Laridian Account Security Updates

We don’t talk much about security issues at our website for obvious reasons – any information we provide could inform a hacker and provide them a shortcut to circumventing security on our site. We’ve recently made some changes that we want you to be aware of for a couple of reasons: First, the changes are comprehensive and as a result, could affect you in ways we haven’t anticipated. Second, we want to reassure you that your information is and always has been secure.

Let’s take that last point first: Laridian doesn’t store your PayPal username or password, nor do we store your credit card number on our servers. When you make a payment, you are interacting directly with either PayPal or our payment processor, Authorize.Net. Your financial information does not even pass through our server on its way to those companies. So we have no opportunity to store it even if we wanted to.

This is important. It means that your financial information isn’t here, even if someone did break in looking for it. It is being handled by companies that are significantly more sophisticated and more security-conscious than we are. The data breaches you read about don’t generally happen at banks and credit card processors. They are almost always the result of a retail store or online shopping site with lax security. Laridian avoids these attacks by simply not being in possession of any of that information.

The first point, that the changes are extensive and at least in some small degree affect all users, is addressed below.

What Changed

The changes we’ve made are fairly comprehensive and as a result it’s possible that you’ll have trouble signing into your account if you have inadvertently been taking advantage of a shortcoming in our previous account security methods.

Prior to about January 4, 2020, your Laridian account password was stored in our database in plain text. That’s a little unusual (and arguably unsafe), but it’s the result of the fact that our original website and database implementation was done by an outside company over 20 years ago when security standards for the Internet were very different. While standards have changed, making changes to security protocols while allowing thousands of users acquired over more than 20 years to continue to access their accounts is very challenging. So addressing this issue is something we have avoided for a long time.

Even though passwords were stored in plain text, they were (and are) encrypted when transmitted from PocketBible, and the database itself is behind a firewall. The encryption makes it unlikely that someone could grab your password by monitoring your Internet traffic, and the firewall isolates the database from the Web. Both the database and the server it is hosted on require secure account login, so it would be relatively difficult for someone to access it and view user passwords. Since we weren’t protecting any financial information, we weren’t strongly motivated to make this change.

There were three main problems in the old implementation:

  1. Passwords used to be case insensitive. If your password was PASSword, you could log in with password, Password, or PaSsWoRd. This was apparently caused by the original programmer not understanding that the database was configured to do case-insensitive searches. When we discovered it later, we already had users who were inadvertently taking advantage of this misbehavior, so it became at least difficult, if not impossible, to easily change.
  2. We used to truncate all passwords to 10 characters even if you entered more than that. If your password was password1234, you could log in with password12, password12#$, or password1234567890. The original programmer allowed for longer passwords in the database and in his code, but accidentally limited the length of password fields by the way pages on our website were written. Again, once we figured this out we already had thousands of users who were taking advantage of this without realizing it, so we couldn’t easily change it.
  3. As mentioned before, passwords were stored in plain text in the database. This was the result of the naïve belief by the original implementor that password-protecting the database and the server was sufficient to secure this information. This turned out to be true, but we felt we could do better.

The new method addresses all of the above issues:

  1. Passwords are now case sensitive. If your password is PASSword, then you must enter PASSword or you don’t get in.
  2. The new method does not put a practical limit on the length of passwords. There is a limit, but you won’t encounter it unless you want to type for a long, long time. You could create a 1,000,000-character password if you want. It just wouldn’t be practical.
  3. Your password isn’t stored anywhere.

Wait, what? If the password isn’t stored, how are you able to log in?

The way the new system works is that your password is run through what’s called a hash algorithm. This algorithm calculates a unique value that represents your password. So even if a hacker were able to gain access to the database, they would only have indecipherable numbers, not your password.

The has algorithm is one-way. That is, it’s trivial to calculate the hash value from your password, but it is theoretically impossible to generate your password given the hash value. Again, if our theoretical hacker had a list of hash values, they could not reverse-engineer those values and figure out the passwords that generated them.

When you log into your account, we run the password you give us through the same algorithm to produce a hash value, then we compare that number to the number in the database. If they match, you get in. If not, you don’t.

How You Are Affected

Because of the way we phased in the changes, you shouldn’t notice anything different unless you were accidentally using upper/lower case in a way that didn’t match your original password. If your password is longer than 10 characters, we’ll still use just the first 10 characters to log you in. If you create a new password that is longer than 10 characters, we’ll use the full password.

As mentioned before, changing the way passwords are stored and used on our site and in our apps affects virtually everything we do:

  • Obviously, logging into your account on our website is affected.
  • Viewing the list of books you own from inside one of our apps depends on PocketBible being able to log into your account.
  • Synchronizing your notes/highlights/bookmarks with the Laridian Cloud depends on PocketBible being able to log into your account.
  • PocketBible for Windows Desktop uses an older version of synchronization with our iPocketBible.com server, which is different than the other apps use and takes a different path to log into your account.
  • Requesting a password-reset link from our site works the same way as before but internally is significantly different.

