Prepare for YouVersion, the Instagram of Bibles!

There is a technological revolution underway, and it’s happening under the radar of we hip skeptical types: iBibles.

Now, I’m not talking about some clunky Kindle-clone that contains only The Word, I’m talking about an extremely popular, cross-platform, nondenominational mobile app, labeled in your app store simply as “The Bible,” but officially known as YouVersion.

What’s so special about this? After all, there are hundreds, probably thousands of apps that reproduce the Bible in digital form. YouVersion is notable because it’s an app that contains a huge variety of versions of the Bible, and hundreds of translations in myriad languages. In addition, it offers up the Good Book with an interface that is remarkably, well, Apple-like. Versions and languages are easily accessible, typeface and style are easily customizable, there are audio and video options, note-taking functionality, and the app is generally sharp and pleasing to use.

Ack! It’s pleasing! The Bible must not be pleasing! Well, that’s not such a bad thing. Even we godless like to have convenient access to the Bible and other religious tomes, for study, for refutation, for kicks (I guess). It’s better for believers and nonbelievers alike to have something nice to use.

Of course, then you listen to the founder of YouVersion, Bobby Gruenewald, here in an interview with Patheos’ Robert Crosby:

One of the most helpful aspects of the app is the access we have had to analytical tools. These tell us how many people have installed the app, how many times people open it, how long they’re spending in God’s Word, and which features they are using. This continues to help us improve the tool.

The purpose of the app is evangelical, literally. (At least in part.) It’s a way to get the Bible into as many hands and devices as possible. Apparently, it’s really, really working. According to The New York Times, the company behind YouVersion aspires “to be a kind of I.T. department for churches everywhere… This month, the app reached 100 million downloads, placing it in the company of technology start-ups like Instagram and Dropbox.”

To someone like me who follows the tech industry pretty closely, that’s crazy. But as someone who also follows religion very closely, it makes sense. The ubiquity of devices plus the cultural dominance of Christianity makes a successful app like this a foregone conclusion.

Indeed, it’s the fit and finish of this app that makes it stand out to me. Look at other similar attempts to be techno-savvy by religion, you get fairly laughable things like GodTube, the Bible Tablet, and BibleBytes.

But YouVersion, as I said, is very well done, at least from the little I’ve used it, it does seem pretty slick.

The app is free, which bothers some folks who publish Bibles as a business, as it gives Gruenewald’s company a lot of power with the enormous reach he has. And the monetization ideas are already bubbling. Again from the Times:

[Gruenewald] compared the relationship between YouVersion and traditional publishers to the “freemium” strategy common in mobile games where the core content is free, but extra features cost money. In this case, those extras are things like devotional Bibles, study Bibles or gold-embossed heirloom Bibles.

Hold on to your wallets, folks! Try to resist!

I’d actually encourage atheist-folk to check the app out, see what it is about this app that has made it catch on. Maybe we can learn from it.

About Paul Fidalgo

Paul is communications director for the Center for Inquiry, as well as an actor and musician. His personal blog is Near-Earth Object, and he tweets as @paulfidalgo. He is the author of a short (and cheap!) Kindle book on the atheist political movement, Under the Stained Glass Ceiling: Atheists' Precarious Place in Modern American Politics.

  • Guest

    I’m prepared. Bring on the PhoneBibles.

  • A3Kr0n

    First, I would have to sign up for iTunes to get my “free app”, then I would do what with it? My phone is a Samsung pre-pay. A lot of Christians have those phones, too, because they have no money left after tithing 10% to their church, and raising a barn full of kids.

    • Christopher Joseph Borne

      They also have a Java app, so they have that angle covered.

      I may not like the content, but they’re at least serious about having a widespread reach.

      • A3Kr0n

        I went to their main page and you’re right,
        “1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
        I’m dizzy already!

        • Len

          Wait – God uses Word? OK, we’ve won already.

          • maddogdelta

            Real deities use Wordstar with a keyboard that has the Ctrl key where god intended!

          • 3lemenope

            Real deities use OpenOffice.

          • Nancy Shrew

            Maybe that annoying fuckmitten of a paperclip was God the whole time.

        • Fred

          So there’s a fourth god?
          Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and now the Word.

    • Fred

      The Lawd will provide.

