Two years ago, Preaching’s first survey of software confirmed that the computer has become an unpaid research assistant, providing virtually instant access to hundreds of pages of dictionaries, encyclopedias. Bibles, sermon outlines and concordances at the speed of light. But all of this helpful power does not come without consequences. This third annual review documents the response to the call for newer and better Bible software.
More products are available than ever before. Old offerings have received significant upgrades. Mergers and joint ventures have added new approaches to the computerized Bible. And the horizon is bright with truly amazing advances. Now, more than ever, a decision to purchase biblical software entails far-reaching consequences for our past and future choices.
Most software users know all too well that sinking feeling when we realize that the programs which we paid dearly for have been eclipsed by offerings which we now wish to have. But the money in the budget is gone. Our first “consequence” is simple: if I already have Bible software, what should I do about all the new products? The second “consequence” is just as important: if I am buying now, what products are least likely to leave me with obsolete programs in a year or two? One or both of these questions are essential to any purchasing decision. I don’t claim to be a prophet, but in some cases the handwriting is already on the wall.
What you want is what you get
First, let’s tackle the easy part. Three years of reviews have confirmed that almost every Bible software program comes with a common list of “standard features.” Any purchase evaluation should start with this list. In fact, these features are so common across all of the products that this review will only mention them if they are absent or unusual. The real magic of Bible software is what individual programs have added beyond this list.
Standard features
1. Multiple translations of the English Bible
2. Searching words and phrases
3. Boolean searches (“and,” “or,” “not” and wild cards)
4. Menu driven programs, usually with mouse support
5. Window panes (not Windows, but multiple working areas on the screen)
6. Tagged scrolling (moving one text automatically moves others)
7. Setting bookmarks
8. Displaying at least three panes at once
9. Links (creating personal Bible studies by linking various texts and helps)
10. Greek and Hebrew dictionaries (usually Strong’s)
11. Topical index (usually Nave’s)
12. Personal notepad
13. Printing and/or exporting to word processor
14. Thirty-day money back satisfaction guarantee
Lesson No. 1: If the program doesn’t have these standard features, better keep looking.
What’s hot!: Windows without pains.
The first two programs appear to take a different approach to computer Bible study. Bible Windows 2.1c ($275 from Silver Mountain Software, 214-293-2920) has been around a while, but this company’s product may be new to you; it was to me. What a discovery! The program is fully Windows compatible. Icons and pull-down menus allow feature selection with a mouse click. All usual Windows operations are supported; e.g. if you type study notes in English with verses in Greek on the program notepad, you can transport the whole effort to your Windows word processor with a few mouse clicks. But this is not what sets Bible Windows apart.
Bible Windows is a linguist’s dream. It includes morphologically tagged Greek NT, Hebrew OT and LXX plus Vulgate and several English translations with Apocrypha. One click gives instant parsing of any word, dictionary root and form helps, searches in original languages. Parsing can be displayed interlinear. This is the easiest operating program for language help I have ever used. But there are trade-offs. The search speed is slow by any standard (nearly one minute to search 469 occurrences of “light”). There is no Stong’s (but there are dictionaries). I could not click-and-drag for searches. There is no topical index. And hang on to your hard disk: 50 megabytes to install the whole package! Documentation is a user-friendly and enjoyable thirty-two page manual with phrases like “Try it. You’ll like it.” Amazing, and great fun!
The second “different” approach is BibleWorks for Windows Version 2.0 (Hermeneutika Software, 206-824-9673), the only other program currently rivaling the linguistic depth of Bible Windows. BibleWorks relates the English text with morphologically tagged Greek and Hebrew, lexica, full grammatical analysis, word studies and hypertext links. BibleWorks will search every word (including articles and prepositions). Boolean and wild card searches are incredibly fast and very flexible (one second for “son of perdition”). Parsed words can be searched in their grammatical forms. Instant access to lexicons and morphological analysis is displayed in separate windows. Word studies can be conducted in original language grammatical forms (or any other possibility).