As a result, there could be problems in some remote corner of one of our apps or on our website that we haven’t discovered yet. If you run into any problems, contact us at support@laridian.com.

Reading Through the Bible in 2020

Every year, our church encourages members to start a program of Bible reading with the goal of reading the entire Bible by the end of the year. Each month we all exchange emails with progress reports and are encouraged to keep going. Despite the planning, the encouragement, and the reminders, about half of those who start don’t finish.

The NIV Bible contains 753,429 words. Divided into 365 equal readings, that would be 2064 words per day. The average person reads at a rate of 200-300 words per minute. If you’re a college graduate, you probably read around 450 words per minute. So reading through the entire Bible can be easily done by most people in 4-1/2 to 8-1/2 minutes per day. Certainly less than 10 minutes.

So why do so many people fail at keeping this goal? The time itself is not the problem; we all have 5-10 minutes sometime in our day to read the Bible. Here are some suggestions on how to get through the Bible this year.

Make it a part of your morning ritual.

We all have a list of things we do like clockwork every day. Wake up. Shower. Shave. Brush teeth. Get dressed. Have breakfast or at least a cup of coffee. Check email and social media. Go to work. The next day it repeats. Maybe on the weekend it happens later in the morning, but it happens.

Put your Bible reading on that list. In my case, I make a cup of coffee and sit down to make my first pass through email, Facebook, and moderation of my church’s email prayer/announcements list. It was easy to add 5 minutes of Bible reading to that schedule.

For you it might be 5 minutes before you even get out of bed. Or while you eat breakfast. The important thing is to find it a place in your morning ritual so that it becomes habitual.

Use PocketBible on your phone or tablet.

You might think this goes without saying, since it’s coming from Laridian, but it’s a valuable point to make. Laridian offers a number of free and low-cost Bible reading plans and devotionals for PocketBible and makes it easy to access each day’s reading and keep track of your progress. Simply tracking your progress by marking each reading as complete will motivate you to keep going and help you catch up if you get behind.

In addition, for most of us, our phone or tablet is with us all day. This makes it easier to take advantage of break-time, commute-time, standing-in-line-time, and other moments in our day to do our Bible reading. Instead of Candy Crush or Facebook, spend those minutes getting your Bible reading done.

Be realistic.

Figure out how much time you want to devote to the Bible and schedule your reading appropriately. 5-10 minutes will get you through the Bible in a year. 10-15 minutes will get you there in 6 months. Don’t set out to get through the whole thing in a month unless you have an hour each day to set aside for Bible reading.

Try a different translation of the Bible.

Because PocketBible reading plans are not tied to any one translation of the Bible, you’re free to experiment with something different. My previous reads through the Bible have always been in the KJV or NIV. So last year I tried the Christian Standard Bible (CSB). This year I’m using the World English Bible (WEB). (Note that neither the CSB nor WEB are compatible with the Windows versions of PocketBible, but work fine in the Android, iOS and Mac OS versions.)

I think the unfamiliar wording of familiar verses helps me comprehend the passage better. For example, the WEB uses “Yahweh” where the KJV, NASB, and NIV all use LORD. Encountering “Yahweh” in the text seems to make God more personal to me – as if he’s more of a character in the story with his own plans, motivations, and ways of interacting with the people I’m reading about. When I just see LORD in the text, he seems to just blend in and is more of a nameless force or entity in the background. It’s a subtle but important difference in the way I’m perceiving the text.

Last year I ran into the phrase “half the tribe of Mannaseh” (vs. the more familiar – to me – “half-tribe of Mannaseh”). I found this confusing, since I had always assumed the “half tribe” title was because Mannaseh and his brother Ephraim shared the inheritance of their father Joseph (each was half the tribe of Joseph). Running into this wording in verses such as Deuteronomy 3:13 caused me to realize the title is based on the fact Moses gave land on the east side of the Jordan to half the tribe of Manasseh and land on the west side to the other half. The important point here being that running into an unfamiliar phrase caused me to stop, ask the question, and go looking for an answer.

Don’t tell anyone, but it’s OK to skim some passages.

I had a person tell me that they were doing fine reading through the Bible until they got to “the part with all the ‘begots'”. To be honest there aren’t that many of these, but they are mind-numbing. Come back some time and look at the names in those lists and try to learn more about them, but if those lists are what’s keeping you from getting through the rest of the text, just scan ahead to where the story picks up and keep reading from there.

You may run into other places you just can’t get through. I get bogged down in the various sacrifices, dimensions of buildings, descriptions of furniture and draperies, and quantities of items plundered in battles. It’s ok to skip ahead a few verses. None of these are that long. Don’t let a verbal description of an architectural diagram keep you from finishing your reading.

Read it in a different order.

The order in which the books of the Bible appear isn’t ideal for reading through from start to finish. The Old Testament is ordered by genre – first the books of Moses (the Pentateuch), then history, wisdom/poetry, major prophets, and minor prophets. The New Testament follows a similar model, but more by author – first are the gospels; then history; letters from Paul (kind of in order by length, longest to shortest); the letter to the Hebrews (which some argue was written by Paul, but the author is generally considered to be unknown); letters by the apostles James, Peter, John, and Jude; and finally the New Testament’s only book of prophecy.

