Thursday, September 11, 2008

What's the point of Bible software?

I did a presentation on Bible software yesterday for our first year students. We really encourage them to buy Accordance, BibleWorks, or Logos if possible. After seeing some of the nifty things one can do with the software, one of my students emailed me regarding Bible software in general:

Primarily, although they each seem to do very cool things with word stats, etc., I'm curious how applicable anything beyond basic original source exegesis would be in a congregational setting? I guess I came away with the feeling that its great to have those resources, particularly if one plans to do any scholarly research, writing or education, but a typical congregation may not been interested in all of the additional data, nor would the congregational setting afford the time for such extensive work. Perhaps I'm being too narrow-minded?
Here was my quick reply:
While you are at seminary, you are going to need Bible software (or else a library of Bible reference works) to conduct the kind of research we will require of you. We require this research, because we think it is indispensable for coming to understand and engage the biblical text. Every translation is interpretation, and we believe that it is important for you to struggle with the interpretation and not simply leave it up to others.

Yes, the statistical stuff is pretty esoteric on its own, but it is important because it provides one glimpse into various authors concerns, interests, vocabulary, theological emphasis, etc. The better you see how an author works at the grammatical/lexical level, the better you will understand the author’s narrative and theology. And the better you understand how the biblical authors were working in their settings, hopefully the better equipped you will be to express the faith in your own congregational setting.

Further, as you said, this stuff would be great for anyone planning on doing “scholarly research, writing, or education.” Working in a congregational setting, you are indeed going to be expected to write and educate, and hopefully you will be able to do it with integrity based on your understanding of the text. As for time to do this? A major benefit of Bible software is that it can help you make more efficient use of your time in the text and make it possible for you to do this as part of your weekly routine. I think every church professional should be spending regular time in Scripture as part of your standard care and feeding of the spirit! Congregations have the right to expect that their leaders are faithful interpreters of the text and not simply sharing what they think apart from any Scriptural/theological reflection.
What else would you say to respond to my student's question?


  1. I think you're right on. The concept that pastors have too many other things to do to spend a lot of time studying is outrageous.

    Pastors are to equip God's people to do God's work (Eph 4:11-13), and it is through the Scriptures that we are "equipped for every good work" (2 Tim 3:16-17).

    If more pastors would spend more time studying and ministering to/with a smaller team, who then trained and did ministry with others, and so on, we would see Paul's vision of perpetual ministry in action (2 Tim 2:2).

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with your reply, and would only add that although a congregation may not be "interested in all the additional data," it's still may be helpful and needful for a pastor to be aware of it. It's rather like writing a novel - a novelist knows much more about his or her characters and the events in their lives than ever makes it into the novel, because much of that information is not relevant to the story, and not necessary for the audience to know. It's helpful for the author to know, though, because it gives him or her a fuller picture of what's going on, and better enables him or her to tell the story. Likewise, a congregation may never need to know - or particularly care - about the nitty-gritty grammatical or lexical peculiarities of a given Biblical text, but it could well be helpful for the pastor to be aware of such things, because it will better enable him or her to explain the text - to tell the story, as it were.

  3. In other words, Bible software as its designed right now is more relevant to seminary students and pastor-teachers than the more casual reader.


    Wonder what would happen if we could redesign some apsects of Bible software to be more relevant to that larger audience. Wonder what it would look like then?

  4. Thanks for the comments. Keep 'em coming!
    Antoine: I especially wanted to respond to your observation. The student who wrote is indeed planning to become a pastor, but I intentionally in my response did not limit my response to pastors. Church "professional" maybe sounds a bit too formal, but here at the seminary where I teach, we have plenty of students who are not planning on pastoral ministry but on a serving in a variety of other church capacities: youth ministry, diaconal ministry, chaplaincy, etc. Would that all Christians take the study of the Word so seriously, but I think it should be an expectation for anyone in a role of church leadership.

  5. Also, remind your students not to underestimate the sophisticated questions some of their parishioners will bring to the study of the bible. And why not help some of those parishioners learn how to use the software themselves? You'd be surprised by how interested a teen ager can be in digging into the intricacies of a particular passage, if its something they really care about. If your congregants don't care about studying the bible, you may eventually stop studying it yourself. So find ways to energize them to do so, and it will keep you on your toes, too. (and yes, this is an adult religious educator speaking, obviously)

  6. Acts 6:2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables."

    And thus "the deacon" was born, to prevent the Pastor (a teaching elder) from neglecting the ministry of the word of God.

    Acts 6:3-4 Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word."

  7. In addition to translation work for the sermon, I use BibleWorks to help me write my pastoral prayers. I look for imperatives spoken to God, look for words in different semantic domain, look for words that pop up across the whole Scriptural canon so I can make connections between how God acted in the past and how God promises to act in the future . . . surprising things happen when I play with BibleWorks.

  8. In regards to the student's immediate wonderings, yes, the software is near-necessary and extremely helpful in amassing a large database and repository for information to understand a wide variety of subjects in the works contained in BibleWorks (beyond just scriptures) that are EXTREMELY helpful in seminary.

    A colleague of mine recently related the advent of programs such as BibleWorks as shortcuts to our knowledge. "We do not have to have memorized a theological treatise or be able to quote Josephus at length." Instead of having to struggle to find a commentary or some grammatical information to give us a thickening agent for the scripture reading for a particular Sunday's sermon, we are able to focus more on what congregations seem to desire more of now. The people want to hear how this applies to their lives, how the scriptures can reach through time and have meaning today, here and now! Without needing to bog ourselves down hunting for support, BibleWorks makes short work of a lot of searching and research which allows us to focus less on research and more on relevance to the relationship between God and God's people.

    In closing, I am preaching this Sunday, and I used BibleWorks at least three times for help in references, lexicons, and translational variation. Congregational pastors and their interns can and do use this software often!

  9. I'd just like to say that I'm not in the ministry at all. I'm just a Christian who loves God's word and would like to know it better, and I'm glad that I bought Logos two years ago! It's really opened my eyes to so many things that I wouldn't have had the time, nor the moxie to research on my own with just a paper study bible, and a Halley's bible handbook!


  10. Both as a seminarian and as one who preaches each Sunday, Bible software (I use BibleWorks) is indispensable and hence highly practical both because it deepens my understanding of the text and because it is such a time saver. If the student in question was objecting to the perceived "BibleWorks chrome" as unnecessarily adding to the cost of the product, he or she should consider BibleWorks as a lifetime investment in his or her profession. Assuming that the person in question has a 35 year career, then he or she invested just $10 annually for one of the most important tools.

  11. As a pastor I use Logos. I have used it for nearly 6 years and they add new books all the time.

    I recently attended Camp Logos and though I am very computer literate I learned a lot about the possibilities Logos creates for the pastor and congregation.

    One thing I am learning to use is the notes feature. I can create notes files for all of my biblical study. Then I can make those notes files available on our church website and those who own the Libronix software (which you can purchase for as little as $20) can download my notes and have their pastor's notes in their computer Bible!

    I just wish my seminary professors would have made digital notes of their courses. Then I'd have them all in my Bible study software. But instead I have a filing cabinet full of notes that I never use.

    Bible computer software is an exciting new tool for discipleship in the local church.

  12. Thanks, all, for the comments. You are preaching to the choir here! Steve, just a reminder that people can actually get a starter package for Logos/Libronix for free. I'm pretty sure it would handle the notes. Go to: