Technology in the Bible
On the page Biblical references to technology, we have tried to catalogue and comment on specific verses that mention technology of any kind. That catalogue provides the raw data for the more thematic comments on this current page.
There are no passages in the Bible that explicitly prescribe a Christian response to technology. Nevertheless, a close reading of the Bible can inform Christian attitudes in several ways:
- We can correlate the Biblical text to other sources of history to understand the prevalence, cultural assumptions and economic importance of technology.
- We can infer what attitudes and assumptions the Biblical writers held with regard to their experiences of technology in their own age, and use those as case studies to inform our own attitudes and assumptions.
- We can learn about how people have employed technology for both godly and ungodly purposes and derive principles for our own decisions about the value of technology.
In the end, there is no fundamental difference between how Christians should decide about the use of technology and how they should decide about most of life's questions. When there is no definitive Biblical statement on the topic, we apply core principles of Christian discipleship such as the call to stewardship over creation, the Great Commandments (Matthew 22:37 - Matthew 22:40), a desire for holiness, a total reliance on God, a commitment to the community of faith, and an expectation that God will give us wisdom (James 1:5).
Metaphoric applications of technology
Many verses in the Bible uses some type of technology as a metaphor for something more spiritual. Examples include:
- Winnowing out the wicked (Proverbs 20:23, Luke 3:17)
- Job says his days go past as fast as a weaver's shuttle (Job 7:6)
- God is a shield around us (Psalm 3:3 and many other places)
- God's word is a lamp (Psalm 119:105) and sharper than any double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12)
- God as refiner (Isaiah 1:25, Isaiah 48:10, Malachi 3:2, Zechariah 13:9)
- Jeremiah was as strong as a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall (Jeremiah 1:18)
- God uses Israel to 'test the metal' of other nations (Jeremiah 6:27ff)
- The tongue is like a bow, shooting lies (Jeremiah 9:3, Jeremiah 9:8)
- Paul instructs us to put on the armour of God (Ephesians 6:13ff)
- God's heart laments for Moab like a flute (Jeremiah 48:36)
- God's arrows can discipline us (Psalm 38:2), even the deadly arrow of famine (Ezekiel 5:16)
- A yoke symbolises a burden or oppression or a bond, often in the context of God relieving that burden (e.g. Genesis 27:40, Exodus 6:6, Leviticus 26:13, 1 Kings 12:3ff, Psalm 106:28, Matthew 11:28, 2 Corinthians 6:14, Galatians 5:1)
- The hearts of unrepentant Israel are like hot ovens, fired by intrigue, lust, wine and passion (Hosea 7:4 - Hosea 7:7)
- A plumb-line provides a standard reference point against which our conduct can be judged (Amos 7:7 - Amos 7:8, Isaiah 28:17)
- Our bodies are like clay jars (2 Corinthians 4:7) and like tents (2 Corinthians 5:1)
- The Laodiceans are advised to buy salve for their eyes (Revelation 3:18)
Jesus makes powerful metaphoric use of technology to draw his audience from something that they know well towards some new spiritual concept. This is both great communication and tacit approval for the use of technology. Some examples are:
- The kingdom of God is like a fishing net (Matthew 13:47)
- Don't hide a lamp under a bowl (Mark 4:21)
- Vineyards and wine-presses (e.g. Mark 12:1)
The frequency of metaphoric references indicates a broad acceptance among the Biblical writers of the technologies of their time. If the writers were in any way opposed to technology, we could expect them to avoid these types of metaphors, or to use technological metaphors dismissively or scornfully. But none of that is evident.
God's use of technology
God needs no technology to accomplish any of God's purposes. Although God uses various techniques, no tools are required. God achieves the desired ends by simply speaking things into being. God's word caused the whole universe to be created (Genesis 1, John 1). God's word is sharper than any double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12) -- by implication, God's word is more effective than any technology.
