We remain oblivious to what the “next big thing” might be
14 MINUTE READ
We live in a world of technology. To some, the word ‘technology’ conjures up exciting images of spacecraft and exploration. To others, the images are of quantum computing, the latest smartphone, or the frontiers of medicine.
In our modern world we are never far from technology – take, for example, even the clothes that we wear. Technology has helped develop the finest breeds of sheep, the best cotton and synthetic fibres. The natural fibres were harvested with specialised machines and processed in modern factories. These fibres were dyed with highly refined dyes and woven in technologically-advanced mills. The fabrics produced were sewn with complex machines, transported in state-of-the-art trucks, and sold using computers. The money used had been printed with high-tech plastics and inks, with holograms etched using advanced lasers. We wash these clothes with specialised detergents in purpose-built machines and iron them with irons powered by electricity, itself brought to us because of numerous technological marvels. The machines used through these processes were made using other machines built with technologically-advanced materials. We take most of these technologies for granted.
Advanced technology has meant different things at different times in history. For Adam, forced from the Garden of Eden and required to till the earth (Gen 3:23), a wooden plow drawn by a horse would have been advanced technology. Six generations later we have Jubal who made stringed instruments (Gen 4:21) and another generation later we have Tubal-Cain forging metal tools (Gen 4:22). Nine generations from Adam we find Noah building an enormous boat (Gen 6); one large enough to protect two or more of every kind of animal, plus enough food for a year. At Babel, civil engineering had advanced to the stage of creating a massive tower out of man-made bricks (Gen 11:3-5). By the time of Solomon, technology could create an enormous temple in Jerusalem, as well as ships to travel at least part-way around the world (1 Kings 10:22)1.
The rate of increase in technological advancement is staggering. Whilst the bronze age spanned one-and-a-half to two millennia, the iron age lasted about half of that. Perhaps the next major breakthrough in material technology came with glass manufacturing in the 1300s, then steel from the 1800s. Plastics originated in the early 1900s. Now we can refine almost every element on the periodic table. The last two hundred years have seen the widespread use of electricity, the invention of the electric light bulb, X-ray machines, the production of cars, hydroelectricity, vaccinations, radio, photography, telephony, airplanes, movie projectors, reinforced concrete, typewriters, and internal combustion engines. The oldest in our society have seen the introduction of the electric refrigerator, antibiotics, television, integrated circuits, space exploration, nuclear power, LEDs, computers, most medicinal drugs, the mapping of the human genome and the internet. This rapid increase in technology begs the question of whether we have the wisdom to use it for good. Unfortunately, there are many examples of how modern technology has been abused.
“The rapid increase in technology has led some people to ask whether this represents a fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy relating to end times: “But you, Daniel, roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.” (Dan 12:4, NIV).”
The rapid increase in technology has led some people to ask whether this represents a fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy relating to end times: “But you, Daniel, roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.” (Dan 12:4, NIV). Can it continue to develop at such an escalating rate? Should it be allowed to do so, or should we pause and consider? After all, one can argue that technology is getting out of control. Five hundred years ago, most people could manage the high-tech of the day with a little education. Today, everyone is technologically challenged. No one person can master all the skills necessary for our society to run. Sure, one person might be able to design a program to monitor network security, but he/she will not also be able to fly a commercial jet or run a hydro-electric power station or engineer skyscrapers or implant a prosthetic tooth.
Do we need technology?
The average Gen Z teenager would say so. A phone, for example, must have 5G, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, unlimited data, 4K graphics and sync with a smart/fitness watch, as well as smart devices at home. We all know that the worst punishment for a modern teenager is having the phone confiscated. But is this a “need” of technology, per se, or is this technology a tool primarily for communication and enabling relationships? Older generations, who grew up without mobile phones, might argue that we do not need technology to be happy, but would they go back to times without cars, electricity, and refrigerators? Certainly, the Amish have shown us that you can be happy without the latest and greatest technology.
What did Jesus think about technology?
At first glance it might seem that Jesus did not use technology. Certainly, he did not use high-tech in any of his miracles, but Jesus was clearly happy using the technology of the day. He used boats and asked people to use nets. He read from parchment scrolls and asked people to fill wine jars with water. As a carpenter (Mark 6:3), Jesus would have used various tools in his work. It is perhaps ironic that the Greek word translated as carpenter, τέκτων (tekton), shares the same root word as the word technology. Jesus did not speak out against technology, but he did make it clear not to over-value it. When the disciples were admiring the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus was quick to show them that man’s great technological achievement was only temporary: not one stone would remain standing upon another (Matt 24:1, Mark 13:1-8, Luke 21:5).
