At about the same time every summer I feel like a 5-year-old in a candy store. I get to dedicate an extended period of time to playing with the latest and greatest in bible study software, and I get to call it work. When the packages arrive, I usually stop whatever I’m doing, find my laptop and the closest chair, and begin installing. My wife looks on, snickering to herself, eyes rolling, and then graciously helps clear my ‘work space’ and allows me to sit there uninterrupted for the next few hours. I love my wife.
Each year this survey highlights programs of interest to preachers that have been newly released in the past year or have major new updates. There are many great software packages out there that we won’t mention here, because they didn’t come out this year. (Check those September-October issues of Preaching from past years to check out other programs.)
As always, my approach in the annual survey is to highlight features I think will aid preachers in the task of sermon preparation, not to provide a comprehensive and critical review. Space simply does not allow for a full report of features – that’s what software manuals are for (and who reads those?). Hopefully, this approach will give you a feel for the strengths and benefits of each and provide some direction for further investigation.
BibleWorks 7 (BW7) maintains the status of Original Language Tool par excellence that previous versions worked to achieve. If you’re not familiar with BibleWorks, one thing you need to know up front is that it operates from a different philosophy than most other major Bible study software providers. Rather than developing a ‘library’ of resources that might or might not be relevant to your study of the biblical text, BibleWorks provides its users with resources specific to textual studies, especially in the original languages. This both narrows the focus of their objectives and keeps costs down, while at the same time maintaining a high standard of quality for the tool itself and the primary reference works included (BW7 contains all the major original language texts and English translations, as well as translations in 32 languages).
BW7 offers highly sophisticated search capabilities and morphological analysis. Complex searches often take less than a second – a real benefit when compared to the more complex searches of other bible study programs. Past surveys include more specifics about the capabilities and features of BibleWorks. Our goal here is to survey what’s new in version 7.
Probably the most noticeable change (and in this user’s opinion, the most valuable one) to BW7 is the new user interface. The great benefit of the layout is the way it intuitively progresses from searching, to browsing, to analysis of specific words, making your software tool work through your exegesis the way you do. Everything’s neatly organized and easily accessible.
BW7 includes a completely rewritten Editor that’s fully compatible with MS Word and WordPad (BW7 supports both Unicode and non-Unicode). Often, editors included with Bible study software are limited to the point of ineffectiveness. However, BW7’s editor contains an array of features that allow you to significantly format text before it’s ever transferred to Word – this saves you the headache of constantly switching between programs.
BW7 has also added a tool (Key Word in Context) that allows you to build context lexicons and collocation tables for words in any version. This is very useful for discovering patterns for significant words and phrases. BW7 has also updated the lexicon links (almost 50,000 corrections), and all the lexicons contain hypertext links for biblical references.
If the only thing that changed in version 7 was the user interface, BW7 would still be well worth the upgrade.
Minimum System Requirements: Windows 98, Me, NT, 2000, XP; Internet Explorer version 6, SP1; Minimum of 64 MB RAM; Minimum of 600 MB to a maximum of 5.5 GB hard drive space; 1024×768 screen for videos; Sound card; CD drive; Internet connection for updates.
e-Sword, Version 7.7.7
I’m not including e-Sword because it’s one of the best out there in the world of Bible study software, but because it’s the best in a particular category – the FREE one. As of May, 2006, e-Sword had over four million downloads, and this speaks to the quality of the software within its category.
The benefits of free are self-evident, but the costs are worth considering. Remember that when you’re dealing in the world of free (at least with Bible study software), you also need to be aware of the restrictions on available resources. What you’re getting is a library full of works considered ‘public domain.’ Usually, that means they’re so old that there’s no longer a copyright restriction. Now, I’d be committing a fallacy if I suggested that just because something is old or public domain it’s bad. Just don’t except access to the best in modern research or the most recent Bible translations with e-Sword or other free programs.
Secondly, the price of the software usually indicates the quality of development. e-Sword is somewhat of an exception here. For free software, it’s pretty sophisticated and user-friendly. The layout works well and keeps you from having to tile windows. You can create your own parallel Bible. There’s an editor for storing your own notes (complete with spell check), and those notes are linked to the associated bible reference. There are multiple styles and ranges of searches. And there’s a STEP reader that allows you to view resources associated with Quickverse, Bible Companion, and WORDsearch.
