The Word Became App

Evangelicalism has never, ever been about just “the Bible alone.” Sure, the slogan has been used in Protestantism. But the Reformers knew that the Bible is never alone, and provided commentary on it.

And often times the provision of commentary – one thinks of the infamous Schofield Reference Bible – has influenced an incredibly large segment of Christianity in a direction that is problematic from the perspective of the very texts being commented upon.

And so should we be worried that it is conservative Evangelical devotional commentary that is, in most cases, being included along with popular Bible apps, and rarely if ever mainstream scholarly commentary?

What would it take to get a Bible app out there with a mainstream translation and mainstream scholarly commentary? I wonder whether any of the major publishers or an organization like the Society of Biblical Literature would be interested in doing something like that and having it available for free? (For publishers, it sould have to have the potential to lead to sales of additional add-in content.) Or could we crowdsource something like this? There are some sites either already in existence or in the works which make scholarly content available for free. But we need there to be a designated app, too.

UPDATE: It bears highlighting that the phrase in the title of this post (and the article in the NY Times I linked to) is from the Gospel of  John, where it refers to Jesus and not the Bible.

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  • Evan Hershman

    I’ve often thought the same thing. The main reason I have avoided buying Bible software, in spite of the fact that it would be useful for my scholarly work, is that the major programs as far as I know come loaded down with conservative evangelical commentaries and “reference” works which I neither need nor want.

    • spinkham

      Accordance’s “Original Languages Collection” is almost entirely free of such bloatware, and highly recommended if you have a Mac. A Windows version is coming soon, but not sure how it will stack up to the OS X version.

      • James F. McGrath

        I have the Accordance app for iPad and I don’t see any such content that is free. Am I missing something, or are you talking about paid content?

        The SBL Greek text is available for free and has been integrated into other apps, but not the Accordance one to my knowledge.

        • spinkham

          Sorry, I was replying to a comment about why they didn’t purchase Bible software and it’s entirely tangental to your larger point.

          • James F. McGrath

            Sorry I lost track of the thread!

  • Dan

    I have an RSV app on my Android phone. No commentary, no references, just the text ma’am.

    I wished that it came with the Apocrypha / Deutero-canonicals, though.

    • Norm Englund

      I have Basil Hartman’s NRSV with Apocrypha on my Android. Also just the text.

  • Dan Wilkinson

    “What would it take to get a Bible app out there with a mainstream translation and mainstream scholarly commentary?” Apparently the answer is money, and lots of it! Did you see how much they’ve spent and are spending on the YouVersion app?

    • Ian

      That was my initial reaction. They bought this influence from insane amounts of donations. And now they have 100m users, they are using this unprecedented channel to distribute conservative evangelical propaganda under the guise of biblical ‘resources’.

      • James F. McGrath

        I wonder whether the same thing could be accomplished through effort and donated time, rather than relying on extensive donations of money.

        • Beau Quilter

          I just picked up the Youversion Bible App to see what it was like. I noticed that there is a large selection of reading “plans” you can use for daily bible readings, many with commentary embedded. I wonder if a plan could be offered to the makers of the app that includes mainstream scholarship?

          • James F. McGrath

            I suspect that the makers of some existing apps may not want to include materials which either are at odds with their own ideological stance, or would lessen the need for people to buy add-ons. But having said that, some apps might be sufficiently customizable that a scholarly commentary could be created which one could download and genuinely and effectively integrate into the app’s functionality, which would be one way of going about it.

  • admiralmattbar

    I would love to have my Oxford Annotated NRSV on my Android. What is a good example of a scholarly commentary that you would use. As a layman most of my resources are the sort of off-the-top-of-their-head pastorly commentaries (the NIV Study Bible and the like). Maybe I should be upfront. What’s the least expensive scholarly respectable commentary?

    • James F. McGrath

      Something like the New Oxford Annotated or the Access Bible, including the notes and text boxes, available as an app, would be great. There are one-volume commentaries that may save money, but obviously have to skimp on detail to get everything within one volume. I wonder whether having detailed commentary, something brief, or both would best meet the needs that people have.

      The least expensive respectable scholarly commentary is the one that you can check out of your public library for free! :-)