On 29 May 2016 an Emoji Bible was launched called “Scripture for Millennials”. In place of words it uses frequent emoticons and text language (e.g. the number 4 replacing the word “for”). Used to express emotion, such symbols are a staple part of text message and social media communication. It is said that billions of these are constantly communicated across the world. The “face with tears of joy” emoji was declared 2015’s word of the year.
However communication trends may alter and develop, we have no right to alter Holy Scripture. Rather than make the Bible accessible, this approach abuses it, downgrades it and ultimately turns people away from it. To try to render 66 books using forms of communication that are designed to speed up instantaneous communication is at best foolish and any reader will quickly tire of it. At worst it is blasphemous.
Very little that is consequential and carefully considered can be rendered in 130-160 characters. Usually it is spontaneously trivial. But it seems we have become so much used to such communication that some now want to bring Scripture down to this trivial level. “I have written to him the great things of My law, but they were counted as a strange thing” (Hos 8:12). Many of these points should be obvious but they are still necessary. Such initiatives are also a natural extension of dangerous trends and tendencies within evangelicalism.
1. It is blasphemous because it represents God and Christ using pictures
This clearly breaches the Second Commandment which forbids making any representation of God. This is a particularly shocking way to seek to represent the holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty.
2. It is blasphemous because it makes Scripture trivial and frivolous
Scripture is the primary means whereby God’s glory is revealed. To make Scripture trivial and frivolous is to treat God in this way (thus breaching the Third Commandment). It profanes the Bible and its author. The author of this book said that his purpose was “to inject some levity”. We are to tremble at God’s Word (Isa 66:2).
3. It is blasphemous because it contradicts God’s purpose in giving Scripture
God gave words, not symbols, so that communication would be clear. It was possible to give a revelation by means of hieroglyphics, but God chose to use words, for the purpose of clarity. God created us in His image with the ability of intelligent communication by means of language, and Scripture respects this. Encouraging a trend of aliteracy [being able to read, but uninterested in doing so] represents a serious decline.
4. It is blasphemous because it represents Scripture inaccurately
Symbols (even those commonly shared) can be variously interpreted and mistaken. It therefore provokes people to pervert the interpretation of Scripture. One person might see the symbol for a divine person as representing an angel. The author says that he wants people to have “sort of have a game reading it”.
5. It is blasphemous because it takes away from Scripture and adds to it
Around 10-15% of the text of Scripture has been replaced by symbols. Scripture warns that we must never take away from or add to the Word (Rev 22:18; Pr 30:5-6).
6. It is blasphemous because it seeks to change the character of the Word of God
The author says it was worthwhile “making the Bible a little more approachable”. “A major goal of this whole process was to take a book that I think is very non-approachable to lay readers and try to make it more approachable by removing a lot of its density.” The stated intention was to remove a lot of the “density” of Scripture. It is blasphemy to seek to deface the character of Scripture and abuse a primary means by which He makes Himself known. We have no right to stand in judgement above the character of God’s Word, as though God’s Wisdom could not have given the right words in the right character for all time.
7. It is blasphemous because if profanes the holiness of Scripture
The words “Holy Bible” are not in the title of this publication for a reason. Rarely do we hear the words Holy Scripture, and yet God’s Word is holy. “Every word of God is pure” (Pr 30:5). How could someone not tremble to take even one of those pure words and replace it with a childish symbol and call it Scripture?
It is necessary to note solemnly that the Third Commandment reminds us that the Lord will not hold guiltless those who engage in such blasphemy. We pray that the grace of repentance may be given to the author of this publication. It demonstrates, however, a natural extension of the way in which evangelicalism has come to treat Scripture in its translation and publication. There are other similar ways of blasphemously handling God’s Word. This is a continuation of attempts to debase the language of Scripture to the lowest common denominator.
“The ‘emoji’ Bible looks like my four-year-old’s learn-to-read books,” said Benjamin Reynolds, New Testament professor at Tyndale University College and Seminary. The Contemporary English Version has, we are told, the unique distinction that it “can be understood by five-year olds”. The translators have valiantly purged from its English every last faint echo of the original languages. What is most disturbing about this claim is not so much whether or not it is accurate, but the mentality that assumes the Bible may be reduced to this level without any significant loss or problem. Undoubtedly our faith may be childlike, but to be childish is not quite the same thing.
The decision to secularise the Bible and make it more relevant and accessible, once taken, has led inevitably to such results as the emoji Bible. Scripture has been abused into colloquial slang and treated with a lack of reverence.
Publishers frequently market editions of the Bible that treat Scripture in a blasphemous way such as Holy Bible: Stock Car Racing edition. They seek to exchange the authority and glory of God’s Word for their own monetary gain.
The emoji Bible also takes the motive behind dynamic equivalence to its logical conclusion. This is the currently dominant theory that translation should not be word for word but rather render the thought. Eugene Nida formulated this theory and said: “Even if a truth is given only in words, it has no real validity until it has been translated into life. . . . The words are in a sense nothing in and of themselves . . . the word is void unless related to experience” (Nida, Message and Mission, pp222-228). This is of course blasphemy also.
We need grace to maintain continually a right attitude to the Word of God: “My heart standeth in awe of Thy word” (Ps 119:161). “The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times” (Ps 12:6).
Matthew A Vogan