By now everyone in the pulpit has some acquaintance with the fact that the computer has revolutionized access to the Bible and Bible helps. For the past four years in Preaching, annual reviews have covered dozens of software programs. The articles have given you the pros and cons of the electronic spiritual calculus.
Familiar readers may be anticipating another list of the latest offerings, but this year we will not go back for updates unless there has been a significant change. Instead we will focus on previously unmentioned programs and the continuing emergence of CD-ROM. Also, our 1994 annual review will attempt something different — we want to do a little prognosticating.
First, the new entries
The Bible software market is now fairly well dominated by a half-dozen big players. Niche expansion is occurring primarily in Bible-related peripherals — for example, Sunday School lesson planners, Bible games, maps, and histories. However, there are a few new entries (new to this review) which warrant noting.
Online Bible (800-243-7124) is available as MAC software and as a CD-ROM. Incredibly cheap ($25), OLB offers several English versions, French, Spanish, German and Dutch versions, four Greek texts, and the Hebrew text. In addition, OLB includes Thompson Chain topics, Strong’s numbers, the Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge, and verse commentary. Some of the English translations are only available with OLB.
That’s the good news. The bad news is the difficulty getting the program to install on any MAC without System 7. It has plenty of ammunition to work with but lacks a few of the big guns to make it a seamless interface for the user. Once installed and running on System 7, the program performed admirably. The program indexes everything so that you can search all words and phrases. It is reasonably fast, even under this parameter.
As a CD-ROM, OLB becomes a tool for DOS users. It has a substantial collection which you could not afford at twice the price even in hard cover reprints. This is one of the cheapest, good ROMs on the market; if you have a ROM drive, you would be foolish not to buy this disk. However, you will find that it operates slowly, does not support a mouse, and does not accent Greek or point Hebrew. The search method is fully indexed, just like the MAC version, although as a ROM under DOS it requires a lot of function key fooling around and is not always very intuitive.
I should also point out that I spent many days and many phone calls trying to reach the OnLine people — getting through to them seems to be a problem. But beggars can’t be choosers and at these prices, one can hardly complain.
AcCordance (Gramcord Institute, 206-576-3000) is aimed at the academic and scholarly world, but it can be used by anyone who has a good command of Greek (it does not offer the Hebrew text yet, although that release should be forthcoming). But what it does, it does better than anything I have ever seen. It gives the user more word power with the Greek NT than any other program. It actually begins to do things that you cannot do with bound texts, like statistical analysis of the frequency of a Greek form in the Pauline Epistles. It may actually be too much for most preachers, but if you’re a MAC user, and you read Greek easily, this is a real display of computing performance. The Gramcord database is recognized by the industry as one of the very best electronic morphologies and is being incorporated in other programs (like Logos version 2.0, still not released).
God’s Word for Windows (604-474-2853) comes from a Canadian producer, Kevin Rintoul. It falls in the “labor of love” category, if for no other reason than that it is extremely inexpensive. Providing the KJV and the operating system nor only $40, the remaining modules (Darby, Young’s, and Weymouth) are only $10 each. But at these prices, do not expect high-powered tools. Program installation was simple (the manual is actually a printable file included in the disks). Its basic structure is built around the concordance. It is fast, intuitive, and fun. Verse search results are provided in context, although statistical information is not given. This is a program which gives you the English text, concordance and clipboard functions, not Greek and Hebrew, dictionaries, morphology, extensive cross references or topical indices. For the preacher who relies on KJV and wants a few of the esoteric translations with a straightforward search capability, this program makes sense. My only reservation is that, since I have a Windows environment where so much more power is available, I may very soon outgrow what’s offered. To work under Windows or this program is a matter of spending a lot more money.
Significant upgrades
It would be impossible to document all of the upgrades that have occurred since our last annual review. Nearly every producer has made some change. Most of the changes improve the ease of use, correct previous errors, or add a few extras. A few upgrades are significant enough to mention.
