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BibleWorks 8: Software for Biblical Exegesis & Research

David Hutchison

Southwestern Journal of Theology, Volume 52, Number 2. Spring 2010.

BibleWorks continues to impress with its package of top-notch exegetical resources in BibleWorks 8.  This review will include three sections, the first providing a brief description of the program, the second addressing the additional Bible versions, resources, and features in version 8, and the third noting the reasons why I recommend BibleWorks as the first choice among Bible software programs.

1. For those unfamiliar with the program, a brief description should prove helpful.  Moving from left to right, three primary windows appear.  The left window includes the command line and search results, the center window shows the biblical text for one or multiple versions, and the right window provides information about the text, whether lexical information, statistics, resources, cross-references, a variety of word lists, version information, or personal notes.  It is possible in version 8 to change the right window into another biblical text window, allowing one to focus on a single verse in the middle of the screen while viewing the larger passage on the right (or vice versa).  In addition to a very large number of Bible versions and expansive search capabilities, the program provides maps, dictionaries, lexicons, grammars, reference works, apocryphal and pseudepigraphal texts, timelines, diagramming modules, parsing information, and a vocabulary flashcard module.  To illustrate the search capability, a simple double-click can search the entire Bible for a word in hundredths of a second.  With respect to lexical information, simply placing your cursor over a word will take you immediately to the lexical entry.  For those who have ever used a concordance or looked up a word in a lexicon (often times the wrong word), these two features alone are well worth the price of the program.

2. BibleWorks 8 includes many new Bible versions, resources, and features.  English highlights of the 33 new versions include the TNIV, NirV, and ESV (2007 edition).  The additions bring the total of Bible versions to almost 200 in more than 30 different languages.  While most users will only read a handful of languages at most, the other languages can in fact prove useful.  As my colleague Paul Hoskins has pointed out, there are likely people in your neighborhood who speak a language other than English.  Having the ability to show the Bible to others in their native language can be tremendously helpful in evangelism and discipleship.

Highlights of the 23 new reference works include Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Waltke-O’Connor’s Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, Joüon-Muraoka’s Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (2006 revised edition), Evans’ Old Testament Pseudepigrapha in Greek and English, Charles’ Old Testament Pseudepigrapha in English, Schaff’s Early Church Fathers, A.T. Robertson’s A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, the entire New Testament diagrammed by Randy Leedy, and two editions of New Testament Apocrypha (James and Hone).  Regrettably, six volumes are no longer included in the base package of BibleWorks, notably Metzger’s Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament.  Users who upgrade from previous versions receive activation codes to maintain some of these volumes (depending upon one’s prior version), with the exception of Robertson’s Word Pictures and Futato’s Basic Hebrew for Bible Study.

The inclusion of new works such as Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics has proven tremendously helpful, whether viewing pertinent information through the resource window (information appears for the verse you are studying), opening the book and working through entire sections, performing a search for topics within the book, or for the professor, having electronic text to copy and paste for quizzes and tests.  Since this and all of the sources are hyperlinked, it is very quick and simple to move between sections of the book.

New features in version 8 include word and context tabs showing the most common words in the book, chapter, and pericope, a phrase matching tool, a related verses tool, enhanced copy functionality, frequency-based display of parsing and lexical information, the ability to search within a results list, and the ability to search using word lists or Louw-Nida domains.  As a language professor, the ability to search within a results list allows me to provide students with verses consisting entirely of forms that they have learned.  For example, I begin with the vocabulary flashcard module example finder to create a list of verses using only words that appear 100 times or more (or any number) in the Greek New Testament.  Then, using the new checkbox search filter, I search within the verse list and exclude forms that students have not yet learned.  Working from end to beginning, I eliminate verses with optatives, subjunctives, imperatives, participles, infinitives, and so forth (the order depends upon your grammar).  At each step, saving the list provides a skill-graded list of verses for students.