This year I’m reading through the Bible in chronological order using The Harmony Bible. The author of The Harmony Bible has rearranged the text so that you read about events in the order they occurred, not the somewhat random order that they appear in the Bible. So Job is inserted into the Genesis narrative. David’s psalms are inserted into the stories of his life. The prophets are inserted into the historical narratives, primarily in the books of Kings and Chronicles. In the New Testament, letters to the churches are intermingled in the book of Acts.

Other alternatives include reading a little from the Old and New Testament each day, which is what I did last year.

Some of the devotional books for PocketBible include short commentary or homiletic passages for each day. These can provide context for the passage and help you find application for what you’re reading in your daily life.

Be accountable.

I have really benefited from my email group that is made up of people who are all reading through the Bible at the same time. Find some other people in your church who want to read through the Bible. Meet together or at least exchange emails throughout the year to discuss what you’re reading. Encourage each other to keep reading. Ask your partner what was in those passages you only skimmed. 🙂

Don’t stop.

If you miss a day, keep reading the next day. PocketBible lets you adjust your reading schedule to account for missed days. If it ends up taking you an extra couple of days or weeks to get through the whole thing, that’s fine. Nobody’s keeping score. Don’t let a missed day derail your entire year. Just keep going.

Photo by Rohit Tandon on Unsplash

Make Your Daily Bible Reading More Pleasant with “Autostudy Today”

I have used the devotional features of PocketBible off and on over the last 20 years in my personal Bible reading. This year I’m using our free Old Testament in a Year and New Testament in a Year reading plans simultaneously to create a custom plan that will give me readings from both the Old and New Testaments each day.

One of the challenges of this approach is that I have to open the Old Testament plan, select the link to the passage, read the passage in the Bible (which may or may not default to the version I want to read from, depending on what else I’ve been doing in PocketBible since I last did my reading), then open the New Testament plan, select the link for the day’s reading, then read the New Testament passage from my preferred Bible. That’s a lot of jumping around just to read 3-4 chapters.

I’m going to take a slightly different approach to it to make the viewing of the text more pleasant and to make it easier to simply read the OT and NT passages without any jumping back and forth between the two devotionals and my Bible. I’ll have two-click access to each day’s text in my desired Bible regardless of what Bibles are open or active in PocketBible at the time. To accomplish this, I’m taking advantage of the “Autostudy Today” feature of the Advanced Feature Set.

Autostudy Today lets you collect the Bible passages and devotional passages you want to read for the day in an HTML or PDF file that can be viewed either within PocketBible or externally. It also lets you customize the styles that are used in the Autostudy output according to your preferences. Most people don’t bother with this, but I’m not most people. 🙂

If you don’t already own the Advanced Feature Set, it can be purchased as a subscription for $9.99/year. This particular feature is only available in the iOS, Android, and Mac OS versions of PocketBible. I’ll be using the Mac OS version to read from and to demonstrate these features, but the iOS and Android versions are similar.

To make it easier to do this every day, I right-click on the toolbar, choose Customize Toolbar, then drag the Today Study button onto the toolbar. That will give me one-touch access to my reading each day.

Drag Today Study to the toolbar.

On the Autostudy Today screen I can select which books to include in the Autostudy report each day. Since the particular devotional book I’m using is just a reading plan and doesn’t itself contain any text I need to read, I’m going to un-check the Devotionals checkbox and make sure Bibles is checked.

Deselect Devotionals; select Bibles.

Then I click on Devotionals (not the checkbox, but on the word “Devotionals” so that it is selected. This causes a list of all my installed devotionals to be displayed on the right. I choose the None button under that list to deselect all the devotionals, then find my Old Testament in 1 Year and New Testament in 1 Year reading plans and select their check boxes to include them in the Autostudy output.

Since I want my Old Testament reading to come first each day, I drag the Old Testement in 1 Year plan up above the New Testament in 1 Year plan. It doesn’t matter if there are other books in between, since they won’t be included. I just want to make sure the OT comes before the NT.

Drag the Old Testament devotional to a position above the New Testament devotional.

Now I select Bibles from the list on the left, causing my list of installed Bibles to be displayed on the right. Again I choose None to deselect all Bibles, then find the Bible I want to read from and select its checkbox. I’ll be reading from the Christian Standard Bible this year, so I select that one.

Select the Bible from which you want to read and deselect all others.

At this point I can test my output by selecting View. I’ll get the scheduled readings for whatever day happened to be selected on the calendar. The output looks just as I would expect, but I’m not entirely happy with it. I’m going to make a few changes to enhance the appearance of the text.

Take a look at the output so far: Autostudy January 1, 2019

Back on the Autostudy Today screen, I have an option to edit the “style sheet” for the Autostudy report. Don’t be embarrassed if this looks intimidating. Most people don’t know anything about editing Cascading Style Sheets. At the same time,  don’t be afraid to try this at home. You can always reset it to defaults and start over if you mess something up.

