HomeBible TechBible Study4 Deciding Factors of Print vs. Digital Bibles

4 Deciding Factors of Print vs. Digital Bibles


Does the form of Scripture affect the way that we read Scripture? While pixels (the digital Bible) are useful, print has surprising value.

Years ago Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message.” He proposed that the message in our words is shaped powerfully by the means we use to share those words. Bumper stickers might have truth, but who takes them seriously? The medium is never neutral.

Here are four reasons I encourage print.

1. The “lay down and pick up.”

Something intangible but real happens when we lay down what we’re holding and pick up something else. A small switch flips in our minds. We shift gears. The “new thing” has our full attention, at least for a few moments.

If I’m flipping through game apps, email apps, and weather apps, and quickly click on a Bible app—all on the same device—it all starts to have a similar feel (and perhaps value). Unconsciously, clicking one app or tapping another puts everything on pretty much the same level.

2. Screens with ads cheapen the text.

If I open some of the common Bible sites and call up a biblical text, I’ll also see various advertisements—ads for books, devotionals, study materials, and even child sponsorship. The ads seem innocuous enough. However, once again, the medium is the message.

On the one hand, the biblical text comes up just fine (unaltered). On the other hand, ads compete for my attention. They pop off the page. How do I treat some words on the screen as sacred, while my eye keeps glancing at slick marketing in the upper left margins? Truth be told, we can’t … and we don’t. It’s subtle, but it’s real. And because the biblical text does not come with graphics, colors, or eye-catching fonts, it looks and feels unexpectedly plain.

3. Print demands time.

The average time that we spend on a single screen on our phones or tablets is measured in seconds, not minutes. When we surf the web, we barely stop moving. We merely glance at web-pages and quickly move on. We’re trained this way.

Our digital ADHD means that we have conditioned our brains to click, click, and click—over and over again—as we surf the web.

Books demand more time.

Of course, we may struggle to have sufficient attention-span to read a book or even a page. We have become a scanning generation. But can we really hear God speak to us through sound-bites? The church has never thought so.

4. The need for sacred space.

Finally, we might ask, “Is it valuable to have items and places dedicated purely to the purposes of God; that do not share their domain with anything else?”

If we conclude that part of a sacred text is to be (literally) set apart, then our electronic devices undermine that conviction. The Jews had a Temple, not because it was the only place for God to live, but because dedicated space mattered. It reminded them that God was not just an ordinary part of everyday life. Instead He embodies the transcendent, mysterious, and awesome.

Perhaps a sacred text deserves its own sacred space—in print.

Again, the medium blares out a message; sometimes a message that drowns out the still voice of God.

I’m not anti-electronics or resistant to the digital age, by any means. Digitalization has enormously enhanced biblical research and study. But how we hold and read God’s Word perhaps deserves reconsideration. It’s possible that our devices are holding the Word of God captive.

David Timms
David Timmshttp://www.jessup.edu/
David Timms serves at William Jessup University as Dean of the Faculty of Theology and the School of Christian Leadership. He also writes a regular blog, Because of Grace.


  1. I agree that print versions do have a different impact (at home study and so forth) over a digital copy. Yet sometimes having a digital copy available and with me has made a difference in my life since I decided to get a copy (no ads). There have been several times or moments when something happens or a question occurs that it has really helped having immediate access to the Bible for guidance. Or even just to read a verse , chapter or two while waiting for an appointment, when carrying a Bible everywhere just is not very practical.

    • Hi Matt. I completely agree with you. I too love both my print bible for longer study times at home AND my YouVersion bible app for when I’m out and about and something comes to me or I have time to read for a few minutes. I also love that the app will “read” you the bible – it’s easy to click on when driving.

  2. I tend to agree with the author of this article; the format in which a believer receives God’s word does affect the spirit nourishing power it has. To me, reading God’s word from a bible is probably a little more effective than reading it from a digital device. But, I believe neither format is a match to the power you get during the public reading of scripture.

    In the early church and even up to a few centuries ago, illiteracy was very high yet that period of time produced many of the most faithful Christians the world may ever see. Many people then received God’s word as the bible was read aloud verbatim from the pulpit, the pews, around campfires and I remember as a small child, from my grandfather’s vacuum tube AM radio. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:13 “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture”. And, how can we forget the tremendous revival Israel had during Nehemiah’s day when the word of God was read aloud to them (Nehemiah 8: 8-13). This practice has waned in many of today’s churches which may explain their current spiritual demise. Many modern evangelists spend more time thumping the bible in front of their congregations instead of reading from it.



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