“A prudent man sees evil and hides himself, the naïve proceed and pay the penalty” (Proverbs 27:12).
In discerning the times, as in discerning the weather (a comparison our Lord Himself made), percentages are used by necessity. Not being prophets, we make educated guesses. The future is known only the Lord, who has left us with typical patterns and the identification of factors that often lead to a particular outcome. Therefore, at best, a prudent man “sees evil” coming with near-sighted eyes. Precision is an illusion.
That said, let us link the past with the future on the matter of the codex. A codex is the typical, physical form of a book: a collection of loose pages bound on one side, whether stitched or glued. In biblical language, the word book refers only to a literary work, a collection of words, and not to its particular form of delivery. The form may vary. In ancient times, a book was typically found on a scroll. Today, we often read books on a digital device. Either way, the book is independent of the vehicle.
For Christians, the book is not open to debate. We have one Book, the Bible, which is simply Greek for “book”! Our book, as inspired literature, is the holy book, the Holy Bible, the only book spoken by God Himself.
The form of this Book, however, is open to debate. From earliest times, Christians have sensed the freedom to experiment in the form of their Book. Apparently, Christians were culturally instrumental in shifting the ancient world from the scroll to the codex. According to textual scholar Bruce Metzger, Christians found the codex helpful in proof-texting, in binding collections such as the gospels and Paul’s letters, and in the economy of two-sided writings. Interestingly, while scrolls also could be written on both sides (Revelation 5:1) and bind collections such as the Jewish minor prophets (“The Twelve”), quick referencing would definitely be difficult. In contrast, a codex facilitates proof-texting and cross-referencing, a practice almost demanded of Christians by the gospel itself, as the fulfillment of divine prophecy. For this reason alone, the codex has found a special place in the hearts of Christians.
Given this freedom in form, it would be wise for Christians today to think strategically about the form of their Book, and not just practically. While digital Bibles have a practical advantage, the codex is strategically superior.
On a practical level, the digital revolution has brought digital Bibles, and while nostalgic preachers may miss the rustle of pages during a pause in the sermon, the advantages for quick referencing surpass even the best reference Bible. True, we may miss the mental map of our favorite places on the page, and we may find the iPhone a lazy crutch against memorizing Scripture, but thoughtful Christians can overcome these disadvantages and should not be chided for bringing only their smartphone to church. Portability and easy access to divine truth fits well with a gospel movement. The very shift itself in form testifies to the practical advantage that many have found in a digital book.
Strategically, however, prudence would argue strongly for the codex. Just as portable as an iPhone—one Bible published by the American Bible Society in 1869 measures 5 x 3 x 1.5 inches in size—the codex needs no electricity. It sits completely off the grid. Moreover, the codex needs no device to run it. It will never be excluded by technology, whose developments have left cassettes and VHS tapes with little hardware for their use. Just think, given the ease of Internet downloads, the DC and DVD will soon lack devices to play them, just as the laptop recording this article has no port for a disc. Strategically, the unplugged Bible has a lot going for it!
Given the political and cultural environment, the codex beats the digital form hands down. We live in a world dominated by a Kantian fact-value split. Because truth can no longer determine what is right or wrong, values have been left to personal choice and self-identity. This hallmark of postmodern life has now been ensconced in anti-discrimination law and backed by the Supreme Court’s individualized definition of freedom to such an extent that one recent commentator, Christopher Caldwell, labeled it a “second constitution” (Imprimus, February 2020). Even in symbols, we find the traditional American flag increasingly replaced by a rainbow flag, whose wrongly-sequenced colors pervert a biblical symbol as much as the swastika twisted the cross. When we view this second constitution and its Supreme Court against the backdrop of the Progressive-era administrative state with its kingly powers of khadi-type justice, we are only lacking a charismatic executive as president to instill full-scale repression of Christianity as the sole opponent of Sodom. Should we not, as Christians, take notice of this cultural and political development and prepare ourselves?
For example, how will we educate our children and our ministers in the future? If we convert all our means to a digital format, we have seen that the Internet powers, both Google and Amazon, strongly back the sexual revolution. If we rely on them, we may find our digital sources censored or removed. And even if we place our materials on USB thumb-drives, we are not the makers of the devices that place these memory sticks. The devices themselves could be tied to the grid in such a way that certain information is prohibited. No method, of course, is fool-proof, but the codex must be physically hunted down in order to be destroyed. Scattered ants may be small, but they are hard to exterminate when they spread out.
Centralization leads to totalitarianism. Right now, all the eggs are increasingly in one basket—the Internet—but the basket is increasingly in the hands of a centralized few who hate the Christ of Christianity. Why would Christians willingly keep their eggs there? Prudence is calling Christians to prepare alternative means of evangelism and education that do not rely on the Internet, electronics, or electricity. Yes, we should continue to use these digitals means as long as we can for the sake of the digital audience and convenience, but we should not rely on them for our long-range planning. Prudence for the future is calling us is to reconsider the codex of our past.