The style sheet controls how every element of the Autostudy report is formatted. I want to make a number of changes to what my text looks like:

  • Change the color of the Bible reference headings above each passage, and put them on a line of their own above the text instead of inline with the text.
  • Add some additional leading between the lines of text.
  • Make adjustments to how poetry is displayed.
  • Suppress verse numbers in the Bible text.

To change the color of the Bible reference headings, I need to locate the line that looks like this:

div.bibleref {margin:0px 1em 0px 0px; padding:0; display:inline; float:left; color:#00c; font-weight:bold; font-size:100%;}

This line controls the Bible reference headings. By default, the text in a div element appears on its own line. PocketBible overrides this behavior by including display:inline in the style definition for Bible references. So I want to delete display:inline and the semicolon that follows it. I also delete float:left and the semicolon that follows that.

I’m not fond of the light shade of blue that PocketBible uses for Bible reference headings, so I change color:00c to color:008. This is a slightly darker shade of blue. I could instead change it to color:000 (or remove the color:00c attribute entirely) to make it black.

Next, I want to add some additional space between the lines (sometimes referred to as line leading). This is done by editing the entry that looks like this:

p {margin:0px 0px 0.5em 0px}

CSS style sheets use the line-height attribute to control line leading. A value of 100% is supposed to be “normal height”, and back in 2003 when I wrote my own HTML rendering engine, I made it work that way. But because the programmers who created the Web are not as smart as I, you actually need to set it to about 120% to get natural spacing for most fonts. I want a little extra space, so I’m going to set it to 150% by changing this line to read as follows:

p {margin:0px 0px 0.5em 0px; line-height:150%}

The p element is used for normal paragraphs in the Bible text. We also have poetry sections, for which PocketBible (arguably incorrectly) uses the blockquote tag to create extra margin on the left and right. There is no style specified for the blockquote tag in the default Autostudy style sheet (don’t ask me why; I don’t have an answer), so we just add the following line anywhere in the style sheet. I added it below the line for the p element, above.

blockquote {margin:0.5em 1em 1em 2em; line-height:120%}

This tightens up the line spacing a little bit in the poetry sections, and indents it a little more than normal paragraphs (about the width of one character).

Finally, we want to suppress verse numbers in the text. I happen to know that PocketBible uses the sup and small tags to superscript the verse numbers. Adding the following line to the CSS file (I added it below blockquote) causes superscripted text to be ignored:

sup {display:none}

That’s it! Once I save my changes to the CSS I’m ready to view the output.

Take a look at the final output: Autostudy January 1, 2019 – Formatted

All I need to do each day is choose the Today Study button from the toolbar, then press View to view my text for the day. I like to choose Print, then PDF, then Open in Preview to get a full-screen, PDF view of the text to read.

When I’m done reading, I mark today’s reading as complete in each of the OT and NT devotional books in PocketBible.

 

Let’s Keep the “X” in “Xmas”

This morning a customer wrote to complain about our use of XMAS in a promotional priority code in one of our marketing emails, prompting this article.

Christians and Christian values are under attack in America today. Nothing like elsewhere in the world, of course, where Christians are being killed or imprisoned for simply thinking a certain way about God. But given that this country was founded on biblical principles by people who held Christian beliefs, it is especially troubling to see those principles and beliefs under direct attack from those who benefit from them but neither understand nor appreciate them.

Because of the constant bullying we all face from “open minded” people who “respect differences”, we are sometimes quick to see offense where none really exists. The concern that some Christians have over the use of the abbreviation Xmas for Christmas is one such situation.

The X in Christmas is actually the Greek letter chi, which is the first letter in the Greek word Χριστος, from which we get “Christ”. Its English counterpart (X) has been used as an abbreviation for Christ for centuries — by some accounts, about 1000 years. The abbreviation X for Christ, and variations such as Xt and Xr, can be found in texts from the 1700’s. In no case is it used to “remove Christ” from the text, but rather as a simple shorthand or perhaps as a recognition of the sacred nature of the name — in the same way that speaking the name of God was prohibited among the Jews, resulting in the unpronounceable 4-letter name (יהוה) that we sometimes see as YHWH in English. The substitution of chi for “Christ” was never meant as an insult but was used by Christians as a way of writing Jesus’ name.

Christianity is full of symbols. The cross in its various forms (the simple ✞ and many variations, including ⳩ and ⳨). The dove that we use in our PocketBible icon. The “fish” symbol. None of these are intended to denigrate the name of Jesus or to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. Instead, they serve as powerful shorthand for the great concepts they represent. The cross isn’t just two intersecting lines; it reminds us of Jesus’ substitutionary death on behalf of sinners. It is empty, reminding us of his resurrection. It connects heaven and earth. It spans the gulf between God and humans.