  • Mike Hitchcock

    This app is a great idea. The Bible creates more atheists than anything else, so any tool that helps analyse it has to be good news.

    • Frank

      Dont worry. The bible creates more a christians than atheists by far.

      Keep up the great work YouVersion!

    • Matt D

      Indeed, although critical thinking is then necessary to understand the thing being wrong and full of errors is noteworthy!

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    It will make it easier for Fundies to look through various translations and paraphrases until they find the one that says what they want it to say. In the olden days (the 70s and 80s) you had to carry around a bunch of heavy books to do that.

    • Len

      Exactly. In the past they actually had to know all those translations and paraphrases to even start making an argument (even though they eventually lost it). Now we’ll get any bozo with a smartphone quoting daft bits at us because they found a match for something they didn’t understand in the first place and it used a word they think they saw in another verse that’s also in the bible – therefore god.

      • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

        That was already possible with Concordances and “Study Bibles”. My point was that people with no experience with languages and translations go further than picking and choosing among passages by picking a translation that fits their presupposed interpretation without any concern for what the original Hebrew or Greek actually means.

        • Len

          I think we’re saying ~ the same thing.

          I agree what I described was already possible. I mean that it’s now easier. So we’ll get the fundies you mention (with no language training) and the enthusiastic (but very amateur) evangelicals easily bringing daft arguments (well, dafter than usual) that they think have never been presented before.

          **EDIT**: Is there an app that provides easily findable responses to daft biblical arguments?

          • revyloution

            http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/

            Great resource. They should put out an app.

            • Len

              That’s good info – thanks.

              If they do put out an app, then I might have to actually buy a smartphone. Not so sure about that.

  • Christopher Joseph Borne

    The number of versions is pleasantly surprising, I must admit. Not only do they have a WP app, they even have a Symbian app and a WebOS app.

  • Rain

    It’s a great idea except it should have freely editable “wiki” Bibles so they can make it up as they go along, literally! It’s the same way the real Bible happened anyway, lol.

    • Donatello

      Srsly, the LOLcat bible is a wiki project, so just register and make up as much stuff as you like. Cheezburgrz.

    • JET

      This would have made it so much more convenient for Jim Wallis when he was a guest on Bill Maher’s show. All the apologists would just be able to say, “Well, that’s not in *my* version.”

    • Consumer Unit 5012

      You mean like the Conservapedia Bible Retranslation Project?

      (And before you ask, yes, they’re serious.)

      • Rain

        So I take it that the Bible is not conservative enough for them, lol.

  • jferris

    “…those extras are things like devotional Bibles, study Bibles or gold-embossed heirloom Bibles.”

    Why does that line bring on a vision of John Goodman (eye patch and all) in “Oh Brother, Where art thou?”

  • Brian

    Wow 100 Million Downloads. And im willing to bet that most Christians STILL haven’t read the whole thing yet.

    • newavocation

      They don’t have to read it, they just need a copy. It’s like a ticket to heaven. But it doesn’t hurt to tip the church ‘bouncer’ ( priest or pastor) too.

  • JMichael

    Do they have the one that says Jesus supports a flat tax?

  • DesertSun59

    100 million downloads and they STILL don’t have the original manuscripts – and NEVER will.

  • the moother

    A searchable bible is much more handy than the (toilet) paper version… I would always take my kindle shopping with me when I was certain there’d be some bible-bangin’ fundies en route.

    That way I could show them the nastiness that drowns out the goodness without having to either remember chapter and verse or allowing them to claim victory when it took too long to find.

  • Fred

    What Christians really need is an app that lets you pick each phrase from various translations from the Bible one by one so they can assemble their own personal version.

    I think they’re already doing this so maybe my idea is a bit late.

  • C Peterson

    Seems like a useful app. The Android version doesn’t appear to have any analytics activated. You can download all the bible versions locally and the developer has no way of knowing what you look at, when you use the app, or for how long.

    One thing that the Google Play store seems to have gotten right with this app: Content Rating – Low Maturity.

  • https://www.facebook.com/joebible?ref=tn_tnmn Doug Philips

    I’ve been using youversion for a few years now. It really is a great app/website. On the web version you can do side by side comparisons of the same verses in different versions, or even better, you can have two different books side by side…so you can, say, got through Luke and Matthew side by side and examine the commonalities and, of course, the contradictions.

