The Role of E-Bibles

I have seen two thoughtful follow-up posts to my earlier invitation for readers to take my Digital Bible final exam. First, Daniel McClellan raised a very good question about the dangers of relying on Accordance or other electronic biblical platforms for one's understanding of the original language texts (Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament).

He says:

I try to be pragmatic about these kinds of things, and I can see how developing facility with these programs may be a more efficient use of a future pastor’s educational time, but at the same time I lament the fact that so many may be giving up the opportunity to learn the languages well enough to know how and when Bible software is inadequate for a thorough understanding of the sense of a given construction or passage.

I also lament the erosion of solid language facility among pastors and preachers. When I learned Hebrew in the 90s at Princeton Seminary, there was a pervasive distrust of electronic tools as a "crutch" for learning bibical languages. We were explicity told not to use them because they would interfere with our learning of the grammar, syntax, and morphology of Greek and Hebrew.

In principle, I still agree with that perspective. I know, however, that language programs have begun to use electronic biblical platforms for instruction, and encourage students to use them as they move out into ministry. This new attitude is partly a nod to the practical realities of the pastorate these days. Who has time to do old-school analog exegesis this days? I would see this as a problem to be overcome rather than an inevitable reality to be planned around. Good knowledge of the biblical languages is an essential requirement for an expert knowledge of the Bible.

At the same time, systems such as Accordance, Logos, and Bibleworks can be used to help students actually learn, and use, the language. There are many modules with grammatical and syntactical instruction, as well as advanced lexicons that go beyond the simple (and chronically abused) "BDB definition." I would hope that we can make good use of these tools while learning the language, not instead of learning the language. [I would compare this situation to our use of "ponies," or previous treatments of texts, in my Akkadian classes. You could copy the "answers" from the previous translation if you wanted, but you wouldn't actually learn the language that way.]

The second comment came from James McGrath, who asked whether students should be limited to the search function within the Bible application or be allowed to use Google and other internet sources. He says,

Is the best way to get students to learn to consult reliable and academically-appropriate sources to give them specific ones to use, or let them run wild on the internet with some basic guidelines and instructions, some combination of the two, or an incremental process that moves gradually from the one to the other?

I agree with the "incremental" option. In my class, students were required to use the Internet for homework assignments, but in the exam I wanted to test their ability to identify specific passages without relying on a (dubious) list somewhere on the internet. I refer you to my comment on James's post to contine the discussion there.

Thank you to Daniel and James, and to others who have been involved in this fruitful conversation.