Are we better off for all our technology?
Was life better for Adam and Eve before the Fall? After all, they had a simple, stress-free life in the garden of Eden. They walked closely with God, had food for the taking, and potentially had no death and no illness. As a result of the Fall, man has had to learn to live in a difficult environment. Over the millennia, with the development of technology, man has learned to change his environment to make life easier. In doing so, however, he has now come to the point that he has changed his environment so much that he must learn to cope with his creation! One only has to look at the stresses of living in an urban environment to realize that technology has not always been a panacea. So then, we must ask the question, “Is technology bad?” To answer that, we must be clear about what we mean by ‘good’ and ‘bad’, as everyone has their own idea of what these words mean. If we take the view that ‘good’ is that which aligns with God’s will, then our measuring stick for judging technology is simple – it is good as long as we know it is aligning with God’s will. Since our primary source of knowledge of God’s will is the Bible, we then need to view technology from a Biblical perspective. This works when the matter is a simple one: for example, are antibiotics good? We would argue that, although God allows pneumonia in this fallen world, He does not want people to suffer and die prematurely. So, antibiotics that cure pneumonia must be good. But then what about the question of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. Was it good? Almost everyone would immediately say no, it was terribly bad: one of the worst things that the world has ever done. It caused extensive loss of life, massive destruction, and horrible suffering. Having said that, the bomb was dropped to stop the intolerable number of people being killed in the war and the extremely high numbers that estimates said would be lost with the planned invasion of Japan. It was instrumental in bringing World War II to an end. The moral judgement becomes less clear with such considerations.
One of the reasons that we tie ourselves up in knots with these types of arguments is that we try to attribute morality to objects. Objects are neither moral nor immoral, neither good nor bad. It is the way that we use them that matters. For example, would we call a hammer good? It can be used for many good things, but a hammer can also be used for harm. When we realize that a hammer is a tool, and that whether it is used for good or bad depends upon how it is used, we start to see that technology should likewise be viewed as a tool.
How does technology relate to the Bible?
The first, and perhaps the most important, is the technology of writing. Whilst we might not think of writing as technology, at a minimum writing requires a medium and an instrument for marking that medium.
The Bible’s first apparent use of this technology comes from when Moses formed the tablets for the rewriting of the ten commandments (Ex 34.1). They were hewn from stone and would have required some cutting tools.
Since then, the Bible has been written on media of increasing technology: papyrus, velum, paper, and now electronic media. The very oldest extant Biblical text, the Ketef Hinnon scrolls, dated to the seventh century BC, employed silver as the medium. Paper, which we use so indiscriminately today, has only been a commonly available commodity for a brief period in history. Only two hundred years ago, paper was still rare enough that the Medical Superintendent at Newcastle Hospital was unable to keep records of discharges and deaths because of lack of paper!2
Up until the nineteenth century, papermaking was a slow process done by hand. Consequently, paper was expensive. In colonial times, sending a letter back home to England was an expensive matter, as much for the procurement of the paper as it was for the postal cost. One way around this was to write the first page, rotate it ninety degrees and write over the top and then repeat on the back. This enabled four pages to be written on a single sheet. Mass production of paper began in the 1870s and was the result of technology – using machines to pulp wood for the paper fibres. With this, the cost of paper fell. Technology brought increased quality and decreasing thickness to each page. The lectern-sized church Bible could be reduced to something smaller than pocket-size. This increased the portability of the Bible. Reduced cost meant that every home could have a Bible, and nowadays almost everyone can afford to have their own personal copy.
