,000+ translators’ notes, is a wonderful study Bible. In print it’s easily a couple of pounds. In digital it (actually the PDA) weighs a quarter of a pound. And all the other versions come in at a net additional weight of zero. Digital trumps print in portability.

    I always have my PDA, so I carry the scriptures with me wherever I go, all day every day. I can read, study, and make notes during my lunch hour or while waiting at the doctor’s office. That was never the case with my print Bible. It was used strictly at home or at church.

    I started using digital ten years ago and never looked back. The downside is that having a searchable handheld Bible at all times means I don’t really have to memorize scripture. On the other hand, my memory is not what it used to be. Back in the 70s as a teenager I memorized the epistles to Timothy. I’d never be able to do that today, what with the daily responsibilities of parenting, work and church. That’s a whole topic unto itself, which you’ve touched on here before, but I’m glad to have the digital Bible to fill in the gaps.

    The benefits of digital have revolutionized my Bible reading and study experience. That said, keep in mind that I’m a gadget-loving engineer immersed in a technological industry. Your mileage may vary.

  4. Diane R

    Question #1-I don’t read digtized versions much except if I am looking for a verse or passage and don’t know where it is. Or, if I want to copy and paste a passage for my blog or an email. It may seem lazy to not get up and look in a concordance (i.e. Strongs) but why not if I am already at the computer. If I’m not, then I get the Strongs out.

    Question #2-I don’t read the Bible online or in any other digitized format. As a senior adult, I have adivice for the younger crowd–don’t depend on screens that much, whether it is the computer, mobile phone, electronic reader or IPad because the screen stuff really messes with your eyes. And, believe me, when you get older, you need those eyes.

  5. I must confess that digital has done me a great mental disservice. I learned that I am a geographic finder of info in books, including the Bible. The printed source itself becomes a landscape on which I can navigate. Digital, however, obliterates that, and with it much of my ability to find my way around a print Bible in the manner I once did so effortlessly.

    Beyond chapters and verses, digital also seems to wipe out the nature of each book. It leaves a stream of unending text, with no points of reference amid that stream as it whizzes by.

    As much as I constantly use my digital sources, they have made me less adept (read: lazy) at actually pulling the references from my head and charting them on a printed page. All the words are still locked in my head, but where they reside on the page has become more puzzling.

    I will also add that this is not all digital’s fault. I used a Harper Study Bible RSV for years before graduating to a Thompson Chain Reference NIV, which has been my prime study Bible. But I then started reading everything from the Phillips to an NRSV Greek Interlinear and NLT Chronological. I have at least a dozen translations at home, and I pull them all out and use them. Plus, I use eSword (digital) like crazy.

    But I fear all the variety in formats and translations has left me less adept at knowing where everything is on a page and what the “right” wording is. In many ways, I wish I’d just stuck to using one Bible (printed) in one translation.

  6. I still prefer to learn a verse by book, chapter and verse, but will resort to a keyword search when something is fuzzy. I do like having the capability to search for anything at any whim either on BibleGateway or Olivetree Bible Reader on my iPhone.

    My preference is still to use a printed version for pretty much everything. I try to read large passages either online or on the iPhone, but it doesn’t have the same “feel” to me. While I may use an electronic version for study and version comparison, I would much rather have the book in my hand. I can highlight and take notes right along with the text. Yes, this can be done electronically, but again, it doesn’t have the same “feel”.

    When I read something over and over in my regular bible, I can begin to “see” where it is, in my mind, when I need to recall it. I can’t do that with bits on a screen.

    I also look at learning to use your regular Bible and your electronic one similar to using a calculator. At least back in the day, you needed to learn how to do the math manually before you were allowed to use the calculator. That way, you could do math without a calculator. I feel similarly about learning to use a printed Bible.

  7. Stephen

    I’ve had twenty years with a print Bible followed by ten years with a digital Bible. The features of my digital Bible have led me to do more Bible study, more reading (both focused and browsing), more witnessing, and more teaching than when I used a print Bible.

    Going with the calculator analogy, the point (now that I’m not at school) is to get the answer quickly and unobtrusively, with as little disturbance to my train of thought as possible. In other words, the result is more important than my ability to arrive at that result by mental effort alone. Math purists will disagree. But I’m an engineer, and practical results are of more consequence in my daily activities.

    Relating that to print vs. digital Bibles, the change to digital has had a substantial, measurable, positive spiritual influence in my handling of scripture. Again, the purists may disagree. But I like the results.

  8. I have never been one to have a good memory of anything (I made a D in High School English trying to memorize those hundreds of Shakesphere lines and soliloquies that I’ve never used since). Usually I know a little portion of the Scripture but can not remember all of the Scripture and also where in the Bible it is located.

