Rightly dividing the word of truth-one byte at a time
"Contact" Magazine, January 2003, Vol. 50, No. 1. Free Will Baptist denominational magazine, Nashville, TN.
The computer represents the most significant change to our modern society since the Industrial Revolution. It affects the way we do most everything, from routine tasks to complicated processes. God has provided a tool that enables us to have more information at our fingertips than man has ever known.
For many of us (those forty and above, that is), this has been a process of learning new ways to do tasks we have been doing all our ministries. For some, this process has not been easy or welcomed. Just recently, I heard a fellow preacher say he was finally entering the computer age "kicking and screaming." Sound familiar?
I have learned, however, that I can generally accomplish more in less time by using the new tools God has provided for me. I believe that this represents good stewardship, and I hope I can encourage you to do likewise.
Perhaps the most useful software tool for the preacher is the Bible program. In the last ten years, Bible programs have become more and more useful. My first program was on a 5¼ floppy diskette (I know, in computer age that is ancient). It was basically a Bible search program. Today, however, the Bible programs have much more to offer.
In the brevity of this article, we cannot explore all of them, but I want to discuss a few of them and then focus on two which I feel to be the most useful. I may not discuss the one with which you are familiar, but please understand that Bible programs have become too numerous to discuss in a brief review. Everyday I see new ones hitting the market.
Before we start, here are some criteria that you will want to consider when evaluating any Bible program for purchase and use. First, what do you want it to do for you? There are programs that are tailored for special areas, and then there are those designed to be the "all-in-one" program.
Second, how much can you spend? I understand that you want to spend as little as possible, but sometimes, like anything else, that is not the best way to decide. My advice would be to save your money and buy a program that will do what you want it to do. All too often, we buy something we consider to be a "deal," only to find out that it is much too limited to be really useful, or that it requires several upgrades (at a price, of course). In the long run, you spend far more than expected.
Third, how "user friendly" is it? If you are like me, I want to be able to do as much as possible without a great deal of hassle. Some programs are rather cumbersome. Even if you are a computer genius, the time spent in doing some tasks is counter-productive.
Fourth, can it be supported? If you have trouble with the program, can you get technical support? Will the company stand behind it? Are they easy to contact? Can you get updates without spending as much as you would for a new program?
Now, let's look at some of the programs out there. First, let me recommend one that gives you a great deal of material for the least amount of money-the Ages Digital Library by Ages Software. This includes The Master Christian Library (over five hundred references), The Spurgeon Collection (virtually everything Spurgeon wrote or that was written about him), The Pulpit Commentary, The Expositor's Bible, and a large number of other sets and collections at very reasonable prices. It uses the Acrobat Reader by Adobe to display and search, which is included on each CD.
For the money, this is probably the best buy out there, but it does have some disadvantages. The Acrobat Reader is not as "user friendly" as some other document readers. Since the material is scanned and then converted to text to be read, the words are not always spelled correctly. The text has been edited, and continues to be updated, but sometimes it is necessary to "interpret" what is being said. All in all, however, I highly recommend this very useful tool. The amount of material available on each CD for a nominal price makes this well worth considering.
Next, let's look at QuickVerse by Parson's Software. This one has been out there for a long time and has gone through several transitions. In its present form, it is a collection of Bible search tools, commentaries, study products and resources. It has add-on features and books that can be unlocked. It is very "user-friendly" and, for the average user, it is quite adequate. Though very good, it does not have the same capabilities as some other products.
This program is available in different versions, which allows you to buy part or all of the total program available depending on your needs. The price is very competitive, and support seems to be very good.
The two products on which I want to spend the most time are Logos by Libronix and BibleWorks by BibleWorks. Personally, I have found these to be the most useful and complete. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, however.
BibleWorks is designed to be used as a morphology (the study of the forms and structure of a language) program. It is probably the most powerful and "user friendly" program available for original language study. Whether one is preparing sermons or lessons, meticulously exegeting the original text, or just simply doing personal in-depth study, BibleWorks is one of the best tools available.
BibleWorks tightly integrates its databases with the most powerful morphology and analysis tools. It includes 90 Bible translations in 28 languages; 9 original language texts with 7 morphology databases; 6 Greek lexicons and dictionaries; 4 Hebrew lexicons and dictionaries; plus 11 practical reference works (including the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia).
