Martin Luther’s translation of the New Testament into a dialect of German was first printed in 1522. In Printing, Propaganda, and Martin Luther, historian Mark Edwards places the estimated literacy of Germany at that time at 5%. By translating the Bible and Luther’s works surrounding the Reformation, Luther not only changed the spiritual history of Germany but also led the way for his chosen dialect to become the standard German language. Luther knew the power of not only the Word of God, but of the written word made available to the masses:
We should preach the Word, but the results must be left solely to God’s good pleasure … I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.
— Martin Luther, “Sermon on Monday after Invocavit” (Luther’s Works 51:77)
Through the power of the Word and the written word, Luther changed the world by helping to spread the gospel in written form for public consumption. Words are at the center of the short history of the world since the invention of the printing press. The bestselling book in that time is the combined versions, translations, and editions of the Bible. But even as the published word continues to grow—approaching 300,000 books a year—the medium of text has entered the Digital Age joined by video and audio, forming the new language of the world: digital communication.
Leonard Sweet, a Christian futurist and prolific author, suggests that we as a society are shifting from a print, Gutenberg Printer-centric culture to an interactive, Google-centric culture. “The Bible must resonate with Googlers,” Sweet told me, “but publishers are still in the print business instead of the Scripture business. It is the churches, individuals, and small organizations that are bringing the Bible into the digital age. The most anti-social invention was the book, which helped created the very idea of an ‘I’—a power which Luther used to state his own opinions. A Google world is connectional—it leaves you ravenous for relationships.”
According to a recent report by The Jordin, Edmiston Group, 88% of the revenue growth for publishing and advertising companies in the next few years will come from the digital medium. Though the Bible has had a grand run as a published-on-paper manuscript, we as Christians must consider the future of communication to help the Bible flourish in the new media available now and in the coming age, and help build the spiritual connections and relationships for which our culture is ravenous. According to Thinking About the Future by Andy Hines and Peter Bishop, “The purpose of looking to the future is to understand the possibilities ahead in order to make more informed decisions in the present.” It is important for the Bible to not be left behind as simply a sacred scroll for the historians to study, devoid of its supernatural, life-changing inspiration. If education, work, social life, and entertainment are all moving toward the convergence of digital communication, then the manuscript of our faith must not simply follow culture-at-large’s movement. The Bible must be a leader in accessibility, influence, and the power to connect humanity with something beyond itself.
The Present Digital Impact
As stated in Wendell Bell’s Foundations of Future Studies, “The potential for future development and growth exists in the present and, thus, can be investigated.” It is a clear idea that tomorrow is rooted in the seeds of today’s minds and souls. It takes steps, and work, to get from today to tomorrow. In order to discuss the actual future of the Bible, we should look at the current development around delivering the Bible digitally.
When Internet design, development, and usage began to transition to “Web 2.0″—where web services and web applications were as important as the web sites themselves—one of the first online Bibles to come to prominence was eBible.com. eBible is everything you might expect from an online Bible—it has search functionality, access to your user account from any web browser, and easy connection to other study materials. According to Mark Sears, President and CEO of Godspeed Computing (eBible’s parent company), “eBible.com came out of a vision to make the Bible easier to use, understand, and share the Bible… we wanted to build a search tool that allows people to have confidence they can answer life’s questions by entering simple queries.” Other popular online Bibles include YouVersion.com, bible.logos.com, BibleGateway.com, and bible.org’s NET Bible.
As published-on-paper books are in the beginning stages of being challenged by digital devices that deliver books, the Bible has found itself the benefactor of available digital features. Many translations have been made for new devices, including the Amazon Kindle, Sony eReader, and the iPhone. The Bible is able to take advantage of the digital benefits by creating easy navigation, integrated assets like Strong’s numbers, and connectedness to whatever commentary the publishers wish to include. YouVersion, Mantis, and Olive Tree all have popular Bible applications on the iPhone, and most publishers have released their respective translations to the various e-ink formats available. The Bible on a digital device allows the user to continue caring for and treating the Bible as a handheld book, but also lets them carry various translations and reference works in the palm of their hands instead of filling up a shelf in their personal libraries.
