I’ve been at this software review thing for a few years now. Having worked with a large portion of what’s out there in the world of Bible study software, I know it can be a daunting task purchasing and figuring out Bible software. So before getting to the review, I’ve listed some principles to think about and questions to ask before making your Bible software investment.
Since available titles number in the thousands, I won’t spend time in this review discussing who has what. But make sure you go over the list of resources! In the review I sometimes refer to the number of titles available. That does not necessarily mean the number of titles that are unlocked when you purchase a given package. Furthermore, many companies include the same titles (many more of which are public domain). And at least in the author’s opinion, you can quickly find yourself paying for resources that don’t offer the substance you’d hoped for. I’ve discovered that viewing available reference works is a good place to start. Are there current titles? Are they scholarly? Are these resources you would use if you owned them in print form?
Second, what kind of learning curve is required before the software will be of benefit? Think of this kind of like the home gym gathering dust in your garage. You started with good intentions, but let’s face it, extra time and energy are resources you don’t have a lot of in ministry. So don’t spend a lot of money on software you won’t take the time to learn how to use. What kind of help do these companies provide? Do they have video tutorials? Seminars? Technical support? Do they offer beneficial features that beginners can use without reading a 600-page manual?
Third, the mantra: “You get what you pay for” holds true even with Bible software. It’s usually better to wait and save – trust me on this one. You remember how much the good resources cost in seminary, right? Well, they’re still expensive, even in electronic format. Don’t wind up with a CD full of books published before you were born unless you’re intentionally buying the collected works of a dead theologian.
Fourth, try out a friend’s copy. By this I don’t mean install his copy on your computer – that’s called theft, even if we’d rather refer to it as CD burning. Spend a little time using the software in the presence of someone who knows how. If you end up purchasing the software, you just received your first free private lesson, and your friend will probably be so excited to show you, that he’ll offer to provide ongoing free technical support.
Finally, keep reading. The information below is intended to highlight features. This discussion is by no means comprehensive. I’ve included information that I hope will be helpful to preachers in the task of preaching. And only the latest editions are included in this year’s review. For access to past reviews, you can visit our website at www.preaching.com.
BIBLE STUDY LIBRARIES
Though previous versions of BW (www.bibleworks.com) have been reviewed in past issues, it will be helpful to give a quick overview of the software before discussing new features. BW is a highly advanced electronic concordance and research tool designed for exegesis in the original languages. As far as exegesis in the original languages is concerned, BibleWorks 6 (BW6) is top of the line. BW6 maintains the graded interface introduced in version 5 allowing users to choose the three most commonly used modes: Beginner, Standard Command Line, and Power Command Line. The video tutorials provided are a must for first-time users.
Though BW6 falls under the category of “library,” it is distinct from other commonly used Bible Study libraries in that the titles are mostly related to original languages. BW’s philosophy is to provide electronic tools and titles that exegetes use regularly for study in the original languages. And the original language resources offered are extensive, to say the least.
When it comes to searching, the sky’s the limit. Search data can be configured in multiple ways. You can perform complex context sensitive word searches in the original languages and translations and searches in a variety of ranges. Searches that would take days, weeks, or months can be achieved in a matter of seconds.
BW6 also offers a mouse “scroll-over” feature that gives instant parsing and lexical information. In addition, attaching notes to verses (even including original language fonts) is simple. And pasting text into your word processor takes little effort.
There are several new databases and Bible version available in BW6, as well as additional modules for purchase. Some of the outstanding new features include: 1) Color filters which allow you to set the color and text attributes to search results for easy viewing; 2) Comparing Bible Texts which allows you to view multiple versions with color specific results; 3) Sentence diagramming; 4) Flashcards to keep your original language vocabulary sharp; and perhaps my favorite new feature is 5) Cloning which allows you to open additional copies of BW in order to pursue a new search or follow a related train of thought.
If original languages aren’t a large part of your sermon preparation, than the functionality that makes BW6 great won’t be of much use. However, if you thrive on intense exegesis from the original languages, you won’t find a more powerful tool than BW6.
System Requirements: Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2000/XP; CD drive; minimum 32 MB RAM; minimum of 200 MB to a maximum of 1.4 GB hard drive space; sound card for video demos; internet connection needed for the free internet updates.
Logos Bible Software Series X – Scholars Library Silver Edition
The Libronix Digital Library System (www.logos.com) has received plenty of attention in past reviews, so I won’t spend a lot of time restating features previously mentioned. In a nutshell, Libronix leads the way in Bible study library software with their highly advanced search tools and broad collection of resources. The Libronix platform provides both simple and advanced search capabilities that offer users the option of one-click operations or a variety of sophisticated morphological searches depending on both the user’s objectives and knowledge-base. Logos boasts the largest list of titles in the industry (over 3,800 compatible titles from over 100 publishers). Those resources move beyond the typical bible study software titles to an extensive offering of scholarly works including several primary and secondary sources as well as morphologically tagged original language titles and analytical tools.
