A wise man once said that change is the only thing that doesn't change. This is certainly true of Bible software, which has dramatically changed through the years. Remember when it only consisted of the King James Version and featured little more than the biblical text?
Today, with advances in technology and great interest in Bible scholarship, Bible software sales are booming. Resources normally unavailable to the average Christian are now just a mouse click away.
With the widespread use of the Internet, we are beginning to see the emergence of new trends in how software design is approached and licensed. Now, instead of volumes only available on CD-ROM, Internet libraries are in the works with nearly unlimited access and availability. For example, innovations built into Bible Explorer Version 3 allow one to join a community of Bible Explorer users in discussion sessions via the Internet. Similar to a chat room, these groups discuss many topics, such as the Scriptures, languages and Bible interpretation.
All the software products reviewed loaded easily, worked right out of the box and performed well. All the products presented well visually around the particular strengths inherent in the software. They were all very useful, and it was difficult to rate any one a clear "top choice." However, based upon the user's needs, one above the rest will be his or her best choice.
The primary concerns we had in mind while reviewing these products were flexibility and expandability. Therefore, each product reviewed was examined according to the following points:
**Ease of installation and use
**Simple pull-down menus
**Bibles and reference works that are useable throughout the text, including original languages
**Keyword/text searches in reference works
**Cut-and-paste features that allow the user to easily transfer sections of text to a word processor
The rating scale is as follows:
needs work **
back to the drawing board *
15897 Alta Vista Way, San Jose,
CA 95127; (408) 251-9788, www.epiphanysoftware.com
Reviewed: Bible Explorer Version 3.0 Premium Edition, 69 books, $349.95 (1-892144-19-0). Other versions with fewer tools include Deluxe, 61 books, $249.95 (1-892144-18-2); Standard Edition, 47 books, $149.95 (1-892144-17-4); Discovery Edition, 18 books, $14.95 (1-892144-16-6); Trial Edition, 30 Days, 70 books, $2.95 (1-892144-15-8).
Comments: Bible Explorer Version 3 is a major rewrite, not a simple upgrade. Making use of the Internet, it attempts to remove the solitary nature of computer Bible study and make it a community activity. Ongoing discussions across the Internet enhance Bible discovery and foster relationship-building with others who have similar interests. From the outset, this new version is designed to foster relational community-building. One can share what they've learned or ask questions from others in the discussion group.
The product is very easy to use for both experienced users and beginners. It has the touch and feel of a Web browser because it uses MS Internet Explorer version 5.5 to present the software. A new feature in this release is the automatic tiling of multiple Bible versions opened. Previous versions required the user to split the screen by clicking an icon, and only two volumes could be open at once. Now, it's easy to read four volumes on the same screen. If each one is a Bible, they can be linked to scroll automatically as the user moves through the text.
The software does not contain any original Greek or Hebrew texts, though many excellent reference tools are included for word study. Of course, numerous commentaries and study tools are available. Most helpful in Old Testament studies is the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament included in the Premium Edition and unlockable in all others. Overall rating: ****
Installation: Quick and simple with installation wizard. Extensive help and training videos are included on CD. Rating: ****
Bibles, Concordances & Word Studies: KJV, NLT, NIV, NKJV, NASB (update), NRSV, NCV, NET, TLB, ISV, ASV, RSV, YLT, DT. Strong's Concordance and Enhanced Dictionary With Tense, Voice & Mood; Thayers & BDB; Vine's Expository Dictionary; Robertson's Word Pictures NT; Theological Wordbook of the OT; Vincent's Word Studies NT. Rating: ****
Reference Works: Thompson Chain; Treasury of Scripture Knowledge; Nave's New Topical Index; Easton's Dictionary; Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names; International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; Manners & Customs of Bible Lands; Edersheim's Life & Times of Jesus; Foxe's Book of Martyrs; Complete Works of Josephus; Finney's Systematic Theology. Other works include: Bible Reading Planner; Spurgeon's Morning & Evening and Faith's Checkbook; My Utmost for His Highest; The Necessity of Prayer; Imitation of Christ; E.M. Bounds Power and Possibility of Prayer; Augustine's Confessions; Paradise Lost /Regained; Pilgrim's Progress; Bible atlas; photos. The addition of Hebrew and Greek interlinear Bibles and original language texts would improve this release. Overall, Bible Explorer Version 3 is unique, easy to use and very fast. Rating: ****
Cost Effectiveness: Bible Explorer provides excellent value for dollars spent. Rating: ****
NELSON'S ELECTRONIC BIBLE REFERENCE LIBRARY
506 Nelson Place, Nashville, TN 37214;
(800) 251-4000, www.nelsondirect.com
Reviewed: Professional Edition, 76 books, $299.99 (0-7852-1238-8). Other versions with fewer tools include Deluxe Edition, 39 books, $129.99 (0-78521-300-7); Basic Edition, 21 books, $14.97 (0-78524-603-7); Starter Edition, 3 books, $9.99 (0-78521-241-8).
