Bible Study Software Evaluation Criteria:

By Doug A., e-mail magicref@lycos.com updated 05/22/02

Evaluating so many programs has not been an easy process! As the programs have evolved (sorry to use that word in a Christian document!), the feature sets have improved and things I never thought about are now possible with Bible Study programs.

It has not been possible to spend as much time with each program as I would have liked. Sometimes an interface that seems quirky may become quite comfortable after getting used to it. Especially when jumping from one program to the next, the difference in interfaces can sometimes throw quite a curveball. Instead of getting into the deep details of each program, I have tried to hit on the major features and functions of the programs.

Minimal capabilities:

In my opinion, you don't need a lot of bells and whistles to have a useful Bible Study tool. For an electronic tool, I would recommend the following minimums:

a. KJV Bible with Strong's Numbers
b. Bible Dictionary
c. Hebrew/Greek Lexicon linked to Strong's Numbers
d. Search capability for multiple word, Boolean searches (using AND, OR)
e. Ability to copy and paste selections to other programs (for editing) 

While commentaries can be helpful, we can often lean too heavily on them instead of doing the Bible Study ourselves. I almost think some programs do too much thinking for us. Just enter a single word, and produce 500 documents related to that topic! You can read commentary after commentary about the subject, and become indoctrinated with a simple click of a button! All without having to read the Bible at all!

To be fair, powerful Bible Study programs do offer great research capabilities, and more and more modules from a diversity of points of view are becoming available. However, the best study is performed in the Word itself.

General Evaluation Rules:

I tried to keep a notepad going as each evaluation was performed, to make a notes of unusual activity such as extra steps needed for installation, operations not working correctly, mistakes in Help files, and so forth.

Procedure:

Preliminary Steps. Before evaluating a program, I tried to obtain a minimal set of modules to include: KJV Bible w/Strong's Numbers, 2nd Bible Translation (any), Bible Dictionary, Greek/Hebrew Lexicon, and at least one commentary. There are some programs that don't have all of these modules available, such as Bible readers. Also, some only provide Strong's Numbers in purchased copies, not for evaluation copies. This is not a funded evaluation process, so I've only purchased programs I'm actually planning to use!

1. Installation and Startup. I installed each program from the CD or from the downloaded installation program. The systems varied quite a bit since this evaluation process started. I have used a 900MHz Windows NT 4.0 desktop, a 350MHz Windows 98 desktop, and am currently using a Windows 2000 (W2K) 700MHz laptop machine. Notes are made about installation only if something unusual developed. For example, past releases of The Sword Project required manual installation under Windows NT. Recent versions install fine under W2K. Also noted at this time are any specific hardware or software requirments. Some programs were written for Windows 3.1, while others require Windows 95 or greater.

Any difficulties in getting the software to run were noted. Initial startup may take longer than subsequent starting as system initialization takes place. Some programs balk if a CD isn't inserted, so any interaction with a CD is noted.

2. Interface evaluation: The interface is the core of the software as it defines how easy or difficult the software is to use. A cluttered screen or difficult to manage menu selections may make your Bible study more difficult. A well designed interface should make the software take a back seat to the text, allowing you to access desired modules quickly and without getting confused.

Record the functions available in the Menu Bar. Are all functions available? Is the layout logical?

Record the functions available in the Tool Bar. Are the functions obvious? Is the toolbar configurable or adjustable?

Does the program offer "user levels" for the interface (such as Beginner, Advanced)? Some users like the advanced functions and want everything turned on and available. Others are confused by the complexity and prefer a simple interface with only the most used functions displayed.

Describe the Window layout and flexibility. Some programs provide a fixed layout with one or more main windows and extensive use of pop-up windows. Others may use a base 4 window view to provide multiple Bible views, dictionary view, and commentary view, for example. Some programs provide a table of contents window for easy navigation within a book.

Questions to ask include:

Saving and Restoring the Desktop. Can you save layouts and come back to them later? You may have multiple users of the program at your home, each user preferring a different screen layout, or you may have different layouts for different Bible studies. The ability to save and restore desktop settings can be valuable.

What kind of property settings are available? Can you adjust the screen font size, font color, background colors, and so forth? List the property settings available.

Open the Help function (this should be performed at various places during the review).
How does the Help function match what you are trying to do?
Are graphics used in the help screens?
Is information easy to find?
Is the information complete and actually helpful?

Responsiveness:
Is the program fast or sluggish? This may vary depending on OS, CPU speed, and graphics cards, but unusually slow operation should be noted. Speed in the search function may vary widely. 

3. Modules: A general list of the types of modules available is noted in this section, including what format they are in, and whether more modules are available. Some packages come with a fixed number of resources and new resources cannot be added in (all-in-one programs). Others offer almost unlimited libraries using popular formats such as STEP or LDLS (expandable).

Next, note how modules are opened and changed.

4. Module Linking:

Open a 2nd Bible translation, noting how this is done.

Can you visually compare Bible translations? How, side by side or verse by verse, or both?

Is there a parallel Gospels tools available?

