A review written by Holger Szesnat, Lecturer, Eastern Region Ministry Course,
UK. Copyright © 2005-2009 by the author. All rights reserved. Please do
not reproduce any part of this document without obtaining permission
from the author.
e-Sword was created by Rick Meyers in 2000 as a free Bible programme
running on Windows 98 OS (or better). Later a version for Pocket PC was
developed as well. The programmes are freeware, but not open source.
The Windows version tested in this review is 7.7.7 (released in July
2005), on a machine running Windows XP. According to user comments in a
various support fora (eg. the WINE forum), it is possible to run it on Linux as well, using the WINE application; however, this is neither officially supported nor advertised. The official programme website, http://www.e-sword.net,
claimed 3.000.000 downloads of e-Sword for Windows by August 2005, a
third of which apparently took place in the previous 12 months.
I wish to begin by stating the most important conclusion: e-Sword is
a great programme for the general user. There are drawbacks and
limitations, of course, but on the whole this programme is very
Installation seems quite easy and straightforward. The setup file
(17MB) worked fine on my Windows XP system, installing the programme
with the base module (Authorised / King James version with integrated
Strong's numbers, together with Strong's numbers 'dictionary'). All
further modules (versions, dictionaries, commentaries, etc.) have to be
downloaded individually, and installed in essentially the same manner,
which should enable most users, even those with limited computer
skills, to install this programme without problems. I did once
encounter problems installing the programme on a laptop running Windows
XP which had not run OS upgrades for a year, but once I fixed that, it
installed and worked without further trouble.
Programme updates may be downloaded at a later stage; they tend to weigh in at about 7
MB. Users with dial-up accounts may find the initial 17MB file
difficult to download, but since it may be freely distributed, some
people burn e-Sword on CD's and distribute them freely; that is
certainly how I do it with my students in order to encourage them to
make use of it straightaway. For a small donation, it is also possible
to purchase a CD with the programme from the programme writer.
3. Basic interface features
The standard interface (fig. 1) offers a reasonably clear view of
the resources on offer in the programme: there is a text-based menu
system at the top, underneath which follow a number of useful shortcut
icons. A slim panel on the far left shows which 'book' and chapter one
is currently looking at. The panel in the centre shows the Biblical
text(s); a panel to the right offers commentaries; and a further panel
at the bottom shows dictionaries and related tools. This interface is
customisable; for example, one can maximise the Biblical text window,
or the dictionary window, or the commentary window.
Fig. 1 User interface.
4. Bible Display
BibleTexts are displayed in the central panel;
different versions are indicated by convenient 'tabs' offering
abbreviated version titles (hovering the mouse over them provides the
full name; the 'Bible' menu at the top also sometimes offers more
detailed information about the version currently in use - if the
version module writer included it!).
The text is rigidly structured in chapters and verses; moving from a
verse at the end of one chapter to the beginning of another is
therefore a little cumbersome. Bible versions may be displayed
individually (as in fig. 1); in comparison with each other (fig. 2); or
in synoptic fashion (up to four versions in parallel display; fig. 6).
Displayed texts may be highlighted to aid linked annotation in
connection with the user comments feature.
Fig. 2 Comparison of individual verse in different versions.
4.2. Greek / Hebrew texts
It is possible to use Greek (fig. 3) and Hebrew texts (fig. 4) with
e-Sword, although - not surprisingly - the programme website itself
offers only older text editions that are in the public domain, such as
various forms of the Textus Receptus and Westcott-Hort for the NT, and
a consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible text, albeit of undisclosed
provenance (perhaps the Aleppo Codex text, which appears to be in the
Fig. 3 Greek NT (textus receptus) with variants, including Alexandrinus.
Fig. 4 Hebrew Bible text.
Some of the unofficial user fora provide links to the Nestle-Aland
text (26th ed.), but the legality of this is once again not clear to
me. It would appear that the programme uses unicode fonts, though I did
not see any explicit information about this (I only found out about
this by trial and error). However, the programme allows for
easy font changes. For example, in the partial screenshots
displayed in fig. 3 and 4., I used Georgia and Courier New respectively.
Searching the Biblical texts is done with a simple
search interface, which effectively allows for Boolean AND / OR / NOT
searches for words and phrases, including partial matches and various
wildcard options described in the help menu. The search can also be
restricted to a specified range of books, as long as they are in
canonical sequence (the modern Protestant canonical sequence, that is).
The complexity of searches is limited by the fact that one cannot
search across verse boundaries (see fig. 5).
Fig. 5 Search interface.
