“Son, you need to carry a real Bible.”
It might have been funny if the eldery gentleman was joking. But he wasn’t. The man was serious, even forceful. The person listening to the rebuke was the church’s guest speaker for that Sunday. But the guest speaker was not holding a 900 page, gilt edge, leather bound book. He was holding a svelte, aluminum clad, glass front, 0.5 inch iPad. So, in genuine concern, the elderly saint took it upon himself to correct this oversight: “Son, you need to carry a real Bible.”
Technology has whipped up a maelstrom in Christianity. Some camps declare that any recent technology is of the devil. After all, pornography lurks on the Internet, and cell phones cause cancer. Others embrace every new technological doodad on the market. Some have adopted a plexiglass-pulpit-only position. Some churches may be receptive to donations via iPhone, while another church may decry the absence of felt-lined aluminum platters at collection time. The advancing tide of technology has even seeped into the pages of Bibles. Now, instead of toting the trusty paper Sword into services, Christians are whipping out iPads, iPhones, smartphones, or just leaving it all together, thanks to the presence of the Scripture on the projection screen. Preachers are succumbing too! iPads have become the sermon notes of choice for some. Some preachers may wander around the platform with no notes and no Bible, but occasionally checking the screen prompt to make sure they get their next sermon point and read the right Bible passage.
What in the world has this world come to? Like it or not, many of us live in a technologically-advanced society. (For a tactile reminder of this, please reach out and touch the screen in front of you.) Should we bemoan this trend and toss our cancer-causing cell phones into the lake, or should we strategically leverage technology for Kingdom purposes? I think you’ll agree that technology can be a good thing, as long as it’s used right. For the pastor, teacher, small group leader, church volunteer, media director, or Bible-loving Christian, what does it mean to “use it right?” And what are some good ways to do so?
One way of using it right and being strategic is to utilize the variety of Bible software that is available for Macs, PCs, Androids, iPads, iPhones, Blackberries, and all the rest. Here are some reasons to utilize high-tech in lieu of low-tech.
- Portability. Smaller is better, especially if you want to reference NICOT commentaries, Calvin’s institutes, BDB’s Lexicon, and the ESV Study Bible…while sitting on an airplane.
- Accessibility. Bookshelves are great. I have four in my office. But having a library of 14,000 books on my MacBook is even better.
- Searchability. Do a thorough search on “substitutionary atonement” throughout my entire paper library would take about 16 hours (estimate). Doing it on Logos Bible Software takes about 16 seconds (estimate).
- Time-saving. See “searchability” above.
- Money-saving. Paper and ink are expensive. Electronic bits aren’t quite as expensive. Admittedly, that’s a simplistic statement, so please insert appropriate disclaimers. Generally speaking, electronic resources are less expensive than the comparable printed resources, all things considered. For example, the Logos Portfolio LE costs $3,432. I know, that’s expensive. But that’s a $26,710 savings of the print edition of the same. See what I mean?
- Durability. Skeptics will mock, but the durability of electronic resources arguably exceeds the durability of print resources. When properly backed up, uploaded, stored, and protected, electronic resources will last indefinitely, even despite changing technology. Mold? Fire? Flood? Dog? Drool? These are the foes of paper products, unless you have some high quality vellum, parchment, and a nearly inaccessible cave somewhere near Qumran.
- Power. Whipping up some Hebrew parsing info, performing a thorough NT word study, and doing a biblical theology on “grace” could turn the paper-reliant pastor into a head-banging maniac. (Unfortunately, many pastors retain their knowledge of Hebrew for about twenty minutes following their Hebrew final exam.) If, however, that pastor is using some power-packed Bible software, the task is made so much easier. Please understand, powerful Bible software is no excuse for shoddy studying, half-hearted research, and lazy preparation. Nor does it exonerate the theological student from shuffling his feet during seminary. Instead, technology offers the advantage of powerful research tools to the person whose mind has been trained and whose skills have been sharpened.
This list could go on. You get the idea. Electronic tools are powerful things. No, paper is not going away anytime soon. And, yes, you should be reading books even if they aren’t digitally-accessible. Using electronic Bible study tools should not mean that you launch a scathing philippic against the pulp and paper industry. Keep your bookshelves.
Now that you understand some of the advantages of electronic resources, where should you start? How might you spend your book allowance or Christmas money? Here are four recommendations on some of the most popular and powerful Bible software tools available today. (If you’re on a budget of $0, there are plenty of free Bible software programs available; these are not reveiwed below)
BibleWorks ($349 + additional books and resources). BibleWorks8 features some of the most advanced tools available for in-depth textual research. If you love to dig deep in biblical languages, and have some technology sensibility about you, this will prove to be a great resource. Complete with more translations in more languages than you could possibly need, a host of dictionaries, and an arsenal of search features, BibleWorks is a great product. Its disadvantages? For one, it is Windows-only, which means the Mac-users will have to run an emulator. Unlike the library-style purchasing model of Logos, BibleWorks has a paucity of built-in commentaries, which means that you’ll have to spend a bit extra to get them. Even then, the selection is a bit slim. BibleWorks does not have any mobile apps.
Logos Bible Software ($119-$3,432 + additional books and resources). Logos Bible Software has done a masterful job of compiling thousands of books into electronic format, and placing them into a beautiful digital library. Logos features more reference books than any other Bible software system. Its format and ease of use (after a few training videos, of course) are another big advantage. In order to make the best use of Logos, prepare to spend a bit of money, however. Although electronic books are less expensive, they are definitely not free. Libraries range in cost from around $100 to over $3,000. Logos 4 is available for Mac and PC. Logos’s mobile apps are among the most versatile Bible research tools available. These mobile apps are available for free download, and do not require that you purchase the computer software.
Accordance ($149-$1,799 + additional books and resources). As one of the early-comers to the Bible software market, Accordance has a fast, powerful, and fine-tuned program. However, it is a Mac-only program, so Windows users will need to consider another option. Since Accordance was born on a Mac and designed for the Mac, it is free of some of the potential quirks that are being ironed out of Logos 4 for Mac. Accordance features library bundles, and offers Hebrew, Jewish and Catholic-specific collections in addition to its other standard products. Accordance does not yet have any mobile apps, but they promise that it is forthcoming.
Olive Tree Bible Software (free + additional books and resources). Olive Tree is mobile-only. However, as mobile apps go, Olive Tree is probably the best there is. Because of its cost (free), variety (nearly any mobile device), and ease of use (stacked with features), Olive Tree takes the cake in the mobile category. Olive Tree has tons of free resources, too. If you’re looking for items with a price tag, expect that price tag to be a bit high. Their prices are expensive when compared to the bundled packages from Logos and Accordance.
Electronic resources are extremely helpful. God’s Word is not confined to gilt edge paper products, nor is the Bible any better if we can search it, parse it, and exegete it with the help of software. God’s Word is the same, whether it’s being viewed by the bit-Bible user or the leather-bound Bible user. The format of God’s Word is infinitely less important than the substance of God’s Word. Do not let technology or the lack thereof limit your devotion to God’s revealed Word. Sometimes, the lure of high-tech can actually numb our senses when engaging in serious Bible study. When studying the Bible, we ought never to put our faith in a particular version, a feeling, a Google search, or even a software package. We should pray with David, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18).
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
(1 Corinthians 2:12-13)
Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
(2 Peter 1:20-21)