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Preaching, September-October, 2003

The Year's Best Software for Preachers
(Version 2003)

by Jonathan Kever

Normally the buying of a product doesn’t cause too much trouble. All you need to do is a little research, compare the different brands and prices, and you’re all set. Simple, right?

Unfortunately, the word "simple" usually doesn’t apply to the computer world. With all the ease of life that technology affords, I’ve yet to experience more ongoing frustration than when I’m sitting at my computer. And trying to buy a new computer — well that’s another set of aggravations: New or used? Laptop or desktop? Warranty, no warranty, one-year warranty, three-year warranty, one-year on-site warranty, three-year on-site warranty?

Have we discussed brands yet? There’s a million to choose from! And wait, what about specs? RAM, SDRAM, megahertz, gigahertz, kilobytes, processors, video cards, audio cards, network cards, DVD, CD, CDRW, hard drives, zip drives, floppy drives . . . ahhhhh!

With the onslaught of progress, the inevitability of technological advancement and the productivity of a free market economy, the choices are destined to increase. Of course, with your light ministry schedules, you’ve got plenty of time to research the myriad of possibilities, right?

I know your schedule is full, so I won’t waste your time by leaving the tech jargon where it belongs — in the fine print of your user manuals. A lot of time can be wasted using technology designed to save time, but I’m still a firm believer in the value of Bible study software.

I’m continually amazed at the benefits of computer-aided research and Bible study tools, and it keeps getting faster, better and more user-friendly. Though computers can be frustrating at times, I wouldn’t think of trading my electronic resources for a table full of books and legal pads.

This year’s review will highlight some of the best new resources you just can’t do without. And it will remind you that computers and software can simplify your life and enhance your sermon preparation.

Bible Study Libraries
for PC Users

eBible Deluxe Edition

Nelson Reference & Electronic Publishing (www.nelsonreference.com) has compiled several resources into their own Bible Study Library. There are over $2,000 worth of resources, but the real beauty of this resource is that it utilizes the Libronix Digital Library System.

If you are not familiar with Libronix, you can read last year’s review. (It’s available at www.preaching.com.) I will also be mentioning a little about Libronix’s upgrade later in this review.

There are several Bible versions as well as resources for cross-referencing, word studies, background information, commentary study, maps and charts, teaching helps, apologetics, Bible reference, theology, church history, worship, and devotions. Some of the notable resources are: the New Illustrated Bible Manners & Customs, Nelson’s New Christian Dictionary, Believers Bible Commentary with the Word Bible Commentary, Nelson’s 3-D Bible Mapbook, and Church History in Plain Language.

Though I would not recommend eBible as a one-stop resource for Bible study and sermon preparation, it makes an excellent addition to the multitude of resources available in the Libronix DLS.

System Requirements: 486/66 MHz processor or faster, CD-ROM drive, MS Windows 98 or later, 64MB RAM minimum, 60 MB hard drive space minimum.

Zondervan Bible Study Library, Professional Edition

Like eBible, Zondervan (www.zondervan.com/interactive/) has come up with its own series of Bible study libraries. Unfortunately, they have developed their own user interface, so that if you want anything Zondervan has published (except for the NIV and Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics), then you’ll have to learn their program.

More and more software publishers use the Libronix platform, which allows you to purchase resources from several companies (over 3,000 titles last time I checked) yet learn just one program. But if you want anything Zondervan has to offer, then you’re going to have to learn their competitor interface called Pradis.

Pradis is a serious improvement over their previous software; however, if you want to view resources you previously owned from Zondervan — like the Expositor’s Bible Commentary or NIDNTT — you have to open a separate program or wait until they are available in Pradis.

Pradis does provide several powerful features. You can view multiple resources simultaneously, and Pradis has developed an advanced system for searching that is simple to use. In addition, Pradis boasts the only NIV-based reference system, a must-have if the NIV is your translation of choice.

I wish Zondervan had partnered with Libronix, but, alas, we can’t have everything we wish for. If you are a fan of Zondervan’s resources, it will be worth learning a new program (though a little more difficult to use than the Libronix interface).

