Bibleworks 2013-02-12

BibleWorks, LLC, in existence since 1992, has recently released version 8 of their software. The program is exegetically targeted, focusing on the text of Scripture. The retail price is slightly higher than the starting price for other software packages, but it reflects company philosophy: BibleWorks puts more resources into their base program, with a higher starting cost, but minimizes as much as possible optional modules that require additional dollars. The program runs on Microsoft Windows, whether natively on a PC or through emulation on Apple Mac OS.

BibleWorks is set up initially with the screen divided into three sections. On the left is the search window, where one can perform searches on the command line. In the middle is the browse window, which shows the actual text. On the right is the analysis window, where one can pursue analysis of the text. This layout is at first a bit intimidating but becomes easier and more logical with use. The program comes with hours of video tutorials preinstalled to give basic introduction on the major functions the program offers. Also installed are detailed help files; wherever the mouse-pointer is located when the F1 key is pressed, the help file for that particular function will come up (although there are reports that this functionality is altered somewhat by Windows 7).

At the top of the screen are the menu bar and the toolbar, which allow access to various program functions. BibleWorks 8 comes preinstalled with forty-one English translations. Users can parallel as many versions as the screen allows. The text comparison feature uses automatic highlighting to see where the selected versions differ. This is helpful for teaching and preaching purposes, in view of the fact that members of one’s congregation or Bible study often use multiple versions.

Including English translations, there are over 190 Bibles in nearly 40 languages (e.g., Spanish, French, Chinese, Korean, Swahili), 35 original language texts and morphology databases (e.g., BHS, Nestle-Aland 27), and 29 lexical-grammatical reference tools (e.g., LSJ abridged, Thayer, Louw-Nida, Moulton-Milligan, BDB). BDAG and HALOT, the present gold standards for Greek and Hebrew lexical work, respectively, can be purchased together as an add-on module for an additional fee of $212, less than one would spend on hard copies. The lexicons demonstrate one of the best features of the program, namely, the morphological tagging of the text and the linking to resources. Whenever the cursor hovers over a word in the Greek or Hebrew texts, the analysis window displays resources that discuss that word. For example the user can look up that word in any of the installed lexicons. That means no page-turning and no time wasted getting lexicons off the shelf. This same function is available with Scripture references, and can also be done with the early church fathers, grammars, and wordbooks.

The concordance in BibleWorks 8 is much more powerful than any hard-copy concordance money can buy. Suppose the user wants to find out how many times Luke used the word kuvrio" in his Gospel. With just a few keyboard strokes, one can set the search limits to Luke’s Gospel, switch to the morphologically tagged Greek version, enter the search term, and in .06 seconds (that is, six hundredths of a second) one learns that Luke used the word 104 times in his Gospel in a total of 96 verses. It is also easy to set the search parameters to larger or narrower sections of Scripture or to search for phrases or more than one word at a time.

BibleWorks 8 also has a helpful note-taking feature. The program is designed to remove the hassle of continuously switching between different programs and opening new windows. The notes tab in the analysis window can be set up to load automatically individual verse or chapter notes. For example if a pastor is preparing a sermon on Genesis 2:18–25, he can type observations on each individual verse in the notes tab, easily copying Hebrew words or lexicon entries to provide the exegetical basis for the sermon. As soon as the user switches verses in the browse window from Genesis 2:18 to 2:19, the notes tab automatically loads to a new screen for new notes there. After finishing the pericope, the user can simply copy all the verse notes into a word processor with the report generator and have the exegetical basis for the sermon. Used consistently, this saves hours of page-turning and retyping. Over time, one can accumulate verse notes on the entire Bible, and these are available every time that particular verse is viewed on the screen.

The map module in BibleWorks 8 allows users to see the geographical location of biblical sites and calculate the distance between them. A timeline gives all the major events that have occurred in biblical times and throughout history. The vocabulary flash-card module allows the user to review Greek and Hebrew vocabulary. There are many other important Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts, most with English translation (e.g., Philo, Josephus, the Septuagint, apostolic fathers, and Targums). The word list manager enables one to compare and contrast vocabulary used between different books or chapters (e.g., Paul’s disputed letters with his generally accepted letters). Many synopsis files allow the user to compare the Gospels and to examine the New Testament use of the Old Testament, as well as similar portions of the Old Testament.

BibleWorks 8 now includes many features and resources that previous versions did not have. For instance in the base package one now has access to Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics; Waltke and O’Connor, Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax; and Joüon-Muraoka, Grammar of Biblical Hebrew. All such resources are tagged and thus connected to the biblical text. On top of that is a mammoth version of Philip Schaff’s text on the ante-Nicene, Nicene, and post-Nicene church fathers, the Greek text and modern English translation of the Old Testament pseudepigrapha, and the English translation of Rodkinson’s Babylonian Talmud and Mishnah. (A complete list of resources in BibleWorks 8 can be found on their website.) New features include many new analysis window tabs, including a handy cross-reference tab, browse tab, context tab, and statistics tab; new tools called the phrase matching and related verses tool allow the user to see topical connections and where Scripture is using Scripture. Other enhancements refine the map module, search window, and copy tool.

The first impression of the program can be overwhelming and intimidating because the interface is cluttered and busy. Though the interface continues to show improvement from version to version, it does look outdated compared to programs with more contemporary design elements. Also dozens of languages are installed that will rarely be of use to most people, which makes the loading time longer (though this can be eliminated in the setup process). The process to increase the font size in the browse window, or any other window that would be relevant for classroom use or other larger displays, is tedious. From a user standpoint, this surely can be simplified. BibleWorks 8 also lacks a good, up-to-date Bible dictionary. The dictionaries it has are all public domain texts from the early or mid-1900s. A good Bible dictionary is an indispensable tool, and BibleWorks 8 needs to at least offer an up-to-date one with relevant discussion of contemporary issues as an add-on module for purchase. Another criticism is the difficulty to compare verses within the same version. There are many unnecessary steps that take more time than they should. BibleWorks 8 should allow the user to type more than one verse on the command line so these verses can be seen in parallel on top of one another in the browse window (or another pop-up window). Another criticism is that the add-on modules BibleWorks 8 offers for an additional price are extremely limited.

BibleWorks 8 focuses on the text of Scripture, which is a good thing, but exegesis involves much more than grammatical analysis of the text. The exegete always needs to proceed to synthesis. BibleWorks 8 should make their program more holistic in order to accommodate this aspect of exegesis. For example historical and cultural background books would be of tremendous help to exegetes. To remain contemporary and relevant to today’s biblical/theological context, BibleWorks 8 needs to give users access to these resources.

Despite these shortcomings, BibleWorks 8 is an indispensable tool for pastors, students, teachers, and ambitious laymen. Gone are the days of the traditional concordance and hardback lexicon. With the search capabilities, resources, and features of BibleWorks 8, this program rarely disappoints.