Updated: April 26, 2020
Thanks for using the Book of Common Prayer: Daily Office Readings app. I hope you’ve found it useful.
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This version (2.0) fixes several issues I’ve received feedback on over the years—thank you to those of you who reached out! The update also includes some changes to the translation used in the app and, therefore, can be quite a shift for daily users.
Since the user base has grown to tens—possibly hundreds—of thousands globally, I wanted to share why some of these changes were necessary and what drove me to invest so much time and energy into a free application. I’ve included some other FAQs as well.
Why did this app need to exist?
In 2012, I built a mobile application to facilitate one of my daily rituals: reading the Daily Office selections from the Book of Common Prayer. No apps available at the time fit my need for a simple list of the day’s readings.
The most critical part of those readings—in some ways, even more important than the readings themselves—was that the selections corresponded to a literal day and year, so that anyone around the world following the same schedule were reading the same thing every day. This was what drove me to the Book of Common Prayer. The ability to align and connect with friends and strangers around the world is a rare opportunity; it’s an especially unique experience as the daily readings make their way through all of scriptures, including the biblical apocrypha.
In my experience, modern, American Christianity tends to organize scripture into chunks and extract “verses” from the context of their specific book, author, and even cultural context. Parts of the Bible are genuinely tough to parse, and some are deeply offensive. While discussions of contextualizing historical writings is well beyond the scope of this post, the point is that most modern experiences of these ancients texts are in contexts (read: churches) that will gladly discuss the portions that seem to support a point being made or a stance being supported. Anything that doesn’t support the argument simply isn’t read or considered.
The idea that people around the world could be reading the same things each day—enjoying the poetry, appreciating the stories, and confronting the confusing or dismaying parts—still appeals to me, even though the ritual is no longer a part of my life. I appreciate and honor what this ritual gave to me personally.
Over the last near-decade, I’ve also learned these readings mean a lot to countless others around the world. I’ve received some of the kindest thanks and some of the most eager requests for fixes and improvements. I never imagined so many people would choose to use this little application I built to connect with the world around them.
Why did the translation change from ESV (English Standard Version)?
Until the most recent update, the app exclusively used the ESV translation. Limited APIs existed for various bible translations in 2012—ESV was good enough and offered a way to stream audio.
At the time, there were some things about the ESV licensing agreements that bothered me. These issues still exist and I think are worth highlighting—they’re important enough to me that they pushed me towards another translation entirely.
You must use the text for non-commercial purposes, and your website must be non-commercial. […] This service is intended primarily for personal, church, and Christian ministry organization use.
It’s nice that they plainly state what the API is really designed for. It’s fully within their rights to not allow “non-commercial” uses, but that makes it impossible for me to allow others to support my work through a paid app or upgrade.
While this project originally started out as a personal project for me, it’s become a service that, at least, thousands rely on every day. It takes time and literal money to build the app itself and keep its services online. With the new version of the app, I wanted to use APIs that would not limit my ability to charge for my work. Most APIs for other translations have this restriction as well.
Personally, I find it frustrating to be told I can’t charge any amount of money for something I build by organizations whose copyrighted translations are quite literally derivations from documents they did not create or write (prior translations of scriptures). Bible translations themselves are essentially re-contextualizing existing texts in a new format and charging money for their use. I respect their legal rights to treat others differently.
Speaking of treating others differently, here’s the other major issue I have with the ESV API terms of service.
This service is available for use only by individuals and non-commercial organizations that use the service in ways consistent with the historic Christian understanding of doctrine and the Bible, as summarized in the following foundational doctrines. (See our statement of faith.)
- The Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God.
- There is one God, the Creator of all things, who exists eternally in three persons–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man; he died on the cross, rose from the dead, ascended to heaven, and will come again.
- Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
You agree to maintain the moral integrity, spirit, fervor, and consistency in message that is inherent in the nature of the ESV Bible. This means that your use is consistent with the above statement of faith and that you give proper attribution.
It’s wildly offensive to force other human beings to agree to not only your personal beliefs, but extremely specific terminology, in order to have access to a translation of scripture. It’s hypocritical to demand alignment with specific English words to gain access to a translation of words that were not specific and English enough already (thus, the need for the translation at all).
These specific beliefs and terms fundamentally exclude any form of non-evangelical Christianity, not to mention the rest of the religious beliefs around the world that may simply use different words, stories, or phrases to explain the same concepts. Literally, anyone who doesn’t “believe” what this document lays out is told they may not include this translation in their project at all.
You may say, “That’s their right, and you can choose not to use it.” And you’d be correct! That’s why I won’t any longer.
