Evangelical Exegetical Commentary: A Redefinition of the Book

The release of the iPad earlier this year kickstarted a new wave of discussions about the death of print and how magazines and book publishing will work in the digital era. But there were signs that the print world was changing long before the iPad, and these shifts have made their way into the world of Christian publishing.

An example of this was the demise of the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (EEC) series a few years ago. If you’re not familiar with biblical commentaries, there have been dozens of commentary sets published over the years each each with a slightly different focus and each building on the previous generation of scholarship. I built a website that tracks commentary rankings from other scholars and the summary data indicates that some of the most highly regarded series have been Word, NICOT/NICNT, and Baker. Originally, the EEC was supposed to be the next great series, but after the project was underway the publisher decided that there wasn’t a market for another expensive commentary series, and so they were forced to let it die.

Then in 2009 Logos, the company that makes one of the dominant Bible software packages, resurrected the project and decided to make it 100% digital with print as a byproduct (they will offer paperback editions, but only in an abridged format). In the past few decades, Logos has been doing the reverse taking print titles into the digital age, but this time everything will be digital from start to finish.

That means the EEC will be the double rainbow of biblical commentaries!

What does it MEAN?!

I think this project be very interesting (and not just because 7 of the 45 or so authors are from my employer, Dallas Theological Seminary) because to my knowledge it’s one of the first major academic research projects to be 100% digital. Logos already does a fantastic job linking up all the references to the Bible and other books, but since they are starting with a fully digital format, several old print metaphors can go out the window:

  • Table of Contents: These are less important in commentaries since you can already tell the context based on the verse numbers, but I wonder if the EEC will even include a classic table of contents since it can use other menu structures to do this.
  • Footnotes/Endnotes: these were invented to separate references from the main text, but in a digital format this is totally unnecessary. I’m interested to see if they try to maintain this metaphor or put all of this in hyperlink format.
  • Excursus/Appendix: In many commentaries, an author will put extended discussions in an excursus (often with smaller text – I’m looking at you Karl Barth) or an appendix at the end (such as a longer discussion of marriage in Ephesians). Both the excursus and appendix are designed to physically separate the main discussion from extra points. But in a digital format, physical separation isn’t necessary.
  • Index: Obviously, this is completely unnecessary in a digital publication and Logos promises to add metadata to enhance searches.From their website: “It contains accurate metadata and extensive tagging done by real humans, who understand that when you search for sacrament, results for Lord’s Supper and Communion and Eucharist should appear, too.”
  • Quotations: There are two main functions for quotations. Above, I used a quote to highlight an important section of something you can read yourself. But other times, an author will over a more lengthy quotation of something because it is hard to find or expensive to access. In a digital format, is it necessary to include text in a quote or is a hyperlink sufficient.

And here are some additional issues that we’ll have to work through:

  • Citations: On the other end of the spectrum from quotations is how other authors will cite the EEC. There are defined ways to cite digital works, but I always found it a bit harder to do than print editions. Perhaps Logos will drive for a better standard in digital citations.
  • Versioning: Logos often pushes out updates to digital books you’ve purchased. Presumably these are corrections to the digital edition that bring it more inline with the print version. But in a 100% digital publication, changes are changes to the canonical version. These change also might impact the citation issue because you’ll need to include the version number that you referenced. Also the print edition will be different, surfacing additional differences and citation issues.
  • Platform lock-in – My guess is that Logos won’t offer the EEC on other platforms which means that you’ll have to have Logos to access the authoritative version of the commentaries. It’s interesting that in order to gain the benefits of digital publishing, one has to add an additional layer of complexity and access.
  • Borrowing/Lending – As with all digital formats, the ease of borrowing and lending books with a friend or through a library isn’t very easy. Again, for all that you gain in the new format, there are some drawbacks. But Logos might come through with something new here, who knows?

So I’m definitely interested in, “the latest critical biblical scholarship … written from a distinctly evangelical perspective,” but I’m also really curious to see how Logos pushes the boundaries of the definition of a “book” in the digital world and how they answer the questions of citations, versioning, and platforms.

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John Dyer

In my day job, I work at Dallas Theological Seminary, and at night I write Bible software for countries whose leaders could be called "overlords." This one time, I wrote a book about technology and Christian faith. You can find out more about what I'm up to at http://j.hn/.

16 thoughts on “Evangelical Exegetical Commentary: A Redefinition of the Book”

  1. You bring up a point that needs to probably be reunderstood in these digital times: a redefinition of the spacial qualities of a book, learning to navigate the content, especially academic content, without those reference borders. I would guesitmate that it is this aspect of books going digital which scares folks. And invites all kinds of curiosity towards how we will learn and stay accountable of what it is we learn.

    But, not an issue for those a bit more accustomed with going back and forth between a hypelinked world and a print one, than to those who sit more in the hyperlinked and metadata driven one.

  2. Sounds promising, however, I’m not sure we need another set of text driven commentaries. NICGNT and BECONT do the job for getting me started, however, I’m open to taking a look.

    My only concern is, I usually do some research in the digital versions, but I always site the paper versions in my papers, this might be a change. I also don’t know how much I’ll be able to us something with “Evangelical” in the title, subdivisions in any group necessitates a restriction of some kind and thus a lessening of potential scholarly value (not my view, but in term s of academic papers at the post MDiv level etc…).

    I also hope this will become available for BibleWorks & Accordance or even iBooks or Kindel…

    1. John, your question of device/software availability is interesting. My guess is that it would have platform lock-in, and that would have very interesting implications.

      1. Platform lock in might be an issue, and it might not. Remember, Logos’ Biblia project aims to decouple the content from the traditional application/suite model – making it possible to not only use and cite outside of Logo’s application.suite platform, but also do some other work with the content that might not normally be possible.

        The need to update citation methods for print(-first) media will need to happen quickly. As linking digital to digital in this case would simply need an ID-to-ID reference (that’s something that would usually never change).

        1. Whether the content lives on your hard drive in an encrypted format accessible only through Logos software or lives on Biblia.com accessible through an API, the concept of “ownership” (and borrowing) is still vastly different than a physical book. This just means there are pros and cons.

          We’ll see if they put out a URI structure for citations.

  3. John,
    Ive been thinking through the ways Christians affect and are affected by culture. Specifically ways that Christians steal branding ideas (the “Spirit” shirt using Sprites brand identity) and the World (non-Christians) take Christian symbols for their own use (“The C++ Bible”). All that being said, I was really glad to see you use a sign of a Godly covenant positively in your post. Thanks.
    SD

  4. I think there is some value for things like the excursus in the digital age, though less so for the footnote. The excursus/appendix in separating the text provides a way to distinguishing priorities: i.e. the person who isn’t interested in the cultural background of Greco-Roman household structure in Corinth can more easily skip the excursus than the main text. Typically, the excursus will almost function as a separate independent essay that could stand on its own but maintain relevants to the commentary for a particular section. Putting such material in the body of a commentary might make it more difficult to find a discussion of a phrase, sentence, or passage.

    1. Mike,
      Yes, I definitely think the concept of an excursus is still helpful. It just doesn’t have to be a different font size or pushed to the end in a digital format. I’m interested to see what Logos comes up with.

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