Everything is transportable to Windows word processors. LXX and Vulgate are included in the Greek module. All 14,200 lexical forms of Greek and Hebrew are keyed to Strong’s and Englishman’s. Dictionaries are Thayer and BDB Gesenius with references to TWOT and Kittel. ASV, RSV with Apocraphya and KJV are available English texts in a single bundle. Documentation is extensive.
When it comes to in-depth biblical language study, this program will blow your socks off. But I found the command line requirements for access to searches and Bibles initially difficult and confusing; a few buttons and scroll boxes would be better. Strong’s numbers can be toggled into the text but they are not highlighted when searched. I would have liked click-and-drag movement to create search parameters. The program requires a 386 SX, minimum 4 MB of RAM, Windows 3.1, VGA monitor and 70 meg for the full package! As if that were not enough, this is one of the highest list price programs on the market ($595). Don’t despair. It is currently discounted at introductory prices (and sold wholesale to ministers) at $299 for everything (72 megabyte). You would probably spend that much on the grammars and texts in book form. Nothing else compares to the sheer language power of BibleWorks for Windows.
As we closed last year’s review, Parsons Technology (800-223-6925) introduced Quick Verse, available for either DOS or Windows. The operating program is packaged with any combination of modules supporting King James, NIV and NRSV. You can add Hebrew and Greek transliterated text (with Strong’s) and the Nave’s Topical Bible. Quick Verse for Windows allows familiar Windows operations to be used throughout the program. The icon bar makes operations simple and speedy. The strength of Quick Verse is its search flexibility (all standard searches plus references, indexes previously created or topics in the Nave’s add-on module). The program itself suggests alternatives if you key in a few letters of a word. Search results can be displayed in context, a feature which is very helpful.
And Quick Verse is quick! But there are carefully defined limits to the search parameters. You must pay close attention to apostrophes, hyphens and numbers. Like most Bible search software, pronouns, articles and prepositions do not appear in the concordance so they cannot be searched. Quick Verse provides Strong’s definitions from transliterated text only in the KJV Word Study module. There is no support for Greek and Hebrew languages.
Quick Verse is a powerful search program for the price, but comes at the expense of other features found in more costly programs (e.g. no original languages and other grammatical and lexical helps). Although the basic program is among the least expensive, add-on modules are sometimes higher than similar add-ons in other Windows software. Be sure to look at the full range of modules you may need before you buy.
MacBible (from Zondervan Electronic Publishing, 800-727-7759) is an old program new to this review. Macintosh users may have felt a little left out in the past, but Zondervan fills the gap with an excellent, integrated and full-feature offering. MacBible takes full advantage of the Mac environment. All standard searches as well as proximity searches are supported (although doing complicated searches required use of obscure combinations of symbols). Searches include a feature I didn’t find on any other program: an announcement of the time needed to conduct the search and the ability to stop a search once it has started. Nothing is more frustrating than waiting for a search to finish after you realize that it is the wrong one.
The transliterated text problem: Many DOS programs and some CD-ROM disks offer transliterated Hebrew and Greek texts. I have highlighted these offerings because they present some very unusual problems to computer users. Transliterated texts are sometimes not what you would expect. Where transliterations combine unusual characters to express Greek or Hebrew phonetically, you must enter the exact transliterated characters to search a transliterated text. This produces painful expressions like {a)gapa/w} for ?????. Even when transliterations use only English letters, searches often provide unexpected results. This is because transliterations allow only searches of major words in each verse, making it impossible to search strings with articles, prepositions, etc. My recommendation is that if transliterations come as an add-on, forget them. If you need searches and text in Greek or Hebrew, use a program that displays and searches in Greek or Hebrew or else stick with searching occurrences of Strong’s numbers. With CD-ROM, transliterations are bundled so you may be paying for something you will never use. Avoid this problem by displaying original language text. Be sure you know what you’re getting.
MacBible offers a large selection of Bible translations including the Apocrypha. Greek and Hebrew texts are displayed and printed in original characters. If you decide to produce an in-depth Bible study of the use of the Greek word translated as “draw” (verb) in John, MacBible will not only find all the references and display them in any one of five translations, it will also give you the actual Greek text, along with Strong’s dictionary, allow you to print the whole study as is or paste it into a Mac word processor program with simple mouse clicks.
