Why eBibles Are (Finally) A Good Thing

Several people have asked why I'm not excited about the new "personal size" ESV Study Bible, which offers most of the content of its 6 x 9" (more or less) big brother but in a smaller 5 x 8" (give or take) format. The thing is, I think it's a great idea, and I really am pleased to see Crossway expanding the line this way. But for me, it's the solution to a problem I don't have, thanks to Olive Tree.

I've had an iPhone since they first came out, and despite some initial skepticism I now have an iPad, too. Both of them have Olive Tree's ESV Study Bible app loaded, which means I carry the ESV SB with me pretty much everywhere, but only have to think about it when I actually need it. 


Above: Warp factor ten nerdiness.
A photo of my iPad ESV SB taken with my iPhone,
with my own reflection staring back at me.
It's all good until the power goes out.

If you've followed my writing at all, you know I'm not one of those philistines who's greeting the advent of e-books with delight: "Awesome! Now we can burn all the printed books!" I have my doubts about the whole thing, and suspect we're going to be losing more in abandoning the printed book than we did it ditching the compact disc. Still, even I can't deny the impact technology is making on the way we experience the text.


Above: When my anxiety about the non-physical future gets too intense,
I just flip over my iPad for a soothing reminder.

Of course, Bible software is nothing new. It's just that, until recently, going all-virtual with the Bible required a nerdy impracticality bordering on lunacy. Back in the 90s, there were guys rocking self-annotated Bibles on their awesome home PCs, laughing at those of us still backward enough to be toting paper copies. But the rest of us knew the joke was on them. Now, not so much.

Technology has tamed all the notes and references that overwhelmed the printed page. You can toggle that stuff off and on like so many projector overlays (well, sort of). And while you might expect a lover of leather, glue, thread, paper, and ink to deplore the fact, I think it's probably good news for printed Bibles. Why? Because it takes the pressure off.

You don't really need to squeeze every little thing into a printed Bible anymore. Sure, they're still trying, but as time goes on that's going to seem increasingly pointless … kind of like the physical edition of the NET Bible if, like me, you only use it for the notes. Most of us will be using simple, text-only printed Bibles (if we use any printed Bibles at all) and whipping out the iDevice when we need to drill down into the helps. It'll save room on the page, save weight, and improve human relations with calf- and goatskin donors (the things the non-Bibliophiles just call "animals"). 

The point is, the rise of convenient eBibles creates an opportunity for publishers to start exploring streamlined, reader-focused formats. The next generation of "helps" will start off as digital tools, offering features a printed page can't hope to replicate. So why bother trying? There's one thing the printed page can still do better, one place where digital ink's got nothing on real ink. A clean, transparent reading experience is all we'll really need from our Bibles a few years from now. So why not start making them today?



22 Comments on “Why eBibles Are (Finally) A Good Thing

  1. What will be really cool is when the ipad becomes flexible and wafer thin. Then one can simply have inside their print bible.
    Think about that for a moment.
    One reason I’ll never go 100% to ipad/iwaffer is because machines malfunction. Can you imagine that happening in the middle of a sermon? That would be horrible šŸ™‚
    No, print bibles are here to stay. But imagine a goatskin leather bible cover, that has a flip out panel. For example: The front cover of the bible folded in half:
    WHEN CLOSED: [[[front cover]]]
    BIBLE OPEN: [[left page]]|[right page]
    ALL OPEN: [ipad]|[left page]|[right page]
    Not sure if you can picture that from the above description (LOL) – but, if you can, then I’d hope you’d agree that would be so cool!

  2. I like how the study bible looks on the iPad, but it’s very cumbersome on the Kindle. Does anybody have some tips on using the ESV Study bible with the Kindle?

  3. I think the real attraction of e-books is the ability to customize them the way you want. Find verse numbers distracting? Turn them off. Like red-letter text? Turn it on. But what you lose is the constancy of the text on the page. Particularly for large tomes like the Bible, that “feel of the neighborhood” is particularly useful for finding stuff back. The coffee stain, the wrinkled page, the particularly nice “initial” on that lower right page…those are the things that give you familiarity and serve as “landmarks” as you cruise through the neighborhood.
    Also, I’m one who thinks an extra-special book deserves a special “wrapper”, you know the leather cover and gilded edges. How is the sacred text on the e-reader any different from your shopping list? I once had a friend who was raised to think any stack of books containing the bible had to have the Bible on top, lest you offend its Author. I thought it a quaint notion at the time, but find myself arguing similarly now against e-bibles. Others have commented having similar feelings when they just “had” to replace a favored paperback bible with the same design/edition but with a better quality version. It just didn’t feel “right” otherwise.
    Guess that’s why the Book of Eli wasn’t on Eli’s iPod. Of course there’s also the fact…oops I won’t spoil the movie for you.

  4. As the comments in the Streamliners post seem to be indicating, perhaps the future is heading to where “study bibles” are kept on the e-readers and a high-quality text edition, for finding your place in the first place(!) is the physical text you mostly interact with. I think the analogous thing has happened with the simple concordance….I never use the one in the back of the bible anymore. When I need one, I have BibleGateway.com close enough at hand and anything else is a poor substitute.
    The consolidation of study bibles into e-formats frees up the presses and binderies for just basic text editions. Sure we’ll have our dozens of “translations” that booksellers will have to stock, but any other variation can just be in the things we all agree on…quality and thickness of paper, the luxuriousness of the cover, and slight variations in well-designed typography and layout. Gosh, I could see us even consolidating around just a few different translations for the printed Bibles. This could be a positive development indeed.