The Professional Edition would be my recommendation. There are three other levels — the Family, Leader’s and Scholar’s editions. The Professional Edition is a step down from the Scholar’s Edition, and the only substantial difference is the amount of biblical language tools that are unlocked. If you already own a copy of the Scholar’s Library from Logos — which utilizes the Libronix DLS — or you have Bible-Works, then it’ll be unnecessary to go beyond the Professional Edition since you’ll already have a superior set of language tools and resources.

System Requirements: 166 MHz processor minimum, Windows 98 or higher, 32 MB of RAM, 52 MB of hard disk space minimum (295 megs to install all books onto your computer), CD ROM drive, VGA or higher resolution monitor, Windows compatible pointer device, Windows compatible printer.

Macintosh Users

I wanted to include a section reviewing software options for Mac users, but I must confess that I’m not indigenous to the Mac world. So, instead of pretending to explore the functionality of these software options, I’ve turned this portion of the review over to someone who knows what he’s doing (Doug Searle, a friend and proficient Mac user).

Preachers who use Macintosh computers will want to take advantage of powerful software solutions. The leader in this market is Accordance, developed by Oak Tree Software (www.oaksoft.com). Accordance is to the Macintosh what Libronix is to Windows, offering a wide variety of study tools that all run on the same application. Everything is available for both Classic and OS X operating systems. For original language studies, the Scholar’s Library Core Bundle starts at $219.

Unfortunately, this does not include some resources you are likely to want, but all of the essential tools are available if you’re willing to spend more. It will take some time and effort to understand Oak Tree’s complex pricing packages. Study the website carefully before making your purchase.

For a more basic approach, check out Online Bible (www.macolb.com). For the really amazing price of $89.95, Online Bible comes with 29 English Bible Versions including the NIV, NASB, NKJV, NLT and NRSV. It also includes — no extra charge — Greek and Hebrew texts and lexicons, maps, 20 commentaries (mostly older public domain stuff), dictionaries, and 40 Bible versions in other languages. Original language tools are very basic, but the package does include tense, voice and mood parsing of Greek verbs as well as stem and mood in Hebrew. The interface and search features are simple and intuitive. Online Bible for OS X is still being developed.

Perhaps the most useful feature of the Online Bible is its FKey function, which allows you to import Bible text into any document without opening the Online Bible to copy and paste. Simply hit the FKey, type the reference of the Scripture, choose the translation you want, and click OK. The typo-free text instantly appears in your document. This is great for creating notes, handouts, and sermon manuscripts. This feature alone is worth the purchase price of Online Bible.

A third possibility for Mac Users is to run Windows software on a PC emulator such as Virtual PC. Virtual PC with Windows XP Pro costs about $200 ($149 for XP Home). Add that to the price of BibleWorks and we’re talking serious money. But this may be the best option if you are serious about study in the original languages.

Bible Study Resources
PC Users

Bible Essentials

Though this is an older piece of software, I wanted to include it because of its value for word studies. AMG Publishers (www.amgpublishers.com) has produced a well-known set of original language tools, The Complete Word Study Bible, and The Complete Word Study Dictionary: NT by Spiros Zodhiates. These, along with nearly twenty additional resources, including the New American Standard, 1995 Updated Edition, are included.

Bible Essentials was produced using the Logos Library System, Version 2.0, but it is compatible with the Libronix DLS. You will have to install the old Logos system first, but once installed, Libronix will automatically read AMG’s resources.

Zodhiates’ word study tools have been a valuable resource in my own library, and having them in an electronic format that is quickly and easily searchable is an added bonus.

System Requirements: Windows 3.1 or later, Minimum of 33Mhz 486 or better, 8Mb of RAM memory required, VGA graphics card and monitor, Hard disk with at least 20 megabytes free, CD-ROM drive.

Biblical Languages Supplement for Logos Series X

Wow! A great choice in Bible Library software just got better. In an attempt to compete in the area of Biblical languages, Logos (www.logos.com) has added a wonderful language supplement that takes your study of Greek and Hebrew to a new level.