MacBible offers options which are hard to find in the DOS/Windows world: the Apocrypha in NRSV translation, the NIV Study Bible Notes, the Septuagint, the Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties and the NASB. There are some minor annoying problems. Installation is more complicated than it should be. Files are limited to 100 verses and displays of verses in paragraphs do not include verse numbers so you can’t find individual verses. The manual examples are not wonderfully clear. Add-ons are some of the most expensive on the market. But if you are a Mac user and you want a fully integrated Bible library, the price is worth it.
Zondervan has two important incentives for Mac purchasers, a toll-free user-support line and a sixty-day unconditional money back guarantee. NOTE: Version 3.0, scheduled for May 1993 release, has been delayed. It may resolve all these difficulties. Check availability before purchasing an earlier version.
This isn’t the only Macintosh Bible program. Many manufacturers provide both Mac and DOS versions. Ask them.
Thompson Chain HyperBible for Windows (Beacon Technology, 317-633-1900) is the only program with lots of Bible “goodies.” The basic software includes KJV and NIV in the familiar Thompson Chain format. All Thompson materials are available to display and search. The program offers some enhancements you can’t get anywhere else: archaeology facts, descriptions of festivals, measures, officials, pronunciation guide, Hebrew calendars, atlas with journey maps, and the ability to set the program to various reading speeds. Beacon has taken Bible software in a different direction than most programs, deciding to enhance a single approach rather than clutter us with add-ons (and still provide a Windows or Mac format). If you like the Thompson method, this is the right program for you. At under $150, it’s a steal.
NAS Computer Bible’s Bible Master, Version 3.0 in both DOS and Macintosh versions (Lockman Foundation, 714-879-3055) is another program with a single direction. This is the only program that provides the text and concordance of the New American Standard Bible to DOS users without CD-ROM. It also offers NIV, NRSV, KJV and Spanish NASB. Searches were very fast and provided context. Bible Master uses its own Hebrew and Greek transliterated dictionaries which includes Strong’s numbers.
The biggest drawback of Bible Master is its platform. I found its DOS program visually unappealing and functionally restricted. I was limited to what the program gave me instead of what I wanted. For example, I could open only three windows at once, I was required to use exact abbreviations to open a Bible text, and transporting to my word processor was cumbersome. Since NASB is my favorite English translation, it’s too bad that the only way to get it is confined to a software program without Windows simplicity.
Bottom line: if you are a DOS user, go to Windows compatible programs. Avoid transliterated texts (see side panel discussion). But remember that Windows will require very large hard-disk space. If you’re like me, 120 meg will soon become 340. Buy a lot early. You won’t be sorry.
Upgrades, upgrades, upgrades: If it doesn’t mouse, don’t bother.
There have been lots of changes to programs in our past reviews. A quick look shows us that most DOS based programs are moving toward the Windows environment. PC Study Bible (from Biblesoft, 800-995-9058) will introduce a Windows version by the end of the year. Their current offering, Version 3.1, is now fully mouse-able. Previous versions made some commands with the mouse and others with keys, resulting in constant frustration. This improvement is long overdue.
Biblesoft has also added some terrific new modules: The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (nearly one million cross references), the Living Bible, Vine’s Expository Dictionary, and Nave’s Topical Bible. The most important feature about all of these modules is that Biblesoft’s search capability allows you to search not only the biblical texts but all of the reference works as well. Search results are displayed in context.
PC Study Bible 3.1 (and many other DOS Bible programs) are advertised “For DOS or Windows.” This does not mean that the program is written specifically for Windows. It only means it will run as a DOS program within Windows. Still, there are a great number of DOS-only users who will not be making the relatively expensive transition to Windows. For them, this program meets and exceeds the fundamental requirement of good software: It’s fun to use (and it will be used a lot).
Biblesoft’s Warren Bailey says they intentionally target the DOS user and will continue to do so. Although it does not support original language displays, this is perhaps the best DOS program on the market for clergy and laymen alike. The Windows version (due October 1) should be even better. Bailey says a new add-on module, planned for 1994, will have original Greek and Hebrew in Windows and DOS. That will definitely make it the DOS choice.