There are times, however, when God chooses to use technology (normally metaphorically) to interact with humans. For instance:
- God is a refining fire/furnace, consuming the dross and purifying God's people (Zechariah 13:9, Ezekiel 22:17 - Ezekiel 22:22, Malachi 3:2)
- God created a chariot of fire to carry Elijah away (2 Kings 2:11
Jesus used various technologies: as a carpenter he would have used wood-working tools; he travelled in boats; wore clothes; lived in houses; made a whip. But he didn't need any technology: he could turn water into wine rather than rely on the traditional technique (John 2:1 - John 2:10); he could walk on water rather than rely on a boat (John 6:19); no doubt he used doors and yet he could pass through a locked door (John 20:19, John 20:26).
God is often said to use weapons:
- God uses a sword to keep people away from the tree of life (Genesis 3:24)
- God wields Assyria as a weapon against Israel (Isaiah 10:15)
- God uses Babylon as a sword against Israel (Ezekiel 21)
- God punishes with a sword (e.g. Isaiah 27:1, Isaiah 34:5, Isaiah 66:16, Jeremiah 9:16, Jeremiah 12:12)
- Israel is God's weapon (Jeremiah 51:20 - Jeremiah 51:23)
- God gives Israel horns of iron and hoofs of bronze with which to break to pieces many nations (Micah 4:13)
- Jesus wields a sharp double-edged sword (Revelation 1:16, Revelation 2:12)
Technology in relation to Redemption
In Four Questions for Technology from the Biblical Story and From the Garden to the City: Technology in the Story of Redemption, John Dyer suggests that:
- When a person creates a new tool, the display of creativity and ingenuity glorifies God by displaying the imago dei even if the inventor was not attempting to do so. (Reflection)
- All technology has the potential to be used for sin. Technology is inseparably tied to humanity’s rejection of God and God’s grace toward humanity in allowing us to continue. (Rebellion)
- Technology is almost always designed to overcome an effect of the Fall. It, therefore, can function redemptively and yet simultaneously represent the inadequacy of our attempts to live without God. (Redemption)
- When technology fails, rather than causing us sadness and grief, they offer us a chance to reorient our hope away from our technology and toward Christ’s return. So when you get a blue screen of death or an iPhone lockup, rather than curse in disgust, it should be an opportunity to say, “Come, Lord Jesus, Come!” (Restoration)
To the extent that music requires a manufactured instrument, it involves technology. We may think that "technology" only implies modern electronic devices, but at various times in history all musical instruments must have seemed like new-fangled technology. The instruments themselves are tools for achieving some human purpose and hence are a form of technology. The ability to manufacture musical instruments also implies the use of other tools.
The Bible is extremely positive in the way it describes musical instruments, especially in the context of those instruments being used to praise God. Psalm 150 is the prime example of this.
Numerous types of instruments are mentioned in the Bible, including:
- Stringed instruments such as harps, lyres, lutes
- Wind instruments such as trumpets, horns, flutes, pipes
- Percussion instruments such as tambourines, bells, cymbals, sistrum
The first mention of metalwork in the Bible is quite early: Genesis 4:22 describes Tubal-Cain as a forger of bronze and iron tools. Silver money is mentioned in Genesis 20:16 and gold jewellery in Genesis 24:22. These references imply the existence and acceptance of mining, refining, furnaces, and weighing.
1 Kings 7:46 indicates that bronze was fashioned into many ornate shapes by casting it in clay moulds.
The process of metal refining is applied metaphorically to the human condition in several places, including Proverbs 17:3, Proverbs 25:5 - Proverbs 25:6, Proverbs 27:21, Isaiah 48:10, Jeremiah 6:27 - Jeremiah 6:30 and Zechariah 13:9. An important component of that process is the removal of dross (Isaiah 1:25, Jeremiah 6:29), which can only be done when the raw materials are heated to melting point. To achieve our purification, God is a refiner's fire (Malachi 3:2). Virtually the same point is made by another Biblical metaphor: that of winnowing to separate the grain from the chaff (e.g. Proverbs 20:26, Isaiah 41:15, Luke 3:17).
Craftsmen (I don't know if the Biblical terminology includes women or not) are people who use the tools of their trade -- be it pottery, fabric, carpentry, metal work or stone masonry -- to fashion raw materials into something useful or beautiful. What they fashion might be honouring to God or not. In the latter case the Bible is obviously critical -- for instance the condemnation in Deuteronomy 27:15 of craftsmen who make idols, and Paul's response to the opposition of "Alexander the metalworker" in 2 Timothy 4:14.
