Interviews

David Lang, member of the development team of Accordance Bible Software


Bible Software Review: By way of an introduction, please give us any personal information you'd like to share with our readers.

David Lang: See under question 2.

BSR: When did your company start, and why did you feel the need to set this project off?

DL: Roy Brown, OakTree Software's president and application developer, created one of the first Bible programs available for the Macintosh, known as PerfectWord, in 1988. PerfectWord was later bought by Zondervan Corp. and renamed MacBible.

While PerfectWord/MacBible did offer Greek and Hebrew texts for display and searching, it did not offer the kinds of grammatical search and analysis capabilities needed by scholars and pastors. So Roy began work on a new program which would be able to search and analyze the grammatically-tagged original language texts distributed by The GRAMCORD Institute. The GRAMCORD Institute had pioneered the concepts of computer-assisted grammatical study more than a decade earlier, but at that time, Mac users had no way to access the tagged Greek and Hebrew texts. That all changed when Accordance 1.0 was released in February, 1994.

Although I joined the staff of OakTree Software in 1995, my connection to Accordance goes back as far as 1992. At that time, I was in my first year of seminary, and was contemplating the purchase of my first computer. A classmate of mine, who was pushing me to consider getting a Mac, dragged me to a demonstration of an early prototype of Accordance, and I was hooked. "This," I thought, "Is what I want to do with a computer." I subsequently bought a Mac, bought Accordance 1.0 not long after it was released, and eventually went to work for OakTree, where I've remained for about nine years now.

BSR: What is your current role in the company?

DL: OakTree Software is a small company, so we all wear a lot of different hats. My main role is in module development. My job is to take the electronic texts we receive from various publishers (Bibles, commentaries, dictionaries, etc.) and convert them into Accordance modules. In addition, I have at various times helped out with interface design, marketing, customer relations, and technical support...

BSR: When you look back, what would you identify as being the single greatest feat in the history of Bible software?

DL: I see how this works! You want us to identify the "single greatest feat," but you'll only go so far as to think of "some" of the greatest! ;-) I think I'll do as you do and not as you say and just list a couple of events which I think are significant.

1. I think the original GRAMCORD concept was perhaps the most pioneering feat in the history of Bible software. It's difficult to overstate its impact on Biblical scholarship, preaching, and teaching.

2. I think Accordance has, like the Macintosh itself, had a long history of innovation which has helped to drive Bible software forward. While Windows developers were all trying to see who could build the biggest library of modules, Accordance was quietly pioneering features such as graphical search constructs (version 1.0), various methods of statistical analysis and graphical representations of search results (1.0), parallel passage databases (2.0), diagramming tools (3.0), and so on. It is only recently that many of these features and concepts have found their way into Windows software.

3. While not a single event, I believe the proliferation of electronic texts of various kinds has been a significant aspect of the development of Bible software. There have been two prongs to this: the e-texting of numerous older, public domain works by countless volunteers have made a wealth of classic material available to all Bible software developers (and more importantly, to their users). In addition, developers like Logos, who made ever expanding libraries of texts a major focus of their software, have helped to persuade countless print publishers to make their copyrighted materials available in electronic format. In many cases, such efforts have benefited other developers as well (and again, the user is the big winner).

4. Most recently, I think Visual Book Productions, with the introduction of their iLumina software, has taken Bible software in an exciting new direction, enabling users to explore the background of the Bible through a variety of innovative multimedia presentations.

BSR: What segment of Bible software users do you consider to be your main target?

DL: We try to target three markets: the individual engaged in personal Bible study, the ministry professional/teacher, and the Biblical scholar.

BSR: In your opinion, what are the three most salient features of your application?

DL: 1. Integrated searching: Many programs treat searching the Bible and its related study aids as something of an afterthought. That is, searching is often hidden away in a dialog box, or the user is required to learn some arcane syntax in order to perform all but the most basic searches.

