BibleWorks 8: Software for Biblical Exegesis and Research

Written by BibleWorks Reviewed By Alec J. Lucas

[Editor’s Note: This review evaluates Scholar’s Library: Gold for Logos Bible Software 3. Logos Bible Software 4 was released on November 2, 2009 after this review was written.]

BibleWorks 8 (BW8) and Logos 3 (L3) are powerful and impressive programs. With their varying strengths, no matter where one is on the spectrum of beginning student to seasoned scholar, or lay leader to senior pastor, he or she will find in these programs invaluable resources for the study and exposition of Scripture. Since space does not permit an exhaustive discussion of the components and capabilities of each program, much less a thorough comparison of the two, this review is confined to four aims: (1) introducing each program with attention to its user interface and associated strengths; (2) contrasting the capabilities of BW8 and L3through the example of a specific biblical text, Rom 1:18–32, and the issue of digital library resources; (3) highlighting specific weaknesses of each program; and (4) providing concrete recommendations for those trying to decide which program to purchase.

Beginning with BW8, the purpose of BibleWorks “is to provide pastors, teachers, students, and missionaries with the tools they need to ‘rightly divide the word of truth’ ” (2 Tim 2:15). With over 190 Bible translations in nearly 40 languages, 35 original language texts and morphology databases, as well as 29 lexical-grammatical references, particular emphasis is placed on primary texts and the tools necessary to interpret them. The BW8 user interface is composed of three parallel vertical panels: from left to right, the Search window, Browse window, and Analysis window. The Search window allows one to navigate within or between original language texts and their translations, including biblical and extra-biblical writings (Josephus, Philo, OT Pseudepigrapha, the Apostolic Fathers), as well as to perform simple to moderately complex word or phrase searches in all of these texts. The Browse window displays the texts, either in multiple or single version mode, with the ability to select the number and order of versions displayed. The Analysis window, through its various tabs, provides easy access to morphological, lexical, and grammatical data for the texts and verses displayed, not to mention cross-references, a word-processing program, the ability to append chapter and verse notes, and more. Other important resources, accessible from the menu and button bars above, include the following: a Graphical Search Engine for especially complex searches; a parallel Hebrew-LXX database with analytical notes and proposed retroversions of the Hebrew and Aramaic text underlying the LXX; a sentence-diagramming tool; a window for displaying parallel versions; a synopsis-tool for study of the gospels; a map-module for locating biblical sites; and Hebrew and Greek flashcard-modules with audio files for practicing pronunciation. All of this is included in the base package of BW8. Still other primary text resources (e.g., the Dead Sea Scrolls) and reference works (e.g., BDAG) may be purchased at additional cost.

The broader purpose of Logos is reflected both in its goal “to equip everyone in the Church with a theological library” and in a more concentrated focus on resources for laity and ministers. This broader purpose is evident firstly in the four-tiered structure of the L3 software packages. The Leader’s Library includes over 230 books with limited, but significant, Hebrew and Greek tools. It is recommended for lay persons. The Scholar’s Library, the most popular collection, includes additional Hebrew and Greek tools and over 330 books. Scholar’s Library: Silver, recommended for pastors and teachers, consists of over 525 books, including other original language resources as well as the NAC series and Ante-Nicene Fathers. Scholar’s Library: Goldis the most complete package. Its over 700 books include further Hebrew and Greek tools, the NIGTC volumes, UBS Handbooks, and the three-volume Context of Scripture, with its array of ANE texts.

The focus of this review is the Scholar’s Library: Gold version. Its user interface, designed to look like an Internet homepage, consists of a scroll-down window on the left side of the screen composed of four sections: the Bible Study Starter in which one can enter a study passage, word, or topic as well as pursue a Bible reading plan; a Devotions section; a Prayer section, which may be customized to include regular or even semi-regular prayer lists; and a My Library section featuring resources available in the vast digital library, such as a highlighted “Book of the Day.” The right side of the screen, initially blank, is filled in once one enters a passage, word, or topic in the Bible Study Starter section or opens a book from the digital library. Other important resources include the following: a Weights and Measures feature for calculating contemporary equivalencies; a Bible Puzzles tool for producing word-finder puzzles, especially helpful for those designing Children’s Sunday School curriculum; an inductive Bible study feature for marking up the text with visual symbols; multiple pastoral and sermon aids, such as an encyclopedia of illustrations; and, lastly, the ability to perform both complex original language morphological searches and syntactical searches, the latter not possible with BW8.

