This review originally appeared on the Logos forums.
. . . As a seminary professor teaching the Old Testament on the basis of the Hebrew text I am often asked by students and pastors what bible software I recommend. I started using software to study the bible back in the early 1980s, and through the years I have used almost everything that has come along. I was exposed to Gramcord while it was still under development in the early 80s, and I began using Accordance, which implemented Gramcord for the Macintosh as soon as it became available in 1994. So I have used it extensively for 16 years now, and am heavily invested in it. I purchased Logos as soon as it became available for the Macintosh, mostly so that I could be familiar with it in order to answer student questions but also to access a few resources that I had received from publishers in Logos format. The following observations are based on my own use of bible software over a long period of time. I have no connections to Logos, Accordance, BibleWorks, or any other software publisher, except as a customer.
For most of the last 20 years or so I have responded to the question of which bible software students should buy by saying that they should try all of the software available for their hardware and choose the one that they felt most comfortable with. I thought the best bible software was the bible software students would actually use. As the software as evolved from the mid-90s to the mid-00s, I judged that there was not enough of a difference between the packages to justify making a strong categorical recommendation in favor of any one package over another. They all did more-or-less the same thing, and more-or less-equally well. As I said above, I used Accordance as my own primary tool, and I enthusiastically recommended it to Mac users who wanted something to help with original-language study. And I know for a fact that I ‘sold’ a lot of copies of Accordance to students and colleagues. When Logos v. 1 for the Mac became available I encouraged students to take a look at it, but frankly I was not particularly impressed with it, and still preferred Accordance.
All of that changed for me when I first saw Logos 4 in the fall of 2009. At that time it was only available for Windows, but Logos announced that they would be doing a Mac version that would be feature-equivalent to the Windows version. I downloaded the first alpha that was available, and have worked with it ever since. (To be fair, I worked mainly with the Windows version running under Parallels until we got to about Alpha 23, when I judged the Mac version to be far enough along that I could use it as my primary tool.) Beginning in the spring of 2010 I started strongly advising students and colleagues to use Logos instead of Accordance (or BibleWorks for Windows users) and continue to do so. Since the release of Logos 4 it is clear to me that Logos now stands head and shoulders above everything else. Here are the four main reasons for my recommendation:
(1) Logos is better at what the average parish pastor needs to do.
Virtually all of my own bible study is study of the text in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek. All of the students that I teach in our M.Div. program are required to learn Hebrew and Greek. Nevertheless, I recognize that even our students will spend most of their study time with English translations, and they will be preparing to teach Christians who almost exclusively read the bible in English. Life in the modern world being what it is, pastors have a lot of demands on their time, and are not always able to set aside as much time as they should to devote themselves to the study of the Word. Thus, they need a tool that both supports their English-language study and supports their original-language study, and does so in a way that helps them maximize the benefit of their study and preparation time. Logos 4 does this better than anything else. The Passage Guide, Exegetical Guide, and Bible Word Study Guide jump-start a pastor’s preparation (or a layman’s study time), and point them directly and quick to the most relevant and helpful resources that they have available (depending, of course, on what they own). The Biblical People, Places, and Things tools bring together a lot of information quickly and point the way to avenues for further study. And the platform provides a vast array of resources to support both the study of the Word and, equally important, the teaching of the Word. Even though I am a 'professional exegete', I realize that the average parish pastor needs something different than I need from bible study software. Easy and efficient access to the program’s features is quite important to pastors, and Logos excels in this regard. Fortunately it does both what parish pastors need, and what we 'professional exegetes' need. That's a rare and good thing.
(2) Its About the Resources, Stupid.
Pardon my being blunt (and don't take it personally), but it is very easy to get caught up in the ‘flashy lights syndrome’, the tendency to focus on pretty, but largely irrelevant distractions. In the world of software, this largely takes the form of a focus on ‘features’, as if piling up lots of features makes for good software. What matters in bible study software is that the software not only has lots of easy-to-use features (see above), but also that those features actually lead you somewhere. In this case, that ‘somewhere’ is the library of resources. Accordance (and to a much lesser extent BibleWorks) have done a decent job of providing their users with a reasonable library of basic resources, but neither can compete with Logos. As a result of their arrangements with most major publishers of theological works, Logos gives the student of the bible the opportunity to build a substantial theological library of more than 10,000 volumes. And even more importantly, all of these resources are inter-linked within the software and work together. For most of this material, Logos is the only source for these resources in electronic form. To give a real-world example, I am a Lutheran, as are most of the students that I teach. Logos is the only platform that has any significant resources for the study of Lutheran theology, or the interpretation of the Bible by Lutheran interpreters. And not only are these valuable resources available within Logos, but they work automatically within the framework of the software, so that as soon as the student runs a tool or conducts a search, the software automatically incorporates these resources and points my students to valuable insights from within the Lutheran theological tradition (assuming they have purchased these resources) without having to do any additional work. Contrast this with BibleWorks, which has so few resources available for its users that its website actually discourages users from buying electronic resources in favor of paper ones – a great example of attempting to make a virtue out of a necessity! Given its substantial library of resources, and the way in which they work together, Logos has no rival for supporting the serious study of theology and pastoral practice. None at all.
