Monthly Archives: January 2008

The Loss of Context

Reading the Bible always challenges our ability to read in context, think in context and make the right connections. You have to remember when the book you’re reading was written (which is always a matter of debate), who it was written to, what the political context was, what the theological context is, how it relates to other books of the Bible and on, and on. You get my meaning.

But reading the Bible on a computer is an exponentially more difficult task in terms of reading within context. When you only get 15 lines of text displayed on the screen, no other pages to leaf through, a search box that displays truncated versions of the verses you’ve found through your query–it’s really dang hard to keep your head in the context of what you’re reading. Weirdly enough, it may be a bit closer to how the ancients read–at least how the ancients who could read read. They read the Bible on scraps of parchment and papyrus. They did not even have a well-defined canon of Bible books until well into the Christian era. But since the invention of the printing press we’ve all been walking around with nicely bound single volume editions of the Bible thinking we’re so cool. But it was not always so neat and tidy. Reading the Bible online or in a Bible software program is jarring for someone who grew up reading the dusty volume off the shelf. It is a new experience in the life of the Church.

So I think it’s important to remember to always read in context, even when you are doing a word-search in a Bible software program. And remember that when you are reading the Bible in a “window” or a “pane” on your flat-screen LCD, in some mysterious way you are closer to the ancients than the guy reading the Bible in a nice leather-bound volume. Well, sort of.

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