The Bible 2.0: How It Works

  • Share
  • Read Later
One of the great joys of owning a bible, assuming you're a person who takes joy in owning a bible—is highlighting it. Another (since not everyone likes to write in the margins) is attaching sticky notes. Obviously this applies to all books, but even college texts, which get worked over heavily, have a shelf-life, so there's only so much annotation you do. This is not true of Bibles, which in many evangelical circles end up looking like Mondrian done in pink and green pastels.

It's the kind of homey touch you didn't find on the web. For all the convenience that my current scriptural search engine, offers, it doesn't have the muscle to allow you to mark up its verses. More than I had imagined (before I sat down to write this), this detracts from any illusion that the "bible" through which they search for your verses or key words was "your bible," or for that matter, "a" Bible, instead of just a set of algorithms. I could see how some tech savvy Christians might look for more.

Well, web-seek and ye shall web-find. (that's with a "B." It's not a food site), a free service owned by Godspeed, Inc., was launched last week, and according to Godspeed President and CEO Mark Sears, had almost 1 million hits the following Monday. It allows you to highlight your verses, and—even more sexy, in web terms— enables you to add and share your marginal notes with other users, initiating a kind of "Web 2.0" text-based community-building. However, if you don't happen to be evangelical you may not want to toss away your pink and yellow pens quite yet.

Here's how it works. A colleague and I just did a story about something called prosperity theology based partly on John 10:10, so I key that in, and up pops the appropriate chapter of John in the New King James translation, with the verse hilighted in yellow: "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." This is already an improvement over BibleGateway, which needs to be told to provide the verse in context. Better still, if I tell eBible to, the verse will appear highlighted in blue every time I pull up the chapter— hey, this is really Dave's Bible— all that's missing is my synthetic-fur cover.

I can also bookmark the verse with a notation, also permanent in my e-bible. And not only that: If I choose, the existence of my annotation and the means to access it will show up in everybody else's book.

I'd like to see what other people are sharing. Apparently, nobody has any thoughts on John 10:10, so I skip to John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." Ah, here we go. Thirty-four people have annotated the famous verse and seven apparently feel my spiritual life will be enriched by their thoughts. Thus far, the eBible community has not attracted a theological elite. "A succinct presentation of the Gospel," writes Scott. "This is a great verse for football and baseball games," adds Chris. "Blah," notes Philip. Maybe Philip thought he was in "eDible." There are bare-bones user profiles of those who shared that seem less like a communictions aid than a marketing tool (name, length of time using site, favorite translations, bible dictionaries and commentaries); and a button for a "friendship request."

I do not request friendship with "Chris" to discuss prime grandstand location. But perhaps if the site hangs in a few months a more provocative set of bookmarks will bloom and growing along with them, the possibility of real virtual Bible study.

So, not exactly Myspace (in fact, there is a site that claims to be the Christian Myspace,, which shows an interesting set of priorities by linking to "Xianity Podcast Episode 8: LostCastAway!" but not obviously to a bible engine.) But potentially, eBible is a new and fun way for people to compare thoughts on their favorite book.

Yet not for everyone. In addition to annotating your verse, eBible will connect you to commentary on it. BibleGateway includes commentaries, but only two. eBible includes seven (two free, five for money), which is obviously an improvement, but the selection tips the site's doctrinal hand. Since I don't recognize all the titles, I call David Singer of the American Bible Society, who confirms my suspicion that "None of the commentaries are anything but Protestant and if anything, Evangelical." Nada for Catholics, Orthodox or the sort of Episcopalian who might, say, elect a gay bishop. According to Godspeed CEO Sears, who self-identifies as evangelical, most of this is accidental, and "we're definitely making a commitment to round it out," although he draws the line at Mormon commentaries. I would not hold my breath waiting for the Catholic-oriented New American Standard translation, however.

There is one more reason that I won't be throwing eBible to the top of my "favorites" queue, however. At least for now, although other links on the site occur almost instantaneously, the money link, the one that actually takes you into scripture, is considerably slower than BibleGateway's. That may be the price you pay for all that interactivity, but for a guy who mostly wants to be able to cite chapter and verse like he actually went to Sunday school, it's a problem. I type "slow" into eBible and it reminds me that Moses was "slow of speech and slow of tongue," so I probably shouldn't worry. But Moses was not on deadline.