When an unbeliever writes “Xmas” to avoid using the name of Christ, he or she is actually honoring Jesus. To the Christian, the X or chi in Xmas honors Jesus. And it connects us across the centuries to our ancient brothers and sisters in Christ. It is the “secret handshake” that communicates deep spiritual truths that are evident to the believer but hidden from the world. So well hidden, in fact, that some well-meaning believers actually resist its use, arguing that it removes “Christ” from “Christmas”. But they are ignorant of the long history of Christian symbolism. “Xmas” is a Christian term, invented by Christians, with a long history of use in Christian literature, based on the ancient practice of abbreviating the title “Christ” with the Greek letter ​chi​. It is not the invention of political progressives to remove Jesus from the name of the holiday that celebrates his birth.

There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the animosity that exists in our society between Christians and non-Christians. But the use of Xmas as shorthand for Christmas is not one of them.

What Americans Believe

Every other year, Ligonier Ministries conduct The State of Theology survey. In it, they question Americans about their religious beliefs. As you might expect, the results are generally disappointing.

While it’s easy to blame one’s neighbor for believing that humans are basically good, or blame the person sitting next to you at church for believing that religious belief is not about Truth but about personal opinion, the fact of the matter is that they’re often not getting good teaching.

I’ve spent the last 30 years helping pastors, teachers, and everyday Christians have everything they need to understand and apply what they read in the Bible. Whether it was QuickVerse for MS-DOS in 1988, PalmBible for Windows CE in 1998, or PocketBible for iOS and Mac OS in 2018, the goal has always been to put the tools in peoples’ hands to help them discover what the Bible has to say and to teach others what they’ve learned.

While the general philosophy of those around us drifts farther and farther from Truth, it’s important that we stay firmly grounded and that we share that Truth with others.

Read the complete survey results here. Read about our new Pastors and Teachers Library here.

When the Bible Becomes an App

You would think by 2018 we would be well beyond 20th-century thinking about the relative merits of printed vs. digital Bibles. But apparently not. Recently, a PocketBible user sent me this link and suggested I send the author a copy of our PocketBible app.

The author (Trevin Wax, Bible and Reference Publisher at Lifeway Christian Resources) argues that the form in which we experience the Bible (print vs. digital) matters. How the words of Scripture are presented to us says something (or many things) about those words. The question Wax asks is, does a particular format (in this case, print or digital) take away from our experience of reading, comprehending, and internalizing the message of the text?

The conclusion Wax comes to is that one should continue to read and study their printed Bible because what is lost when going from print to screen is simply too great. I want to address those alleged losses from the perspective of one who doesn’t have the author’s vested interest in print publishing and who has been carrying a digital Bible in one form or another for over thirty years and has been exclusively digital for almost as long.


Wax states that a leather-bound Bible with gilded edges and single-column layout “says something about the value” of the words it contains. But remember that the words of the Bible were originally written by hand on common paper or animal skin. The words themselves carried the value, not the medium. It could thus be argued that wrapping the words of Scripture with fancy covers and printing them on expensive paper with handcrafted fonts and gilded edges takes away from the value of the words themselves and places the emphasis on the physical presentation of those words.

The very argument that “presentation matters” makes the case that the form in which the Bible is published adds to the words of Scripture. I’ve long argued that the benefit of an electronic presentation of the Bible is that it removes the text from its fancy wrapper and places it in a position of prominence. A couple years ago I acquired a KJV Bible from about 1908 that was literally falling apart in my hands. There was nothing special about this Bible except that it was the first “red letter” edition of the Bible. After a couple months of sweeping up the crumbs it left behind wherever I placed it, I sent it off to be rebound. I was stunned by the results. Even though I no longer read or study from the KJV as I once did, I wanted to carry this luscious Bible everywhere. I had developed an emotional attachment to the look and feel of this Bible that overwhelmed the fact that the archaic language of the KJV doesn’t speak to me as clearly as some of the newer translations do.

Even binding the books of the Bible together adds meaning and makes implications that some Christians have difficulty overcoming. While I believe the Scriptures were “God-breathed”, it’s a fact that the Bible wasn’t written by one person at one time. It was written by over 40 people over a period of some 4000 years. The copies of those documents that we have were transmitted and copied by hand over centuries. It has only been in very recent history that Christians have had a “Bible” that collects all these works into one convenient binding.

The implications of presenting the sixty-six books of the Bible as one continuous book can include the idea that the worldview, culture, and understanding of God experienced by a person reading an original autograph of the book of Job (considered to be the earliest-written book of the Bible) would be the same as or similar to that of one reading an original account of John’s vision on Patmos as recorded in Revelation (probably the latest-written book of the Bible). We’ve all heard Christians refer to “how they did things in Bible times” – as if the customs of antediluvian nomadic hunter-gatherers were “basically the same” as those of a freed Roman slave living in Corinth when Paul wrote his epistles to the believers in that city. It could be argued that this misunderstanding is exacerbated by our practice of collecting the biblical books of history, law, prophets, poetry, gospels, and epistles all into one book.

But even this “benefit”  that is, that printed Bibles bind the disparate books of the Bible together, presenting a message of unity of message, thought, and ultimate authorship – is not a unique property of printed Bibles. Digital Bibles “bind” the same content together in the same way; they just present it differently.