  5. I love the ESV Study Bible on the Kindle; but it does get tiresome flipping back and forth from the main text to the notes and back to the main text. So, here is how I solved the problem. When Amazon brought out the 3rd generation Wi-Fi only Kindle for $139, I bought a second Kindle. Now, I keep the text of the ESV Study Bible up on one Kindle while I am reading, and the corresponding study notes on the second Kindle’s screen (in very large font size for my rapidly aging eyes.)
    I also use the same set-up when I am reading bible commentary or any other book that has lots of references to bible verses. I keep the book or commentary on one Kindle and use the second Kindle to look up the bible verses.
    Two kindles may see a little self-indulgent; but at $139 each, you can have 2 for $280 (compare to a nice Allan’s bible at approx. $200 and 1 iPad at what $600?). I currently have I think eight bibles for my Kindles (ESV, RSV (St. Ignatius Catholic version), NLT, NET, NASB, the Message, etc.) and can easily have two bibles up at one time to do some comparative reading.
    The new Kindle is SO small (virtually the same size in height and width as my ESV Pitt Minion but thinner and, it feels, lighter), that you can easily carry two around, which means I am really carrying around the eight bibles and probably 20 other christian books I am referencing (think here Calvin’s Institutes, etc), am able to read/reference two at once, for very little space or weight, and not much more cost than an Allan’s bible.
    I will also point out that you can get a basic ESV and the basic HCSB for free for the Kindle right now, and most other bibles are relatively cheap.

  6. Mark — I’m curious: why did you choose Olive Tree software over Crossway’s electronic version? I have Crossway’s ESVSB app on my iPad and I love it. It has the single column text (that you sold me on) with notes on a separate page for a “cleaner” reading experience.

  7. Maybe we can get R. L. Allen to make iPad cases of Highland Goatskin!

  8. I also use the same set-up when I read the commentary bible or other book that has many references to Bible verses. I like the book or comment on a Kindle and the Kindle others use to find Bible verses.

  9. The Reformation Study Bible app is very nice as well. The free Logos is quite impressive too.

  10. Try Pocket Sword for iPhone. It is excellent. I had purchased an ESV app and eventually just deleted it from my phone in favor of PS. Original languages, multiple commentaries and lexicons. I looked at Logos, but it doesn’t compare for me (unless you’ve invested in the modules, I suppose). The only downside for me is the inability to take notes in the program. anyway, just a suggestion (and it’s free).

  11. Thanks for the insights Mark. But, as an unreconstructed book-Luddite, I haven’t gone to a Kindle or other e-book. I still enjoy checking books (for free) out of the library and other sources. I do use the ESV Study Bible on line and other applications on my laptop of course. So, I’d still appreciate your take on the ESV Personal Size Study Bible when you get a chance.

  12. The King James Bible looks great on Kindle, I use Apple Ipad now which is also amazing for Christian-related materials.

  13. First off, Love the site! Mark, you have really helped me on my decisions for purchasing quality bibles. I’m sure that you are aware of a company called Portenzo, who make cases for the ipad. They can be in the form of a bound book or in a “moleskin” notebook look-a-like. They were pretty cool to me, so I thought I would share them with you if you were not aware of them. http://shop.portenzo.com/
    Thanks again for your efforts in Bible quality research. I currently use the ESV Pitt Minion for my daily “backpack” Bible at school and will receive my Alan ESV Readers Reference upon my upcoming graduation from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I know I will cherish that gift for the rest of my life, and it will be because of your site introducing me to it. Your the best.

  14. Mark,
    just wondering if you have upgraded to olivetree 5.0 yet?
    from what i can see in the app store the esv study bible is not in 5.0 yet
    if you have put 5.0 on can we see some screen shots?
    ohh i dont know if you know but an easy way to grab the screen of any ios device is just press the sleep/power button and the well whatever you want to call the circular button at the same time this will save a jpeg in you my photos directory in your iPad/phone.

  15. in a contuation of my post i have used olivetree for years and am using it mainly because i have nwe king James for it(version my pastor teaches out of). however i am using youversion’s bible app for reading plans and have chosen to read the esv this year. I am realy loving the esv and thinking about getting the esv study bible in olivetree. did you go stright to olivetree or did you give the crossway app a try?
    if there are any readers that have used both which is the better purchase.

  16. Fully agree! Olivetree has drastically changed my interaction with the bible in a GOOD way. I’m reading more and taking better notes. Unfortunately, my collection of leather bibles is sitting idle.

  17. Down with technology! I am a luddite! Buy a real book, and then read it! Buy one Bible and then use it! Yuppies with disposible income…prob reformed…..

  18. Anyone know where can I find a Bible printed in Helvetica Neue or Gotham without designing it myself or wanting to print out YouVersion and bind it?

  19. I opine that to receive the home loans from creditors you ought to have a good motivation. However, one time I have got a bank loan, just because I wanted to buy a car.

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