WordSearch (NavPress, 800-366-7788) released a Windows version. This certainly makes it more user-friendly. Of particular interest is the Life Application Notes module attached to the NIV. My pastoral friends found this to be the most useful of all add-ons. WordSearch also comes with 150 maps keyed to appropriate scriptural texts.
MacBible (800-727-7759) issued version 3.0. The new version builds on System 7 enhancements, offering context-sensitive help, the ability to display multiple texts and references at the same time, and the ability to set the context format for searches. MacBible 3.0 will also work on networks.
PC Study Bible (Biblesoft, 800-995-9085) issued its Windows version at the end of 1993. This alternative to operating in DOS is a welcome addition. All of the previous module databases are supported, and the Windows operating method makes everything much easier to handle. The original Windows product has gone through its own improvements and is now available as Version 1.4B. If you are a user of the DOS version, this improvement is definitely worth the price. The new version handles copying material to a Windows word processor with ease. In fact, it offers several different ways to move between open programs. It also adds the ability to format the screen so that texts are aligned in parallel panes and linked to scroll together. While Windows programs have always been able to “tile” and “cascade” panes, this alternative is very helpful when comparing various texts. The program will handle up to eight panes at once. In addition, Biblesoft has added two substantial modules, Matthew Henry’s complete 6-volume commentary and a Bible atlas module.
Kirkbride (800-428-4385) has done some significant overhaul to the Thompson’s Chain Reference HyperBible with more to come by the third quarter of this year. Offered in both MAC and Windows formats, this program is as enjoyable as it is informative. It offers all sorts of unusual surprises, such as spoken pronunciation of biblical names (just point at the word and click the pronunciation guide). It comes loaded with options like speed-reading settings, character studies, notes, and others. This program is definitely designed to help you learn, not just to provide you with a fast searching tool.
Silver Mountain (214-293-2920) released Bible Windows 2.5. The new version incorporates previous upgrades from 2.2.2 including the NRSV and the Louw-Nida Lexicon of semantic domains. Version 2.5 adds a real help, a fourth line in the interlinear display which gives a generic reading of the Greek text. Silver Mountain is still the only program which provides interlinear display. For my money, this feature is worth every penny. John Baima has taken a very different approach to “module mania.” He told me that he would rather sell software than Bibles, so he is attempting to develop the tools for Bible Windows to read other easily affordable databases like OnLine Bible. Hopefully, he will succeed.
Bible Works for Windows (Hermeneutika, 206-824-3927) is shipping Version 2.3. Among the dozens of fixes and changes, several stand out. The program includes a new Browse Box function that allows the user to move around in the Bible text as well as in the dictionaries. BDB is tied directly to the text, not just to Strong’s numbers. Greek searches have been enhanced. You can “pop up” a BWW search command line from inside your word processor, and BWW now offers a parallel versions mode which allows the user to set up the screen with columns of comparative texts. This program remains one of the most powerful and best documented Bible programs on the market. Mark Rice and his staff are doing a great job keeping in touch with user requests and support.
Logos Research Systems (800-87-LOGOS) branched out into crosswords and a family Bible study series. It also issued the Logos Bible Atlas. But the big anticipation, the release of Logos 2.0 and the marriage with CD-Word, is still in the works. Hold on, it should be well worth it.
Word Advanced Study System (214-721-1031) completed a very exciting addition to its line. It now ships a “converter” disk which allows users to read other program databases. If you are operating with Word, you can now read just about anyone’s English text database no matter who supplies the module. This is a move in the right direction — selling software instead of Bibles.
The biggest news in upgrades comes from an unexpected source. Lockman Foundation, owner of the copyright on the New American Standard Bible, has finally agreed to license other programs to use the NASB. Previously, NASB was only available through Lockman’s own software or on a few CD-ROMs. Now you can pick up the NASB for PC Study Bible, Parson’s Quick Verse, Kirkbride’s HyperBible, WordSearch, and MacBible. Expect more to follow.
CD-ROM bundling
We all know the storage capacity of a CD-ROM is phenomenal. Imagine fourteen Bible translations, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, the Greek New Testament, the Hebrew Old Testament, the LXX, four Bible dictionaries, a Bible atlas, and two complete commentaries of the whole Bible in a space about 1/2 inch by 5 inches!