Logos Bible Study (version 1.6) software (from Logos Research Systems, 800-87-LOGOS) is a true Windows program, requiring Windows 3x and plenty of hard disk space. But what wonderful results! The new version sports greatly improved searching (all standard types) and “fuzzy” logic. If you can’t remember how to spell Gethsemane, it will correct the spelling for you or suggest alternative words as you type in the search parameters. It will do the same thing in Greek and Hebrew! Even my dyslexic son could use this search program with great success.
Logos also displays, inputs and prints Greek and Hebrew characters, not transliterations. With a few mouse commands, all original language texts can be transported to Windows word processors (there is even a special macro allowing Word for Windows 2.0 to directly access Logos Bible Study verses). One particularly powerful feature is the ability to insert Strong’s numbers directly into KJV displayed. Logos Bible Study supports Spanish, Dutch, French, Greek and Hebrew, allowing you to display multiple languages on the same line.
On the downside, some of the icons are a bit confusing, and setting up searches in original languages is more complicated than I wanted. I would also like to have search results in context since lists of references do not tell me enough to decide which verse I was really looking for. The program is also fairly expensive, but it offers serious Bible students features which are not available in other products (like tense, voice and mood, many classical texts, Catholic Bibles).
By far the most appealing factor for Logos is its joint venture with CD-Word Library (See Preaching 1991 review for content). Available soon, this new combination will operate under the latest Windows environment, be fully compatible with Logos programs and bring 100,000 pages of text and reference material to the user. Dale Pritchard, vice president of Logos, reports that Logos intends to introduce the CD-ROM addition with an entirely new version of the software (version 2.0). But don’t worry if you have (version 1.6. Pritchard assures me that they’ll offer an unbelievable incentive to all their current customers when the new program is announced. I can’t wait!
Holy Scriptures (Christian Technologies, Inc., 800-366-8320) was reviewed in 1992. An upgraded DOS version 2.0 and a Windows version are now available. The DOS version supports all standard features and also allows you to print from several Bibles at once. Other improvements include larger personal notes space and Greek and Hebrew transliterated text. Holy Scriptures has a memory-resident feature which allows you to hot-key the program for start-up from any other program. This is particularly useful when you suddenly realize that you can’t remember a passage reference while you are working in your word processor. With a few keystrokes, you can have the Bible program in front of you without exiting the other application. The Windows version was very intuitive, so much so that no manual was included. Search results give context and are very quick. But searching for occurrences of Strong’s numbers was confusing until I played with it for quite a while. Transliterated text and Strong’s numbers are inserted into the KJV text. Several new English Bibles are expected out shortly. Both versions are very attractively priced.
Bottom line: if you can’t afford Windows, look for full mouse programs with easy printing capabilities, plenty of add-on modules, and a commitment to DOS-only support. But remember, there is a good reason why everyone’s heading towards Windows.
ROM-ing around: the future is laser light
CR-ROM is information explosion! MasterSearch Bible (from Tri Star Publishing, 800-292-4253) opens this year’s review of CD- ROM offerings. One of the lowest priced disks, it includes four Bible translations, a transliteration, Strong’s concordance, study notes, commentary, a Bible encyclopedia and four dictionaries, Bible archaeology and geography. It is the only CD-ROM with a “Concise” edition at about 50% of the full edition cost. It is also bundled with ROM drives if you need the drive too.
CD-ROMs utilize their own software support so they will run within or without Windows platforms. Installation of the disk is a breeze. The display allows you to have up to four window panes visible, each accessing a different part of the library. Scope of information is the strength. Navigating the texts, searching, writing memos is no problem. Documentation is clear, even if it is clear about how complicated some of the usage is. The Links feature allows you to search for references in the library even when you don’t know exactly what you want. But I found some weaknesses.
While there is a lot of search power, some of the parameters are difficult at best. The transliterated text searches are just too painful to endure (see box). Also, searches are not performed on the actual text but on an index of the text, so even with all that library power, you may encounter restrictions. Cost ($495) is offset by the expense of all of the books (unless you already have them, of course).