It is somewhat more difficult to search the Hebrew and
Greek texts (ie. texts which are not using Latin characters). Neither
the programme website nor the supporting documentation seems
to indicate how one might search Greek or Hebrew texts;
though of course it is possible that I missed it. The only way to do at
least some sort of search of Greek and Hebrew words is to use the
context menus that pop up when one right-clicks a word in the version
in question: this allows the user to search the highlighted word or
A certain amount of manipulation of the search text thus created in
the the pop-up search interface did allow for simple searches with
partial matches. Incidentally, versions with integrated Strong's
numbers also enable the user to search self-same numbers; this is
discussed in detail in the extensive PDF-based user manual available on
the programme website (written by B Gordon and J Struwig).
On the whole, therefore, searches of the Greek and Hebrew texts should be treated with caution.
Readers who are perhaps a trifle disappointed by this limited support for Greek
and Hebrew ought to bear in mind that this programme was written for
the general user; after all, the Grodon/Struwig user manual feels
obliged to point out (p.27):
"The first important thing to remember when using this
function [i.e. Strong's numbers] is to know that the Old Testament was
written in Hebrew, and the New Testament in Greek."
Searches seemed quite fast on my machine (Pentium 4, 2.4GHz, 512Mb
RAM); for example, the search shown in fig. 5 took just a fraction of a
Users can see the results in the small result fields in the user
interface, which display the verses found; however, clicking on the
'Accept' button will remove the search interface, and a small drop-down
menu just above the Bible text panel (see fig. 1) will display the
search results. This enables the user to read the verse(s) in context.
It is also possible to print out or copy/paste search results into
another programme, such as word-processing software.
6. Programme Highlights
In my view, e-Sword has four particularly useful aspects, which I would like to emphasise here.
6. 1. Parallel display of versions
From the point of view of a teacher of Biblical Studies, perhaps the
most useful feature is the ability of e-Sword to display up to four
versions parallel to each other, which aids a close reading of the text
(fig. 6). It is also possible to print this 'synoptic' arrangement. It
is chiefly on account of this feature (sometimes not even available on
cheaper commercial programmes) that I currently recommend this
programme to my entry-level students.
Fig. 6 Parallel display.
It is fairly easy to create one's own comments ('study
notes') and link them to a particular verse, and indeed additional
texts such as 'topic notes'. Thus one can add to the number of
'sidebar' texts available on the programme website and various
unofficial user fora. For example, it took only a few minutes to create
a 'topic note' with the English text of the "Barmen Declaration" (fig.
Fig. 7 User-produced topic notes.
6.3. General ease of use
In comparison with other free software, and of course in comparison
with complex professional Bible software (Accordance; BibleWorks;
etc.), e-Sword is relatively easy to use, which recommends it to the
general, non-specialist user. Most of the basic user functions are
quite intuitive, and the help functions / training manual /
demonstration videos take care of issues that are not quite so
6.4. Integration with Microsoft Word
I found the provision of a number of macros which integrate e-Sword
into Word by means of four simple icons a rather helpful feature: it
allows users to make use of the basic tools of e-Sword (in particular:
displaying individual verses or verse ranges within a particular
chapter; searching of versions) without the need to open e-Sword next
to Word. Although I generally do not use Word myself if I can help it,
I am sure that other users will regard this as a useful add-on.
Few things come to mind in respect of e-Sword's drawbacks. The large
file size is one; some freeware alternatives are quite a lot 'slimmer'
which helps when downloading with a dial-up account. Occasional
trouble with getting the right fonts to work is another issue; a bit of
trial and error testing is required at times. The two more serious
drawbacks discussed further below, however, apply to almost all
freeware Bible software.
7.1. Lack of access to copyright-limited versions
Freeware Bible programmes all share a basic limitation: the lack of
access to copyright-limited versions, such as the NIV or the NRSV.
Apparently the programme creator tried to negotiate with the copyright
holders to make these versions available (including a fee to be paid to
the copyright holders), but as yet to no avail.
Some of the unofficial user fora discuss the legality of making
these versions available since many of these versions are, technically
speaking, freely available through various internet sites. From a
purely technical point of view, it is not too difficult to convert
these texts into e-Sword format. For example, the unofficial Bible
Import Tool for e-Sword, which is available on some user fora (eg. http://www.dnspad.com/olate/),
creates e-Sword modules for various versions (including the NIV and
NRSV) in this fashion. However, the legality of this process is
7.2. Lack of comments on nature of texts offered
A further problem is the lack of advice given on the nature of some
of the resources offered. For example, I could not find any information
about the age / edition of the International Standard Bible
Encyclopedia (ISBE) offered for e-Sword, which seems inappropriate for
a book of such venerable age - not to mention potentially confusing
given that a revised version was published in 1979 (ed. Bromley). What
is offered for e-Sword is of course the original edition of 1915, which
is in the public domain. For the professional user, this is perhaps
obvious, but since the programme is clearly not written for (or by)
scholars, this does constitute a certain drawback.