For most of its history, the Bible needed to be transcribed by hand: a slow, painstaking process, with potential for error. Johannes Gutenberg, in the mid-fifteenth century, is credited with the invention of the first mechanical press using removable metal type. One of his first productions was a Vulgate Bible, the so-called Gutenberg Bible.2
Existing copies of this Bible show that they were made with very high-quality printing. This printing process catapulted the number of books produced exponentially, even though the technology still required the books to be hand-bound. This was bypassed in the 1830s when mechanical bookbinding was introduced. In 1868, David McConnell Smyth patented his sewing machine for sewing book sections (called “signatures”), enabling a faster production of bound books. He went on to produce further machines to glue and trim books. In 1931, perfect binding was introduced for book production. This enabled rapid mass production of books at low cost. It is now possible to buy a new copy of the Bible for about the same price as a loaf of bread. By making Bibles affordable, technology has revolutionised access to the Bible. Six hundred years ago the priest was almost the only person to read the Bible. Now, anyone can own and read their own Bible.
Technology has also revolutionised the distribution of the Bible. Technologically advanced forms of transport, including trucks, ships, and planes, have enabled the distribution of the Bible to the four corners of the earth. Thanks to organizations such as Wycliffe, the Bible, in whole, or in part, has been translated into almost 3500 languages. This represents almost half the languages of the world and gives over seven billion people world-wide access to part or all of the scriptures.3
“Thanks to organizations such as Wycliffe, the Bible, in whole, or in part, has been translated into almost 3500 languages.“
But it has not stopped there. Technology means that the written word no longer needs to be in physical form. In the digital age, copies of the Bible can now be sent to tens of thousands of people in the time that it has taken you to read his sentence. Many millions of copies could be sent in the time that it takes to make a good cup of coffee, assuming that the sender has a sufficiently large database of email addresses. Certainly, anyone who wishes to read the Bible, if they have internet access, can download a copy for free. For example, according to bible.com over five hundred million copies of its Bible reading app have been downloaded. This is nothing short of a revolution, courtesy of the technology of this information age.
Can technology bring us closer to God?
No, not in itself. Despite the promise that technology brings, it does nothing to bring us closer to God. We will not find God using a spacecraft or a quantum supercomputer. Technology is just a tool. What it can do is make the Word of God more accessible. If more people can access the Word of God, then more people have the ability to learn about God and to turn to God. Things have changed. In the Apostle Paul’s day, almost no-one could access scriptures relating to Jesus. As Paul said, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Rom 10:14 NIV). Nowadays it is possible for someone to learn about Jesus through reading the Bible and to call upon His name without ever having heard the word preached.
Technology does help us link to others
Technology does help make the world a smaller place. The concept of a ‘shrinking world’ was used at a time when the facilitating technology was air travel. Now we have email and various forms of video linkups. Social media extends this further and makes it easy to stay connected with numerous friends and family members. This has never before seemed as important as it has been throughout the current COVID-19 pandemic, where social isolation has been a key threatening process. The availability of streamed church services has also helped keep churches together over this stressful time.
Can technology supplement the Bible?
Even though it comprises sixty-six books, and over 700,000 words (NIV), the Bible is relatively concise. However, there is much that modern day readers do not understand in terms of the geo-political background. Archaeology, even though it is a new science, has been gradually filling in some of the background. For example, Ex 13:17 says “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” Archaeology has shown that there was an Egyptian fortress on the northern (Philistine) route at Deir el-Balar. This suggests that God chose the southern route through the wilderness so that the Israelites would not have to face the well-fortified Egyptians in battle. Archaeology uses numerous forms of modern technology and has repeatedly provided evidence to demonstrate the historical accuracy of the Bible. This is helpful as a refutation to those who pronounce the Bible to be a compilation of fictional stories rather than being a reliable historical text. Examples include:
- Some critics stated that Ophir (Kings 9, Isaiah 13) was mythological until in the 1940s a piece of ostracon was found at Tell Qasîle with the writing “gold of Ophir, from Beth-Horon, thirty shekels.”5
- Biblical minimalists denied David as an historical figure until in 1993 when a stele with an inscription mentioning the “house of David” was found at Tel Dan.6
- It had been argued that Belshazzar (Daniel 5) never existed as a ruler in Babylon, as he did not appear on the king lists. Nabonidus was meant to have been the last ruler. However, a tablet was found which showed that Nabonidus was away for ten years, leaving his son, Belshazzar, to rule in his place.
- In the nineteenth century it was widely considered that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch for the reason that writing had not been invented. Exodus 24 clearly states that Moses wrote what God said. Archaeology has since shown that writing was used well before Moses.