The integration of resources in L3 is less transparent and intuitive than BW8, but impressive in its own right. Suppose one wants to study Rom 1:18–32. When this text is entered into the Bible Study Starter section, a window on the right opens to display the preferred biblical version, whether the Greek NT, an ESV English-Greek reverse interlinear, or one of several translations. Meanwhile, the left side window simultaneously searches the digital library and changes to display a passage guide consisting of commentaries, cross references, key words, topics, and illustrations, among other things, related to Rom 1:18–32. Thus, for example, one can immediately see what the NAC Romans commentary says about this text. If additional unlocks are purchased, such as the WBC and ICC Romans commentaries, then they may be accessed as well. Clearly the power of L3 resides in the integration of its vast library of resources.

However, except for the ability to perform syntactical searches, the base-package of BW8, in comparison with the base-package of L3 Scholar’s Library: Gold, is more effective when it comes to close textual analysis. This is because BW8 contains crucial primary texts that must be purchased as add-ons in L3, specifically the morphologically-tagged Greek texts of the Apostolic Fathers, Josephus, and the OT Pseudepigrapha. The importance of the latter two texts may be illustrated by continuing with the example of Rom 1:18–32. It is customary for critical commentaries to compare Paul’s polemic here with other Second Temple Jewish excoriations of idolatry and immorality, such as Wis 13–15; Josephus, Ag. Ap. 2.236–54; Philo, Decal. 52–81; Spec. 1.13–31; Let. Aris. 128–171; Sib. Or. 3.8–45; T. Naph. 3.3–5. Examining these texts allows one to see, for example, that the term mataios (“empty, vain”) and its cognates, such as the verb mataioō, occur regularly in these contexts (Rom 1:21; Wis 13:1; 15:8; Let. Aris. 1.134, 136, 138, 139; Sib. Or. 3.29). In such passages the appearance of the term mataios and its cognates is not distinctive but customary. This observation calls into question the common claim that Paul’s employment of mataioō in Rom 1:21 specifically intends to evoke Jer 2:5, where mataioō and mataios occur. Significantly, except for Wis 13–15 and Philo, the ability to search these original language Second Temple Jewish texts is possible only with the base-package of BW8. Of course, one may search these same texts by purchasing add-ons for L3 but this comes at an additional cost (e.g., the OT Pseudepigrapha alone is $99.95).

With the mention of add-ons, or additional library resources, we arrive at another important difference between BW8 and L3, one directly related to their varying purposes. Whereas one of the primary purposes of L3 is to provide its users with an extensive and easily expandable digital library, that is not one of the purposes of BW8. This difference is reflected both in the number of additional resources available from L3 (over 10,000 volumes and counting), as compared to BW8 (only 25 reference works and primary texts are listed on the website), and in the integration and quality of these resources. Thus, for example, both BW8 and L3 offer digital versions of the Dead Sea Scrolls in morphologically-tagged, original language texts and translation. In BW8, the original language Dead Sea Scrolls, or Qumran Sectarian Texts (QST), and manuscripts of the OT found at Qumran, the Qumran Bible in English (QBE), are well-integrated into the program. One may access them by typing QBE, for instance, into the Search window. However, the English language translation of the QST, provided by Wise-Abegg-Cook (The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation), is not well-integrated into the program. One must access this translation through the menu bar. The resultant pop-up window that is displayed makes it difficult to compare the English translation of a particular line with the un-pointed Hebrew text underlying it shown in the Browse window. With L3, one does not encounter this problem of integration of resources. Moreover, the digital resources in L3 are of a higher quality than parallel ones in BW8. This is evident, for example, when comparing the differing versions of the Nestle-Aland 27th edition (NA27) of the Greek NT, a text that is part of the base-package of both programs. The L3 version helpfully retains the paragraph and subparagraph divisions of the NA27 while the BW8 version only provides the option (via the Tools menu) of displaying paragraph markers. These paragraph markers, however, are the same for paragraph and subparagraph divisions, making it difficult to distinguish between the two. With L3, one faces no such difficulty.