One of the biggest advantages of the online, digital world is the ability to connect two (or more) things through the simplest usage of a hyperlink. With the potential of linking together ideas, media, and other resources, the Information Age has connected the ideas of the masses with the Bible in ways that a Gutenberg world could never have imagined.
One of the first organizations to bring social media and mass commentary to the Bible was WORDsearch. “WORDsearch has been allowing users to share sermons and thoughts on the Scriptures in our Community Library since 2000,” Randy Beck, President of WORDsearch Corp. told me. “We wanted to create a place where pastors and teachers could give and receive valuable thoughts and interpretations of the Scriptures, while gaining the benefits of using the files they download inside a robust Bible software environment. As social media becomes more prevalent, and as pastors and teachers continue to look for stimulating and powerful illustrations and ideas, we are committed to providing the tools that will assist them in spreading the Word and changing lives.”
Software from companies such as WORDsearch and web services such as YouVersion, which allow users to tag individual verses with their own thoughts for public consumption, are paving the way for the Bible to be more than just a readable manuscript, but one that can be complemented by ideas and commentary from the entire world, with input from different cultures, scholars, and Christ followers.
The Near-Future Impact
In the discipline of Futures Studies, a futurist will typically present multiple future scenarios in order to build awareness – and action – around the forthcoming possibilities. Inevitably, disregarding a massive world war or the literal second coming of Christ, the world will continue to move to a more digitally integrated world, with the various mediums becoming further tied in with one another. With that knowledge we can begin building out ideas about the impact that outside influencers will have on the Bible as an actual manuscript existing in the digital age.
For example, Dr. Peter Bishop, associate professor of Futures Studies at the University of Houston, suggests that the decline of importance on actual manuscripts will have lasting effects on the Bible:
“It comes back to the role of the written and printed word in the Digital Age. Texts don’t go away, but they may become less important as images come on more strongly. It might be, as a result, that people know the biblical texts less well than they do today or did in previous generations when that was one of the few books they owned. On the other hand, other representations might become more important, like animations or symbols that are not textual. So text stays around, but now has to share the bandwidth with other forms of communication—symbols, still images, video, music, animations, etc.”
Dr. Bishop suggests that the Bible will be less relevant to culture in the future because of its reliance on text. Simply put, people are reading less. If people are more engaged with media-centric communication, how does a generation engage with a giant block of text, regardless of the spiritual significance given to it? This is already true for many even within the Church, as the Bible is being read less and more emphasis is being placed on great teachers and thinkers. The Bible itself could become a “sacred cow” for which many are unwilling to facilitate its digital consumption and communal collaboration and instead prefer to preserve its existence as a published-on-paper manuscript. Leonard Sweet sees an opposite future, where the Bible becomes “digitally illuminated.”
“Before the Gutenberg press, a monk would spend his whole life working on a book of the Bible—copying, drawing illustrations—making a work of art likely seen only by God,” he told me. “The digitally illuminated Bible,” Sweet hopes, “goes beyond just commentaries, but will connect you with music inspired by the passage you are reading, have ancient art a click away, and let you ask questions and find answers through other people immediately within the context of what you are studying.”
When talking about the future of the Bible, there is always the concern that the Bible itself might change, not just the delivery method of the media, or the connection points surrounding it. Tim Jordan of B&H Publishing Group, producers of the Holman CSB translation, explains that for publishers, the words matter most. “Language changes in a culture; how language is delivered changes. There will be new translations and new paraphrases. But at the end of the day, the future of the Bible has to be about these words. Language changes but the Word doesn’t change.”
We must find ways to engage the life-changing Scriptures in a way that is meaningful to the culture that exists around it—this is the key for any future thinking about the Bible. Just as the Gutenberg press and the printed Bible created a print-based world, the digital revolution has created new opportunities for new relationships not only with each other but with (and between) sacred texts and secular media. The power of the Bible’s words can do great things, so let’s think about the future of delivering those words to people who so desperately need to read, hear, see, and interact with them.
Aaron Linne is a Digital Media Producer for LifeWay Christian Resources. He and his wife are small group leaders at their church, Mosaic Nashville. Aaron writes regularly on his blog at www.aaronlinne.com.
Fonte: COLLIDE MAGAZINE