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. 

Photo

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.

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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?