May/June 2004 Issue
E-Search the Scriptures
By Ken Ristau
Online resources and Bible software bring a scholar’s library into any home or office
More than any technology since the printing press, computers are revolutionizing the way people read and study the Bible. Today the Internet and the latest generation of Bible software combine to provide excellent tools for professional research, preparing lessons and sermons, and private study and learning. These tools are available for every computer skill and Bible knowledge level.
While many people will want to hold on to their hardcovers and paperbacks, online resources and Bible software are a great complement to traditional methods of study. Electronic texts provide numerous advantages. Online resources are free and give you access to thousands of public domain texts (even some scholarly articles) that can be easily searched for key words or Scripture citations. Bible software, once purchased and installed, provides even better content plus more powerful research capabilities.
As with printed Bible study materials, electronic ones still require discernment (something this article attempts to help with). In particular many secondary resources such as Bible commentaries, though offered in up-to-the-minute electronic formats, are outdated, inaccurate and have limited critical value--and so users should seek advice before starting.
There are many useful resources for Bible study on the Internet. Large text libraries, scholarly resources and search tools are now available at no cost.
iTanakh.org is one great starting point that provides links to quality content. All links are evaluated by Dr. Christopher Heard, a professor in religion, who maintains a high, academic standard for the site. Visitors will find links to important primary resources as well as articles and book reviews by respected biblical scholars.
Other great starting points include the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, the Old Testament Gateway, the New Testament Gateway, and the Resource Pages for Biblical Studies. Through these web sites visitors will find hyperlinks to virtually all of the most useful resources for biblical studies and Christian studies available on the Internet.
There are also some good online research tools that are able to accomplish increasingly sophisticated tasks, such as searches in Hebrew and Greek.
Three of the best web sites in this regard are Bible Study Tools at Crosswalk.com, the Bible Gateway and the Unbound Bible. Nevertheless, all these research tools fall short compared to the extraordinary Bible software now available.
The new generation of Bible software consists of multi-purpose tools that provide impressive search and research capabilities with quality resources. The Bible software market is quite competitive with a dozen or more rival programs. A few of these have emerged as leaders: Accordance, BibleWorks, Logos Series X, and iLumina Gold. [See table at the end of this article for technical specifications.]
iLumina Gold is ideal software for people new to Bible software as well as new Christians, families with children, and Sunday schools. iLumina provides some useful research capabilities, but it is primarily an introductory tool.
It is the only Bible software that ships in native PC and Mac versions. iLumina invites users to “Live the Bible” through an immersive, completely integrated multimedia experience. It sports a stylish, easy-to-use interface that is reminiscent of Microsoft Encarta. The program integrates NLT and KJV Bibles, a small suite of reference works, animations, maps, photos, videos and virtual tours to provide an interesting albeit very theologically conservative introduction to the biblical world.
The animations, videos and virtual tours are the most exciting aspect of this program, even though several videos end with somewhat tedious sermonizing. The animations are generally engaging re-enactments of various Bible passages. The videos, filmed in Israel, educate users about (primarily NT) archaeological sites, agricultural practices and more. The virtual tours, using QuickTime VR technology, enable users to explore 3D images of Holy Land sites and models. All of this multimedia content makes iLumina a wonderful tool for teaching and learning that will almost certainly hold any user’s attention.
On the whole, iLumina is impressive software that should continue to develop and improve in quality and professionalism.
For users with more advanced study needs or who want access to premium texts, Accordance, BibleWorks, and Logos Series X are the programs of choice. Most notably, these programs let users run complex searches, including searches using Strong’s numbers and complex grammatical searches on Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic texts. Users are also able to amplify their research with a variety of statistical and reporting tools, lexical and reference aids, and other quality resources. Each program, however, has a different philosophy and emphasis.
Accordance Bible Software is a premium program that stands unmatched in its search and amplify capabilities. It is a paragon of efficiency and power, easily accessible to computer novices while made to meet the needs of the most advanced users.