The author cites research that indicates that screens are best for “surface reading” and that books are best for “deep and meditative reading”. I’ve seen those studies. They conclude that reading comprehension is higher when reading books vs. reading text on a screen. But it isn’t clear whether the medium itself is the cause of this difference. Other studies indicated that reading paginated text results in better comprehension than reading scrolling text. For years, our PocketBible app for iPhone presented the Bible in a paginated format for exactly this reason. While many PocketBible users appreciated this format, most objected to it, as it was so different from their customary experience with interacting with text on their device. We could have continued to ignore their pleas for change – arguing that it is for their own good – but in late 2017 we relented and now present text with both scrolling and paginated interfaces.

The point is that the medium (print vs. digital) may not be the cause of the difference in reading comprehension, but rather the way that text is presented in that medium (paginated vs. scrolling). Interestingly, while it’s difficult to change the way text is presented in a printed book, it’s easy to do it with a digital book. In PocketBible, the user can simply choose to interact differently with the text to regain the benefit of pagination vs. scrolling.

Wax further states that when the Bible is presented digitally, we lose the “geography” of the text – just as we do when using GPS to navigate in an unfamiliar city as compared to using printed maps and our own innate sense of location and direction. Digital Bible readers can simply type “John 3:16” to get to that verse; they don’t have to have a concept of where the Gospel of John lies physically within the text. They may lose the idea that the book of Psalms, which, according to its order, lies right in the middle of the Old Testament, actually lies right in the middle of the entire Bible. They may not realize that the “second half” of the Bible – the New Testament – isn’t “half” the Bible at all — it’s more like one-fourth or even one-fifth of it.

But I would argue that this sense of geography is only “important” because printed Bibles are so difficult to navigate. Small books like Obadiah and Jude are invisible in printed Bibles unless you have a really good idea where to begin looking. But they are just as “big” and “visible” in an electronic Bible as Jonah and Revelation, their larger and more familiar neighbors. In other words, the idea that the geography of the Bible is important is only true if knowledge of that geography is important to accessing the text, which is the important part.

Wax goes on to make a bizarre claim – that we more easily submit to the text when we read it in print than when we read it on the screen, because we have less control over print and are forced to “become more attuned to the complexities of family life, the vicissitudes of social institutions, and the lasting truths of human nature” when reading words on a printed page. This claim is questionable if not outright false just on its face. But if “complexities, vicissitudes, and truths” are what is important, it can be argued that an electronic Bible is better able to convey them because of the depth of resources it places at one’s fingertips.

On a recent Sunday, I was listening to a sermon on 1 Peter 2:1-3. Verse 1 tells us to “put aside all slander” (NASB). Having myself been falsely accused of slander (by a sociopath as part of her request for a restraining order against me – but that’s another story), I’m very familiar with the nuances of the term. I was intrigued by the fact that other translations of the same verse used “evil speaking” instead of the very specific term “slander”. I noticed this because my digital Bible, unlike my printed Bible, allows me to simultaneously view multiple English translations, multiple Greek New Testaments, and multiple Greek dictionaries.

The word used in 1 Peter 2:1 is καταλαλιας, which literally means “to speak against”. This includes more types of speech than simply slander (making statements about a person that are provably false), including gossip (which is often true statements being told out of context). The proscription of καταλαλιας includes more than slander, a fact I may not have realized if I did not have access to Bibles other than the one most people in my church carry on Sunday.

Wax concludes with an admonition against relying solely on digital Bibles and an encouragement to depend primarily on a printed Bible so as not to lose the benefits of reading the Bible the way God intended it. I believe I’ve shown that the perceived detriments of reading a digital Bible are not negatives as much as they are simply differences between reading words from a screen vs. reading words from a page, and that in some cases, the same positive (or negative) characteristics apply to both screens and pages.


Since we’re making arguable arguments, I’ll make this one. Do a study sometime on occurrences of the phrase “the word of God” or “the word of the Lord” and similar phrases throughout the Bible. (Needless to say, this is easier with a digital Bible.) You will find that the word of God is “received”, “heard”, “given”, and “spoken” but not “written” or “read”. This is not to say that written words are not the Word of God, but rather than there is more to the “word” than its form on a page. The Word of God is the message itself, as communicated to humans by God. It is not constrained to shapes made with ink on pages made of dead trees. It is God’s Word that is “sharper than any two-edged sword”, not your leather-bound Christian Standard Bible. The pages of your printed Bible do not convict of sin or judge the thoughts or intents of your heart, but the Word of God does.

The point is that God’s Word transcends medium, language, and typographical style. The Law was no less authoritative because it was printed on stone instead of paper. Paul’s letters convict believers of sin whether they were the original autographs written on papyrus or parchment, or a modern translation printed on paper or illuminated on a screen. The Spirit of God conveys the Word of God to people through their hearts and minds. Always has. Always will.

Photo byAaron Burden

Shhh! The Blog is Sleeping

We don’t really make use of this blog anymore. There are a few articles here for historical reference but that’s about it. Comments are disabled and/or ignored.

