Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the April 2005 edition of Religious Products News. It is reprinted here by permission.
The core of what is generally known as Bible software is an electronic Bible concordance. As we all know, concordances have traditionally been one of the main and most cherished tools used for Bible study and sermon preparation. But unlike print concordances, Bible software allows us to run the kind of multi-word, cross-version, cross-language, grammatical searches never thought possible before the advent of the computer age. And that is only the beginning! Bible software turns the seemingly impossible into something readily available. It is not an automatic process, to be sure. It does take some time and effort on our part, but the dividends are excellent for those willing to invest in it.
Anyone involved in serious Bible study, teaching or preaching would do well to get acquainted with everything modern Bible software tools have to offer. There are a number of reasons for that. Among the clear advantages of using Bible software, we could point out the following:
Hyperlinking – Digital texts lend themselves particularly well to “jumping” from one place to another in the search for information. Forget all the stacks of books on your desk and the endless page flipping! Simply click on the live links (usually indicated by a different color, underlining, peculiar cursor symbol, or such like), and you’ll be taken to the right place. Look up the Bible reference, dictionary entry, commentary, map, illustration, or whatever it may be, and get back to the original location with only a mouse click. Or, if you prefer, follow up more links as you broaden the horizons of your study. Hyperlink to your heart’s content, and you will discover a completely new dimension. Just be careful that you don’t forget where you started and what brought you there!
Speed – In an era when time seems to be at a premium, it is important to choose the most time-efficient approaches to performing routine tasks. Bible software is a time-saver when it comes to running searches, looking up references, gathering information, printing out notes, and so on, but let us remember that there are no shortcuts to prayerfully and diligently reading and studying the Bible. We should use whatever time we might save by employing Bible software tools in sharpening our skills for correctly interpreting and applying the Scriptures. Software is no excuse for exegetical sloppiness. Quite the opposite!
Comprehensiveness – It is true that sometimes one can’t see the forest for the trees. So often the Bible is read and studied in a piecemeal fashion, without an awareness of the overall plot and interrelatedness of its different parts. Bible software can effectively place all the relevant data at our finger tips. Admittedly, with the exponential growth of the information available also comes the need to sieve the data, and that is something we will have to do, but at least the grunt work will have been done for us.
When exposed to the latest Bible software features (far too many to enumerate them here), most people will harbor no doubt that this is the way to go. But still many will be wondering what the best Bible program is. The answer to that question, of course, is that there isn’t such thing as “the best” Bible software in abstract terms. The best Bible software for us will be that which is better able to help us in the task we want to perform. To that end, there are a few helpful questions which should be asked at the very outset every time we are considering what program should we acquire. The answer to these questions will usually give us a very good clue as to which package will better meet our needs.
1. Do I base my study on a particular English version of the Bible or work directly from the original languages?
2. What platform would be best for me? (PC, Mac, Linux, PDA, Tablet PC) Do I work with a desktop computer most of the time? Do I travel much or spend a lot of time commuting?
3. Do I need to do any authoring? (i.e., write extensive notes, add other books, Bible versions, etc. that seamlessly integrate into the program)
4. What secondary sources do I use most often? (Classic public domain reference works or more contemporary tools)
Some Bible programs – which could be conveniently labeled simply as Bible-search programs – are nothing more than glorified concordances and that will be good enough for those with basic search, display, copy-paste, and print needs. Others, the Bible-study programs, are more or less sophisticated electronic libraries, which will appeal to those involved in more heavy research and/or teaching. Still others, the Bible-research programs, are geared towards the in-depth analysis and study of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts, and can become an invaluable help for language-learning and exegesis.
Boundaries and terminology are not always clear-cut, but each program usually excels in one (two at most) of the above categories. We will rarely find an all-in-one piece of software, although two or three of the high-end products will certainly cover all our bases if we decide to have a go at them. Most of these come with a money-back guarantee, so there is little to lose and a lot to be gained.
It is always a good idea to think carefully and realistically about our present and future needs. Expandability is always a plus, and so is modularity. It may be worth our while to buy something that will meet our current needs and later on allow us to add more advanced resources. In other words, if we can afford it, it is much better to purchase a package that will certainly outgrow us, particularly at the beginning, than one that we will outgrow in a short while.
There are plenty of packages to choose from under each or the general types mentioned earlier, depending on our needs, our budget, and whatever bells and whistles we might want to find in them. But one thing is for sure: no matter whether it’s a freeware, shareware, or commercial product, or whether it is highly advanced or very basic, Bible software – any Bible software –, will revolutionize the way we approach our study of the Scriptures, and will have an impact on our preaching and teaching.
It should be clear by now why we should all bother about Bible software. We owe it to ourselves and we owe it to the people we minister to. We are to be good stewards of whatever the Lord has placed in our hands. A good, sensible use of Bible software will boost our productivity, enrich our study periods, and give us the time we need to major on the things that really matter. Let us always keep in mind that Bible software is never an end in itself; it is a tool for ministry. The name “computer-assisted Bible study” says it all. It is supposed to aid in our study, not become the focus of it. Our goal cannot be other than 2 Timothy 2:15, “Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately” (NET Bible). I am convinced that Bible software can help us towards fulfilling this high calling.
Rubén Gómez, editor of Bible Software Review