Bible Software can provide you all the Bible study tools you may have on your desktop along with the advantages a computer can provide. This overview briefly covers study tools you may find on your desktop, and relates a few of the advantages a computerized version of that tool might provide.
The primary tool, of course, is a Bible. There are many English version Bibles available, and you may already have your favorite. Some of the more popular Bibles include the King James Version (KJV), the New KJV (NKJV), the New International Version (NIV), and the New American Standard Bible (NASB), and the English Standard Version (ESV), among many others. An electronic version of the Bible can be searched, bookmarked, and the text can be easily copied into other applications such as a word processor.
Some programs with mutliple translations allow you to view two or more translations side by side on the same screen, providing you the capabilities of a Parallel Bible.
Bible programs usually offer you several ways to view the text. Many have the ability to resize the Bible view window(s), change fonts, colors, and so forth. Most software displays Bible text in a verse by verse format, so some programs provide a paragraph view as well.
Many Bible translations include footnotes to specify alternate translation possibilities, variations in the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, and so forth. Some software programs allow you to view footnotes that would be found in a paper copy of the Bible, and most that do so allow you to toggle the footnotes on and off so they don't take up too much space.
Another tool is a list of cross references for Bible Verses. For example, many times a NT verse will reference an OT verse. A cross-reference will help you to quickly see these relations. Note that any cross reference compilation will be subjective. While some cross references are obvious, others may not be, and one particular author of a cross reference tool may connect different verses than you or I might. Some software programs allow you to see cross references as they relate to every verse, and allow cross references to be toggled on and off. Others provide separate cross reference modules, such as Thompson Chain Reference Bible.
Your paper study Bible may provide verse notes at the bottom of the page. There are also many verse by verse commentaries that have been written through the centuries. These verse notes can provide valuable historical notes and insights into the meaning of Scripture, often concepts in one part of the Bible with similar concepts elsewhere in the Bible. Most software programs also provide verse by verse commentaries in electronic format. The electronic versions will often synchronize the Bible display with the commentary module. So, as you read through the Bible, you can instantly view any commentaries or verse notes from several sources that may have something to say about that verse.
Again, remember that commentaries are prepared by men, and can represent a variety of different doctrinal views.
Many Bibles contain a miniature concordance in the back. A concordance allows you to find occurances of words in the Bible. For example, you can find all occurances of the word "sin" in the Old and New Testaments. In the paper world, you need to have a concordance that is designed for the Bible version you are reading. You won't find many "thees" and "thous" in the NIV, for example.
One of the major advantages of an electronic concordance is the ability to peform what are known as Boolean searches. Instead of just searching for all verses with "sin", you can narrow down your search to just those verses with "sin" AND "without". Refinement capabilities of software are covered in more depth in the evaluation criteria article.
Strong's concordance for the KJV Bible incorporates Strong's numbers. Each Greek and Hebrew word is assigned a number, and these numbers are related to the English word translated. For example, the English word "love" is found in many places in the Old and New Testaments, but the original Greek and Hebrew words translated from may have different meanings. For example, in the Greek, there are different words used for a "brotherly love" and for the "love of your children". Strong's numbers allow the layman to get a little bit into the original languages behind the translated text.
Not all programs feature Strong's numbers. For those that do, most only provide them in the KJV text.
Many Bibles feature devotional readings, or helps on specific topics. Electronic Bibles can do the same. Topical guides let you look up specific topics, such as "sanctification", or "marriage", and find verse references, commentaries, and other helps on these subjects. Devotional materials can help you to apply Scripture to your everday life.
Dictionaries are a very valuable resource. Sometimes the words used in the Bible take on slighty different meanings than we have today. Biblical names often had specific meanings that may relate directly to the person or persons involved in a Biblical episode. A lexicon provides additional information such as parts of speech, tenses, and so forth.
Some electronic Bibles specialize in the understanding of the Greek and Hebrew languages that underly the translated text, even beyond the use of Strong's numbers as explained above. Greek and Hebrew modules allow you to display the text on your screen using the appropriate fonts. Sophisticated search routines allow you to search on tenses, parts of speech, and so forth for advanced language studies. Only a few packages allow you to go this far.
There are many other helps you may find in paper and software. Introductions to each book of the Bible help outline who the book was written to, who wrote it, and general outlines. Maps and Charts may be included to show Bible timelines, the travels of Paul, maps of ancient Isreal, weights and measures, and so forth. One year reading plans may be provided to help you read through the Bible in a year. Handbooks of Biblical manners and customs can give you insight into the culture of the times. A synopsis of the Gospels helps you to see quickly the parallel passages in the four Gospels of the NT.
The Bible Software packages vary widely in the specific tools they provide, and the level of integration of these tools. Some have little integration at all, treating each tool as a separate entity, much like the physical desktop. Others provide high integration, allowing you to quickly link from a particular verse in scripture to commentaries, dictionaries, and topical studies on that verse or a selected word in the verse.
Bible Software Levels:
I categorize Bible software into three levels, although there is some overlap. At the first level are Bible Readers. They provide essentially just an electronic version of a plain Bible. The second level are "all in one" packages. These provide a Bible and a several modules (anywhere from 4 to maybe a dozen) as a single package. There are no additional books or other modules that can be added. The third level are the full blown packages that can offer hundreds of modules. Typically you can buy a package at low cost, then add additional modules as you need them.
Various versions of the Bible are available in many formats on the Internet. You can get HTML Bibles, Adobe Acrobat Bibles, Bibles in Microsoft Word or Access database format, and so forth. A Bible Reader program is one that lets you read a Bible on your computer. The only resource provided is the Bible version, and perhaps a concordance for looking up words.
Examples of Bible readers, then, could be Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Netscape, and many of the new "e book" readers. There are also quite a few dedictaed readers designed only to display a Bible module, such as Bible Plus (see reviews).
A Bible reader can be a valuable tool. You can instantly find all occurances of a word or phrase. You can copy and paste text into your word processor. Some readers may allow you to create electronic bookmarks that operate similarly to real bookmarks in that they allow you to mark passages to quickly go back to later.
I have not focused on Bible Readers in these reviews, although you may find one or two represented.
There are several programs available for free or at low cost for a CD ROM that provide a complete package of Bible versions, commentaries, dictionaries, topical studies and the like. Once you download the program or buy the CD, there is no more to buy or add on.
For many users, this package may be all they will need. In an article by Heavenword (http://www.heavenword.com/bstudy.html), it was stated that most people end up using a small set of available resources, even if they have a software program with many modules. In my use of Bible Software, I have found this to be true for me.
Thus, if an all in one package inlcudes the modules you think you will use, it may be a good route. In general, these programs are inexpensive (several are free), take up little hard drive space, and the limited number of resources can reduce the complexity of using the software and accessing the resources you need.
Expandable software programs offer the advantage of being more likely to having the material that you might want. For example, you may like the JFB commentary, but the only all in one programs you can find only feature Matthew Henry. In addition, new material that is produced by the various publishers are more likely to be added to expandable librares.
Some programs even allow end users to create modules that will work with their software. This has created support groups on the Internet in which users have converted many public domain or provide self-authored resources for others to share.
There have been few attempts at "standard" electronic Bible formats, to encourage the release of new material for Bible Study.
The STEP format was designed so that one common specification could be used to create Bible modues. The STEP format is used by publishers such as Zondervan, Parsons Technology (QuickVerse), and others. There is no common STEP reader, however, so you must be sure your STEP reader software is capable of reading the STEP modules you want to read. Since the STEP format is updated to take care of new features, it is possible that an older reader won't be able to handle a newer STEP formatted book. There are a lot of STEP modules available. Programs that support the STEP format include: QuickVerse, WordSearch, Bible Companion, Zondervan, and E-Sword.
LOGOS had developed the Logos Library System, and LLS compatible modules were available from Logos, Thomas Nelson, and many others. LLS had by far the greatest number of library modules available. LLS has now been completely redesigned from the ground up, and is now called the Libronix Digital Library System (LDLS). It appears that almost all of the LLS modules have been converted to the new format. LOGOS no longer supports LLS, and Thomas Nelson has recently upgraded their packages to support LDLS as well.
BibleSoft's PC Bible has not published a "standard", but the program is commercially popular and they do provide an authoring tool so that users can create their own modules. Although you won't find modules available from other publishers, the BibleSoft library is fairly large.
Online Bible also has not published a standard, but because the program has been in development since the 80's, and because most of the modules used in OLB are in the public domain, the OLB format has been a starting point for several other software programs. In addition, like BibleSoft, the Online Bible allows users to develop their own modules, and there are several websites that provide many additional resources for Online Bible users, most at no cost.
Theophilos is yet another system with its own authoring capability. They also have Internet support for additional modules, although currently (7/01) the available additional modules are not many compared to Online Bible.