BibleWorks comes with three user interfaces. The Beginner Mode is designed to make it easy for novice users to begin using BibleWorks right out of the box. The Standard Mode and Power User Mode provide interfaces to allow more advanced users to perform more powerful and stream-lined searches. The search engines progress from the simple to the more complex. Searches can be conducted on forms, roots, or even vowel points.
Probably the most useful part of this program is the fact that just placing the mouse over a word in the Bible text immediately brings up its definition and usage in a lower window. If you place the cursor over a word in the Greek or Hebrew text, the lexicon of your choice shows the definition, usage, and syntax. If the cursor is placed in the English text, it shows Strong's definitions along with the syntax. If you wish to compare the different lexicons, there is a window designed just for that purpose.
The user is also able to customize the program for better use. In just a few moments, I am able to do what literally used to take hours. I can save a great deal of precious time while doing the job better.
Technical support is readily available, and the cost is reasonable when one considers what is included. The program provides for immediate updates from the web site so that the user always has the latest version available.
This is the program that I have used for years through three upgrades. It has helped me, through word studies and exegesis, to build a great many sermons. I would not be without it.
Next, the Logos Bible Software Series X needs to be considered. This is a masterfully constructed program with a wide range of resources.
This is probably the most complete Bible software program available anywhere. It is not as specialized as BibleWorks and is not designed to do what BibleWorks will. It is designed to provide a much wider resource library. Limited space does not permit a listing of the many tools available, but they include Bible versions; Greek, Hebrew, and Latin texts; lexicons; Bible dictionaries; Bible outline resources; small group Bible study resources; Home School resources; original language grammars; sermon resources; and the list goes on.
The search engine allows one to search for everything related to a passage, a verse, a topic, or a word. Though not as easy to use as BibleWorks, the original language study tool in the Scholar's edition is extremely good and very useful.
I do not mean to imply that the program is not "user friendly." Overall, it is very user friendly. With its pop up windows and integrated searches, it is well designed. For my use, it just happens to be a little more cumbersome than BibleWorks in studying the original language.
Logos X comes in several versions. The Christian Home Library is the basic version. Then there is the Bible Study Library, the Original Language Library, the Pastor's Library, and the Scholar's Library. Each is more complete and includes more resources. The Scholar's Library contains more than five thousand dollars worth of books if bought in hard copy in the retail market.
Then there are a myriad of resources linked to the program. Libronix is making many, many books and collections available for purchase and unlocking. Many publishers are making their books available in the Libronix Digital Library System format. This makes the purchase of new books very convenient.
If you have the problem I do, it helps with shelf space as well. I have filled the shelves in my library. Having new books and sets on CD makes the material available but takes up far less room.
Libronix technical support is outstanding. Live updates and downloads are available at their web site.
The cost is reasonable. If you go with the Scholar's Library or the Pastor's Library, it is not cheap, but you certainly get your money's worth. You will spend one tenth what the books would cost, plus you'll get the convenience of having a very useful set of research tools.
Since acquiring this program, I have become quite attached to it. It has been a great help and, I believe, will be even more so as the years go by. I highly recommend it.
Both BibleWorks and Logos have video demonstrations that come with the program. BibleWorks has a video for just about every procedure on the Supplemental CD. Libronix also has a CD available with detailed demonstrations.
The best part is that all of this information can be stored and viewed on your computer. If you have a laptop, you can literally carry hundreds of books with you when you travel. For the busy preacher, this is an invaluable time saver .
Lots of other programs are available. Some of them are on the Internet and are free (the preacher's favorite four-letter word). At the end of the article, I will list the web sites for the programs mentioned as well as for several others. I will also include sites that provide links to more study resources than a man can use. If you have a good connection to the Internet, I encourage you to use it for the Lord. You will be glad you did, and I believe God will bless you for it.
Let me also give you this tip. When purchasing, check with Amazon, Scripture Truth, or Christian Book Distributors to make sure you get the best prices. We obviously do not want to spend more than is necessary.
"Kicking and screaming" or not, please get into the computer age. Consider the tools God has made available to the church in this age of technology. Honest, the World Wide Web does not have a Black Widow spider lurking in the corner waiting to attack as soon as you log on. The computer will not bite, and you will come to greatly enjoy God's provision.
Dave Nobles is Pastor, Bethel Free Will Baptist Church, Woodbridge, VA.