Biblical Viewpoint, April 2004, Vol 38 (1), pp. 96-99

Logos Bible Software Series X, Scholar’s Library and Biblical Languages Supplement.
2002. Logos Research Systems, Bellingham, WA. www.logos.com

Logos has been for years a leading publisher of Bible research software. In 2002 it released Series X, a major overhaul of the software’s look and feel. As any software designer will tell you, the really difficult thing in designing software is finding the balance between ease of use and power—you want the user to be able to access the basic functions of the software without spending a lot of time in training, but you also want the package to be powerful enough to do some serious work, and flexible enough to be customized to the differing needs of its various users. I think Logos has found the mark with this release.

I always begin a software evaluation by focusing on ease of use. I plunge in without reading manuals and just see how far I can get before I have to invest serious time researching instructions that are not provided briefly on the screen as I progress. The installation of the Scholar’s Library went routinely, with all necessary instructions clear and simple. It was hard to avoid giggling hysterically as I saw the resources piling onto my hard drive—the usual ones you see in software packages and on web sites, such as JFB, Matthew Henry, Nave’s, and Torrey’s Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, but also the complete Wycliffe commentary, Greek texts from Westcott and Hort to Scrivener, multiple Greek and Hebrew lexicons (including BDB), Calvin’s Institutes, Schaff, Josephus, the Amarna letters, and even the complete TDNT—more than 230 titles in all. I love this job.

Startup is similarly smooth. The home page, which opens on the left half of the screen, contains several sections which may be opened or closed by expanding and collapsing, in a manner reminiscent of Wolfram’s Mathematica. The initial onscreen choices are relatively few and simple: a Welcome section, News from Logos (which can be automatically updated via web connection), Devotions (reading from a selected resource), Prayer (which allows you to keep a prayer list), My Library (which allows direct reading access to any title in the library and the ability to unlock any other title with a credit card), and most importantly, the Bible Study Starter.

This last item is the core of the new user’s interaction with the study resources. You type a reference into the text box, and the software returns a core list of resources relevant to that passage. (Can’t recall which passage it is? Type in a description—"kingdom parables" or "death of Eli"—and the software will likely find it for you.) You can choose to see just the Bible passage itself, the passage with a commentary window, or the much more thorough Passage Guide, which returns a thorough guide to resources available on the passage. There are direct links to all commentaries that deal with the reference (and of course, clicking on the link takes you to the appropriate section of the commentary), any music resources (e.g., Gen. 1 : 1 takes you to "The Spacious Firmament" in the hymn history title Amazing Grace). In my opinion, the most interesting section of the Passage Guide output is the Compare Versions section, which shows a graphical comparison of the agreement of the versions you select from the database. Clustering on the Cartesian quadrant indicates similarity of translation in the passage being studied. One click away is a column-by-column comparison of a selected number of translations, with color demonstrating exactly how and where the translations differ.

Just one click away from the basic output screen are several more detailed choices, including a display of the verse in all versions in the database; a Word Study Guide, which displays each word in the original language, with links to lexicons (and, in the Scholar’s Library, both Kittel and Loew-Nida); and an Exegetical Guide, with all the material from the Word Study Guide plus complete parsing.

So for ease of use the package is a winner. A novice can get started in literally just a few minutes after the installation is complete. The time required for installation, of course, will vary depending on the speed of your machine and the number of titles you have purchased.

The program is designed to be almost infinitely flexible; you can customize screen layout (a bit like the process of customizing a personal web search page, such as My Yahoo), search options, default outputs, default resources and virtually everything else. Thus the user can have an installation that looks and feels very different from some other user’s, depending on his level of expertise, style of research, and focus of interest. But none of these decisions is forced on the user; system defaults are clear and reasonably efficient.

When it comes to power, Logos appears to be unexcelled, though of course there can be a serious learning curve for the more exotic features. Some of those features that I find most interesting are the following.

Morphological Searching: This has been around for a long time in most of the serious Bible programs, but this version of Logos, in my opinion, has finally gotten it right. When you select the morphological search off the Search Menu, a dialogue box displays literally all the options you have in a single reasonably-sized window. I much prefer this to the more common drop-down scrollable window, because you get a better sense of the big picture—what all your choices are, grouped by part of speech. Want to see the list of all the verses that use the word love as a verb? Click, click, click. l-o-v-e. Click, click, click. There. 171 occurrences in the Greek NT. One click on the output page graphs all the occurrences, so you can see their locations in the Bible at a glance, thereby checking for clustering. In multiple versions. Simultaneously. How about all the occurrences of love as a present active imperative? Three more clicks. There. Eight occurrences.

Sentence Diagramming: You can open a window, insert any amount of text from any version in the database, and access a full range of graphic tools for creating sentence diagrams, whether or not you choose to follow standard diagramming conventions. Now if only it would create the diagrams for you....

Graphical Queries: This is a new feature that allows you to set up a search visually, as a flow chart, rather than merely filling in a text box. This requires some training, and it seems to me that it would be really useful only for people who have serious difficulty with text-based queries (or perhaps in cases where your query is unimaginably complex), but it could serve as a useful exercise for students, who might need an extra perspective on what it is they are really asking for.

Gestures: Logos is based on the Libronix Digital Library System 2.0 (DLS) platform, which has a few features of its own. One such feature is Gestures, which allows the user to do certain tasks by moving the mouse rather than pointing and clicking. For example, right-clicking the mouse, holding, and moving down and to the left will minimize the active window. This is a broader move than clicking on the tiny minimize icon in the upper right corner of the window; this feature might be especially useful for those with difficulty with fine motor skills or even with some visual impairments.

This is a large and complex program, and it is impossible in the review of this length to address all the features it contains. As you might imagine, searching can be extremely complex and extremely powerful. Demonstrations are available at the Logos web site (www.logos.com/featuredemos/) in either Flash or Windows Media Player formats. (For some real entertainment, watch the demo of the word find puzzles; for something with considerably more potential scholarly impact, watch the demo of verb rivers.)

As a premillennialist, I am convinced that this is not the Millennium, and so I am not surprised that not all is perfect with this release. There are some limitations that I’ve come across:

  1. Though the software is pretty good about showing you a status bar on the progress of long operations, sometimes that is not done, and thus it is sometimes difficult to tell whether the program is waiting for you or vice versa. For example, when you ask to see "Passage in All Versions" on the Passage Guide output window, it would be good to see a status bar.
  2. When you click on links to news releases from Logos, the program opens a new instance of the browser each time, regardless of whether you already have one open. For those of us without unlimited RAM (see point 3 below), this is significantly wasteful and only further degrades Logos’s execution speed.
  3. The software requires substantial hardware. For testing purposes, I installed it on an AMD K6-2+, 350 MHz, with 128 MB of RAM, running NT 4.0. It was painfully slow and pushed hard against the end of my virtual memory, which was set at 250 MB. The publisher recommends at least a Pentium 300 with 128 MB. I recommend all you can get.
  4. You get what you pay for, and Logos is not cheap. You can get the smallest collection (the Christian Home Library) for just $149.95, but the Scholar’s Library costs $599.95, and the upcoming 52-volume International Critical Commentary series add-in costs $999.95. Granted, that’s much, much less than you’d pay for hard copies, and you get electronic searchability, but this is still not small change for anyone in ministry.

Great package, good support, plenty of resources on-line. Fantastic, if you can afford it.

Dan Olinger

From the April 2004 issue of Biblical Viewpoint, the journal of Bob Jones Memorial Seminary. Copyright 2004 Bob Jones University. Reproduced with permission.