BIBLE STUDY PROGRAM FOR YOU
By: Steve Hewitt and Dave Krueger
Computers have revolutionized our society. What an under-statement! Computers technology is used in every segment of our society. Computers control the ignition and combustion in our cars. They keep track of purchases and inventory in store-a modern business cannot be competitive without them.
Using computer technology for tasks such as word processing and desktop publishing, along with membership and prospect management, has greatly increased the productivity and efficiency of the church.
A more recent phenomenon has been the proliferation of Bible-study software designed to aid the minister in his or her study of the Scriptures. Personal computers have enhanced the ability of the church to manipulate vast amounts of member information. They have also increased ministers’ ability to study the Word of God more effectively.
Bible study must therefore be one of the priorities of today’s pastor. A Bible-study package may well be the most important investment a busy minister will make in his or her career. The problem is which software
package to purchase. with so many computer-aided Bible-study programs on the market, how does a pastor discover and choose the program that is right for his or her particular needs?
DETERMINE YOUR NEEDS AND HARDWARE ABILITIES
Before you purchase a Bible-study program, you need to ask yourself several questions:
*Why do I want this program, and what do I want it to be able to do?
*Do I need a Hebrew and Greek concordance?
*Do I want to create and save my own Bible studies?
*Do I want the ability to export Scriptures or Bible studies to a disk file for later use with my word processor?
*Do I want the program to have a TSR (terminate and stay resident) feature so I can alternate between it and my word processor during sermon preparation?
*Do I have a hard-disk drive?
*How much room is available on my hard drive?
*How much RAM (random-access memory) do I have available?
*Is the program I have purchased expandable?
Before you purchase your Bible-study program, understand that your hardware configuration can limit your software choices. Most computer-aided Bible programs require a hard-diskdrive; all prefer a hard-disk drive. Some programs require as little as 2 megabytes of hard-disk space while others require as much as 10 megabytes. If you do not have a hard-disk drive, some computer-aided Bible programs are available that are designed for use on a dual floppy drive system. Be aware, however, that this system will require
frequent switching of disks.
Another hardware consideration is the type of monitor you use. Virtually all these programs will work on a monochrome monitor. They are more effective, however, when used on a color monitor. I recommend this, because computer Bible programs frequently use a different color to highlight different words or phrases for which you are searching. Inverse menu bars are frequently used to highlight commands.
How much RAM your computer has is also an important consideration. If you purchase a program with a TSR feature in order to have direct access from a word-processing program to your Bible software, you will need a minimum of 640K RAM.
TYPES OF COMPUTER-AIDED BIBLE SOFTWARE
The critical issue now is which computer Bible program should you purchase? There are many excellent programs on the market today. There are also some poor ones! After years of using and reviewing Bible software, I have concluded there are three types of computer-aided Bible programs.
The first is what may be called a text-search program. When Bible programs first appeared, that is basically all they were designed to do-search for Bible references or text. Some of the early Bible software packages were tediously slow and inefficient. Jim Shaver, in a pamphlet entitled “Computerizing Your Minister: Pastoral Study Tools for the Computer,” writes, “Some of the earliest packages were no more than Bible texts in word processor files. To find a verse one simply used the search function of a word processing program.” The industry has come a long way since those early days.
The typical text-search programs have few bells or whistles-they are simple, and they are fast. The original versions of GodSpeed and QuickVerse are examples. You simply type in a Scripture reference or a word you are searching for and the program quickly finds the reference or references A few of these programs have a TSR feature that permits the user to load in his or her word processor and then toggle back and forth between it and the Bible program. This allows for convenient verse/text searches and the smooth importing of a verse right into one’s sermon or Bible-study text. Some text-search programs offer this feature as an add-on program. These programs act as a bridge between your word processor and the Bible
software. They have fair, but limited search capabilities.
Usually these programs do not allow the user to create and save to file Scripture studies of persons or topics. Some of these text-search programs do not allow for phrase searches, some do. Some of these programs allow for upper and lower case sensitivity, some do not. The point is-be sure you know what you want a program to do before you purchase it. These text-search programs frequently sell for between $50 and $100.
*True Bible-study programs
The second type of computer-aided Bible software is what my be called a true Bible-study program. These programs will do everything that the text-search programs will do plus much more.
First, they allow for complicated Scripture searches. They provide AND/OR/NOT searches, various wild-card searches, allow for upper and lower case sensitivity, and phrase searches. This is a very important advantage over basic text searches. For example, with a text search, baptized will only find those verses that have the word spelled exactly as you requested. However, if you are looking for all of the verses that refer to this subject with a program that allows wild-card searches, one could type bapt* and be presented with all verses containing baptism, baptizing, baptize, and so on.
Second, they allow you to create what are frequently called “indexes.” These Scripture studies of Bible personalities or topics that you can save to disk as a separate file. You can then manipulate these files over time. You can add to or delete Scripture references to these indexes as you desire. Several of these programs will allow the user to add personal commentary to the index you have created. Some programs, such as The WORD Processor, have index disks that you can purchase separately. A few programs will even allow you to attach notes to individual words within a verse.
The third feature that makes for a true Bible-study program is the inclusion of a Hebrew/Greek dictionary or concordance. The ability to look at the definitions of words in the original biblical languages deepens
one’s appreciation and understanding of the Scriptures. If you purchase a Bible-study program with a Hebrew/Greek concordance option, keep in mind two things. First, the programs on the market today tie their Hebrew/Greek dictionaries to Strong’s Concordance and its numbering system. This means you really should use the King James Version as your primary text since Strong’s ties its numbers to the KJV.