Many of these titles and tools previously offered in separate packages are included in the Silver Edition (SE). In my opinion, the most important addition is the assimilation of the Biblical Language Supplement (BLS) which previously had to be purchased separately. The BLS was mentioned in last year’s review, but since this is such an important element of SE, let me just summarize briefly the major characteristics.
BLS adds visual filters that chart and graph search results, compare translations, display verb characteristics (voice, tense, mood, person), and more. In addition, the BLS includes a sentence diagrammer. This feature allows you to import a text (or you can type in English, Greek, and Hebrew). Every word is color-coded on the basis of its function in the sentence. And every word can be individually manipulated (color, size, font) and moved. All the lines and symbols you can imagine for grammatical diagramming are included, and they’re adujustable.
Though Libronix is making some significant advances in original language study, it still has some distance to travel before it becomes a major competitor to BibleWorks where original languages are concerned. However, the marriage of language tools and broader library resources are sure to surface as the victor in the software battles of the future. And as long as money isn’t an issue (yeah right!), purchasing SE will prove to be a profitable investment that yields both exegetical and homiletical fruit.
System Requirements: 350 MHz Pentium II (700 MHz Pentium III recommended); 64 MB RAM (128 MB recommended); Windows 98/ME/NT4.0(SP6a)/2000/XP; CD-ROM drive; 800×600 display (1024×768 recommended); Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 or later.
PC Study, Bible Version 4 – Advanced Reference Library
PC Study Bible, Version 4 (PC4) offers a different model for finding information than the common search (www.biblesoft.com). As you move through a given text PC4 continually and automatically searches for related material and provides the results in the Cross-References and Smart-References menus on the left of the screen where PC4’s library is neatly categorized.
Depending on your preference for compiling information, PC4 offers two study modes: Explore and Focus. The Explore mode opens a resource in a new, tabbed window, whereas Focus mode splits the window into two panels and related resources are compiled in the right panel.
If you find library searching to be cumbersome, often providing results that seem unrelated to your search, or you just find it difficult to articulate your search and its parameters, then PC4’s system will be an accommodating substitute.
One of the major benefits of PC4 is the ability to create, integrate, and share reference materials by utilizing the Biblesoft authoring system which works in coordination with Microsoft Word. The same cross-referencing features used with the given resources are available for your works. These user-created materials may be shared with a community of users via an internet exchange site (www.biblesoftexchange.com).
The interface is simple to use and attractive, but the available resources leave something to be desired. Though there are over 200 volumes available, including several translations and original language titles keyed to Strongs, most of what PC4 offers is available in other major Bible study software programs.
System Requirements: IBM compatible, Pentium 333 or higher recommended; 64 MB RAM or more recommended; Windows 95/98/ME/2000/XP; CD ROM drive (4x speed or higher recommended); 58 MB hard drive space required; 256 color graphics support.
WORDsearch 7 (WS7) is the product of a merger between WORDsearch (www.wordsearchbible.com) and Epiphany Software (Bible Explorer). Since this partnership is an attempt to provide the best of both worlds to users, the following discussion will focus on new and enhanced features from the perspective of BE3 users, and then from WS5 users. Along the way, those of you who are new to the discussion will pick up on the quality, functionality, and resource availability of WS7.
For you Bible Explorer 3 users, the upgrade to WS7 will be virtually seamless. WS7 utilizes and builds on BE3 technology, which in my opinion is one of the major plusses of this partnership. BE3 users will greatly benefit from the multiplicity of resources available in WS. Though BE3 scored high in the technology department, their resource offering was significantly limited when compared to a Libronix or WS. The primary advantage to BE3 users is the new pool of resources as well as WS’s longstanding and ever-expanding relationships with publishers.
Some additional features new to BE3 users worth noting include: 1) the Parallel Bible Window which allows a quick and easy comparison of any number of translations. 2) Topical Searching, a feature WS5 users are well aware of, allows you to quickly find articles related to your topic by typing two or more letters. 3) ZipScript pastes scripture texts into word processing documents even when WS7 isn’t running. The ZipScript icon appears in your system tray for quick access.
For WORDsearch 5 (WS5) users, the BE platform offers a very user-friendly interface with some advanced search features. And don’t worry; the resources you’ve unlocked in WS5 will work with the upgrade. The interface is easy to learn, and the software provides video tutorials that lead you step by step.
