Resources to Enhance your Biblical Study - Part 2: Electronic Bible Study and Library Software
Last time, I reviewed a couple of free e-book resources. This week’s focus is on Bible study library software (I know I said I’d look at web-based resources, but I thought this would be useful covered first!):
The 800-pound gorilla in the world of Bible software is Logos. They are perhaps best known for their “Base Packages,” which are collections of dozens or even hundreds of resources offered at an apparently huge discount. I say “apparently,” because personally I have yet to be convinced of the value of these packages; many (though certainly not all) of the resources included are already out of copyright and freely available elsewhere. So, for example, the Reformed Starter package is sold for $377.65 and claims to be worth more than $3400 if purchased separately, but included in that number are 10 Bible translations freely accessible online, Matthew Henry and Matthew Poole’s commentary which are both accessible online, freely available systematic theologies by Calvin, Strong, Hodge, and others. Now, it’s not a scam, either; there are decent resources available in the package that aren’t free elsewhere (Packer’s Concise Theology, the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, and others); not to mention the fact that the Logos engine used for all these packages allows your electronic library to be cross-referenced and gives you a wide variety of search options. Basically, then, I’m saying don’t be swayed by the “thousands in savings!” marketing gimmick, but do give it some serious consideration; read through the resources available in any given package and ask yourself if the price is right for you. Lots of people use Logos and are very happy with it, and I do think I will likely be investing in a package down the road.
This is a series on free resources, however, and Logos does have some great helps there. First, Logos runs a website called Biblia.com which permits you to accumulate electronic Logos resources without owning a base package, and gives you some limited tools for study as well. If you sign up for an account (and I highly recommend you do so!) you get a collection of 70+ free resources. There’s a lot of filler in that number—a large number of foreign-language Bible translations, for instance—but there are useful things as well. Also, a Biblia account is tied to Logos and its other services, meaning that if you buy a Logos book by itself, it will be added to your Biblia library. Note that Biblia is a website and a cloud service; you only need a computer with a browser to use it, not a dedicated app, and the resources are stored online, so they won’t take up space on your computer. That said, Logos also offers a free app for mobile platforms called Vyrso which allows you to access this Logos/Biblia library from your iPad, tablet, or smartphone. Again, I’d highly recommend downloading that app for your device.
Not only does a free Biblia account give you the 70+ free books, but it allows you to take advantage of regular free resources that Logos offers. Logos runs a “free book of the month” promotion; for instance, this month they are offering the Amos commentary in the Mentor series, and they typically allow you to add a second volume to the free first one for just a couple dollars (so, this month you can get Joel & Obadiah in the same series for $2). Some of these resources can be hit and miss, but some are outstanding (July’s was Schreiner’s 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law). So, to summarize, I recommend you sign up for a Logos/Biblia account, get a Vyrso app, and sign up for the Free Book of the Month notification.
(Not free, though) Logos is fundamentally a library platform, although their packages’ Bible study and exegesis tools are (so I hear) getting very good. The gold standard in the field of Greek and Hebrew Bible study software has for years been Bibleworks which is admittedly expensive and not exactly user-friendly, but incredibly powerful. If you have a few hundred dollars to spare and are thinking of doing formal theological study, and especially if you are considering vocational ministry, this software is worth serious consideration.
However, for most people, E-Sword offers a very useful alternative and you can’t beat the price (completely free!). For years it was only on Windows but now there is a Mac version. It integrates a search function with a notes editor and the ability to compare Bibles, passages, and other resources in a multi-pane view, as well as maps and audio and other things. It uses the Strong’s concordance tagging system to make Greek and Hebrew somewhat accessible to those who don’t yet know the languages. It also integrates old STEP-format resources meaning there’s a decent number of free books you can add to the software. I found this software incredibly useful in seminary, personally. I strongly recommend it to everyone.
Olive Tree is a useful Bible study library app for mobile platforms. Not only can you get Bibles, but other electronic books and resources as well, meaning it fits this category well. The app is free, and there are a respectable number of free resources as well (Philo, Josephus, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown, etc), most of which are free elsewhere anyway (just like most other platforms’ “freebies”) but still nice for convenience. The only drawback to Olive Tree is that the new Logos/Biblia/Vyrso cross-platform stuff makes much of Olive Tree somewhat redundant; that said, I’d recommend getting this if you have a mobile device and comparing it with Vyrso to see what you personally find most useful.
(Not free, though) The main Mac OS/X competitor to Logos and Bibleworks is Accordance I will have to confess my ignorance here; I have not used this platform. I’m unaware of any free resources it might offer, but I put it here simply because I’ve covered its main competitors and because I’ve heard a lot of really good things about it.
That’s it for this article! Next time, God willing, I’m going to look at online resources.