The skills and the wisdom of craftsmen are bestowed by God (Exodus 28:3, Exodus 35:31). In fact Wisdom herself is referred to as the craftsman at God's side ([Proverbs 8:30]]). One of the outcomes of God's craftsmanship is us -- "we are God's workmanship" according to Ephesians 2:10. God crafts us with the tools of love, grace, relationships with others, suffering and the Spirit of Christ Jesus within us. We have been manufactured for a purpose and to the extent that our creative workmanship honours God, we are functioning as designed.
From Exodus 26 to Exodus 30, God describes his design for the Tabernacle, and a list of the required furnishings, priestly garments etc. Then, in Exodus 31:1 - Exodus 31:11, God appoints Bezalel as the chief craftsman and Oholiab as his assistant. Note the phrases "I have chosen", "I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge", and "I have given skill to all the craftsmen". The role of the craftsman is no less spiritual or dependent on God than those who serve in other ways. This is reminiscent of the selection of deacons in Acts 6, where even the menial task of handing out food required candidates who were "full of the Spirit and wisdom". No less is true of modern technologists, who must still recognise that the abilities with which they serve God were given by God in the first place. To serve God as a computer programmer or engineer or doctor requires us to be filled with the Spirit and wisdom of God.
Bezalel and Oholiab were generalists, who could create artistic designs and undertake work in metal, stone and wood. They also lead and managed other craftsmen. In Exodus 35:30 - Exodus 35:35, Moses extends their mandate to include teaching. We continue to recognise leadership, management and teaching as important roles for technologists. The best technologists not only design and create, but also pass on their knowledge and act as role-models who show how a true craftsman brings glory to God.
Another interesting example of the appointment of a senior craftsman is when Solomon requests assistance to build the Temple from the king of Tyre (2 Chronicles 2:7), who responds by sending Huram-Abi (2 Chronicles 2:13 - 2 Chronicles 2:14, see also 1 Kings 7:13 - 1 Kings 7:14). Lest the reader wonder about a hired foreigner playing such a major role in the building of the Temple, the writer points out that Huram's mother was Jewish. Huram's skills are similar to Bezalel's and Oholiab's, as well as being proficient in textiles and engraving.
In summary, craftsmen are honoured in the Bible to the extent that they apply their skills to God's glory. Their use of technology for that end is repeatedly encouraged.
Design and construction
In the Old Testament accounts of Noah's Ark (Genesis 6) and the Tabernacle (Exodus 25 - Exodus 31), God dictates a detailed design but say nothing at all about the construction methods. The design of Solomon's temple was slightly different: in 1 Chronicles 28 we are told that David gave his son Solomon written plans "that the Spirit had put into his mind" (v12). "The hand of the Lord was upon me and he gave me understanding in all the details of the plan" (v19).
In each case, it can be assumed that God expected the people to make whatever use of technology was appropriate to achieve the goal. Perhaps this is no surprise, but we should not overlook the fact that there could have been other approaches. God could have made tools unnecessary, or provided all the tools that were necessary. God could have specified exactly what to do rather than leave so much open to Noah, Moses and Solomon's initiative. But God's typical approach to acting in the world is by delegation. God let's us know the goal and an ethical framework, and then relies on our initiative to work out the details.
One exception to this pattern is the instructions about building altars. Exodus 20:24 - Exodus 20:25 is very specific in the instruction that unhewn stones be used, undefiled by tools. In particular, the use of iron tools is forbidden (Deuteronomy 27:5, Joshua 8:31). The reason for this prohibition is not made explicit. They are to be made of natural materials -- earth and stone -- rather than being manufactured. They are to be unadorned, perhaps so that no symbol or image will lead to superstition and detract from the worship of God alone. Such altars are temporary and eventually superseded by the sacrifice of Christ. Jesus is a cut stone, formed not by human hands (Daniel 2:34, Daniel 2:44 - Daniel 2:45) and although he was rejected by the builders he has become the foundation stone of everything that God has built (Psalm 118:20, Luke 20:17).
God's people appropriate technology from other cultures
The ability to communicate is a basic requirement of social life and the Bible includes numerous references to humanity's development of tools and techniques for communicating.