Perhaps one of the most dramatic examples of modern technology and the Bible is the use of micro-computer tomography to read ancient scrolls that are too brittle to unwrap. One example of this is the charred remains of a scroll found in an ark in the excavated remains of a synagogue at Ein Gedi. Dated at two thousand years old, the charred lump was 3D scanned and using a process called digital unwrapping, was “read” and shown to be a copy of the book, Leviticus. The importance of this find was that it showed the copy to be word-for-word exactly as modern copies.7
Can technology assist the study of the Bible?
Absolutely. For personal study there are apps that will assist anyone who is keen to read and learn about the Bible. Such programs can help with explanatory notes, commentaries, personal note-taking and access to online learning programs. Examples include OliveTree8, Accordance9 and e-Sword.10 Some, such as Logos11, can include features to assist in sermon writing and yearly sermon planning. Online Bibles allow easy access to Bibles in numerous languages, interlinear translations, and concordances. A good example of this is Bible Hub.12 The internet now facilitates courses to be run online for students wishing to learn about the Bible for personal study or to obtain certificates and/or degrees.
“For personal study there are apps that will assist anyone who is keen to read and learn about the Bible. Such programs can help with explanatory notes, commentaries, personal note-taking and access to online learning programs.“
Technology can certainly assist in studying the Bible. Let’s assume for a moment that I would like to study the symbolic use of light in the Bible. In ten seconds, I can find 432 references by searching Strong’s Concordance online. With another click I can find that the Hebrew word for light is אוֹר and it occurs 216 times. Seven of these occur in Genesis, one in Exodus, two in Judges, etc. I also find that there are numerous Greek words meaning light e.g., φῶς, φωτεινός φωτίζω, φέγγος, and φωστήρ, even excluding the words meaning light (not heavy) and light (a lamp). Each reference is shown with an excerpt of scripture that contains the word. Another click brings up the definitions from the ATS Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, and the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Another click brings me a list of sermons on the subject. So, within minutes, technology has enabled me to access a vast array of information on the subject.
So where will technology take us?
It is easy to envisage that most people will have at least one mobile device that would enable access to any Bible translation, replete with commentaries, explanatory notes, relevant pictures and links to archaeological evidence. That same device will enable electronic communication with anyone we choose and link to various forms of social networking. It might also provide church services and enable remote pastoral care. You may, like me, shudder at this last thought. Christianity is, after all, about relationships: our relationship with God and our relationship with one another. Technology is still a poor substitute for face-to-face caring and hopefully will never replace it. However, there are some situations, eg. where people live remotely or where pandemics prohibit face-to-face contact, where such technology is of great use.
Who knows what the future will bring? In the same way that no-one envisaged the internet forty years ago, we remain oblivious to what the “next big thing” might be. It will be up to us to ensure that current and future technologies are used as tools for good: for the advancement of God’s kingdom.
Dr John Goswell Dr John Goswell is a solo GP in Lochinvar, NSW, having worked in the lower Hunter Valley for over 36 years. He has had an interest in using technology to help doctors including website development and running an internet mail group (24 years). He has a keen interest in understanding the Bible.
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- The word translated in this verse as peacock in the NIV is תֻכִּיִּֽים (tokiyim). The singular form would be pronounced took kee. This is the same pronunciation as the Old Tamil word for peacock, used in Sri Lanka and southern India, so it would appear that Solomon’s sailors used the local word for a bird that they did not know. Similarly, קוֹף (pronounced kophe) translated as ape is similar to the old Sri Lankan word kapi
- Bigge, J. T, Report of the Commissioner of Inquiry on the State of Agriculture and Trade in the Colony of New South Wales, 13/3/1823
- 2021 Scripture Access Statistics, https://www.wycliffe.net/resources/statistics. accessed 4/3/22.
- YouVersion, https://www.bible.com/, accessed 7/3/22
- Maisler B., Two Hebrew Ostraca from Tell Qasîle, Journal of Near Eastern Studies Vol. 10, No. 4 (Oct. 1951), pp. 265-267
- Biran A., Naveh J., An Aramaic Stele Fragment from Tel Dan, Israel Exploration Journal Vol. 43, No. 2/3 (1993), pp. 81-98
- Seales W. B., et al., From damage to discovery via virtual unwrapping: Reading the scroll from En-Gedi, Science Advances, 21 Sep 2016, Vol 2, Issue 9, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1601247, https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.1601247