Also Reviewed: Word Biblical Commentary, 54 books, $999.99; Hayford's Electronic Spirit-Filled Life Library, 35 books, $79.97; The J. Vernon McGee Electronic Bible Study Library, 75 books, $79.97.
Comments: We like the look and feel of Nelson's Reference Library. This product uses the Logos Library System (LLS) engine. Therefore, all the books and tools that use this software engine will work with this library. This feature makes Nelson the most versatile of all packages reviewed insofar as breadth of reference tools available. More than 2,000 books are available for LLS and more are being added regularly. Original language Hebrew and Greek texts, along with supporting lexicons, concordances and commentaries, complete the Professional Edition.
Word Biblical Commentary, Jack Hayford's Electronic Spirit-Filled Life Library and The J. Vernon McGee Electronic Bible Study Library each can run stand-alone or can be added to the library already in place. Moreover, each library contains different reference and study volumes and Bible versions (though each contains the "standard" books).
Word Biblical Commentary is very scholarly and exhaustive. Containing detailed original language exegesis and comprehensive study notes, this tool is of great value to any serious student of Scripture.
Fifty-four volumes make up the set, which are contained on two CDs. List price is $999.99, but is available at a special price of $499.97. Overall rating: ****
Installation: Quick and easy with installation wizard. Professional Edition included two CDs, while the add-on libraries were contained either on one or two CDs. Rating: ****
Bibles, Concordances & Word Studies: Thirteen Bible versions including: KJV, NLT, NKJV, YLT, NRSV, NCV, ASV, DB, TLB and more. Strong's Numbers; Enhanced Strong's Lexicon-Tense/Voice/Mood; Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of OT/NT Words; and more. Other reference works include: New Nave's Topical Bible; Believer's Bible Commentary; Matthew Henry's Commentary; Wiersbe's With the Word; The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge; Confessions of St. Augustine; Imitation of Christ; Pilgrim's Progress; Exploring Church History; Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion; Westminster Catechism (Larger & Shorter); Logos Nelson's 3D Bible Map Book; Nelson's Teaching Outlines of the Bible; and more. Rating: ****
Cost Effectiveness: Because of the extensive enhancements and add-ons available through the LLS system, Nelson provides the broadest library currently available. Rating: *****
22014 7th Avenue So., Seattle, WA 98198;
(206) 824-0547, www.biblesoft.com
Reviewed: PC Study Bible Version 3.1: Complete Reference Library, 35 books, $349.95 (1-56514-043-5). Other versions with fewer tools include Reference Library, 27 books, $249.95 (1-56514-033-8); New Reference Library, 21 books, $149.95 (1-56514-035-4).
Comments: PC Study Bible is comprehensive and easy to use. Version 3.1 is the current release and includes some improvements from 3.0. Both professional clergy and laity can use this powerful software to easily do in-depth study with the tools included. If you have a computer, you can study the original words of the Bible without having to know Greek or Hebrew.
