Take Bryan Bibb’s “Digital Bible” Final Exam

(HT James McGrath’s Fish House) Bryan Bibb has a new post up entitled Digital Bible Literacy. In the post, Bryan describes his Digital Bible course and invites readers to take the same final exam his students have taken, which requires the use of Bible software or BibleGateway.com. It’s a well put together exam. Check it out.

Bibb concludes with a statement that I think merits discussion:

Someone with a strong biblical literacy could probably answer most or all of these questions without searching, but that group of readers is small and shrinking. With the right tools, anyone can find out what is in the Bible, which is a prerequisite for understanding what it says.

Now, I know people have complained about what new technology does to the brains of students since Plato first bemoaned the proliferation of writing, but this is heated topic these days. I have heard that there are seminaries in the States that are pulling back on language courses, and instead requiring “Greek and Hebrew Tools” or some similar kind of course that basically teaches you to use Logos or Accordance. Logos is certainly on-board with their Learn To Use Biblical Greek and Hebrew with Logos Bible Software product. Many people with whom I’ve spoken think that this approach handicaps one’s exegesis and ability to do academic work in the language, but others argue that it’s often aimed at students going for pastoral positions, not those going into PhD programs and research jobs. 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.  Thoughts?

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8 responses to “Take Bryan Bibb’s “Digital Bible” Final Exam

  • Isaac

    I think you’ve touched on a topic that a lot of already established scholars are worried about. One of the most outspoken is of course Larry Hurtado and on his blog he has quite a few posts mentioning the decline of biblical languages (he tells this horrible story of even a phd student who faculty discover can’t event read the Greek of the passage in which he did his dissertation *shock horror*). I’ve studied in Australia and even here I’ve noticed more and more schools cutting back on ancient languages and students seeing it as less “practical” especially if they want to go into ministry and especially if they just have software thay can do it for you.

    There are so many things wrong with this of course and it bemoans me to admit many friends who have studied both Greek and Hebrew but then have atrophied to ‘functional’ Greek and Hebrew, which means they ask their friends who know the language better or just do a quick search on logos or accordance.

    I think on the most basic level for me I can’t imagine why someone would want technology thinking and making decisions for me. I mean I understand why people do it, it’s easier. However, when we are given the task of instructing and helping others to see the beauty of Gods word, we need to eliminate as much of the middle man as possible. It’s already bad enough that we we’re there when the texts were composed and are removed from the historical context by 2-3000 years. Do we really need to add a technological middle man to that horizon?

    I just recently finished my MTh and am now currently continiing my Greek studies (despite having the use of logos) and am teaching myself Hebrew. As I explore more and more of the languages I just realize the more that I am familiar with it, the more I hear the accent of scripture. It comes into fuller light. And I will not settle for a twitter-size version or huffington-post-like-summary or a headline of the texts that we have.

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      Thanks for your thoughts. I think you express a point of view that is shared by many thoughtful and committed students and scholars of biblical studies these days (if I may include myself).

  • Isaac

    If I could add just one analogy-

    It’s like computer programming. There are many systems out there that essential rely on a limited knowledge if digital programming languages so that the user can spend time creating and not wading through code. It functions on a certain level yes. But if the user knows how to speak the programming language they can go into the program and understand how it is functioning in and out. Furthermore they can actually do something about it and not just rely on the preset options and choices set by someone else’s biases and prejudices.

  • James Tucker

    Dan,

    Good question. The scholars of the text will be those whose knowledge is founded on the text (including but not limited to the language by which the text is constituted, the social history of the people who composed the text, the ideas and issues within said text, the contextual horizon from which said text originates, and the associated literature [from ancient to current] that engages said text). How the scholar engages the text is relative—some by the actual manuscripts themselves, others by images, others by transcriptions. Nothing replaces first hand experiential knowledge of linguistic matters—not even artificial intelligence.

  • Googleful vs. Google-free Digital Bible Literacy

    […] Digital Bible,” as well as providing more information about the course on his blog. Daniel McClellan also mentioned it. My own course on the Bible focuses on information literacy, and yet there are some significant […]

  • Bryan Bibb (@bbibb)

    Thank you for the link and the discussion, Daniel! I agree with you completely about the original languages for seminary training. I do think that once a person has a good knowledge of the original languages, a system like Accordance can be extremely powerful, but it is no substitute for the hard work of learning grammar, syntax, and morphology.

    Among the laity who have no inclination or resources for learning languages, electronic tools like this can also be a tremendous tool for building biblical literacy. So much bad theology is based on slavish adherence to particular translations, as if the English words themselves have some definite power, and on a truncated knowledge of the Bible’s contents. Enabling readers to quickly compare translations and to search for other instances of words (even doing “key term” searches with Strongs) can be enlightening and liberating.

    My course is designed as a first course in Bible for undergraduates, and is designed to build literacy as well as introduce students to the methods of exegesis, so Hebrew is out of the question. My argument is that an electronic Bible platform (even the free biblegateway.com) is at least a good supplement to a regular study Bible, and maybe even a superior replacement for it. That’s the question that I’m exploring in my particular context, an religious studies program in a liberal arts university.

    Cheers!
    Bryan
    (Furman University)

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Bryan! I do think Bible software and online editions can be tremendously helpful if people know how to use them and can use them judiciously, even without language training, so I’m glad to see they are being introduced early in some curricula. Better that they be trained in using it than that they strike out on their own and become one of the many out there with a Strong’s and absolutely no idea what they’re doing with it.

  • Bryan Bibb (@bbibb)

    a tremendous tool for building *biblical literacy*… Sorry for the confusing typo.

    [Ed.: Fixed]

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