    Therefore, I do constantly find myself using Google to find the book, chapter, and verse because I have usually found both the concordances in printed bibles or “searches” at Bible Gateway are pretty much “useless” in finding what I need (especially when I learned it in KJV and now I am using either NKJV or ESV) and Google usually delivers on the first page of their search results a webpage that is referencing that verse I need. Google is my concordance / search engine.

    When I do confirm that the search is exactly what I was looking for, then I do two different things. (1): If it is something I am referencing in a blog article or will use in future reference in a blog, I now have an exact book / chapter / verse that makes using Bible gateway’s search easier and more effective to find what I am looking for and then retrieve it and copy and paste into the blog article or if I need to ponder a thought, place it into a notepad file I keep on the thoughts. (2): If it is for personal study, then I now have the exact book / chapter / verse and then I go to my print Bible and bookmark it with a bookmark and read the verse.

  9. Electronic for the Blog

    Hard format for most other applications.

    Noticed though I often use Scripture to support my arguments rather than be my argument – know what I am saying? Even when I’m reading a book I study the premise but power read the Scriptures.

  10. Sulan

    I am print only. My KJV and my Strong’s Concordance have served me well, for over 25 years now. Of course, I am a person who loves the hunt — you never know what new thing you might discover while looking for something else.

  11. Jim

    These are two great questions!

    I keep a NJKV spirit filled study bible on my night stand and for reading time at home. I have a Thinline NJKV I have read through often and highlights and notated in I use for preaching with. I have an IPAQ with e-Sword packed with bibles, commentaries, dictionaries, and concordances. I carry this day to day to work and use it read, reread, mine scripture during conversations, and reflection and meditation. And my PC is packed with Ilumina, Quickverse, and PC Study Bible.

    These are in order of preference. I will never stop reading the scroll (book) as my primary source of communion with the Lord. I find this the most ejoyable and the way I retain the word in my heart, mind, and spirit. The Holy Spirit will use what I have digested in a book, text, passage, and verse to memory the best. And I always like to go back to the paper Bible to find the place He is leading me to.

  12. Sonya

    I retain more with my written bible and my study guides and aids. I don’t have any hand held device yet. I am not sure I would use it that much ,screen to small.

    However I have to say my TV watching has dramatically dropped because of comp useage with christian blogging,and other ministries and resources online. I don’t listen to as much christian radio anymore either. I’m quite happy reading with my laptop and I do it alot more than I read the written word.I feel I am much better informed though than I use to be about theology and doctrine in general.

  13. Actually,

    i would say using my digital esv bible on my ipod touch has helped me a lot. I have written many notes in that thing inside my Bible. I’ve highlighted many verses too in my digital version. This led me to want to memorize the verses I’ve highlighted and led me to typing out many of those verses and putting them in my car (so i can memorize stuck in traffic or while i’m waiting to pick someone up).

    Also since my ipod touch has music, i play my reading playlist while using it to read my Bible. It has also helped in that someitmes my roommate in college sleeps earlier than I do so I lay in bed reading and reading without having to be a distraction.

    I think overall though I still love having the actual book – the feeling and the sound of the pages turning never gets old. The actual discipline of writing with my hands in my bible – it is an incredible feeling.

    I started reading my digital version saying in the digital esv version I’ll read from John and onward and in my book bible nkjv i’ll read as I have been reading. But soon that became wanting to use my ESV digital version.

    I have yet to use the search button on my digital copy – using it has surprisingly helped me to knkow more of where certain scriptures are

  14. Jeff

    I use a digital bible only when studying, some bible apps go much more in depth with surroundings and media than a print, or for quick reference, youversion on my phone, but when I’m reading or in the pulpit only my print. And my print is out in my study too. It just doesn’t feel right not using a print bible to me.

  15. Matt Huisjen

    I know people that have grown dependent on their GPS. They’ve been to our house before, but they can’t find it without their device. They don’t recognize the location in relation to their favorite restaurant, the river, the train tracks, or the next town, because their dependence on their GPS has blinded them to the context. It can be the same with a digital Bible, because it doesn’t clearly display the relationship of one part of Scripture with another; it makes it harder to see how the landscape of God’s Word all fits together–the very broad context. We just need to be aware of some of the possible drawbacks – “smart phones can make us dumb!” But it was probably the same dilemma before the printing press: when oral tradition ruled, I couldn’t just give a Bible to someone; instead, it would require a relationship and lots of time together to impart God’s truth. Did we lose that because of Guttenberg?

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