To illustrate the benefit of searching with word lists, it is possible to create a list of words that appear in a particular chapter of a grammar and then search for these words in any inflected form.  Or, it would be possible to manually create a list of certain types of words (third declension nouns, contract verbs, masculine nouns of the first declension, etc.), and perform a similar search for specific lexical forms.  These types of capabilities make it possible to move language study away from the theoretical (forms which do not actually occur in the Bible) to the actual (forms which do in fact occur), which should encourage both students and professors.

For those who believe in using biblical languages in ministry, there is a legitimate concern about software programs becoming a crutch.  This certainly occurs, but programs like BibleWorks can also be tremendous tools and in my opinion provide the only realistic hope of establishing generations of ministers who continue to use the languages after seminary.  The key is to train people to use the programs correctly, and BibleWorks provides many customizable features which facilitate language learning.  For example, it is quite simple to turn off parsing information or hide lexical entries, forcing you to think through the text before turning to a tool.  Once it becomes necessary to turn to a tool, you can view the information with just a click.  In BibleWorks 8, it is possible to limit lexical entries based upon frequency.  For example, I may not wish to automatically view lexical information for words that appear 20 times or more, but would wish to see lexical information for words occurring 19 times or fewer.  This filter can be adjusted to any number.

3. Although I use Accordance and Logos as well, I recommend BibleWorks as the first Bible software program to be purchased.  The choice of programs does of course depend upon your computer system.  BibleWorks is designed for a PC but may be used on a Mac with Boot Camp or Parallels and a legal copy of Windows.  Accordance is designed for a Mac but can be used on a PC with a Mac emulator (the appearance of which will take you back to the 80’s).  Logos is designed for a PC but a Mac version is under development and is currently available in a pre-release Alpha version with very minimal functionality.  For PC users or Mac users with a legal copy of Windows, I recommend BibleWorks first based upon its focus, speed, resources, simplicity of content packaging, and cost.

BibleWorks’ motto is “Focus on the Text.”  There is a slight but significant contrast between this and what I believe to be the purpose of Logos as revealed (if unintentionally) in the introductory video to Logos 4.  With Logos, you more readily learn about the Bible (italics mine).  In my personal study, I have found that when I want to study the Bible, I use BibleWorks.  When I want to study about the Bible, I use Logos.

As a company, BibleWorks does not believe in providing large electronic libraries.  As such, they do not offer large collections of commentaries and books.  Instead, their focus is on exegetical tools for the study of the biblical text.  When BibleWorks does add resources to the program, as evidenced in version 8, they are top-notch exegetical works.

In contrast, Logos is first and foremost an electronic library system.  Purchasing Logos is in many ways like purchasing a minister’s library at an estate sale.  You certainly find many treasures (many recent ones in fact), but there is a significant amount of material that is of limited value.  While in some regards it does not hurt you to have the extra material, it can slow down the program.  What’s more, students do not automatically know the difference between sources that are helpful and those that should be ignored, leading to a false sense of having done proper research.  In the end, this can be very damaging.

I have never read an entire book on a computer, but I find reference works and commentaries tremendously helpful in an electronic format.  If you are one who will use electronic books, I would recommend that you first purchase BibleWorks for your work in the text and then choose one of two options.  First, if funds are limited, purchase individual volumes or sets for use in Logos, many of which are available from online sources at a significant discount.  It is not necessary to purchase the Logos software program in order to use the Logos (Libronix) digital library system, which is included with the purchase of electronic books designed for use in Logos.  This will not provide the content that is available in Logos, but will provide the ability to read and search the books that you have purchased.  It is also possible to download the Logos engine for free from the Logos website.  Second, if funds are more readily available or may become available over time, after purchasing BibleWorks, purchase one of the advanced Logos packages as well.

Accordance occupies a middle ground between BibleWorks and Logos on this point.  Like BibleWorks, Accordance is focused primarily on the text.  However, they do offer significantly more electronic books than BibleWorks, although fewer than Logos.  With respect to the focus on the text, I prefer Accordance over Logos.  Regarding the ease of using electronic sources, I prefer Logos over Accordance.