Unfortunately, this tremendous capacity has not meant that CD-ROM programs have better than conventional software. There are several reasons. First, ROMs are much slower than hard disk programs. Second, ROMs are bundled. You have to take what you get and it is not always first-rate. Third, ROM operating procedures are not well integrated with existing Bible software hard disk programs. ROMs typically run on their own platforms. Many ROM operations are awkward to use and not as user-intuitive as comparable hard disk programs. Finally, ROMs require their own drives which are expensive, usually $300 or more for a good one (although you can certainly expect prices to fall as more units are used).
But improvement in technology is usually just a matter of time and market demand, and, fortunately, both of these seem to be having an effect on ROM Bible packages. Slow speed ROM drives are giving way to the new double and triple speed versions. ROM bundles are becoming much more carefully planned and coordinated. ROM drives are coming down in price as market volume goes up. But the real news is in this area of concern: the integration of ROM databases with conventional software operations.
White Harvest Seedmaster (800-318-7333) produces four different ROMs ranging in price from $25 to $149. The most complete version is an excellent collection of texts including the NASB, Spanish and contemporary English versions. Through license arrangements, this ROM captures everything in OnLine Bible plus more. The biggest advantage is that this is the only ROM currently offered that incorporates hard disk programs directly linked to ROM databases. In the Windows version, Seedmaster allows the user to handle databases from the ROM exactly like those found on hard disk, all in the point and shoot environment of Windows. In addition, because the operation is seamless between the ROM and the hard disk, databases can actually be upgraded. In other words, you can install some of the versions you want to work with on your hard disk, leaving the others on the ROM and when you run the program, the Windows commands will treat all the versions as though they were in the same place. This program is simple and fast. The Greek database is good, accented. But the Hebrew database runs from the OnLine Bible license and is not pointed or tagged for morphological searches.
The American Bible Society (800-322-4253) has completely redone its ROM, the ABS Reference Bible. It is built around a rather unique search capacity, called Findlt. This is an excellent collection, with six English, Spanish, German and eleven scholarly databases, the LXX, Vulgate, Strong’s, and complete morphological databases with grammatical dictionaries. By the time this review is published, ABS should have completed the much-needed revision to the user manual. Please note that this ROM is DOS only, function key operation.
CD-ROMs hold great promise for the future. White Harvest Seedmaster Windows version is the current example of what to expect, operating seamlessly between hard drive databases and CD-ROM contents, all in the Windows environment. Logos Research System is currently at work on a major revision of its entire hard drive program that will interface with a new pressing of the CD-Word ROM. My guess is that most ROMs will emulate Windows standards within a few years.
Crystal ball gazing
Something very important is happening in the world of the computer Bible, something which we believe will have an effect on every manufacturer and, consequently, on every user. That something is that the market is reaching saturation.
Wait a minute, you might say, there are at best only a few hundred thousand units of all manufacturers in the market today that is just a scratch on the surface of the total number of people who read the Bible and who own computers. And many manufacturers are reporting aggressive new sales. How can you say that the market is reaching saturation?
Let me explain. Virtually every Bible software program today follows the same logic in its approach to the consumer. That logic is to convert what were formerly hardbound texts into computer databases and make them accessible in speed-of-light searches. As a result, every Bible program made speed of concordance search one of its pillars of strength. But since the average user can’t tell the difference between a search that takes two-tenths of a second or one that takes two seconds (both are still thousands of times faster than turning to the books on my shelf), this pillar soon became the expectation of every consumer. And since every program was more or less “fast,” there was no difference between the products.
Then along came the next pillar – the number of databases that I could search. This product element has resulted in program “module mania.” Bible programs with fourteen different English translations, four different dictionaries, foreign language Bibles, and thousands of pages of commentaries now crowd the retail space. No matter what text you prefer, including several variations of the Greek or Hebrew, you can find a program that provides it. Offering more and more databases will continue to be a trend of the industry — but there are limits. Once the manufacturer reaches a point where a new module has such esoteric appeal that it will not draw enough sales response, module additions will end. For example, I doubt you will ever see a grammar of the Septuagint Greek.