One of my favorite features from BE3 that WS7 includes is the internet community. You can benefit from resources published online by other users as well as a number of discussion groups. And, yes, that means you can publish your own work online quickly and easily with WS7’s built in word processor. You can also convert works previously written with other word processors like Microsoft Word.
Other additional features new to WS5 users worth noting include: 1) the much simpler Library Window replaces the bookshelf which became difficult to navigate as your library grew; 2) the Bible Cross References tool finds every place in your library that discusses a verse. This simplifies the process by not creating an extra step for searching when your bible text window is open. The cross references appear to the right of the bible text window and can be easily navigated. 3) Docking is one of the window management features that will quickly become a favorite. Several books can share a single folder and can be navigated effortlessly with the tabs near the top of the window. 4) Color highlighting will enhance your note-taking capabilities.
Perhaps the best thing about WS7 is its easy to use interface. And the number of resources available is impressive (over 600 volumes). In the area of preaching and pastoral ministry, there are nearly 60 titles. However, if you’re looking for a biblical language tool, you’ll find WS7 lacking. Granted, biblical languages aren’t their concentration, but it would be nice to have more language resources and morphology search tools available for exegesis. But if languages aren’t your thing, WS7 will meet and exceed your expectations.
System Requirements: (Since I am reviewing from a Beta version of the software, the following requirements are taken from BE3 from which the WS7 interface is built off of) Compatible with Windows 98/ME/NT/2000/XP; hard drive space: 40 MB minimum; for Windows 98/ME: 32 MB of RAM minimum, for Windows 2000/XP: 64 MB of RAM minimum; resolution: at least 800×600 with high color; certain features require a modem or Internet connection; CD or DVD drive.
AM Bible Courseware
Partnering with Libronix, AM Bible Courseware (AM) provides learning materials from the Moody Bible Institute Distance Learning Center (www.moody.edu). These courses serve as an excellent opportunity for lay leaders and interested congregants who desire to dig deeper into the Bible and gain additional leadership and ministry skills. The first of its kind, all of the courses have been designed by the faculty and staff of Moody. AM has its own home page within Libronix where information regarding distance learning from Moody and the AM courses are easily accessible. The courses are designed for independent study in Bible and ministry and leadership topics set at the pace of the learner. The readings for the courses contain links that open relevant resources within the Libronix DLS. There are no printed textbooks. Everything you need is provided in Libronix. Quizzes and exams are given with instant feedback to measure comprehension. Upon completion, learners receive a certificate verifying proficiency in a given course.
Baker’s New Testament Commentary Set
A part of the Libronix DLS, this 18-volume set by Simon J. Kistmaker and William Hendriksen will prove to be a rich resource for your New Testament study. These commentaries are designed for pastors and serious Bible students, and the technical information has been placed in footnotes and separate sections for the sake of readability.
BibleWorks 6 Modules
If you’re working from the original languages, than you will definitely want to add two modules in particular to your BW6 library: An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax by Bruce Waltke and M. O’Connor, and Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament by Daniel B. Wallace. Both are fully searchable and provide a table of contents and indexes with page links. Having worked with these texts in both print and electronic format, I guarantee you will save time and energy by going electronic.
Bible Navigator, The New American Commentary Deluxe Edition
Published by Holman Interaction, Bible Navigator (BN) functions with the WORDsearch interface and offers the 31 volume New American Commentary. In addition to the commentary set, BN provides several bible translations and additional resources for study including map and photo sets. The design of The New American Commentary is to enable pastors, teachers, and students to clearly study and preach the Bible. This commentary contains several excellent volumes, including Timothy George’s award winning commentary on Galatians.
The Jeremiah Life Works Library
Published by Thomas Nelson’s eBible, this resource includes the best works of Dr. David Jeremiah, pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California and host of the radio show, “Turning Point.” Utilizing the Libronix DLS, this library includes books, audio, and study guides by Dr. Jeremiah as well as reference works in the Nelson series.
Though this isn’t technically bible software, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it. As a Preaching reader don’t forget that you have access to Preaching On-Line’s searchable database of sermons and illustrations. And you can access most of the material in the current issue, plus bonus content only available on-line. Just go to www.preaching.com and click on the area that says Preaching On-Line. (The password and username are found at the bottom of the contents page of the current issue of Preaching.) And in case you haven’t discovered it yet, when you visit preaching.com be sure to sign up for PreachingNow, a free weekly e-newsletter with preaching insights, illustrations, resources and even some fun!
Remember, don’t get bogged down with the myriad of options out there in the world of Bible study software. Ask some questions, do your homework, and when you finally make your decision, take time to learn the software. It’s an investment in ministry you won’t regret.
Jonathan Kever formerly served as Managing Editor of Preaching, and is now a student at Dallas Theological Seminary.