The Canon in a Digital Age

I'm working on a paper about "The Canon in a Digital Age," and have been thinking about whether the availability of digital biblical texts (websites, tablet and e-readers, etc) will a) increase the possibilities of biblical literacy, b) further degrade biblical literacy, or c) pretty much keep things the same.

In teaching my class on the "Digital Bible," I argue that these electronic tools make the Bible accessible in a way that is impossible in the world of the codex (a fancy name for a "book"). Readers can place different translations side by side to compare their differences, pull together texts and commentary to gain a better contextual understanding, and search for particular phrases and words to help them bring different parts of the Bible into conversation.

Even though my idealism as a humanities professor makes me want to choose a), I feel that the odds may favor either b) or c). Consider, for example, the website called "TopVerses," a ranking of biblical verses by their popularity on the internet. Here is their self-description:

We counted how many times each Bible verse (all 31,105 of them) is referenced anywhere on the internet and ranked them accordingly. You can use TopVerses to quickly find any Bible verse in order of popularity. Searching includes NIV, KJV and AMP translations. Join us on social media and help reach the next generation one verse at a time.

I have two reactions for now. First, it is interesting to know which verses are quoted the most on the internet, but it does not indicate which biblical texts are the most important or meaningful. I will have more on this later.

Second, the bigger problem is the division of the Bible into individual verses. Verses were introduced in the 16th century in order to make it easier to compare different textual versions. I can see their value as a scholarly tool, but they have long caused English Bible readers to believe that an individual verse could be quoted all on its own. The biblical writers knew nothing of these "verses," and I believe would be rather shocked to see how they have been used.

The last sentence of their description is especially problematic. Somehow quoting verses to people is supposed to "reach the next generation" for Christ? No, that is not how it works. The missional calling of Christians is to live out the faith in a broken world, to share the good news of the gospel in actions and words. I believe that the Bible is an important part of that process, but we should spend more time helping people understand the scriptures in their fullness, and less time using "verses" as rhetorical ammunition.