In Accordance, searching is built right into the top part of every window, and everything you need to perform even the most complex searches is easily accessible.

2. Amplifying: In Accordance, you can select a word or verse in any text, and then get more information about that word or verse by choosing a reference work to consult, or a feature to explore. We call this "amplifying" a selection. The practical implication of this capability is that you can follow a train of thought through a wide variety of study aids and resources without ever having to pause to jump through unnecessary hoops. In other words, the software gives you the information you need without getting in your way.

3. Original language capabilities: I think Accordance does a better job than most programs at anticipating the needs of those who are working with the original texts of the Bible (or, for that matter, with extrabiblical texts such as Qumran, the Mishna, the Targums, etc.). I have seen some programs tout "scholarly" features which in my opinion amount to little more than "demoware," because while they may look cool in a demo, they're of little practical use. Accordance is designed to make it easy to search, study, analyze, and explore these Greek and Hebrew texts in a way that is of real benefit.

BSR: If you had to recommend the use of Bible software to someone who has never been exposed to it before, how would you go about it?

DL: I would say the main advantages of computer-assisted Bible study are space, expense, time, and accessibility. Where pastors and scholars once had to build large libraries of bulky and expensive reference works, they are now able to get access to a dizzying array of materials which cost far less money and take up almost no physical space. The ability to search these materials in a variety of ways is also a tremendous time-saver over digging through a stack of books. Finally, with respect to accessibility, the ability to do broad-based searches of an entire electronic library makes it easier to stumble across helpful information. With print books, one has to know what one is looking for and generally where to find it.

I think it's important to note that while computer-assisted Bible study has many advantages over more traditional methods, there are also a few disadvantages. One is that there is real joy in the experience of reading a physical book. Another is that computerized Bible study can sometimes become atomistic, with searches making it easy to take bits and pieces of information out of their original context. For more on the potential "dangers" of using Bible software, see this article.

BSR: Why do you think people should consider using your software?

DL: 1. Ease of use. For the reasons described above under question 6, Accordance is much easier to use than most other Bible programs I'm familiar with. Accordance does not force the user to jump through unnecessary hoops in order to get the information he is looking for. Its interface is also remarkably consistent, so that even the most advanced features operate in very much the same way as the most basic features.

2. Power and expandability. With its vast array of powerful features, it's very difficult to outgrow Accordance.

3. Wealth of available material. In terms of the number of available texts, commentaries, reference works, and other study aids, Accordance is, if I'm not mistaken, second only to the market leader in this area on the Windows platform.

4. It's available for the Macintosh!

BSR: What is the primary use you make of your own software?

DL: I use Accordance both for personal Bible study and in teaching. I've used graphical resources such as the Bible Atlas, Timeline, and Bible Lands PhotoGuide both in teaching my children and in teaching Sunday School classes. These resources really help make the Bible come alive for people.

BSR: Is there any feature lacking in Bible software in general, that you would love to see implemented soon?

DL: We've got a long list of ideas that I think are quite visionary, but I'll just have to leave it at that for now! ;-)

BSR: Are there any specific plans to port the software to other platforms? (Mac, Linux, PDA...)

DL: No. Our expertise lies in Macintosh software, and that's where we plan to continue directing our efforts.

BSR: Besides English, is or will your software be available in other languages in the foreseeable future?

DL: Spanish and possibly German.

BSR: From your perspective, what should Bible software be heading for in the years to come?

DL: I'd say that if there is one area that's lacking, it's in actually training users how to make use of all the tools which are currently available. It would be a mammoth undertaking, but I would like to see a level of interactivity which could actually walk the user through the process of studying the Bible: e.g. how to understand a passage in light of its surrounding context, how to avoid common exegetical fallacies, when and how to use different kinds of tools and study aids, etc.

BSR: Would you like to add or share anything not covered in the previous questions?

DL: I think I've probably rambled long enough! :-)

BSR: Thank you so much for your time!


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