SALT LAKE CITY — During the Recent First Presidency Christmas Devotional, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offered as a Christmas gift to the world The Life of Jesus Christ Bible Videos, produced by the church in a way that brings, according to President Henry B. Eyring, "feelings of light and the joy of angelic visitations that marked Heavenly Father's gift of his Beloved Son as our Redeemer."
And now, there's an app for that.
The videos, which can be viewed by anyone at anytime on biblevideos.lds.org, are now available on a free mobile app for iPad, available through the App Store. Information on how to download the app can be found on this website.
Since the app was released last Thursday it has been downloaded more than 10,000 times, according to David C. Nielson, managing director of the LDS Church's Media Services Department.
"On Sunday, it was only behind the Google search app and the Bible app in terms of popularity under the Reference category in the App Store. " Nielson said Tuesday. "Most of those who have rated the app have rated it with five stars – the highest possible rating."
Like the website, the app allows viewers to watch six short vignettes that have been produced by the church at its new film studio in Goshen, Utah. These six vignettes all relate to events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ, meticulously following the story as it is outlined in the King James Version of the Bible.
The app, however, also has additional features that make it unique. It is divided into three sections: Read, Watch and Explore. The Watch section is the same as the website; it allows you to watch the videos based on the King James Bible. The Read section allows viewers to read the related passages while viewing still photographs from the videos. It also allows you the option of listening to the narration while you read the scripture story.
"The Read section is like an interactive storybook," Nielson said. "You can read the scriptures and look at the beautiful images, or you can allow the narrator to read the scriptures to you while you look at the pictures. It's a wonderful tool for children to read and listen to the language of the Bible."
The Explore section opens with a map that allows viewers to choose what part of the Holy Land they want to explore. By tapping on certain areas of the map, viewers are shown the various places where key events in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ took place. There are also "hot spots" throughout the images in the Explore section that provide background and contextual information to assist with gospel study (for example, one "hot spot" explains what frankincense and myrrh are, and another provides background on Jewish betrothal customs and women's clothing).
"We want to engage people with sight, sound and touch," said Nielson, who holds a Ph.D. in instructional design. "Educational theory holds that the more senses you can engage in the teaching process, the more learning will actually take place. So with this app, you're watching, listening, and interacting as you go."
And what you are learning is focused completely on the story of Jesus Christ as told in the words of the King James Bible.
According to Nielson. "This isn't a missionary outreach or a marketing campaign, nor is it a documentary that provides a scholarly view behind the scenes of the Bible story. This is just the events of the New Testament brought to life in the most reverent manner possible, without anything else added."
In fact, the videos were created because of a need within the LDS Church for additional scripture-related visual resources.
"This really began two years ago as an in-house effort to replenish our visual library," Nielson said. "But once we saw the quality and the inspiring nature of what was being produced, the Brethren felt it would be wrong to just keep these resources to ourselves. They wanted to share them with everyone."
There are no LDS logos or taglines in the videos, and no LDS-oriented narration.
"We've intentionally kept these resources as accessible as possible, so anyone from any faith group could comfortably use them," Nielson said. "This really is a gift from the First Presidency – a gift of testimony of Jesus Christ."
The gift will eventually be available for other mobile app platforms ("We're working on it," said Rob Jex of the Curriculum Department, who was a product manager for the Bible Videos project. "They will be coming soon"). "In the meantime, the website was specifically designed to be mobile friendly and responsive to the various Internet enabled smartphones."
And it will be a gift that keeps on giving.
"Right now there are six videos on the website and the app," Nielson said. "But there are a total of 50 videos currently in various stages of editing. And next year, we hope to shoot 50 more, for a total of 100 New Testament videos."
As additional videos are added to the website, the app will be updated as well, with new videos and new elements to the map and other parts of the Explore section.
"The App Store will notify users when an update is available," Jex said. "And we will always post information about app updates on the website."
Everything is being done, Nielson said, to make the First Presidency's gift meaningful and useful for all those who desire to strengthen their faith in Jesus Christ.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company