Should I Buy a Computer Bible Program? (Mar-Apr 2003)

By Matt Dabbs

by Greg Taylor
March – April, 2003

Should you get a computer Bible study program? I tested one by Logos Research Systems recently.

My former professors at Harding Graduate School of Religion might have a conniption if they knew I was using such a crutch alternative to the sweat work of hitting the books. After all, it was there in Memphis that I heard the saying, “Exegesis is five percent illumination and 95 percent perspiration.” I have to admit, I was skeptical about using a computer program for Bible study. Why did I need a computer’s help to access Bible texts, versions, and secondary literature?

One advantage of using a computer Bible study tool is price and availability of documents. For about $600 you can have what it would cost $5,000 to purchase in book form. The most valuable books are the Bible versions. Everything from the New Revised Standard Version to various Greek (such as Nestle-Aland 27th Edition Greek New Testament), Hebrew, and Latin texts to Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, The Message is available on this scholar’s version of the Logos software. One has to ask, however, as I did when loading the materials from the disks, “Why am I putting The Dismantling of Evolution’s Sacred Cow: Radiometric Dating on my hard drive? Fortunately, you can choose what to add to your hard drive, and I didn’t have to add that one.

I found that many of the books I did want were extras that would have to be purchased online. For instance, I would find the Early Church Fathers very useful, but when I called this up, I was asked to go online and purchase this for an extra charge (if you’re resourceful, you may find all 38 volumes of the Early Church Fathers for around $200, which is close to the price for the digital version, but who has the shelf space for 38 volumes when you could have them on your computer, and searchable to boot?). The nice thing about this, however, was that the disks already contain many of these documents, and the extra charge was simply to unlock what I already had rather than downloading.

A second advantage of a computer Bible study tool is the speed of finding texts and supporting documents, maps, and commentaries. Type a passage in the box and get exegetical notes, parallel versions, commentaries, theological dictionaries for word study, and original language documents from the text. The commentaries are mostly older commentaries, and newer cutting edge commentaries require further purchase. I noticed a commentary by one of my former professors, clicked it and a credit card box popped up. Hey—he never asked for a credit card when I sat in his class! Had the business office taken credit cards for payment at the time I was in seminary, however, I might have taken them up on it.

A third and final advantage of using a computer Bible study tool is that you get the intangible benefits of finding documents (through searches) that might not have otherwise come into your study. I did a word study search on the “Holy Spirit.” I interrupted the search after one minute and 358,713 entries later. I found that many of these were on locked resources, and 114,635 entries were unlocked resources I could see without paying more money. This is a lesson in getting the best quality vs. most quantity. Even with the unlocked resources only, I could never use all these resources. Fortunately, the list is categorized by topics and by various tools. Clicking links expands these resources to use a particular part.

I found serendipitous items such as a digital version of Eugene Peterson’s book, The Unbusy Pastor— all that for a search on the Holy Spirit.

Was the Holy Spirit bringing these documents into view for me? I don’t doubt that the Holy Spirit wants more illumination instead of less, but I think God might also be pleased if I learned better how to do a Boolean search, to narrow my search and focus my time on study and prayer. On the one hand, you find on vast databases things you might not otherwise find. On the other hand, you might get on some pretty powerful tangents in studying the Holy Spirit or any topic or text. Those who are going to lose focus in their study, however, can likely get lost in hard copy books as easily as they could get confounded digitally. This, therefore, is not the fault of a computer program but can be a pitfall when a tangent is only a click away.

I don’t think my seminary professors would object to the idea of a computer Bible study tool in principle, but they might raise an eyebrow to these common misconceptions about using a computer Bible study tool:

 

    1. A computer Bible study tool makes me a better exegete. It doesn’t. If you don’t know exegetical tools and how to use them before you get the program, navigating a computer program is not necessarily going to teach you this. It may only make you more dangerous.

 

  • A computer Bible study tool makes you wiser. This is a common lie of the internet. Because you have more knowledge doesn’t make you wiser.

 

 

  • A computer Bible study tool makes me preach better sermons. A computer tool may give you faster and more convenient access to exegetical and sermon materials, but it won’t make you preach better sermons, and certainly ought not tempt us to start later in the week to prepare.

 

 

  • A computer Bible study tool will get me or someone else interested in studying the Bible. Some proponents of children’s television said years ago that educational programming will get children more interested in school. We found, however, that educational programming got children more interested in more television programming.

 

 

Marshall McLuhan and Neal Postman are two notable thinkers who encourage us to think about technology’s impact on us, both positively and negatively. Their thoughts apply to potential addition of computer software to our exegesis. Todd Kappelman (http://www.leaderu.com) summarizes four questions McLuhan asks of technology: The first of these questions or laws is “What does it (the medium or technology) extend?” In the case of a car it would be the foot, in the case a phone it would be the voice. The second question is “What does it make obsolete?” Again, one might answer that the car makes walking obsolete, and the phone makes smoke signals and carrier pigeons unnecessary. The third question asks, “What is retrieved?” The sense of adventure or quest is retrieved with the car, and the sense of community returns with the spread of telephone service. One might consider the rise of the cross-country vacation that accompanied the spread of automobile ownership. The fourth question asks, “What does the technology reverse into if it is over-extended?” An over-extended automobile culture longs for the pedestrian lifestyle, and the over-extension of phone culture engenders a need for solitude.

We have to ask, therefore, “What would a computer program extend, obsolete, retrieve, and reverse from our exegesis?” The car, television, and fast food helped us save time and effort, but we also got flabby. Would quick computer solutions to exegetical problems render a flabby sense of discernment? Perhaps, but we can still choose to exercise, even when we have a car. We could still do good exegesis with a computer Bible tool. Yet there is simply no substitute for the sweat work of Bible study, prayer and leading of the Holy Spirit, discernment, and creative preparation of class materials, sermons, and devotionals. A computer program will never replace discernment, community, prayer, and the leading of the Holy Spirit. The computer program used wisely, however, can be a valuable tool in the endeavor.

Logos Bible Software Series X is a helpful exegetical tool, and one of the better computer Bible resources available today. Many companies offer trial runs of their software. I would suggest you try one or two programs in their limited versions before purchasing a full version of the software. Chances are if you like the limited version, you’ll like the full blown version even better.

I agree with my professors that study does require a fair amount of perspiration but a computer Bible can help to lighten the load. I think my teachers would like a computer Bible program if they tried it. And on those hot days in Memphis, in that old mansion, they need all the antiperspirant they can get.

Most software companies have trial software that you can try for 30-90 days. Chances are if you like the trial version you will enjoy the full blown version of that particular program.

Greg Taylor is managing editor of NEW WINESKINS magazine. Write Greg

Here is a list of some of the most popular Bible software on the market:
Parsons Quickverse (if you have a PDA, check out this product) | BibleSoft | Epiphany/Bible Explorer | Scholar’s Library | Original Languages | Bible Study | Christian Home Library | Pastor’s LibraryNew Wineskins

Greg Taylor

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About...

Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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