(3) Syntax Searching
The first generation of bible software enabled us to search the text, to quickly find a vaguely-remembered passage or discover a passage that we did not know at all. The second generation of bible study software added the ability to search original-language texts morphologically, to find specific forms or words in Greek or Hebrew, and to compare the usage of a Hebrew or Greek word across a variety of contexts. Logos revolutionized bible study for those who don’t know Hebrew or Greek by making it possible for them to access information based on original-language data from within an English-only environment. However, one major weakness of all bible software is that it tends to reinforce the idea that the meaning of a text is somehow hidden within the meaning of individual words or forms. Morphological searching is very valuable, but it can also be misleading if the nature of the information provided is not well-understood by the interpreter. Simply understanding the form of a word (morphology) or how the word has been used by others (etymology and lexicography) do not of themselves provide magic keys to understanding the meaning of a passage. Understanding the meaning of a passage is ultimately dependent upon understanding how each word is used in relation to the other words in the passage. This requires contextual competence (the ability to understand how words are being used together in a literary context). And this kind of contextual competence requires an understanding of syntax and, ultimately, a degree of literary awareness. We are still a long way from the ability of bible software to help us with literary awareness. Today, the third generation of bible software has begun to make it possible for computers to support the study a text syntactically. This is a major advance, and Logos pioneered the move. We are still in the early days of this technology, but Logos has developed a number of significant resources in this direction, and more are on the way. Accordance has begun to catch up, insofar as version 9 now implements syntax searching. But the much more limited resources available — as of this writing only one resource, and that limited to Genesis and John — means that Accordance lags quite a ways behind, and is likely to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. BibleWorks is not in the game at all at this point.
Over the course of my 30+ years of computer use, I have owned and/or used virtually every major operating system available. A long time ago I reached the point where I stopped being interested in tinkering with computers as a hobby and have focused on using them as tools to support my real work. I predominantly use a Macintosh because it lets me get my real work done with the least hassle. But I have no illusions that the Mac, as much as I love it, is the last word in the development of computerized technology. Ten years from now I may be using something else. And this is a last major reason that I now recommend Logos to my students. Logos 4 is the only bible software platform that runs on both Windows and the Macintosh. This is important to me, not only because it helps to preserve my investment in the resources that I have purchased, but also because it gives me confidence in knowing that I am protecting the investment of my students. I know that the students that I am teaching now will eventually be using something other than what they currently use. Windows users will become Mac users, and a few may even go the other way. A few years from now I and they may be exclusively using an iPad or something like it, or something no one has imagined yet. Logos is committed to providing excellent tools on a variety of platforms. Not only does Logos 4 run on the Macintosh and Windows, but there is a great subset of these tools available for the iPhone and iPad. I am pretty confident that if there is a sufficient market to sustain it, they will provide tools for the Android or other systems as well down the road. The point is that the world changes, and Logos knows it and is committed to keeping up with it. Since with Logos you buy the books, not the software (per se), the resources are portable, and you can use them on all the supported hardware platforms. This is a huge advantage for pastors, schools, and churches that are interested in being good stewards of the resources available to them, and is a major reason that I recommend Logos 4 to my students and to pastors that ask me.
To wrap up, it is only fair to say that there are still a few things that Accordance does a little better than Logos 4. The interface for morphology searching makes it easier to do complex morphological searching in Accordance, though the same results can be obtained from Logos. The timeline module in Accordance is better than the corresponding resources in Accordance. And while Logos provides a great set of maps to support biblical study, I find that I keep going back to the map tool in Accordance when I want to generate a map to use for my teaching. It is simply much more flexible and easier to customize. While the speed of Logos 4 is greatly improved over its predecessor, Accordance is still a bit faster, especially for morphology searching. But all of these are largely picking at details around the edges. We could compare other features, and we might find some that are better in one software and others that are better in another. The bottom line is that for all of the functions that are most important to most students of the bible, Logos is simply much better than everyone else. . . .
David L. Adams
St. Louis, Mo., USA