The program opens to a simple yet powerful working environment with an integrated search-and-results workspace, resource-and-amplify palette, instant details box, and menu. From this environment, users can open new text and reference panes within the existing workspace, gather critical details about words and phrases and jump to parallel texts at the click of a button. Users can also cross-reference lexical and reference aids, conduct simple or complex searches, generate statistics and graphs on those searches, and more. These features, especially in combination with the Scholar’s Collection CD-ROM of keyed and tagged texts, lexical aids and reference books, makes Accordance the leader for research in English, Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek biblical and cognate literature.
There are more than 200 Accordance-compatible resources on more than 20 CD-ROMs. This includes essential research lexicons and dictionaries, an unparalleled atlas program, a helpful timeline tool, and other products designed for lay users, such as the brand new Library 6 and the outstanding Essential IVP Reference Collection CD-ROMs. Unfortunately, while most add-on and lay CD-ROMs are competitively priced, a scholar’s library with Accordance can be expensive.
BibleWorks is a specialized primary research program for exegesis and translation. Though the latest version makes accessible some great Hebrew and Greek lexicons and grammars, including an excellent exclusive module, Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax by Bruce Waltke and Michael O’Connor, BibleWorks is more of an all-in-one product that delivers primary resources and only a few secondary resources.
The highly customizable program comes with 93 Bible translations in 29 languages, 12 original language texts with 7 morphology databases, 6 Greek lexicons and dictionaries, 4 Hebrew lexicons and dictionaries, and 18 practical reference works. This collection is designed especially for missionaries, pastors, graduate students, scholars and translators who work in original and/or foreign languages.
The collection is delivered in a powerful program with many of the same complex search and amplify capabilities as Accordance. BibleWorks is not quite as elegant though, and aspects of the program such as the toolbar buttons are not very intuitive. Still, users can select from three different user interfaces based on their experience level: beginner, standard and power user. The program also comes with a comprehensive manual, excellent help files, video tutorials and great customer support.
Logos Series X is the giant of the Bible software market. Recent improvements in the latest version of this program, as well as the new Biblical Languages Supplement, have significantly improved its search and amplify capabilities.
Logos Series X, however, is not Accordance or BibleWorks. Instead, the primary raison d’être for this product is to organize and deliver a vast library of electronic books using the Libronix Digital Library System. Through several specialized addins, users can search their resources and see the results organized in helpful ways. Users of all skill levels should find that Logos Series X is a very accessible and easy-to-use program.
The Zondervan Bible Study Library, Parsons QuickVerse and to a lesser extent Biblesoft PC Study Bible are competitive stand-alone packages. But none of these products can compete with the growing library of 3,800 compatible titles available to Logos Series X users. The library includes many exclusive resources, from scholarly works like the Word Biblical Commentary Series and the forthcoming Context of Scripture to the works of popular expositors and authors like R. C. Sproul, Warren Wiersbe and John MacArthur.
My chief concern with Logos Series X is that Logos Research Systems incorporates some questionable resources in the packages, most notoriously the invective-laced and highly inflammatory apologetics of Dennis Lindsay. It is also a memory/processor-intensive program and so not recommended for users with slower computer systems. Notwithstanding, Logos Series X has earned its place as one of the finest Bible software programs currently available.
Certainly, online resources and Bible software are not even the limits of how computers and technology can change the way you study the Bible. For instance, users on the go can get Bible software for their PDAs (personal digital assistants) and mobile phones or they can choose the Godspeed eBible, a sort of PDA replacement. Though not as extensive as the resources online or as powerful as the Bible software for personal computers, these products are still worthwhile, especially for those with an active lifestyle who want to make regular Bible study and reflection a part of their daily schedule.The new technology is not just for the young or the computer-savvy.
Everyone can benefit by learning to study with technology. Take it from the Pope, who sends text messages to the mobile phones of the Catholic faithful. Perhaps it is time for you to computerize your studies of the Bible.
Ken Ristau, a freelance writer in Edmonton, offers more detailed thoughts on his web site, anduril.ca.