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Why Bible Emoji doesn’t bother me

Johnathan Kana

The world has yet another contemporary English Bible. Well, sort of.

Last week, Bible Emoji hit the iTunes store. Subtitled “scripture 4 millenials[sic],” it's a KJV Bible that's 15-percent shorter, employs common web-speak contractions and replaces frequently appearing words with a library of 80 colorful emoji. You can also sample it online.

Its anonymous creator — known publicly as Bible-Emoji-author.jpg#asset:52123has said that emoji can help make Scripture accessible to a wider audience: “They allow you to convey an idea to anyone, regardless of what language they speak.” Indeed, in a digital society where conversations are increasingly mediated by text messages and social media feeds, emoji do function a lot like body language. They also reduce the number of characters (and the amount of screen space) required to communicate core ideas such as happiness, approval, confusion and sympathy. By applying these insights to the Biblical text, Bible Emoji aims to turn what some millennials perceive as an irrelevant old book into something fun to read and easy to share.

Predictably, however, the project is drawing a backlash from some Christians who think it's an unacceptably profane treatment of Scripture. “It's literally taking our Word and making it into a joke!” tweeted one angry user. Some have even regarded the book as blasphemous — which is somewhat understandable, given the way God is consistently depicted as God.jpg#asset:52300 (even when He's raining down wrath).

I, for one, could use a little more whimsy in my faith walk.

More troubling is its misleading branding as a new “translation.” In this era of declining Biblical literacy, some may fail to appreciate how Bible Emoji actually increases rather than removes linguistic distance between readers and the original authors. That's because extra-biblical connotations readers assign to emoji may do interpretive violence to the original words. Consider the English word “love,” which Bible Emoji renders as love.jpg#asset:53549. Such an icon works fine to describe Solomon's love for his bride, but it perverts the rich agape John attributes to God's essential character. So caution is definitely in order.

Still, the project's missional focus seems to trump its shortcomings. A 2014 Barna study reveals that millennials are quite polarized on their views of the Bible. Non-Christians display ambivalent or “extremely hostile” perspectives, while professing Christians actually prioritize Bible reading over other spiritual practices like prayer and church attendance. If that's the case, we have little to fear from something like Bible Emoji. Christian millennials aren't likely to make it their primary Bible, but they may use it to winsomely engage their peers with the words of life.

That, at least, is what Bible-Emoji-author.jpg#asset:52123 wants readers to do. “Hopefully it puts a little levity and fun into the text. I think this makes sharing a Bible verse with your friends easier and more interesting,” the author said. Amen to that.

I, for one, could use a little more whimsy in my faith walk. That's why I'm embracing the smiley faces and unorthodox punctuation. I'm choosing not to roll my eyes at the colorful Bible verse tweets. There's nothing irreverent about helping our hurting brothers and sisters hear the Holy Spirit (or in this case holy_spirit.jpg#asset:53378) calling to them in the language of a Friend.

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