Before providing specific recommendations for those considering which program to purchase, a few specific weaknesses of L3 and BW8 should be noted. The primary problem with L3 resides in the program design and the manner in which it is marketed. The simple fact that the right side of the screen is initially blank (no biblical text is displayed) while the Bible Study Starter section in the left side window allows one to look up a passage, topic, or term may exacerbate the already pervasive and lamentable tendency to treat the Bible as a divine source book for matching verses, bereft of context, to felt needs. The software need not function in this way, of course; but the design does little to discourage it. Add to this the marketing assurances that, “You can’t trust your English search results. They’re simply not accurate” and “You do not have to go to seminary to access the original language,” and one begins to worry about people inordinately neglecting the text in a tongue they do understand to focus on tongues that, even with the best of tools, will remain ultimately unintelligible, without proper training. This is not to deny that the wealth of original language biblical tools in L3, employed with proper caution, will also have the salutary effect of fostering a more accurate and edifying inquiry into Scripture among those who lack the privilege of a seminary education, or that BW8 could not be similarly abused. It is rather to suggest that the program design and marketing strategy of L3 could and should be improved to discourage such abuses.

An almost imperceptible but important weakness with BW8 concerns the lack of punctuation in the Septuagint text. The LXX version utilized is that of Alfred Rahlfs, the same one employed by L3. However, whereas L3 retains Rahlfs’s punctuation, BW8 lacks it. Interestingly, the influence of this punctuation is still reflected in the accentuation of the BW8 text. Thus, for example, the term theón (“God”) retains its acute accent in Exod 32:30, although, with the comma following the term removed, the accent should be grave, i.e. theòn. Even if the punctuation in Rahlfs is not as extensive as that in the Göttingen LXX volumes, the failure of BW8 to include it deprives the interpreter, especially the novice one, of an important aid to deciphering the Greek text. This shortcoming should be corrected.

Mention of the Göttingen LXX texts leads to the last weakness, one shared by BW8 and, for the moment, L3. As is well-known, Rahlfs produced a provisional critical edition of the LXX. While this edition has often been treated as the standard Septuagint text, and in that sense it is appropriate for BW8 and L3 to utilize it, “for many books of the Bible it has now been superseded” by the Göttingen LXX volumes (Karen H. Jobes and Moisés Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000], p. 75). At present, twenty-four have been published. These critical texts supersede Rahlfs’s because they are based on a more extensive analysis of the Greek witnesses available and provide a more detailed apparatus of variant readings. The result is Greek texts that differ from Rahlfs’s both in versification (e.g., MT and Göttingen Exod 8:1–15 = Rahlfs Exod 7:25–8:11) and readings. Admittedly, the Göttingen readings often differ little, if at all (cf. Exod 24), from those in Rahlfs. Yet, sometimes the variations are more substantial (cf. Deut 32). Even if in the latter case the alteration in overall meaning is often negligible, it is nonetheless true that neither BW8 nor L3 currentlyprovide students and scholars with the best LXX critical texts available. (For those tempted to dismiss the significance of this fact since, aside from Eastern Orthodoxy, the Hebrew MT is regarded as canonical by the various branches of Christendom, not the LXX, it is worth recalling that NT authors often cite the Greek version of the OT current in their day, not an independent rendering of the Hebrew text. Indeed, the LXX was, for the Greek-speaking members of the “Way” [cf. Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22], the Bible of the Early Church.) The qualification currently, however, is important. A Logos digital edition of the Göttingen Septuagint is presently in pre-publication for the bargain price of $299.95 (the suggested retail price is $3,102.98). Hopefully, BibleWorks will follow Logos’s lead in this regard.

We come now to concrete suggestions for those trying to decide which program to purchase. Students who aspire to first-hand analysis of original language texts, pastors whose primary focus is exegesis, and scholars would be well served to choose BW8. Even if the quality of its resources is sometimes inferior to that of L3(e.g., the NA27, LXX), the base-package of BW8 not only offers important original language texts lacking in the base-package of L3 but does so at a much better price. Yet these same students, pastors, and scholars should also bear in mind that they need not purchase L3 to benefit from the Libronix Digital Library System. Commentary series, such as the ICC or WBC, dictionaries, such as the AYBD (formerly the ABD), and the Göttingen Septuagint, when available, may be purchased separately for a fraction of the cost of their print editions. Moreover, not only may these digital editions be searched but they also accompany you wherever your laptop goes. Ministers, who rarely interact with Hebrew and Greek (e.g., due to time constraints), or those with particular interest in the plethora of pastoral and digital resources L3 provides, as well as lay persons are better suited to purchase one of the L3 versions. Commentary series, like the NAC, and features, such as the inductive Bible study symbols and the prayer lists, should prove especially helpful in sermon preparation, lay training, and personal devotions. Once again, then, BW8 and L3 have something to offer every Christian, from the person in the pew, to the pastor in the pulpit, to the scholar in the study.

Alec J. Lucas

Loyola University Chicago

Chicago, Illinois, USA

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