But I’d also like you to consider this approach does not convey any form of love, compassion, or tolerance that these scriptures themselves encourage. I hope the ESV and other translations remove these restrictions in the future and embrace the vast majority of the world that doesn’t adhere to overly literal and specific statements of “faith”.
Why did the translation change to WEB (World English Bible)?
Since seemingly all existing scripture translations use their licensing to make money instead of offering a service, I was restricted to using translations in the Public Domain, which would not be protected by copyright law. While a few versions have passed into the public domain, like American Standard Version (ASV) and King James Version (KJV), the World English Bible was designed to be Public Domain.
Not only does that mean I can incorporate this translation with no concern about legal restrictions, the stated purpose of WEB also better aligns with my approach to use of these scriptures.
This is a quality translation of the Holy Bible into modern English that you may freely use, either for personal or commercial purposes. There is no legal monopoly controlling what books you may quote Scriptures from this translation, or what Bible study software may or may not use this translation.
I believe this is the stance necessary to appreciate and modernize scripture in an Internet-permeated world. Not only does culture change and splinter more rapidly now—requiring faster and more frequent re-contextualizing—but we’re also connected, globally, in a fundamentally different way now. Before now, we were never able to instantly connect with people in other countries with different languages and contexts and stories.
With this change to how our cultures are connected, it’s an ideal time to “open up” scriptural texts and allow them to be studied, rewritten, and discussed. For instance, this stance is clearly on display in the WEB’s FAQ section, where the authors openly share why they made certain decisions in translation. You can even submit a recommendation for a change to the translation.
This approach to scripture breaks down the idea that “amatuers” can’t do the work of translating old writings (even though we’ve done exactly this in English classes). It’s possible to value the years of knowledge and study by Bible scholars without relinquishing your individual ability to listen and discern.
There is no final, literal, or correct interpretation of scripture, as indicated primarily by the number of coexisting English translations.
As with anything humanity has kept around for thousands of years, it’s our optimistic engagement with and contextualization of ancient texts that gives them value. Anything less is just a relic.
How is the app built?
With the exception of “wrapper” APIs that allow the app to be bundled and distributed to app stores, the entire app is a static, HTML website that’s well on its way to being a progressive web application. This was possible because the Daily Office readings are on a multi-year cycle, so there’s never any “dynamic” information needed.
This is the Lighthouse audit from Google on the app’s hosted site.
A fast and accessible app is of paramount importance to me. “Accessible” means people who use assistive technologies (like screen readers) can use the app successfully. Again, this aligns with the idea that these scriptures should be open to everyone.
All of the data itself (daily readings and their scriptures) were generated by creating a local WordPress installation and writing code that grabbed and stored the daily readings and the scriptures.
Again, because WEB is free and unrestricted, many free and unrestricted open source applications exist that are built on top of it. I was able to use a modified version of this API to grab the various readings.
What updates are coming for the app?
- I’m working on a version that adds audio readings back, but it’s not simple. There is no full WEB audio repository yet, so I’m using creative methods to get this built. I’m hoping to offer this as an in-app upgrade or premium version to help sustain the app for years to come.
- I hope to add additional languages (and possibly other Public Domain translations like KJV) to allow for individual user selection in the app.
Feel free to send me your ideas and requests.
Considering you wrote a Bible app, does that mean you believe everything I think Christians believe? Can’t the Bible be used to oppress and hurt?
The Bible is frequently cited by those who hurt others, both intentionally and unintentionally. Sometimes scriptures are taken out of context and have their meaning abused; other times, their contextual meanings produce harmful actions in modern times. I want to assure you I have no motives—you should find using this app to be a neutral presentation of these texts, with no religious language or iconography beyond the app’s icon.
I personally aim to love, respect, and support everyone, regardless of their feelings related to scripture. I feel most presentations of the Bible are exclusionary, much in the way the ESV’s Terms of Service are (read more about that above). I hope you’ll find the interface simple and, in a sense, objective.
To the larger question about how the Bible is used by hurtful people in modern times: I hear and understand that. I see it, too.
I don’t find this to be the fault of the scriptures themselves, and I don’t think making the texts more difficult to experience would be a helpful way to address harmful people.
Simple, easy, objective access to information (like historical texts) should be encouraged, and so should our individual responsibility to consider and discern any truths they might contain.
Or, better said by Wong in Doctor Strange:
How can I support you?
Over the years, many of you have asked how you can support me, since the app is free. I discuss some of my plans in the post, but you can feel free to donate to my PayPal account any time. I’ve invested countless hours in the app over the last 8+ years and value your support—both monetary and not. ♥️