The Bible—that is, the YouVersion app—has been downloaded nearly 175 million times in 780 languages. In addition to providing the text of the Bible, the app does everything from sending you a push notification if you go to a strip club to helping you form a Bible reading plan. Of course, it isn’t the only one to capitalize on the way religious people are using technology: In addition to apps that will help you find the best kosher or halal food nearby and apps that will help you find the perfect religious mate, an endless number of apps play with how users interact with the Bible.
One of the latest entries into the genre, Parallel Bible, taps into a popular field that religious apps haven’t seemed to conquer yet: photography. Parallel feels a lot like Instagram, but instead of filters, it has you tag your photos with biblical verses. In doing so, it attempts to make a universal text feel personal, and shareable, in the same way one might post a photo on any other social media.
Co-founded by brothers Andrew and Chris Breitenberg, the new app lets people add biblical captions to their photos and share them on personal feeds. The verses then serve as tags—click a verse and you can see other photos with the same one. If a verse doesn’t immediately pop into mind, users can search through key words, though that might not always result in a success. While playing around with the app, I, attempting to caption a photo from my friends’ wedding, searched “wedding.” One of the first results to come up was Psalms 78:63 “Fire devoured their young men. Their virgins had no wedding song.”
As the brothers told the Huffington Post, the hope is to make the text more participatory, and therefore more accessible. Chris said: “It took … a long time to feel comfortable reading the Bible and feeling a sense of ownership of the words. … We want to help make that road more exciting and beautiful for other people.”
Unlike Instagram, Parallel seems to do away with geotagging and clear timestamps, so all the images live in a timeless and spaceless world of the biblical verses they represent—and instead of liking them, users can “crown” them. The idea is that, in time, the app will populate the Bible with these photographic interpretations. The user base is still small, and none of my Facebook friends are using it yet, making my stream pretty dull—according to Time, as of early March it had about 1,000 users—but, in addition to individual feeds, one can see trending photos as well as the entire Parallel Bible feed. Additionally, just as you can see other photos tagged with a verse you used, you can search by individual verses you’re reading. While a majority of the images were weather related or iPhone equivalents of Renaissance-style family portraits—they all seemed to have the feel of religiously tinged inspirational posters—it was exciting to see a combination of recognizable lines. (The day I looked there was a predominance of the first verse in the Bible, a particularly popular caption for sunset photos, also an Instagram favorite.)
The app isn’t likely to be threat to any other photo-sharing social media, but it also doesn’t have to be used just for spiritual purposes. You don’t have to be religious to experience the certain joy in finding just the right recognizable caption—in someone else’s words—for your photo.