BibleWorks provides the most straightforward approach to purchasing the program.  Whereas Accordance and Logos have a variety of levels from which to choose, BibleWorks provides one level for $349 which includes everything except for a small number of primarily technical modules which may be purchased separately.  While the cost of any of the programs provides an initial shock to money-strapped seminarians, it is actually quite remarkable that BibleWorks provides so much content for this price (much less the discounted price that is available to SWBTS students).  Especially considering the new resources added in version 8, I frankly do not know how BibleWorks can afford to do business.

Accordance offers six different primary collections: an introductory, standard, and premier library collection, and an introductory, standard, and premier scholar’s collection.  You may also bundle these collections and obtain an introductory, standard, or premier bundle.  Pricing for these collections ranges from $99 to $648.  Beyond these primary collections, there is a Jewish collection and a Catholic collection, each of which comes in three levels.  There are a variety of other options, bundles, and several “Unlock All” packages (each unlocking all of something but not all of everything), some costing as much as $3200.  Spending $349 (the price of BibleWorks) on Accordance would net significantly fewer Bible versions and resources than BibleWorks.  Adding an additional Bible version to Accordance is regularly $30, although you can receive a modest discount by purchasing several at one time.

Logos offers seven different libraries ranging from $264.95 to $4,290 (before any applicable discounts).  These include Bible Study, Leader’s, Scholar’s, Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Portfolio.  The entry levels provide few of the best resources, whereas the advanced levels provide a significant number of excellent volumes.  The dollar really begins to stretch with the Gold or Platinum collections.  In order to obtain Greek and Hebrew texts, one must purchase at least the Scholar’s library which retails for $629.95.

I also recommend BibleWorks because of its speed.  BibleWorks and Accordance are both much faster than Logos.  Logos points out that their search is akin to having a personal research assistant open all of your books to the right page, but there is no getting past the fact that it is much slower than the other programs.  The most recent version was supposed to have been faster, but in my experience, it has in fact been slower.  The speed of BibleWorks is evident not only in search time per se but also in the number of keystrokes or clicks necessary to perform a search and the immediate display of lexical information by simply hovering over a word.

Although I recommend BibleWorks first, BibleWorks still has room for improvement.  Both Accordance and Logos are more appealing to the eye.  Accordance is sleek and simple, although this simplicity makes it more cumbersome to navigate through search results and view the verse in context at the same time.  Logos is also cleaner and provides more features related to visualizing the text.  BibleWorks, by comparison, has the feel of an earlier Windows program.  The buttons are the least appealing visual element and in my opinion are not terribly intuitive.  This criticism is lessened by the fact that descriptions appear by simply hovering over the buttons, and the buttons can be hidden if you prefer.

One common complaint about morphological searches from the command line is the necessity of using a different version than the regular display version.  For example, if one is reading the Greek text in the BibleWorks New Testament (BNT), one cannot search this version for specific inflected forms (such as the dative masculine singular of θεός) but must search the morphologically tagged brother text, the BibleWorks New Testament Morphology (BNM) version.  While overcoming this structure would likely require an enormous investment of time and resources, it would certainly represent an improvement.  Two other potential search related improvements include the ability to search for second aorist forms as in Accordance and a syntactically tagged text as in Logos.

Changing the font size for some features is not difficult through the options window, but it could be even easier by adding right-click functionality or a button.  More importantly, it is not possible to change the font size for some resources that open in their own window.  BibleWorks is currently investigating a solution to this issue.

In sum, BibleWorks offers the most bang for the buck. Considering the focus, speed, resources, simplicity of content packaging, and cost, BibleWorks remains my first choice among Bible software programs.

David Hutchison is Assistant Professor of New Testament in the Havard School for Theological Studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Houston, Texas.


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