This is the first part of a four part series on BibleWorks 9, one of the leading Bible study softwares for your computer available. I’ve used it in my own study for years and the recent move from BibleWorks 7 to BibleWorks 9 has allowed me an opportunity to share a program that I think every serious student of the Bible should have access to. I know that sounds endorsement-ish. But I actually think it’s true. If you can afford it or save up for it, and its pretty affordable to do so, you should get it. I have the program and have utilized it endlessly in my own academic study and it is one of the products that I recommend most to pastors in my job.
Over this month, I will post a four segment review of this software. The first is just an introduction for those who are unfamiliar with the program. The other reviews will highlight specific approaches to using the program, namely devotional, pastoral, and academic.
What is BibleWorks?
BibleWorks is a computer based program that helps you get as much as you can out of the Bible. But, as you might genuinely ask, what distinguishes it from every other product and endorsement that claims the same thing? Let’s look at several different aspects of the program and I think you’ll understand what I mean. What I don’t want to do, though, is describe the program to you. That can be done quite easily by going to their website or even running their 30-day trial. Rather, I want to highlight the top five basic features of the program which I have found helpful (to be sure, there is actually another top 5…but I’ll save that for the ‘Academic’ review).
#1) Searchable – So when I go to someplace like Biblegateway.com I can use their search feature to help me locate a specific verse or a specific word within a particular translation. This is nice and I certainly don’t want to downplay the help that biblegateway actually is. I love the site and it is a convenient tool on the run. But, at the same time, what happens if you want to go beyond such basic searches?
That is, what if you want to search exhaustively? This happens to me quite often, wherein I want to see how a particular word, a group of words, a phrase, etc. is used within a massive amount of literature. Pastors should be doing this routinely. Seminarians should be doing it routinely. And even the layperson should be doing this in serious study. You may want to analyze all the major English uses of a particular word; you may want to see how various translations have dealt with a particular translation (btw, not all translations are equal, as can be seen in the window to the right, where the CEB [my primary search version] uses the word ‘life’ when the other versions do not]). When searching for a word or phrase, the results are frankly incredible. For example, see the image to the right on the search for ‘life’ and you get an idea. Not only do I have the results for the search editions I wanted (CEB, KJV, NAB, Greek and Hebrew) but I am shown every instance of the word ‘life’ in the CEB on the left and related words to the right.
#2) Analytical – This is really helpful for the person who wants to understand some of the complexities of what they’re finding. As my old professor Ben Witherington was fond of saying, “A text without a context is a pretext for whatever you want it to say.” The analysis function of BW9 helps minimize that as much as possible…Here you merely hover over a word and it provides you with basic information on the meaning of the word and various references (as well as a strong’s concordance number). Beyond this, however, you can go to the ‘resource’ button and see how various different sources including lexicons (another name for ‘dictionary’), grammars, and early church father’s used a particular reference or word. We’ll go into more depth in future reviews on this point, but the analytical functions are incredible. I want to say upfront, however, that one of the coolest things about BW9 over previous editions is the ability to explore ancient manuscripts. We’ll explore this later.
#3) Multi-task Friendly – No, BW9 will not write your paper or cook your pizza for you (yet!), but the main window has an excellent ability to help you multi-task through various different windows and maximize your time. For those that prefer the old school ‘hard back’ book route, you might want to seriously consider whether purchasing and leafing through book after book after book is really worth it when, with BW9, all that can be done within a matter of seconds (btw, I tend to be an old school reader…but I also realize I’ll have more time and be more effective if I can do what I need to do without needing to find the index and leaf through hundreds of pages). As noted, with the search window, the analysis window, and the various other windows and buttons, hours of work can be consolidated into seconds or minutes.
One of my favorite tools is the ‘stats’ window, for the questions it raises are endless. For example, in seminary I routinely wanted to look for how a particular author used a particular word. While this sort of search would really only apply to those who know Greek, I was curious to know how often the word aineo – praise was used in the Greek version of the Old Testament (the LXX) versus the word epaineo (praise) and in what books and what time period. What I found was an evolution of the two words, the former being used exclusively in the later period with reference to God while epaineo never being used in reference to God, despite the fact that that’s how it was used earlier. The point here is not my conclusions (they are rather disinteresting to 99.99999% of humans), but rather that I could do such research within a matter of about 45 seconds…Imagine having to do this sort of research without a computerized database! Now, where does this meet the average person? Well, while you’re likely not research Greek words and phrases for statistical purposes, we might occasionally wonder why and how an author uses a particular word and how it might relate to other books. For example, why is it that the book of Romans uses the word ‘faith’ 41 times and John uses the word once. Is there any significance there? When we ask these questions, we set out on explorations for answers. And, in that vain, it is excellent that BW9 is so multi-task friendly, for in merely one click you can read and utilize other features.
#4) Cost Efficient – This is the big one…It won’t break your wallet. A lot of the other software unfortunately will, but BW9 was designed specifically to be cost-effective. They were aware that most pastors don’t really make stable paychecks and often live without much in the checking account. The price on BW9 is designed to not be a burden and, even more important, offer resources either embedded in the program or downloadable as plug-ins that are quite a bit cheaper than going out and purchasing the books individually. Literally, for $359, you can acquire thousands of dollars worth of materials and resources…IMHO, a great buy.