Installing the BLS will automatically update Libronix to version 2, adding new search features and exegetical tools. Along with providing additional language resources (and it is an extensive list!), the BLS adds visual filters that will chart and graph search results, compare translations, display verb characteristics (voice, tense, mood, person), and more. These visual filters will provide you with new ways to look at a text your studying and will, without a doubt, enhance your exegesis.

In addition, the BLS includes a sentence diagrammer. This new feature will allow you to type in English, Greek, or Hebrew. Or you can import a text — every word is color-coded on the basis of its function in the sentence. Every word can be individually manipulated (color, size, font) and moved. Also, the diagrammer includes various types of lines and symbols with adjustable sizes.

I’m continually impressed with Logos Series X, and the BLS is yet another reason to place your Bible study resource dollars in the Libronix Digital Library System.

The Essential IVP Reference Collection

This is a must have resource. Since I probably can’t say anything better than J.I. Packer, let me just quote him: "I cannot imagine that there is another CD-ROM in the world offering as much accredited help to the serious Bible student as you find in The Essential IVP Reference Collection. Up-to-the-minute academically, lucid, lively and sometimes provocative, it is a truly magnificent resource."

The Essential IVP Reference Collection (www.gospelcom.net/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=1435) utilizes the Libronix DLS, and includes the New Bible Dictionary, New Bible Commentary, New Dictionary of Theology, New Bible Atlas, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Dictionary of Paul and His Letter, Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Development, Dictionary of New Testament Background, the Bible Background Commentary for the Old and New Testaments, Hard Sayings of the Bible, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, and the Pocket Dictionary series.

Four of these resources are winners of the EPCA Gold Medallion Award. And every one of them will be an asset to your study and sermon preparation.

System Requirements: 133MHz processor, Windows 98 or later, 64 MB of memory, CD-ROM drive, 60 MB minimum of hard drive space, 800 x 600 screen resolution or higher.

Word Biblical Commentary 6 Volume Upgrade

The Word Biblical Commentary (www.logos.com/products/details/1733) is a rich resource for study. The WBC utilizes the Libronix DLS, and this 6 volume upgrade includes: Vol. 6A, Deuteronomy 1:1-21:9, Second Edition; Vol 6B, Deuteronomy 21:10-34:12; Vol. 21, Psalms 101-50; Vol. 34b, Mark 8:27-16:20; Vol. 36, John, Second Edition; Vol. 46, Pastoral Epistles. If you already have the WBC on your computer, then you will definitely want to add this upgrade.

System Requirements: 133MHz processor, Windows 98 or later, 64 MB of memory, CD-ROM drive, 60 MB minimum of hard drive space, 800 x 600 screen resolution or higher.

WordSearch Bible and Explorer Merge

A promising step for Bible study software users is the recent merger of the publishers of WORDsearch Bible and Explorer. The result will be a forthcoming release that will offer access to the extensive resources of WORDsearch along with the on-line capabilities of the Explorer tool.

WORDsearch (and its sister program the LESSONmaker) provide access to a library of over 600 volumes of electronic books in the STEP format. It is the basis for products like the Rick Warren Bible Library, the Thompson Chain Reference Library, the Stephen Olford Expository Preaching Library, and others. Explorer features both CD and web-based programs; a version of the program is the basis of the Bible study tool featured at Lifeway.com.

Future releases of the combined program will be based on the Explorer format — which emphasizes simplicity of use — while adding functions to meet the needs of pastors.

And while you’re thinking about on-line resources — you were thinking about them, weren’t you? — don’t forget about the resources already available to you as a subscriber to Preaching.

As a Preaching reader you automatically have access to Preaching On-Line, with a terrific database of sermons and illustrations available via search engine. And you can access most of the material in the current issue, plus bonus content only available on-line. Just go to www.preaching.com and click on the area that says Preaching On-Line. (The password and username are found on the contents page of the current issue of Preaching.)

And in case you haven’t discovered it yet, when you visit preaching.com be sure to sign up for PreachingNow, a free weekly e-newsletter with preaching insights, illustrations, resources and even some fun!

Computers fun? Now there’s a radical concept!

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Jonathan Kever is former Managing Editor of Preaching and is now a full-time student at Dallas Theological Seminary.

© 2003 by Preaching, www.preaching.com. Used by permission.