Second, be aware that some Bible-study software includes a Hebrew/Greek dictionary in the price of the program. Most, however, do not. You will usually have to purchase the Hebrew/Greek dictionary as a separate add-on program to the main Bible program. The cost of these programs will usually run between $100 and $200 for a single Bible version and the add-on Hebrew/Greek dictionary. Add-on Bible versions, such as the NIV or RSV, will average another $50 each.
*Scholar’s Study Aid
The last type of computer-aided Bible-study program is what I would programs are just like the true Bible-study programs with one main difference: The scholar’s program will actually display and print biblical
texts in their original languages of Greek and Hebrew. To do so, however, your computer must have graphics capabilities. Two fine examples of this type of program are the Bible Word Program and the NIV PC from Zondervan. Scripture searches may actually be performed using the original languages of the Bible. Some of the scholars’ programs also include the Apocrypha, books of the Bible considered canonical by the Catholic church, but not by most Protestants. Several of these programs are within the price range of
other Bible-study programs with the features mentioned above. Some, such as the NJV PC, retail for as much as $300. Included in the scholars’ study-aid category would be the several programs available to those who own the ultimate in data storage devices-a CD ROM drive.
An example of this kind of program would be the Interactive Bible Library from CDWORD. This package includes 16 major Bible-reference works in nearly 21,000 pages of text and graphics: UBS third edition Greek New Testament, Septuagint Old Testament, KJV, NIV, NASB, and RSV Bible versions, New Bible
Dictionary, Liddell & Scott Lexica, Harper’s Bible Knowledge, Jerome’s Commentaries, grammatical parsings for every word in the Greek New Testament and the Old Testament, plus maps and charts. Price? Only $579.
WHERE TO LOOK
Before you buy, it’s always wise to shop around first. Where do you go, however, to find such specialized software? It is doubtful that your typical computer software store carries even one computer-aided Bible
program-let alone an assortment from which you can choose. So where do you look?
The first resource is fellow pastors or friends who are already using such programs. Talk to them. Find out which programs they are using. Are they happy with the one they chose? What does it provide that they really like? What does it not contain that they wish it did? Ask them to demonstrate their programs for you.
A second resource is the advertising found in a special supplement like the one you are reading or in a specialized magazine such as Christian Computing Magazine (P.0. Box 439, Bolton, MO 64012; 816/331-3881). A careful perusal of the ads in Christian Computing Magazine will reveal a half-dozen or more advertisements for various computer-aided Bible programs. This magazine frequently contains reviews of Bible software that will acquaint you with the features of a specific program. If there is a particular program you are interested in, simply look in the back of the issue to see if a past review of the software is available. Most advertisements for Bible-study programs offer demonstration (demo) disks for between $5 and $15, which may be money well spent.
A third resource is your local Christian book store. As more churches purchase computers, more Christian book stores are beginning to carry church-related software.
A final resource is a Christian bulletin board system (BBS). There are literally hundreds of modem-accessed Christian-owned and-operated BBSs across the country. A growing number have file areas containing demo disks of Bible programs, which you may download via your modem. Some BBSs even
have “doors” that allow access to on-line Bible study where you can do Bible text searches and research over your phone line. However, unless you have a fast modem (I recommend 2400 baud), it may be cheaper to purchase a demo disk through the mail. Many Bible demos are so large that they may take 30 minutes or more to download. If you’re making a long distance phone call, that adds up in a hurry.
What would I look for in a computer-aided Bible program if I had it to do over, knowing what I know now?
First, I would want the program to be fast. There is nothing worse than staring at a blinking cursor, waiting for it to do something. But speed is now something the majority of Bible programs have. If you are using a 286- or 38G-based computer, most of your searches-regardless of the program-will be rewarded almost instantly. Be aware, however, that some of the more powerful programs doing complicated wild-card searches will require more time. This is a tradeoff in time between simple word searches and a powerful search program.
I would definitely want the program to be able to do complicated AND/OR/NOT searches. As you grow more comfortable with your Bible program, you will demand more from it. Even if you don’t understand all of the search possibilities in the beginning, you surely will eventually.
I would want the program to be able to search for phrases. If you’re searching for the title Son of Man, you will not want to see every verse that contains the word son and man. If your program does not offer phrase search, that is exactly what you will have to do.
Case sensitivity is a must. The ability to distinguish between upper and lower case can shorten the amount of time a search requires. An example is the word lord. In the Bible, this word appears in three forms. LORD, Lord, and lord. Being able to specify which form of the word you are looking for is an important convenience.
I would also want the ability to export Scripture directly into my word processor. If you are a minister, it is likely that you are already using your computer to create and edit your sermons. A Bible program that has a
TSR feature will let you search for and import Scripture directly into your sermon.
The ability to see the Hebrew or Greek definitions would also be nice. Personally, I would not purchase a Bible program that does not allow for an add-on Hebrew/Greek dictionary. The ability to do original word studies adds a richness to personal Bible study.
I would want the program I purchased to be expandable, with the ability to add on a Hebrew/Greek dictionary at a later time. I would like to be able to add on another Bible translation. The KJV is a must if you are going to use a Hebrew/Greek concordance, but the KJV may not be your favorite version. You may prefer the NIV or RSV or even the NKJV.
And last, although there have been no announcements at the time I am writing this, I am looking forward to the first Windows 3.0 version for DOS-based programs to appear. This will not only allow for input or text into my favorite word processor, but into graphic design programs as well.
I do not believe computer-aided Bible software will ever totally replace the need for the written Word sermon preparation. In a society that places large demands on the pastor’s schedule, Bible study often suffers. With computer-aided Bible software, the typical minister will discover that more study can be accomplished in less time when he or she purchases a Bible program. What could be more important?
(The above material was published by Christianity Today Inc.)
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