Perhaps the greatest strength of the product is the ease of use when working in the original Greek or Hebrew. Interlinear texts flow from the Hebrew Old Testament to the Greek New Testament seamlessly. Users can locate specific words or phrases and see every occurrence in the Bible. Thousands of articles and outlines of people, places, events and theological subjects enable users to explore and research virtually any Bible topic. Users can access a million cross references using The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge. Also included is a toolbar for MS Word 97 that allows users to create Bible study and reference materials that automatically link with the PC Study Bible Library. Overall rating: ****
Installation: Insert the CD and watch it happen. We especially liked the option during installation to have the complete system reside on the hard drive so the CD is not required to run the software. Rating: ****
Bibles, Concordances & Word Studies: KJV, NIV, NKJV, ASV, NASB, NASB Update, TLB, RSV, with exhaustive concordances for each translation. Vine's Expository Dictionary; Vincent's Word Studies NT; Robertson's Word Pictures NT; Keil & Delitzsch OT Commentary; Strong's Greek-Hebrew Dictionary; Englishman's Greek-Hebrew Concordance; Brown Driver Briggs' Greek Definitions; Thayer's Hebrew Definitions; Interlinear Bible; Greek (UBS) text; Hebrew (UBS) text. Rating: ****
Reference Works: Nave's Topical Bible; Treasury of Scripture Knowledge; Matthew Henry's Commentary; Wycliffe Bible Commentary; Barne's Notes on the OT & NT; Adam Clarke's Commentary; Jamieson/Fausset/Brown Commentary. This software could be improved with the inclusion of both the Theological Wordbook of the OT and Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the NT. Rating: ***
Other Bible Helps: Personal notes, Bible study/reading plan, Bible outlines, Bible maps, Bible photo collection. Rating: ***
Cost Effectiveness: Broad selection for the dollars spent. Good value. Rating: ****
P.O. Box 2200, Bigfork, MT 59911-2200; (800) 742-4253,
Reviewed: BibleWorks 4.0, 53 books, $250.00 (no ISBN).
Comments: BibleWorks is designed for scholarly research into the original languages of the Bible. Fourteen original language texts are included, with an additional 17 Bibles in translations other than English. This software is very easy to use and includes many helpful tools to research word occurrences, word meanings and word usage.
BibleWorks 5 was released during the writing of this article. Though not reviewed, it deserves mention because of the extensive original language texts and reference works available. Following are some of the new Bible and reference works available in this release: Unabridged Thayer's Greek Lexicon; Unabridged BDB-Gesenius Hebrew Lexicon; BibleWorks/CATSS LXX/GNT Morphology; Modern Greek Bible (Old and New Testaments); Salkinson Ginsberg Hebrew New Testament; Transliterated BHS Hebrew Old Testament; Faussett Bible Dictionary; The English Standard Version; The Jewish Publication Society English Tanakh (1985); The Geneva Bible 1599 (English); The Jewish Publication Society Holy Scriptures 1917 (English OT).
To accommodate varying levels of computer and Bible software skills, BibleWorks 5 offers three levels of user interface: (1) Beginner Mode (no command line). Easy enough for children, this mode reflects hundreds of changes that have been made to provide easier access to the vast store of information available; (2) Standard Mode (menu-driven command line); and (3) Power User Mode (enhanced command line with expanded functionality).
The new version database compiler enables users to build their own Bible versions for use in BibleWorks 5, which can be displayed and searched just as the other Bible versions. This is a great boon to missionaries and translators. Simply provide the text to BibleWorks 5 in ASCII text format, with verse references for each verse, and the version database compiler will compile the database and install it in BibleWorks 5. Overall rating: ****
Installation: Installation is a breeze with the setup wizard. Rating: ****
Bibles, Concordances & Word Studies: Original language; Greek NT-Nestle-Aland; AGNT Friberg's '94 Morphologically Analyzed Greek NT; BNM Aletti/Gieniusz/Bushnell Greek; Robinson-Pierpont Greek NT; BHS Hebrew Text (1990-4th Corrected Edition); Groves-Wheeler Westminster Hebrew Morphology; Rahlfs' LXX With Apocrypha; BLM Aletti / Gieniusz / Bushnell/ CATSS LXX; Latin Vulgate;
KJV, NKJV, NASB, RSV, NIV, NRSV, ASV, DB, NLT; Jerusalem Bible; Webster's 1833 with Strong's. Rating: *****
Reference Works: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; AT Robertson's Word Pictures (Greek NT); Metzger's Bible Outline; Treasury of Scripture Knowledge; Nave's Topical Index; Easton's Bible Dictionary; Bible Time Lines; Westminster Confession and Catechisms. Rating: ***
Cost Effectiveness: Excellent value for the number of original language resources and foreign language Bible translations included. Rating: ****
IEXALT ELECTRONIC PUBLISHING
1934 Rutland Drive, Suite 500, Austin, TX, 78758-5418; (800) 888-9898, www.wordsearchbible.com
Reviewed: WORDsearch Bible Discovery Library, 55 books, $49.95 (636061-36014-4).
