If you’re like most Americans, you’re on the internet once a day or more. A 2018 Pew Research Center study showed that 77 percent of Americans are in that category. That includes 43 percent who are on the internet several times a day and 26 percent who are online “almost constantly.”
I am among these hyper-connected people who land in that latter category. My job requires it. Even during my off hours, I often check Twitter, read news stories, and text friends and family members.
But there are many things—such as reading books—that I prefer to do offline. I’m not alone. In another Pew study, 28 percent of Americans said they’ve read an e-book in the past 12 months, and 65 percent said they’ve read a physical book. In fact, only six percent of Americans read books exclusively on a device.
When it comes to the Bible, the statistics are even more dramatic. Despite the many good Bible-reading apps available, the Barna 2018 State of the Bible survey showed that 89 percent of Bible users still read the Word of God in print, even if they also read Scripture on a smartphone, tablet or laptop. That percentage is virtually unchanged from the seven previous years. Of course, reading the Bible in any format is beneficial. God’s Word is not confined to ink and paper. Still, I have discovered that a physical Bible has several unique benefits.
Have you made a commitment to reading the Bible more in 2019? If so, consider how a printed, physical copy of God’s Word might help you.
How to stay focused when reading the Bible
Smartphones and tablets bring a plethora of temptations to our daily life, including texting friends, perusing Facebook, watching YouTube videos, checking email and reading the latest sports and news stories. These temptations don’t disappear when we open our Bible app. Have you ever received a message from a friend while reading God’s Word on a device? I have. Too many times, I also answered back—and my quiet time quickly turned into a text-a-thon.
Staying focused isn’t getting any easier. Microsoft Corporation released a study in 2015 that showed the average person’s attention span had decreased from 12 seconds to eight seconds since 2000—or roughly around the time when the mobile revolution began. If you’re like me, your attention span has lessened since you got your first smartphone.
“Do not disturb” and “blocking” modes can eliminate some of these distractions, but I have learned it’s better to put my smartphone away—perhaps in the other room—and read a printed copy of the Bible. That action helps me disconnect and focus on the words in front of me. Focused, sustained Bible-reading is so important to God that he commands the kings of Israel to write out a copy of God’s Word: “And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them” (Deuteronomy 17:19).
How to remember what you read
I own a Kindle. I own dozens of e-books, too. Yet I have discovered I recall information better when I read a book in print.
And I’m not alone in this. A 2013 study of Norwegian 10th-grade students found that those who read from a physical book scored higher on tests than students who read the text on a computer screen, according to Scientific American. Additionally, a 2014 study by Professor Anne Mangen at the University of Stavanger in Norway showed that adults who had read a mystery in a physical book remembered the story’s chronology better than those who had read the book on a Kindle.
Physical books, Mangen said, have unique qualities that aid in recalling what we read. “The ease with which you can find out the beginning, end and everything in between and the constant connection to your path, your progress in the text, might be some way of making it less taxing cognitively, so you have more free capacity for comprehension,” Mangen wrote in her paper.
Although the Bible lacks a strict chronological order, it does take this format within specific books and sections (such as in the books of Genesis through Judges). A physical Bible can help us remember that Abraham preceded Jacob or that Moses came before Joshua, for example.
As we read the Bible we may need to check out cross-referenced verses or passages to aid deeper understanding. In a physical Bible, we can easily keep our finger or a bookmark in one section while we read another, rather than having to switch between screens on an electronic device.
The legacy of a physical Bible
There’s another benefit to using a physical Bible: They become heirlooms for our descendants. My mom’s first Bible, a present from her parents in 1953, includes handwritten notations throughout the text with her favorite verses highlighted. And my wife’s mother still has the Bible she began reading in the 1970s, shortly after she became a Christian. It includes notes from past decades underscoring God’s faithfulness.
Each has the tattered-but-still-usable look of a Bible that has been opened thousands of times.
As Ohio pastor Alistair Begg told Mashable: “Our Bibles, bearing our thumb prints and notes and quotes will be treasured by our grandchildren in a way that will never be true of our iPads.” The legacy of a physical Bible is more than just sentiment. Giving a personal Bible to a loved one speaks powerfully to God’s grace and mercy through his Word.
We all have different ways of learning. If you have been struggling to deeply engage with Scripture on your e-reader, perhaps a physical Bible could get you reading Scripture in a more focused way in 2019.
What’s most important, though, is that you read God’s Word … no matter the format.
Thanks to the support of our faithful financial partners, American Bible Society has been engaging people with the life-changing message of God’s Word for more than 200 years.
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