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Review: BibleWorks 9

Carmen Imes

For Christ and His Kingdom, November 13, 2011 - June 28, 2012.

[URL:,, copied on 2012-07-05]

At Gordon-Conwell, my professors recommended that I purchase BibleWorks software to help me study the Bible in Hebrew and Greek. I’ve been using BibleWorks now since 2007, and I honestly cannot imagine trying to study the Bible without it. I’ve used versions 7, 8, and now 9, and it just keeps getting better. I was glad to discover that my doctoral supervisor, Dr. Block, uses it as well for his own research. Here are the principal ways I use it:

  • I have BibleWorks open on my laptop in all of my Bible classes. In a matter of seconds I can look up any passage the professor mentions and see it for myself in dozens of translations. I can do a quick search to find related passages and know that I’m looking at every passage that matches my search criteria.
  • I have not opened the NIV Exhaustive Concordance in the past 5 years. It’s much faster to check BibleWorks. I can search in English, Greek, Hebrew, or any of the major modern languages such as Spanish, French, or German (not Tagalog, unfortunately). I can search by exact word or phrase in any language, or by root word in Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic.
  • I rarely use a Hebrew or Greek lexicon (is it ok to admit that?), unless I’m performing an exhaustive word study for which I need to consult both Bible Dictionaries and Lexicons. Just by rolling my mouse over any word in the Bible, I have immediate access to lexical entries from Holladay (for Hebrew) or Gingrich (for Greek). BibleWorks speeds my translation process without using an English translation as a crutch. I can work directly from Hebrew to see the definitions of any word I don’t already know. If I come across a strange grammatical construction, I can instantly compare all my favorite translations to see how they handle the passage.
  • I have used BibleWorks to learn both Hebrew and Greek vocabularly, and I plan to use it for Aramaic. The BibleWorks flashcards are the best I’ve seen anywhere. I can sort words alphabetically or by occurrence, work on words that occur in a particular passage, time myself, hear them pronounced, and print review lists to have in front of me in class. Best of all, BibleWorks keeps track of the words I know and don’t know, so that my review time focuses only on the words I have yet to learn.

BibleWorks was kind enough to provide me with a free upgrade to their latest version in exchange for a detailed review in both of my blogging venues (both here and my personal blog: You can expect to hear from me again soon as I highlight what’s new in BibleWorks 9 and how I’m using it in my own studies. Like any new program, it takes some time to learn how to use, but BibleWorks provides plenty of training videos and helpful instructions, as well as occasional seminars on site at schools around the country. I do not consider myself technologically gifted (blogging is about as savvy as I get), yet I couldn’t get along without BibleWorks.

Spotlight on Searching

Last week I learned how to do a search that is proving incredibly powerful (I wish I had taken the time to figure out how to do this a long time ago). I can now search in Hebrew or Greek for a key word in a certain tense or person (or whatever morphological tag I choose), occurring in a specified proximity to another word of my choosing. For example, in class this week Dr. Block was curious if the Hebrew Bible ever used the expression “walk after Yahweh” the way it talks about walking after other gods in Deut 8:19. He suspected it did, but didn’t remember where.

Since “walk” occurs 1349 times, “after” occurs 812 times, and “Yahweh” occurs 5195 times in the Hebrew Bible, it would be enormously time-consuming to scan through each reference to find where they occur together. Thanks to BibleWorks, within a minute I had the answer. I simply typed the Hebrew root letters for “walk” + “after” + “Yahweh”, with the symbol *3 to indicate that I only wanted to see those passages where these words occurred within the space of  3 words. Immediately BibleWorks gave us the answer we were looking for. The Bible does indeed use this expression to refer to Yahweh. It is found in only 2 places: 2 Kings 23:3 and 2 Chr 34:31 (parallel passages!). There, Josiah is renewing Israel’s covenant with Yahweh (after reading Deuteronomy!) and affirming that he will not follow other gods, but Yahweh alone — a very interesting correlation.

I’ve said it before, but I simply can’t imagine attempting an MA or PhD in Biblical Studies without BibleWorks!

Not Your Grandma's Textual Criticism

I’m listening to an old Michael Card CD (The Word) at the moment (yes, I know that dates me). He’s singing, “so many books, so little time,” and I couldn’t think of a better excuse for this very belated third installment of my BibleWorks review. The folks over at BibleWorks were so generous to provide me with an upgrade to version 9 free of charge in exchange for a series of reviews. In addition to being generous, they have proved very patient with a busy doctoral student. You can find my first two installments here and here.

Are you sitting down? On the floor? Ok, good.

If you’re wondering whether the upgrade is worth it, prepare to be blown away by what BibleWorks 9 can do. But first, think back to your first Greek exegesis course, the one where your professor showed you how to do textual criticism. If your experience was like mine, you felt like you had entered a foreign land. Greek seemed easy compared to the steep learning curve as you tried to make sense of the apparatus. Every little symbol referred to something else that also seemed obscure, with its own date, provenance, and stylistic tendencies. And your task was to take all these numbers, letters, symbols, and dates and produce a chart showing which reading had the strongest support. Think of how long it took to flip through your Greek New Testament trying to find the key to all those symbols.

Now imagine that your professor offered to follow you around for the rest of your career, reading the apparatus for you and loaning you all the charts he or she had painstakingly made of textual variants. Imagine that you could spend your time thinking about which reading was the best reading and what theological difference it made rather than trying to decipher codes.

You can stop imagining, because it’s true. BibleWorks 9 includes two complete textual apparatuses for the entire Greek New Testament (CNNTS and Tischendorf). Each and every symbol is hyperlinked to its description, and each and every variant in the CNNTS  includes a chart of all the manuscript evidence for that variant. It’s a Bible scholar’s dream.

But that’s not all. Say that you’re working on a particular problem and you notice that one prominent manuscript has a surprising reading. You want to investigate more closely, because the reading seems suspicious to you. Now, from the comfort of your own study, you can look at high resolution images of some of the major NT manuscripts right in BibleWorks (including Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, Vaticanus and others). You can zoom in and out, change the lighting or the contrast, despeckle the image or adjust the sharpness. You can even view a photographic negative of the image to look for erasures, a change in handwriting, or help in deciphering ambiguous letters. The manuscripts are overlaid with hyperlinked verse references to the passages in any translation you choose, making navigation much easier. Learning how to use these new features is simple; detailed video tutorials are included.

I admit that part of me is tempted to tuck away what I now know in a dark corner somewhere, so that my students have to struggle as much as I did. But I’ve decided to be a hero and show them how to use these power tools. I’ll be sure to pepper my demonstration with stories of how rough the rest of us had it (“back in my day . . . “). Students will, of course, still need to learn how to decide between the strength of various witnesses. They will need to be aware of how geographical distribution of manuscripts affects textual decisions. And they will need to understand the principles of textual criticism and get practice applying them to particular cases. But all the ingredients for the text-critical cake have been assembled for them (and you!) in one easy-to-use location so they can focus on baking, not shopping for ingredients.

I have only one disappointment, but it is significant. Neither the text critical apparatuses nor the digital manuscript images are available for the Old Testament, and I’m told that it will be a good, long time (20 years?) before the gap is filled. (Perhaps I should have chosen a degree in New Testament!) But really these features are just the icing on the cake. BibleWorks is indispensable for rigorous study of the entire Bible, with or without these new power tools.

Carmen Imes is an OT doctoral student at Wheaton College.



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