The New Bible Library, a joint venture of IBM and Ellis Enterprises (800-729-9500), offers search capabilities of over 150,000 pages. The list of references is mind-boggling. Sixteen Bible versions (including a Spanish translation), seven language reference tools (Vine’s, Strong’s, etc.), four complete commentaries (Barclays, Matthew Henry, etc.), four historical works (Josephus, etc.), eight topical studies with 3,000 sermon outlines and color maps.
There are some cautions. Original language texts are not included. The reference works are “classics.” They do not include more recent commentaries and theological materials (due primarily to royalty issues). Once again, cost ($495) is as much as a CD-ROM drive. But you can perform searches across the entire library. You can view different references simultaneously with window panes, set bookmarks throughout the library, highlight specific sections of text, and cut and paste any portion to print alone or transport into other word processing programs (although there are some copyright restrictions).
The only real question left is the most important one: with all of this information readily available, will it be so overwhelming that it becomes unusable? I have trouble viewing a passage in two or three English translations at once. How could my brain handle sixteen versions plus commentaries and dictionaries? The idea intrigues me, even dazzles me, but scares me at the same time. And 3,000 sermon outlines? That’s one a week for sixty years!
Bottom line: Tantalizing but expensive, CD-ROMs raise questions about usefulness, not scope. For pure Bible research, the top Windows programs provide far more depth. Nevertheless, no medium except CD-ROM can deliver entire libraries to your PC. If you are interested in what the future holds for ROMs, see Windows Magazine (July, 1993, p. 40).
Bits and Pieces
For all of us who use computers to keep track of our calendars, In His Time (from Colonnade Technologies, 206-822-2977) offers a Christian alternative to the host of planner programs on the market. Windows compatible, it provides calendar planner, address book, calculator, daily Scripture, Bible reading plans, and is now directly linked with Quick Verse for Windows and Logos Bible Software. The graphic icons are easy to use, sensible and quick. A little higher in price than other calendar programs, its uniqueness makes it interesting not only for ministers but for anyone who wants a Christian introduction to the day’s business.
Let’s answer our two consequence questions: I already have Bible software and/or I don’t have Windows. Lots of us bought Bible software years ago. Now what do we do? If you have a 286 or earlier machine, don’t even attempt Windows programs. Stick with the best DOS programs you can find. Companies know there are a lot of DOS users out there. You’ll continue to get good support and more products. If your software does the job today, keep it! Save your pennies until you can really get into Windows, then check out the latest offerings. Good DOS programs will still provide you with powerful helps. I used them for years before I made the jump.
What’s likely to happen, or how do I know that I won’t be left behind again? Bible software is not like business software. In one sense, it does not evolve. The biblical texts are fixed. The concordances are fixed. The real question is what do you need to do the job, not how is technology going to enhance your desires. Windows, CD-ROM, Erasable ROM, etc. may add more and more information accessibility, flexibility and speed, but none of that will ever change God’s Word. If you now work with the texts you need at a satisfying speed, you’ve got it made. All the rest is gravy. But gravy is what sells, so expect a lot more of it.
Software producers want buyers to purchase more than just the basics, so expect more add-on modules, more ROM interfaces, more foreign language Bibles. Remember, it’s a buyer’s market. As long as you have chosen a software producer in a platform that’s fun, you’ll probably see more additions than you can reasonably use or afford.
It isn’t possible to review all the Bible software on the market. But there are sources you can read for much more information. One of these is Christian Computing (816-331-3881) which since 1992 has reviewed in detail Bible Like (Eagle Software), The One-Minute Bible (Colonnade), The Word Advanced Study System (WordSoft), Thompson Chain HyperBible, Quick Verse, Master Search Bible, Logos, Bible Master, and Bible Illustrator (Parsons Technology). Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Christian Computing, P.O. Box 198, Raymore, MO 64083 for a free subscription form.
Finally, if you are more confused than ever, I make the following offer: Call me (A. J. Moen, Ph.D., 101 Center Street, Clinton, NJ 08809, 908-735-7122, fax 908-735-7419)! As long as you pay for the call, and my voice holds up, I will be glad to discuss your needs and offer assistance where I can. It’s also free and it’s my pleasure.

Share This On: