The Bible: Digital or Print? A Great Debate Over the Good Book

With a few clicks, you're in Exodus; another and you're in Revelation — but what about the gentle turning of beloved pages?

As a pastor, I’m supposed to have all the answers when it comes to questions about the Bible — but when my own son asked me a question related to it, I was thrown.

Our kids take part in youth and children’s ministries, and not long ago, my family was heading back to church on Sunday night for those activities. As we hustled to the car, I scanned each child: hair combed, coats on, Bibles in hand … hold on!

Everyone had a Bible except my oldest son. When I asked him where his was, he replied, “Right here, Dad. On my iPad.”

My son had saved up to purchase an Apple iPad. Now, no more print Bible — only digital. “Dad, you’re cool with this, right?”

We are living in a remarkable time. How should we think about the rise of digital Bibles on our favorite devices? Should we say goodbye to print Bibles?

Or should we cling to our printed copies and avoid the hassle of technology altogether?

Printed Bibles have been the gold standard for a very long time. There is a lot to be said for a Bible printed in black and white and bound with a leather cover. It has weight, mass, meaning. You know you’re carrying it. You can even hear the sound of the pages turning. One of the most encouraging sounds in the Christian life, in fact, is hearing hundreds of Bible pages turn together during a Sunday worship service.

Another positive that comes with print Bibles is the way readers are forced to learn the various books of the Bible: When a reference is mentioned, readers can turn there without having to search the table of contents. In addition, marking a printed Bible with notes or highlights is easy.

But print Bibles have a downside, too. They get old. Covers crack; bindings break. Pages wear, turn yellow, and gather stains. And they don’t respond well when you set them on the roof of the car — and drive away.

There’s a good reason digital Bibles are coming on strong. They are as convenient as they are fast. Press a button — and you’re in Exodus. Press again, you’re in Revelation. Remember how fast that little girl in Sunday School used to be at the “Sword Drill” game — the girl who always beat you at finding Bible verses? With a digital Bible or Bible app in hand, now you’re the champ.

Digital Bibles are fantastic for research and study, and the number of quality translations now available in digital format is astonishing. With a digital Bible, you don’t have to worry about stained pages, cracked covers, or possibly forgetting it. It’s always there inside your phone, tablet, or other electronic device.

Related: Americans and the Bible: A Sobering Look at the Numbers

But just like its predecessor, digital Bibles have shortcomings, too. At the top of the list, Bible apps share a device with other popular apps like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This means that digital distractions are just a fingertip away. In addition, electronic devices are dependent on batteries, which can leave you stranded at the worst moment. Many digital users have also commented that taking notes or making highlights with a digital Bible isn’t as user-friendly as app creators claim.

Finally, for younger people who grow up only ever using a digital Bible, they risk missing out on the life-long blessing of knowing the books of the Old and New Testaments by heart. When a digital Bible isn’t available, they’ll be glad they had the 66 books of the Bible memorized in sequence.

Related: Watch: The Story of the Bible in Under Six Minutes

Printed Bibles have a wonderful history, yet there’s no denying that digital Bibles are here to stay. As Christians we need to find a wise way forward. The truth is that neither one is more inherently spiritual than the other. Both are presenting the inspired Word of God to our eyes, minds and hearts, and that’s the most important thing. Scripture says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly …” (Colossians 3:16), and we can do that with both printed and digital Bibles.

Since each Bible’s format has strengths and weaknesses, I would encourage Christians to be wise in their use of both. On Sundays, it feels good to carry a print Bible to church, where we can focus our attention and turn the pages in unison with other believers. But during the work week, when the lunch break is brief and our hands are juggling a hamburger and a soda, a digital Bible app sure comes in handy.

In my pastoral studies and personal life, I use both print Bibles and digital Bibles with appreciation and discernment. Moving forward, I’ll encourage my children and friends to do the same.

Pastor Ryan Day is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where he has served for 19 years. He is a regular contributor to LifeZette.