This pillar results in a continuous barrage on the end-user to buy just one more module. While some of these modules may make sense for any given user, my guess is that most of us rely on three or four major sources for our study and we buy others just to have a safety net in case we might use them. From the manufacturer’s perspective, this spells disaster. The market saturation point will arrive when the current user base has enough modules.
Manufacturers are expanding into other niches: maps, lesson plans, daily devotionals, etc, but the audience they wish to sell to is still predominately oriented to books. Therefore, in the long range strategy, computer literate users may migrate to the Bible and its peripherals on the screen, but the significant base of buyers today are still purchasing pages, not bytes. The future bodes well for the software manufacturer, but the future does not pay this month’s rent.
This little problem is also at the heart and soul of the issues about royalties. The reason that most modern critical commentaries are not available in software has nothing to do with technology — it has to do with royalties. Book publishers hesitate to make such volumes available on disk because they lose control of copyright and sales. Technology is blind to the line that says you can’t copy more than a certain amount from a database. The result: Matthew Henry instead of Leon Morris or Raymond Brown.
This trend points out the real dilemma for Bible software. After I have purchased the modules of the texts that I intend to use, there is little incentive for me to go on buying more and more. Nor is Bible software like business software: the essential biblical databases have been fixed since the fourth century. I can produce more versions, but, unlike other software, I can’t produce new originals.
Unfortunately, most Bible software developers have not taken on the task of really using the power of the computer as a research and teaching tool. Almost every Bible software program just converts lots of alphabetic letters into bits and bytes for computer use. But, as every preacher knows, whether the text is in bytes or in books, nothing happens spiritually until God’s message gets understood and applied.
This is the reason why I lay so much emphasis on software that’s fun. We all know about books. We know how to open them, read them, use an index, put in a bookmark. We have years of experience with books. If the computer program is not friendly, easy, fun and fascinating, we will not feel comfortable with it; we will prefer our books. And, as a result, we will not be able to utilize the power of those bits and bytes.
Here is an amazing fact. Computer software available today is capable of instantly parsing every word in Greek and Hebrew, instantly giving me definitions, history and cross references, instantly educating me on the various forms and etymologies. In other words, today’s programs are capable of teaching me something new, insightful, interesting about any and every verse in the Bible. But the amazing fact is that not a single Bible program does this! They all manipulate the data; they parse, find, define, and remember. But they do not educate, involve, and extrapolate.
Why don’t today’s programs teach Greek and Hebrew right from the databases? Why can’t I find a program which explores the theology of a passage? Why can’t I get a program that gives me user-selected levels of depth into words, definitions, history? The computer can provide me with the Bible on the screen, but it stops short of being a real tool for me. It is a shortcut; it saves me time. But it does not pull me into the message of God’s word. (You might look at the first attempt to start this integration process in the book, Computer Bible Study, by Jeffrey Hsu from Word.)
I often dream of a Bible study class where every layperson works from a computer database. We would start with John 1:1; look in depth at each word; discover some lexical history together; jump to a multimedia reading of the text in Greek to hear how it sounds; find out what current scholars think about a verse; make a few notes of our own; be made aware that there are some long-standing theological debates about certain phrases, see them translated on the screen and have a running commentary on the translation difficulties. We could look at the textual criticism questions; we could learn some Greek parsing. And then print-out any part of this study we chose to retain. We could learn without the drudgery of library stacks. Every new subject of discussion could be available at the click of a mouse pointer. All of the technology and the databases already exist for such a program. But the program is still a dream. So I wait.
Why is it a dream? I’m afraid the answer is just too pedestrian. This kind of program requires real computer power. It is a step beyond simply converting the New Jerusalem Bible to digital code. Therefore, it costs too much to be profitable.
Bible software started as a labor of love with a few of the elect being called to make God’s Word computer-friendly. Perhaps we must now wait for another anointing — for someone to take this commercial enterprise and turn it into the voice of God for you and me.

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