Similarly, there is little information on some of the Greek and
Hebrew texts offered, and I am not entirely certain about their
accuracy, that is, how accurately they represent the printed text they
are supposed to derive from. Users should accordingly treat them with
some caution. Of course, this is necessary with any text, though
perhaps more so with freely available electronic texts.
8. Additional Tools
E-Sword offers a number of additional tools: dictionaries;
commentaries, a graphics viewer for maps and the like; an
integrated STEP reader; personal note taking with an integrated,
customisable spell-checker and thesaurus (for US-American English), and
more: in fact, more than I could reasonably discuss here. In what
follows, I will briefly comment on the three main features.
8.1. Dictionaries and Commentaries
E-Sword offers the usual range (usual, that is, for freeware / open
source Bible software) of public-domain dictionaries for easy
integration into the programme, such as: Brown-Driver-Briggs' Hebrew
Definitions; Easton's Bible Dictionary; the International Standard
Bible Encyclopedia; Strong's Bible Dictionary; Thayer's Greek
Definitions; Noah Webster's Dictionary of American English (1828).
Commentaries include the Geneva Bible Translation Notes; Keil &
Delitzsch' Commentary on the Old Testament; Matthew Henry's Commentary;
Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament; Scofield's Reference
Notes; and John Wesley's Notes on the Bible.
Fig. 8 Note on Erastus in Rom 16:23.
All of these resources are at least about a 100 years old, but given
the limitations imposed by copyright, this is probably as good as it
gets. Both dictionaries and commentaries are linked to the Bible
versions, so that they will usually display appropriate texts when a
particular verse is shown, or a relevant word is highlighted.
Dictionaries and commentaries can be searched, printed, and copied
8.2. Graphics Viewer
A nice feature is the integrated graphics viewer, combined with a
variety of maps and pictures: for example, American Bible Society Maps;
Gustave Doré New Testament Woodcuts; and NASA satellite images of the
Mediterranean. The graphics viewer works as a separate 'pop up'
programme window which allows zooming in and out, copying /pasting, and
Fig. 9 Graphic viewer.
9. User Support
As is frequently the case with freeware or open source software,
there is considerable user support, especially by means of unofficial
user fora. However, the programme creator himself has written a short
help file which explains the basic functions, as well as a number of
training videos. There is also a link to a very useful, comprehensive
user manual (PDF; 100+pp; written by Barry Gordon and Johan Struwig) on
the programme website.
In my view, e-Sword is a highly useful tool for the study of the
Biblical texts; I would currently rate it as the best free Bible
software available for Windows OS. From the perspective of the teacher
of Biblical Studies, the ease of installation and use, coupled with the
programme's ability to show up to four Bible versions in parallel
display, makes it a very useful tool for exegesis - that is why I try
to introduce all my new entry-level students to it. After all, there
are a number of inexpensive commercial programmes which are not as
useful as e-Sword, so one must congratulate the author of the programme
on his efforts.
e-Sword does not have the capabilities of professional tools like
Accordance or BibleWorks, but that is hardly a useful comparison. If I
want to do serious work with Biblical texts, I will of course continue
to use and recommend professional software. However, for the user with
little or no knowledge of Greek or Hebrew, e-Sword is a great
programme. Viewed from that perspective, the lack of immediate access
to important recent versions such as the NRSV is its most serious
drawback (see the comments under 'Limitations' above).
As with most Bible software, the theological context of e-Sword
seems to be conservative evangelical. For those who do not share such
theological views, this imposes certain further limitations (for
example, resources like dictionaries and commentaries offered here are
invariably theologically conservative, and often rather dated – but
then, that is the nature of most public domain texts of this kind). The
user fora in particular tend to get sidetracked at times by doctrinal
discussions which users with different theological convictions may find
exasperating. Having said that, the fact that users of other
theological persuasions are not providing their own theological tools
for e-Sword can hardly be seen as the fault of the makers of this
programme. After all, the programme does enable users to produce their
own Bible modules, commentaries, and so on.
On the whole, a very good programme for the general user; it would
be even better if it acknowledged (and, where possible, addressed) its
limitations, and if it managed to get permission to use versions like
the NRSV, it would be near perfect for ordinary use.
Appendix: Useful Links