The fundamental archetype of all communication, and the first mentioned in the Bible, is the word of God (Genesis 1). God speaks and it happens. In other cases, God uses intermediaries to communicate to humans: through angels, a donkey Numbers 22:28, dreams, prophets, a disembodied hand Daniel 5 and ultimately through Jesus Hebrews 1:1 - Hebrews 1:2. Conversely, as attested throughout the Bible, we can communicate to God through spoken words.
According to the story about the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11), God deliberately caused people to have multiple languages so we would not understand each other. Some may say that if God has imposed that restriction on us then we ought not work against it by developing better ways to communicate. But an approach with more Biblical support is one that parallels our response to the curses in Genesis 3. Although God says women will have pain in childbirth and men will have to toil hard to gather food, we do whatever we can to reduce that pain and toil. Correspondingly, it is completely in line with God's process of redemption that we seek to overcome barriers to communication. It's interesting that in the early Christian church, God used the opposite strategy from what he employed at Babel: empowering the apostles to speak multiple languages so that all people would understand the news of the risen Christ (Acts 2).
The first reference in the Bible to writing is in Exodus 17:14, where God instructs Moses to write on a scroll so that the defeat of the Amalekites would be remembered. Moses also writes on stone -- the second copy of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 34:28. About 1400 years later, Zechariah uses a writing table (Luke 1:63) and Paul requests Timothy to bring his scrolls and parchments (2 Timothy 4:13).
Trumpets are used for communication, especially for signals during battle or to sound an alarm. Moses was specifically instructed to make two silver trumpets to call the community together in Numbers 10:1 - Numbers 10:10. Paul makes reference to this type of signalling in 1 Corinthians 14:8 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16.
The Bible mentions a library of government archives in Ezra 6:1. This is reported quite positively, because a document retrieved from that library enabled the returned Israeli exiles to continue rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. This was in 5th century BC Babylon and a far cry from today's quick searches on Google! (As a historical aside, the first known example of such a library was the Hittite archives around 1300 BC -- in the time of the book of Judges. The Hittite archives probably even included a catalogue.)
An important aspect of Jesus' mission was to heal the sick, and although he tended to do so by supernatural means, the Bible reflects a positive attitude to doctors and medical treatment. For example,
- Genesis 50:2 -- mentions physicians and embalming, probably concepts that Joseph learnt from his time in Egypt
- 2 Kings 20:7 and Isaiah 38:21 -- a poultice of figs is used to heal a boil
- Ezekiel 30:21 -- the use of a splint for a broken arm
- Luke 10:34 -- the Good Samaritan used bandages, oil and wine to treat the victim of a mugging
- Colossians 4:14 -- Paul refers to Luke as the beloved physician
- 1 Timothy 5:23 -- Paul advises Timothy to "use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses"
- Revelation 3:18 -- God recommends that the Laodiceans buy salve to put on their eyes
The Biblical view, however, is that medical technology and techniques are not the whole story.
- 2 Chronicles 16:12 -- King Asa is criticised for not praying about his illness, but only seeking the advice of doctors.
- Jeremiah 8:22 -- Surely there are doctors and medicine in Gilead, but none of them can heal the wounds of Israel.
What doctors cannot heal, Jesus can! -- the women who had bleed for 12 years is a good example (Mark 5:26).
Agriculture and biology
Swords Spears Siege ramps Bows and arrows Chariots
Trust God rather than technology
- Tower of Babel Genesis 11
- Exodus 20:4
- Deuteronomy 6:10 ff, Deuteronomy 8:10 ff
- Job 28
- Psalm 20:7
- Proverbs 18:10 f
- Isaiah 31:1
- Jeremiah 2:13
- John 10:1 - John 10:13 Consider technology playing the role of thief in this parable. Technology cares nothing for the sheep. People who look for a technological shortcut into paradise will be disappointed.
God is greater than any technology
I guess that is true by definition since God is the creator of all there is, but here are a few specific examples:
- Hebrews 4:12 God's word is sharper than any double-edged sword
Technology before and after The Fall
Prior to The Fall, the Bible does not mention of any tool. God created a world in which technology was not required. Food was readily at hand, natural shelter was provided, and health was assured.