Electronic Bibles, and the “flat reading” of Scripture

As someone who uses technology for pretty much everything I never really had a problem with reading Scripture on a smartphone or tablet.  However an interesting article from late February called “How Smartphones and Social Media are Changing Christianity” changed my opinion.

In it the author Christ Stokel-Walker explains how using an electronic Bible such as Youversion instead of a physical copy affects our approach to Scripture.  He quotes Reverend Pete Phillips who explains the difference this way.

“If you go to the Bible as a paper book, it’s quite large and complicated and you’ve got to thumb through it,” says Phillips.

“But you know that Revelations is the last book and Genesis is the first and Psalms is in between. With a digital version you don’t get any of that, you don’t get the boundaries. You don’t flick through: you just go to where you’ve asked it to go to, and you’ve no sense of what came before or after.”


This lack of context is a problem that also affects the way we interpret Scripture.

The way religious scriptures are read can influence how they are interpreted. For example, studies suggest that text read on screens is generally taken more literally than text read in books. Aesthetic features of a text, such as its broader themes and emotional content, are also more likely to be drawn out when it is read as a book.

The Greatest danger is what Reverend Phillips calls “flat reading” (“When you’re on a screen, you tend to miss out all the feeling stuff and go straight for the information”) that approaches the Bible as “Wikipedia instead a sacred text in itself.”

Reading the Bible for information as if it was a textbook instead of God’s Word obviously creates serious problems

  1. Personal preference decides which verses to share
  2. It allows us to create a more personalized view of religion
  3. And Verses can be used in a less than respectful fashion (like Memes)

The biggest problem with flat reading is interpretation comes from our own personal opinion or experiences instead of the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

As technology fills our minds with ever increasing amounts of information, we must make sure God’s Word isn’t read as a blog post, or article, but instead as the Word of Almighty God.


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