Open a Commentary for a selected verse. Record how this is done. Can you synchronize windows so that scrolling in a Bible window will track with the commentary and/or the 2nd Translation?

Look up a word definition in the Bible dictionary. How is this performed (left click, double click, right mouse click, etc.)? If more than one dictionary is available, how do you view other definitions for the same word? Can you specify default tools?

Perform a Greek/Hebrew lookup in the Lexion. Can you select a Strong's number and look up the word/definition? How is this done? 

Are hyperlinks supported? In which module types?

Are mouse-over tooltips available? For example, Hebrew/Greek Lexicon over Strong's numbers, Bible Verses over references. If so, can they be toggled off?

What features are available in non-Bible modules for linking? Can you look up Bible references?

How do the screens appear for the above functions? Do they pop up new windows, replace current windows, etc? Is this adjustable?

How is module management handled if some modules are on CD? Can you move modules to the hard drive?

5. Searching:

Open the Bible search tool.

How do you enter word(s) to search?
Is there a word list of words in the current Bible? For example, you may search on a word that doesn't exist in the KJV Bible.
Can you search on a phrase?
Can you perform Boolean searches using AND, OR, NOT functions?
Are Boolean searches easy to perform, that is, are the functions obvious? (Use the Help function here)
Is there wildcard support? For example, search on "reach"; can you find "preach", "reaching", and so forth? Can you limit the search to exact matches of "reach"?
Are proximity searches supported to find two or more words within a specified number of verses?
Note the Bible search range settings. Can you specify specific books to search; how flexible?

Searching in other modules: Can you search in other modules, such as commentaries, dictionaries, and so forth? Is it a different tool or the same tool?

Can you search multiple modules at once?

Are reference searches supported in all modules? A reference search is used to look up all links to a Bible verse reference, such as John 1:1. Some programs have standardized all verse references in all modules, so that a reference search on 2 Kings 1:2 will find all references. If a program has not standardized this in all modules, then it may miss links written such as 2Kings1:2, 2nd Kings 1:2, and so forth.

Are topic searches supported? A topic search finds all references to a topical subject, rather than just the word. For example, a topical search on angel may also find information on Cheribum, messenger, and so forth.

Are Strong's Numbers searchable? The same Greek or Hebrew word may appear as two different words in English. A search on Strong's numbers will find all the references to the original language word rather than the translated word.

6. Search Results:

How are the search results displayed? Some search results displays are more versatile that others.
Can the results list be saved, bookmarked, or exported? Are Verse Lists supported (see below)?
How fast is the search?
Is the context of the resulting search shown?
What features are available in the search list? For example, most search results allow you to click on a selection to view the entire passage in the Bible View window. Other capabilities may be offered. Also, once you have made a selection from the list, note whether the search list is still available, or if it has disappeared.
Can you retrieve a previous search? 

Perform the Search Test: Perform a search in the KJV Bible to do an "AND" search of the words eat and meat. The goal is to find all verses that contain both the words eat and meat in them. Since eat is a subset of meat, some search engines balk at this and produce incorrect results. Some programs may need the search criteria entered in a specific format to accomplish the goal. The test should find 35 occurances in the KJV Bible.

7. Editing Features: This area inspects functions that would be similar to how you would use a paper Bible to study, such as marking text, making notes, and so forth.

Bookmarking: can you jump to selected sections of the Bible? Can bookmarks be placed in other modules, such as a commentary? Can the bookmarks be edited or re-ordered? How many bookmarks can you save?

Some programs offer a tree format bookmarks, similar to verse lists below. In a tree format bookmark, you can specify categories and subcategories. Under each title, you can have a list of verse and/or commentary bookmarks relating to that title. For example, you could have bookmarks for specific verses under each of the following titles:

Verse Lists: Verse lists are similar to the tree format bookmarks above. A verse list allows you to save a list of verses under a specific topic. Some programs may operate similar to the tree format for verse lists. Others may use a single file for each verse list.

Questions to ask include:

Can you highlight, underline, or otherwide mark text on the screen? Are the highlights associated with the module, the user, or only the session?

Can the words of Christ appear in red? Most programs limit this to specific modules, usually later translations of the New Testament.

Examine the copy and paste features. Questions to ask include:

Printing: What are the print capabilties? Can I specify format and font, or is it just a raw dump? Is there a print preview?

Custom Modules: This is different than Bible notes, discussed below. Custom modules allow you to design your own Bible, Commentary, or other modules for use in the program. In many cases, custom modules will be restricted to your own personal use only. For example, you may have an older Bible program with a module you'd like to use in your current software. You may be able to convert the format, but the converted module is still copyright protected and should not be shared with others.

If custom modues can be created, consider the following questions:

Word Processing Tools: are there special macros for integrating your Bible program with your word processor?

Bible Study Notes:

8. Greek and Hebrew Tools: Most programs provide at least the use of Strong's numbers for Greek and Hebrew language study. There are a few programs that are designed specifcally for language study and provide capabilities beyond the scope of this evaluation. These programs are noted in the reviews pages.

Questions to ask include:

9. Multimedia support:

10. Cost and support: