Luther, Print Technology and the Bible

The Reformation period, within the history of the Church, stands testimony to the impact that can be made with an embrace and effective use of Technology.  The Reformation was a definitive moment in the history of the Church, as well as the socio-political landscape of Europe, with far reaching implications for the wider world. The reformation was sparked by a singular event/post (95 theses) on the Church door by an obscure monk. However, this nondescript post became ‘viral’ within a short time so much so the message of reform was soon trending at home, social groups and public spaces.

How was it possible for the widest reach of the reformation messages within a short period? Martin Luther embraced Print Technology and this helped him to spread the Reformation message – the supreme authority of the Bible (Sola Scriptura) for life, theology, and practice. Print-technology also helped him at least three ways: Firstly, it helped in the production of Bibles quickly and at affordable costs (distribution). Secondly, it made possible the availability of the Bible in one’s own languages ( Translation). In fact, Martin Luther translated the Bible into German so that the Bible was accessible, available and affordable for all people. Thirdly, Bible in the hands of the people gave direct access to the text (Engagement).

Interestingly, Luther’s campaign was also a kind of a multimedia campaign – with pamphlets, ballads and woodcuts used to reach the message. The Poor man’s bibles (broadsheets with heavy graphics and minimal texts)  and ballads were also published for the purpose of conveying the ‘messages’ even to people who can’t read and write.  Thus, ‘availability’, ‘affordability’ and ‘accessibility’ of the Bible contributed to an ever-widening circle of Bible readers and listeners among the people, which enabled the spirit of Reformation to thrive.

A reading of the Reformation history would  bring to light Luther’s use of Print technology and the (new) Media of his day  to circulate the reformation message within various social groups (networks).  Contemporary online ecosystem of the New Media such as  Websites, Blogs, Apps, Text and Vedio/audio shares in Social Media network sites (Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram) are akin to Pamphlets, ballads and woodcuts of Luther’s time that can be put to use for Scripture promotion and distribution.

The digital presents a huge opportunity as well as challenge for the Church.

India has more than a billion phones and an ever increasing (28%) mobile internet penetration . There is a push towards Digital India that is driven not by  Market forces (with the availability of cheaper phones, cheaper mobile internet and high-speed wireless networks) but also as a policy initiative by the Government.

Digital Technology has revolutionised the way we live, think and (re)order our lives. The digital also brings in new means of accessing information, sharing experiences and building communities. Digital content (Machine-readable audio, images, text)  can be created easily and be made readily available to anyone, anywhere and at anytime. God’s Word ( in text, images and audio ) by anyone,  at any-place and  at any-time.  The Digital, then, offers endless possibilities for the use of Scripture encounter, engagement and exchanges.

The digital is ‘continuous’ with human creativity and the spirit of of innovation. However, the Church, driven largely by unfounded technophobia tends to treat the digital with distrust, caution and reluctance. Can the digital technology be embraced for Scripture ‘encounter’, ‘engagement’ and ‘exchanges’?

Luther’s use of Print Technology for the spread of the Reformation message and subsequently for Scripture production, distribution and engagement has wider implications for the Church, particularly for the Indian Church.

This paper seeks to

(1) delineate Luther’s adept embracing and managing of print technology.

(2) map the digital world and the dynamics of the immersive experience of the digital so as to explore possibilities for Scripture encounter, engagement and exchanges.

(3) Argue for an embrace of the Digital, or at least a negotiation with New Media, so as to make possible for Scripture encounter and engagement and exchanges on web and mobile platforms to reach wider audience.

(4) draw out implications for the full Bible Cycle ( translation, production, distribution, engagement and advocacy) in India.

(5) highlight some of the digital initiatives (such as Digital Bible Library, Dot Bible Initiative, YouVersion Bible App, Augmented Reality (AR) Bible, Digital Bible Facebook page) undertaken by the Bible Society of India (BSI) in active collaboration with the United Bible Societies (UBS) for Scripture engagement.

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