  • revyloution

    Oh the irony of millions of phone and tablet users who get their porn and their religion on the same screen.

    • revyloution

      I also wanted to add that I see this as a loss for proselytizing in general. Nothing has the gravitas of opening up a large, well worn book. Nothing says ‘you don’t have to take me seriously’ like looking up something on a smart phone.

  • evodevo

    I’d like to see an app for an atheist version of a good compendium of biblical self-contradictory verses, etc. VERY useful for those spontaneous debates at the bus stop or at work !

    • allein

      Am I the only one who doesn’t randomly run into spontaneous religious debates as I go about my day?

  • SeekerLancer

    The great dichotomy of a book that tells you not to think on technology made possible by those who dared to.

    • Carpinions

      Yes, but that’s always been the case. You could say that about religion vis a vis human rights, technology, simple human decency, economics, morality, ethics, poverty, wealth, movies, rock music, books, etc.

    • JohnnieCanuck

      Not to mention that that book itself depends on the technology of paper and the printing press.

      Before that it was parchment or papyrus and ink to make scrolls and such. Cuneiform and clay the same, all with no supernatural revelation required.

      It would seem the religious have always had the inclination to use the latest technology to spread their myths across distance and time.

  • Carpinions

    I downloaded this app like 18+ months ago so I could keep reading it versus using my old one from my 8th grade Confirmation. Regardless of the fact that I fell off the reading wagon a while ago, I think this thing is a great app. It’s got all those versions at the touch of a couple buttons, great bookmarking, the liner notes from the printed versions, pretty much anything you could want whether your a Christian or an atheist (like me).

    It’s a great app, and I’m not surprised it’s popular.

  • busterggi

    Seriously, are bible that inaccessible to believers? How insecure must they be to need so much constant reassurance?

  • Bdole

    Bah, I use Biblegateway.com It has dozens of Bible versions and even other languages. Good enough for me. You kids with your mobiletech and iThingies *shakes walking stick at passing cloud*

  • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

    But does it have the Skeptics Bible concordance cross-references?

  • http://confessionsfromthepeanutgallery.blogspot.com/ YankeeCynic

    The Instagram of bibles. So it’s the bible for hipsters?

    “I want to tell you about our lord and savior Jesus Christ. …you’ve probably never heard about him.”

    • arensb

      I’m still amazed at the number of people who come knocking on my door, or hand out pamphlets on the street, asking whether I’ve heard The Good News (TM), as if it were possible to live any amount of time in his country and not have heard central tenets of Christianity.

      So yeah: “I follow Jesus Christ. You’ve probably never heard of him. Here’s a copy of his Greatest Hits album”.

  • advancedatheist

    Most of these English translations might as well go by the name of Idiocracy Bibles. I’ve noticed a trend since the 1970′s, when The Living Bible came out, where the newer versions sound increasingly dumbed-down, as fewer Americans can read English from previous centuries. The King James Bible, Francis Bacon’s Essays and John Milton’s poems might as well have come from Mars, as far as today’s standards of literacy go.

  • G

    We should try to submit reading plans like “challenging sections” “violence in the bible” “contradictions”. They meet the submission guidelines of being unique. Who knows they might get accepted.

  • cipher

    YouVersion is notable because it’s an app that contains a huge variety
    of versions of the Bible, and hundreds of translations in myriad
    languages.

    [Gasp!] That’s heresy! The KJV is the ONLY true version! God speaks Elizabethan English (I know because my pastor told me so, and he wouldn’t lie because he’s a man of God)!

    The purveyors of this abomination must be stoned immediately!

    • William_C_Diaz

      I woould be glad to bring the ‘Jamaican Appetizer Rollups’ required to do the job, amen!

      Have a great day!

  • arensb

    I’ve used YouVersion, and one feature that I like is that you can add notes that get stored on their site and that other users can read. You can review your own notes, or see what others have written. Mine are at

    https://www.youversion.com/users/sevilnatas/notes

  • http://kadhsempire.yuku.com/ Matt

    I have the app. I also own a print bible. I don’t carry the print bible with me everywhere. In fact it stays home all the time. But I do go to places where it becomes convenient to have the app so I can follow sermons (my church doesn’t have bibles in the pews) or look things up when I need to on the fly. I truly appreciate the app.


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