Reading Scripture Badly: The Technological Threat to Biblical Literacy

Reading Scripture Badly: The Technological Threat to Biblical Literacy
Presented by Murray Hogg at the ISCAST Vic Intensive 2010

Murray Hogg has qualifications in Mechanical Engineering (Monash University) and Divinity (Bible College of Victoria) and is currently completing a Master of Theology in Religious Epistemology. Prior to engaging in theological studies he worked in engineering measurement eventually specialising in stress and vibration analysis. 


Theorists in biblical exegesis have customarily emphasised the importance of context in all its forms and this same concern has carried over into post-modern biblical criticism. Indeed, the literary aspect of context is if anything even more highly emphasised amongst those who self-identify as “post-modern.” Such folk regard the notion of narrative as key and are strongly critical of much modern biblical criticism due to its atomising effect on scripture. Yet there is an irony to be observed, for the same generation that so values a holistic approach to scripture are most adept at using technologies which are capable of delivering bible verses in bite-size snippets utterly divorced from any and all context whatsoever. Whether it be computerised search engines or SMS verse-for-the-day modern technologies make it possible to access scripture piecemeal with no connection to context whatsoever. Older search technologies—biblical concordances such as Strong’s being foremost in mind—at the very least placed the sought for passage alongside other passages containing the search term. But modern technologies go not even this far and the utter divorce of passages from scripture from any sort of context raises the risk that the “”big picture”” of the Christian story might be overlooked altogether.

This paper will examine this phenomenon and will discuss it with particular reference to recent literacy studies which examine how technology, the internet in particular, impacts the way people read. The aim is not to oppose the deployment of such technology but to identify its limitations, affirm its strengths, and explore ways that it might, in fact, provide a boon for biblical literacy when utilised with wisdom. The purpose will be fundamentally pastoral and pedagogical. Some suggestions as to how we might benefit from modern technology without falling prey to its potential disadvantages will be offered.

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