King James Version: Red Letters and Paragraphs

Title_PageBack in October, 2014 we updated our King James Version text. We had taken some criticism for publishing a low-quality edition of the text which couldn’t seem to be traced back to any known edition of the KJV.

Red Letters

When we published that version, we intentionally left out the “words of Christ in red” feature, because the whole goal was to get to a pedigreed version of the text and red letters were not a part of the KJV text until relatively recently.

This didn’t go over well with folks who rely on red ink to know when Jesus is speaking. So we did more research to see if we could come up with an “authoritative” red-letter edition of the KJV on which to base our editorial decisions. To our surprise, we found one.

In 1899, Louis Klopsch (1852-1910), editor of The Christian Herald, was writing an editorial for his magazine when he read Luke 22:20: “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.” It struck him that a New Testament with Christ’s words written in “blood” would be both useful and highly symbolic. He approached his mentor, Rev. T DeWitt Talmage with the idea, and the men agreed, “It could do no harm and it most certainly could do much good.”

Klopsch Red Letter BibleRight away they discovered that the KJV contains no quotation marks to delineate those words spoken by Jesus and separate them from those of the narrator or other characters in the story. It also occurred to them that there are instances in the Old Testament where it is believed that Jesus appeared to the Old Testament saints and spoke to them. Should those words be in red? What about the words of Jesus when spoken by others in the book of Acts or the epistles?

Klopsch had to make a few choices (such as in John 3:16ff) about where Jesus’ words end and the narrator’s begin. He opted to omit Old Testament christophanies, but to include New Testament quotes in red. The first red-letter New Testament was published in 1899, and an entire Bible, containing the red-letter New Testament, was published in 1901.

Laridian was able to obtain a 1903 New Testament and a 1913 whole Bible, each with Klopsch’s original red-letter text. The New Testament claims an 1899 copyright and the whole Bible, 1901. From these well-used pages we manually marked up our electronic text to indicate the words of Christ.

Paragraphs

Soon after publishing our updated KJV last year we realized that the text we had worked from did not contain paragraph indicators of any kind. With a little effort we were able to find a source of that information that is consistent with the age and quality of the text itself, and have integrated that information into our text.

The King James Version has historically been printed with each verse starting on a new line, and a pilcrow (¶) marking the start of a new paragraph. We have followed that tradition, which means that in versions of PocketBible that allow you to display the text in paragraph form or one verse per line, you will always see the KJV text presented with each verse starting on a new line.

While some might argue that this format is jarring to the modern reader, we would point out that that KJV itself is “jarring” to the modern reader. We think there is great value in upholding the publishing traditions that add to the unique character of the King James Version of the Bible, and are very happy with the results of this effort to update our version of the text.

Most PocketBible users will see a note on the “Add/Remove Books”, “Cloud Library”, or “Download Books” screen in PocketBible to the effect that the KJV and KJV with Strong’s Numbers texts have been updated. Select the updated product to download it to PocketBible. Windows Desktop users will have to download the setup program for the KJV or KJVEC from the Downloads area of our website.

Does It Matter Where Your Bible App Comes From?

DumpsterTrevor McKendrick is an atheist who wrote one of the top-selling Bible apps for iOS. A former Mormon, McKendrick saw an unserved niche market on the App Store and created a Spanish audio Bible to fill it. Now he’s banking over $100,000 per year selling the app. He compares the Bible to Harry Potter and describes Christians as people who learn the spells in the book and try to use them to heal their children. He compares them to people who teach The Lord of the Rings as real history.

Does it make any difference whether or not the people who create the products you use for Bible study agree with the materials they publish?

When I started writing Bible software in 1988 there were very few other products on the market. I purchased the King James Bible from Public Brand Software, a distributor of freeware and shareware programs for MS-DOS. While browsing their catalog (paper catalog — this was before the Web) I saw a Bible program called WordWorker and picked up a copy of that, too.

WordWorker was pretty impressive compared to other programs available at the time. My problem with it was that the programmer who wrote it was associated with The Way International, which denies key teachings of historic Christianity and adds a few of their own. They encourage severing ties with family and friends and living with other “believers” instead, which many argue qualifies them as a “cult”.

Coincidentally I had been unsuccessfully recruited by a member of The Way while in college. Noticing a strange-looking guy observing me playing pinball at the student union, I struck up a conversation and bought him a couple games (he had never played pinball). He invited me to join his “twig fellowship”. As a brand new Christian with very little foundation in the Bible, I struggled with figuring out if this was God’s direction or not. Fortunately I dodged that bullet, and got involved with a local church that had a strong emphasis on the Bible and Bible study, which is what eventually led me into developing Bible software.

It was difficult to get excited about using WordWorker because I felt like I was supporting a cult. Even if it coincidentally met my needs, it was hard to recommend to others or even use enthusiastically because I knew where it came from. One benefit of using Bible software that comes from a person with whom you share a common faith is that you don’t have to feel guilty about supporting something with which you disagree. You and I may not agree on every fine point of doctrine, and we may not share a common worship style preference, but I bet we’re closer to agreeing with each other on the fundamentals of the faith than you would be with an atheist.

