Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have always been encouraged to study the scriptures each day, both individually and as families.
"The scriptures testify of God and contain the words of eternal life," President Thomas S. Monson said in the priesthood session earlier this month. "They become the foundation of our message."
But church members have never had so many options for accessing the standard works.
The 2013 version of the scriptures, released March 1 with improved study aids, new photos, maps and other minor changes, are available online through any digital format or mobile device.
A print edition, however, won't be available until August.
Ready or not, more church members are embracing technology and the use of electronic scriptures through tablets, cellphones and other digital devices. They are free to download and easy to carry. Fewer members appear to be lugging around their 10-pound tote.
"I prefer electronic scriptures for church so I don't have to carry bulky scriptures with my kids," said Dave Kimball, a Taylorsville resident.
"I like electronic because I can also check the scores or leaderboard and everyone just thinks I'm looking up a scripture," joked Rod Gardner, an honest member from Garland who raises the obvious issue of distraction.
Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve recently shared his thoughts on the matter, but opinions among church members vary as to which is best. Some are fascinated by the speed at which they can locate sources and enhance their personal study with electronic scriptures, while others prefer the traditional study methods. Others say they are too distracted or tempted by additional features on their fancy gadgets.
"To me, it is the difference between fast food and a home cooked meal. I am very traditional about it, but I don't get the same feeling from digital versions," said Linda Cammack of Ogden. "With the book, I like that it has one purpose — learning the gospel. No games or status updates or puppy videos are there to distract from the real intent."
Benefits to both
As someone who has directed the development of nuclear fuel for a wide variety of naval and land-based power plants, and who has a natural curiosity about how things work, Elder Scott is open to embracing various types of technology as a way to spread and teach the gospel, according to an October 2009 Mormonchannel.org interview.
When asked about the pros and cons of technology related to the onward march of the church, Elder Scott discussed benefits of both digital and print scriptures. There are great blessings that can come from using technology, the apostle said.
"It’s very easy with a computer, if you’re going to give a talk, to word-search, pick out scriptures, find and organize," Elder Scott said.
He also added, "There is nothing like hefting the book in your hand, reading and marking your own volume of scriptures."
When a personal electronic device is used with discipline, it can be a tool of protection, Elder Scott said in his recent general conference address.
"Who could have imagined not very many years ago that the full standard works and years of general conference messages would fit into your pocket? Just having them in your pocket will not protect you, but studying, pondering and listening to them during quiet moments of each day will enhance communication through the Spirit," the apostle said.
"Be wise in how you embrace technology. Mark important scriptures on your device and refer back to them frequently. If you young people would review a verse of scripture as often as some of you send text messages, you could soon have hundreds of passages of scripture memorized. Those passages would prove to be a powerful source of inspiration and guidance by the Holy Ghost in times of need."
After years of marking several print editions, Ardis Parshall used technology to format her own personal electronic scriptures, a process that she describes in great detail on the blog "Keepapitchinin." The process involved copying and pasting a digital version of the scriptures into a format that was easier to read for her as an individual.
"On the one hand, this has all taken an insane amount of work and I am hardly recommending that anybody else replicate it on a large scale," Parshall wrote. "On the other hand, it has been useful enough to me that I would recommend it for relatively short passages of scripture that you might be preparing for a lesson or talk. Although I’ve been using this system only for the past three months or so, I am hooked on it. It is so easy to organize my notes, and — as long as I keep my computer backed up — these notes are preserved more permanently than any paper notes I’ve ever made. I can carry them with me to church on my Kindle, needing only a moment each week to upload the latest version of chapters needed for Sunday School."
Inspired by Parshall's example, Aaron Goodwin set up a similar design on his computer and shared the details on his blog, "Youshouldbe.net."
"I gave up studying physical copies of the scriptures about a year ago. The notes I’d write in a journal were tedious, and often I’d lose my thoughts before I could put the ink down on the paper," Goodwin wrote. "I decided that keeping my notes digitally was the best answer, and since I’d be using a computer to write, I concluded I might as well read them on the same screen."
Ryan Olsen has embraced technology in his personal study and marvels at his ability to reference multiple resources in seconds.
"I find scripture study more effective with the integration of church manuals, general conference and other resources on the LDS Gospel app. You can quickly look up words, verses and talks," Olsen said. "With digital scriptures you have almost unlimited note-taking ability."
Jake Warburton uses his iPad at church and his print version for personal study.
"It's nice to have these resources in meetings to get a quick spiritual thought, play hymn accompaniment and invite the Spirit. Now that the church has Wi-Fi in most buildings ... it's easy to jump on and follow along during class. I also use it to get on the church's website and log in to the LDS Leaders tools to review member info," he said.
"For my personal study, I use my trusty old physical set. There is something more intimate about learning from the Lord with a good old fashioned leather and paper book. My focus is more amplified with my physical set — I'm not tempted to browse somewhere outside as on an electronic device."
There is something nice about having 20 pounds of materials in the palm of my hand, Leo Robertson III said.
"I also enjoy finding all the scriptures involved in a Sunday School lesson and not feeling like I'm trying out for the scripture mastery team," Robertson said. "I also think the youth should be required to know where every book is and be able to find that book in a hard copy before parents give them a device."
Marie Bair agreed with Robertson on his point that parents should insist their children learn to use traditional scriptures.
"I do love how easy electronics make it, but I don't like the fact that our children won't know their scriptures," Bair said. "Knowing them in the book is something special."
All that matters to Kimball is that his kids are learning.
"I care about my children learning the truth and learning to love true doctrine through the scriptures," he said. "Whatever medium works for them works for me."
Despite the convenience of her mobile device, Joell Rigby admitted she gets distracted in Sunday School.
"I feel like I am more easily distracted when I have my scriptures on my phone and the lesson starts to drag a little in Sunday School," Rigby said. "It's really easy for me to think, 'I'll just jump onto Facebook or whatever just for a little while.’ ”
Another downside is a dead battery, said Aaron Holt.
"For ease of carrying them, electronic is the way to go, right up to the time you forget to plug it in and the battery dies, and now no more scriptures," Holt said.
After all the pros and cons, Brian Mickelson still finds he is able to focus more easily when it is just him, his marking pen and the physical scriptures.
"I find it easier to mark words and phrases in the physical scriptures since the touch screen isn't always sensitive enough to allow me to create a nuanced marking," Michelson said. "I also want my children to see me studying my scriptures so that they know how important it is to me, and physical scriptures are easier for them to recognize."
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