Other versions include Thompson Chain-Reference Preacher's Library, 136 books, $299.95 (636061-39001-1); Discipleship Library, 78 books, $299.95 (636061-36014-4); Preacher's Outline & Sermon Bible, 14 books, $249.95 (636061-36009-0, KJV only); Practical Word Studies in The New Testament, 23 books, $99.95 (636061-36017-5); Thompson Chain-Reference Bible Library, 42 books, $49.95 (636061-39000-4); New Believer's Library, 26 books, $49.95 (636061-36014-4).
Comments: We reviewed Bible Discovery Library, which was not one of the most comprehensive. Not included with this version were original language texts or interlinear Bibles, though the NAS Greek and Hebrew Dictionary were included. A "talking" Strong's Greek and Hebrew Dictionary is included as well. Two more complete versions are offered that include original language resources.
Of special interest is the inclusion of LESSONmaker, a comprehensive tool for creating Bible studies for group or individual study. The software loaded easily and functioned well. Screen layout is very clean and familiar to Windows users.
Other libraries within this software family have different strengths and features. For example, the Preacher's Outline & Sermon Bible features every Scripture passage outlined verse-by-verse and categorized by subject.
Abundant commentary is included as are thoughts for practical application and references to related Scriptures. A detailed bibliography covering more than 40 commentaries, Greek sources and other reference works is included as well. Overall rating: ****
Installation: Very easy with the option to load the entire program onto the hard drive or run it from the CD.
Also included is a manual for installation and operation, plus an electronic version on the CD. Rating: ***
Bibles, Concordances & Word Studies: KJV, NKJV, ASV, NASB, NASB Update, DNT, God's Word, NLT, YLT, La Biblia de las Américas with NAS concordance. Improvements include inclusion of NIV. Rating: ***
Reference Works: Nave's Topical Bible; Torrey's Treasury of Scripture Knowledge; Matthew Henry's Commentary; Torrey's Topical Textbook; Hitchcock's Bible Names Dictionary; Easton's Bible Dictionary; Jamieson/Fausset/Brown Commentary. Rating for version evaluated: ***
Other Bible Helps: Personal notes, devotionals, Bible study/reading plan, Bible outlines, Bible maps, Bible photo collection. Rating: ***
Cost Effectiveness: Good value for the dollars spent. Rating: ***
1. Is original language study important?
Too often users are enamored by the wealth of original language tools available but have little or no understanding of Greek or Hebrew linguistics. This doesn't mean the tools are unnecessary or that the user has wasted his or her money; it simply means the user, by not utilizing the tools, may not get the most for their money.
For example, some software includes morphology tools that enable detailed search and study of original language texts. Most casual users have no understanding of what morphology is, let alone how to apply this linguistically to Bible study. However, for those who have more familiarity with Greek or Hebrew, these tools are of great importance.
Most Bible software programs include basic Greek and Hebrew helps to assist the user in understanding words in their original language. These are not exhaustive, but are easy to use and sufficient for most situations.
2. What is your budget?
Software prices range from $14.95 to $999.99. Within this framework, users can hit nearly every price point. How much do you have to spend to get "good" software? All are good and easy to use; the difference comes in the number of included Bible versions, reference works, commentaries, original language resources and so on. Users should evaluate their needs and then weigh their needs against their wants. Doing this will enable them to choose the best entry level.
3. Is it expandable?
Users often desire more than their budget can bear. If this is true in your case, consider investing in a software package that allows you to expand your software library by purchasing additional works in the future. Another advantage to this approach is that users can develop a library tailored to their individual needs and desires.
Tom Gill is a Christian writer, computer expert and pastor. He lives in Lake Mary, Florida.