I originally wrote my Bible study software as a tool for myself to use. Its features were designed to meet my needs, which I obviously knew well. I didn’t have to do any research to figure out what people who read the Bible wanted; I wrote what I wanted.

I took my Bible program (QuickVerse) to Parsons Technology in 1988, where, over the next ten years, I employed a couple dozen different programmers. Not all of them were practicing Christians, but they were good programmers. Jeff Wheeler (who would later leave Parsons with me to start Laridian) and I led the development of the program. Both of us were Bible-believing Christians who were not just developers, but users of the program.

Having real Christians write your Bible study app guarantees that it is designed to meet the needs of someone who really studies the Bible.

Parsons Technology was not a “Christian company”. It was a plain-old software company that happened to have a Church Software Division that published church management and Bible study software. Parsons was eventually purchased by Intuit (1994), which sold us to Broderbund (1997), which was purchased by The Learning Company (1998), which was purchased by Mattel (1999), which sold the Church Software Division to a dormant company that was rumored to have previously been a booking agency for Las Vegas acts (2000). During those years we were faced with a number of demands from our pagan overlords that compromised the quality of QuickVerse. They saw “unserved niches” on store shelves and wanted us to create products that were just old versions of QuickVerse with a new cover. They weren’t interested in meeting needs, but in making money.

This was the final straw for me. When it got to where creating Bible software was about duping people into buying old versions of our program at a cheap price because BestBuy or Costco was looking for 25-cent CD-ROMs to fill an end-cap, I bailed out and started Laridian in 1998.

Our goal has always been to focus on our customers and our product, not on creating a company to sell to the highest bidder. The features and reference materials you see in PocketBible come from customer feedback (and from our own needs as our product’s first customers). We bristle at doing things like renaming our product “@Bible” so that it pops up first in alphabetic search results on the App Store, or calling our program “Bible App” to cause it to come up first when you do a generic search for a Bible app, or seeding the store with identical products, all with different names, so it appears more often in your search results. This is what marketeers do to trick people into buying shoddy products. We aim for letting the quality and usability of our apps speak for themselves.

So another benefit of having real Christians write your Bible study app is that they’re not just seeing you as a rube who will spend their hard-earned money on a quickly thrown-together, shallow product, but rather they are committed to creating not just one download but an ecosystem of products that will meet your Bible study needs not only today, but for years to come.

I don’t have a doctrinal test for people with whom I do business, but I expect my Bible study materials to come from people who are as firmly committed to the Bible as I am. It’s not that they’re the only ones who I can trust to create useful products, but it is at least more likely that they’re doing a better job.

Is Your Bible “Missing” Verses?

We occasionally receive reports from PocketBible users that a PocketBible Bible is missing a verse (or verses). These “errors” are usually discovered in a group Bible study situation. Following along as someone else reads, you realize that a verse appears to be missing in your Bible. But in this case, there is more to this than meets the eye.

What are these “missing” verses and why are they missing?

The numbering scheme for verses in the English Bible was first used in the Geneva Bible in the year 1560. This pattern was followed in subsequent English translations including the King James Version, published first in 1611. In the years since these Bibles were translated, many additional manuscripts have been found which predate those used by the translators of the Geneva and King James Bibles. Because of their age, these older manuscripts are believed by many scholars to more accurately represent the original documents. In many cases, however, they do not include all the verses that are in the more recent manuscripts.

Translations such as the New International Version, Revised Standard Version, and other newer translations take advantage of these more recently discovered manuscripts and therefore do not include all of the verses found in the older translations. Rather than reinventing a numbering scheme for the whole Bible, the translators decided to use the same verse numbers as the older Bibles but leave the missing verses blank (or move them into footnotes). The result of this is that several verses in these newer translations appear to be “missing”.

The affected verses are:

  • Matthew 17:21; 18:11; 23:14
  • Mark 7:16; 9:44,46; 11:26; 15:28
  • Luke 17:36; 23:17
  • John 5:4
  • Acts 8:37; 15:34; 24:7; 28:29
  • Romans 16:24

For the Revised Standard Version, in addition to the above list, there are other verses and points of interest:

  • Matthew 12:47; 21:44
  • Luke 22:43,44
  • The order of Exodus 22 in printed form is 1, 4, 2, 3, 5. PocketBible displays these verses in numeric order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
  • James 1:7,8 was combined in verse 7 leaving 8 blank. 3 John 14 was split into 14 and 15.

Another point of view

Some are quick to jump on the idea that the newer translations are removing text from God’s Word and therefore are not to be trusted. It is important to note that it could just as correctly be argued that the older translations added text to God’s Word. Where one comes down on this argument depends on the nature of one’s own research, or on which scholars one decides to trust. We’ve determined it’s best to present a variety of options to you so that you can come to your own conclusions when choosing the Bible (or Bibles) that you find to be the most beneficial to your own spiritual growth.

If you enjoy learning about the history of the Bible, consider the PocketBible book: The Origin of the Bible by Philip Comfort.