The Bible is a book… or is it?
In his recent post, Chain-Link Fence, David Cloake describes a tender, powerful scene with a dying man. The question came up about David’s iPad, a marvel in which the gentlemen expressed some curiosity. Here David’s explanation of what the device is to him:
“…it is my Bible, my diary, my newspaper, my contact with the world, my email, my novel of choice, my game for the moments of relief – and it is also a million conversations with a million Christians I may never have otherwise met.”
David’s answer is part of his bigger message in the post of connectedness (check it out if you missed it!), but it raised a question for me that I have been wrestling over. Is the Bible’s content affected in some way by its format? Does the medium have any connection with the message?
Christians have regarded the Bible as a “book” for centuries. Indeed, it is “the Good Book,” as I heard it affectionately called throughout my childhood. We often equate “book” (generally speaking, a lengthy piece of writing) with its media format of “codex” (written pages or leaves bound on one side). But what we now know as the Bible in its standard codex form existed first in a rather disparate units: a letter on parchment, the individual scroll of Isaiah, the scroll on which the “Minor Prophets” were written (hence, the “Book of the Twelve”), as a Gospel, or as a collection or Gospels or letters. Eventually, the media technology of the codex was embraced as the medium of choice for Christian Scripture.
Is it okay for the Bible to appear in a new format? Can we call an iPad “my Bible”? What is theologically implied in the media format of the codex? What is theologically implied by reading disparate elements of Scripture on a screen (whether on a cell phone, laptop, e-reader, or on those big screens used during worship at church)?
A good introduction to the issues at hand in the questions above is Alan Jacobs’ article “Christianity and the Future of the Book,” found over at The New Atlantis. Jacobs’ is an English professor and author. His most recent book, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction (Oxford University Press), is written for those of us who, like Nicholas Carr has put it in The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read, and Remember, find that we are having a hard time concentrating due to our new habits from online-reading. Jacobs is not terribly worried—reading has always had its distractions, and media technology (like the Kindle e-reader) can actually help more than hurt our reading disciplines. The book is a great read. But his article at The New Atlantis is helpful as we think about the Bible and its status a “book” in the form of a “codex.”
So what do you think? Does media format affect content, or at least how we perceive or understand that content? I am really eager to learn your thoughts on this! And how has reading the Bible in new technology formats helped or hurt your Bible reading? If you read Jacobs’ article, what do you think about his assessments?
Eager for your responses….