If I didn’t have a budget for Bible study software, e-Sword would be my first choice.
Minimum System Requirements: Windows 95, 98, ME, NT4, 2000, or XP; Pentium based PC (or equivalent); Best viewed in 800×600 or greater.
Logos Bible Software 3, Scholar’s Library: Gold
Faster, more powerful, more intuitive, more reliable, more resources, easier to use – Logos still leads the pack in the world of electronic Bible study libraries. There are now over 5,000 titles available, and Logos shows no sign of waning in the pursuit of scholarly resources – including several morphologically and syntactically tagged original sources. Logos’ top-of-the-line collection, the Scholar’s Library: Gold (SLG) contains over 700 Bibles and Bible reference titles. You’d have to spend more than $11,000 for equivalent print editions.
There are so many enhancements in Logos 3 (L3), I almost don’t know where to begin. Perhaps, the best place to start is with L3’s ground-breaking addition of a syntactically tagged Bible – yes, I said syntactically! Morphologically tagged resources have been around for a while in more sophisticated programs. But L3 is the first to introduce syntactically tagged resources. Right now SLG has 3: The Anderson-Forbes Analyzed Text of the Hebrew Bible, OpenText.org Syntactically Analyzed Greek New Testament, and Lexham Syntactic Greek New Testament.
The value of searching beyond syntactically is that you learn valuable information about relationships of words within clauses. Granted, the level of interpretation generally increases at the stage of syntactical analyses, and in some sense you’re utilizing a resource with preset interpretive decisions. However, having a resource available that’s already made these syntactical decisions gives you the ability to quickly amass references with similar structures and relationships through a variety of searches.
Syntactical searching isn’t a feature only reserved for the linguistic scholar. Even if you’re not strong in the original languages, you can perform searches that will aid your sermon preparation. For example, when studying the topic of love, you can find all instances where love is the object of a particular verb (with a particular stem or tense), with a particular subject.
Regarding efficiency and simplicity, L3 offers some very useful enhances and new features. Many of the reports have been improved to utilize more of your resources better. For instance, if you’re beginning a study of a particular pericope with the Passage Guide, you can minimize sections which will stop working and speed up the process. All you have to do to start that section back up is maximize it again. You can also leave sections minimized, and the next time you use the Passage Guide, only those sections previously maximized will work to yield results. In addition, the commentary section intuitively adopts your behavior, placing commentaries you use the most at the top of the list. There are several new sections as well, all of which help you to see the passage in a variety of ways – including graphically.
Any open resource can be quickly searched with a feature much like the “find” feature in your web browser using Ctrl+F. This works great when looking for the next use of a particular word in a biblical text. As you type in the word, it immediately highlights its next use in the resource and gives you the option to “Find Next” or “Find Previous.”
Further, L3 offers Visual Markups with different palettes, including Precept’s inductive Bible study marks. One of my favorite features is the Bible Speed Search. Not only does it quickly list results as soon as you start typing, but you can enter new searches without having to close a window of results from a previous search. The complete text is listed next to the reference with the word or phrase highlighted. One more update I appreciate is the ability to dock the information window. This really comes in handy when working in the original languages since the information window allows you to see parsing, lexical form, definition, and lexicon article in one place.
I get asked regularly by users if it’s worth upgrading to version 3. My answer is always an emphatic “YES!” L3 does more, faster and better, and looks good doing it. It’s obvious that the developers listened to users and put the time and effort into creating a superior Bible study software library. L3 works the way you study. There’s no way I can include all that’s new and improved. I recommend visiting Logos’ website and checking out their list of the 100 New Features. This list contains a helpful and brief overview of what’s new and what it does (www.logos.com/logos3/100).
Minimum System Requirements: 500MHz Pentium III (1GHz Pentium III recommended); 128 MB RAM (384 MB recommended); Windows 98, Me, NT4.0(SP6a), 2000, XP; CD-ROM or DVD drive; 550 MB hard drive space; 800×600 display (1024×768 recommended); Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 or later.
Jonathan Kever is former managing editor of Preaching, and is now in his final year at Dallas Theological Seminary.