AuthorityReformedTheology & Spirituality

In Defense of the Paper Bible [Against Phone-Using Heretics]

I was once one of those shady kids you know on the block who was jazzed about building an e-book “library.” I loved the idea of having all of my books at my fingertips, complete with highlights and notes I could reference at any time. I used to fantasize about a beautifully thin backpack freed from cumbersome and unattractive paper weight, with a device containing a vast amount of free and discounted e-books I could purchase and read in a second. Plus, how cool is all the copying-and-pasting I could perform from kindle to research paper! All of these benefits I perceived to be just as great when transferred to my reading of the electronic Biblical text. (Do I sound like a nerd yet?)

I’m currently in a slow process of conversion from the darkness of my previous thoughts and actions into the marvelous light of physical paper, ink and lead, and the display of books on a shelf. I’ve found that my fantasy of an iPad filled with numerous bibles, books, and commentaries actually distracted from the goal of being enriched by God’s Word. What follows are four arguments for why I believe the Scriptures are best received, read, revered, and related to others through the medium of paper.1

First, the Scriptures are best received through the medium of paper. The Bible is a long book. It comes to us in the form of sixty-six books, two testaments, Genesis to Revelation. It is a book that beckons us to enter into a grand narrative of a God who creates a people to reflect his image, who is faithful to his people when it is not faithful to him, who enters the world in the person of Jesus in order to redeem it, and is coming again to reconcile and restore all things. When reading the scriptures electronically, especially on a phone, there is an easy temptation to read only the books and passages we find comfortable. We are drawn to reading just the New Testament, or an easy epistle, or worse yet a single chapter or verse. On the other hand, it is difficult to disregard reading the Old Testament when you realize that you are only reading the final third of the book lying on your table.

The physical, paper Bible confronts us with a text that is meant to be read covenantally. The New Testament is not to be read without the Old, for if we do, we miss the entire context for which the New Covenant makes sense. The Old Testament is not to be read without the New, for we know that Christ is the fulfillment of the hopes, expectations, prophecies, and practices of God’s people in the Old Covenant. Reading the Scriptures through the medium of the phone presents us with only one panel of the painting at a time, disincentivizing the reader from engaging and entering into the grand coherence of the Biblical portrait.2

Second, the Scriptures are best read through the medium of paper. After having used the same Bible for the past three years, I can begin to see my own interpretive development. I am able to see the physical notes and highlights that I’ve made throughout the years and can be encouraged by past insight or worshipful at how far the Lord has taken me. For example, I am now able to see the notes I’ve made in the margins relating to a particular sin, and can rejoice in the fact that that sin is now in the past.

The physical, paper Bible confronts us with a text that is meant to be read historically. The Scriptures are not merely an inspired text that tells of God’s work in the past, but is an active book that the Holy Spirit uses to draw us closer to God and to our neighbor in the present. The reading of the Bible on a phone in which the physical device and apps are continually updated does not allow for the historical interaction with the reader and the printed page. The notes in the margin, highlights of particular words and phrases, and the wornness of the page all testify to the God who works in his people over time.

Third, the Scriptures are best revered through the medium of paper. Though it is the product of writing over hundreds of years, in various contexts and with various audiences, the Bible comes to the Christian as a singular text. It draws attention to itself as a body of work in and of itself. Reading the Bible on one’s phone presents the Bible as a book among many books, an app among many apps, all within a device that can perform a million different functions in addition to reading Scripture.

The physical, paper Bible confronts us with a text that is meant to be read authoritatively. The Bible is the only inspired Word of God that holds authority and weight over our lives. It’s no accident, it seems to me, that God utilized a particular medium, paper, that allows the Scriptures to stand alone as a unified document. The phone or iPad tempts us to treat the Bible as a document among documents, allowing us to drift from Bible passage to Facebook to blog article to YouTube. Or maybe it’s just me.

Fourth and finally, the Scriptures are best related to others through the medium of paper. I have a number of memories of parents, pastors, and friends who have used the Bible to explain and teach a particular point or lesson to me. All of these memories involve the turn of the page, the jumping from one book to the next, and the using of an index finger to show the logical progression of a chapter. I believe that there is something seriously lost when one is attempting to build community through a phone or iPad. I hope this statement is not overly romanticized, but I believe there is real power and persuasion in the agility of the printed page.

The physical, paper Bible confronts us with a text that is meant to be read in community. The printed page allows for the discussion, development, and demonstration of the truth of Christ as it relates to the entirety of the Scriptures. There is this beautiful passage in Acts 8 in which Philip enters a chariot in which a man is reading a passage of Isaiah 53. Philip is able to walk the man through the words and phrases of the passage, proclaiming “the good news about Jesus” that he is the lamb that was “led to the slaughter” for us all.

In conclusion, the physical, paper Bible offers the people of God a number of advantages over the phone or tablet. The medium of paper is best suited for the receiving, reading, revering, and relating of the Biblical text. As a result, the people of God are best suited for the worship of a covenantal God, the understanding of God’s work in our histories, the authority of God’s truth and faithfulness over our lives, and the call to read and relate to God’s Word in community.

Or, if that doesn’t convince you, there’s always this classic.

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George Aldhizer

George Aldhizer

Raised in North Carolina, George works as an accountant and lives in New York with his wife and son. His writing is animated by Abraham Kuyper’s exclamation, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

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