Should Schools or Students Choose Bible Software?

At the recent New Orleans SBL meeting, one of the “hot” sessions was the Software Bible “Shootout” in which five different software options demonstrated their method for solving a series of challenges. Read Rick Mansfield’s summary here. More discussion here (with lots of further links).The software vendors represented were: Logos, SESB, BibleWorks, Accordance and Olive Tree.

You can look at each of the resources in depth at your leisure. My question today is not which one handles what challenge better, but rather, who should determine which software you use?

There is definitely a discussion going on about the pedagogical value of introducing bible software earlier in the seminary curriculum (and in particular, for the biblical language courses). The problem is how to integrate these programs into the classroom. Some seminaries seem to let the programs just filter in as students discover their merits on their own. At the other end of the spectrum are the seminaries that mandate purchase of a specific program that is then utilized (and supported) throughout the curriculum. I see value in both approaches.

First, I own a Mac. I have used Accordance for years. But until recently, I was in a very small minority. Most of the support I needed I found on the Accordance forums (also their blog and website), through social media networking, or Accordance seminars. Most of the computers around me were PCs and most of those users chose BibleWorks. Most students will become familiar with whatever program they use in seminary/university and will not want to change to another program after graduating because they are heavily invested in software and experience. So, since I was personally convinced that I wanted to use Accordance, I would have a hard time having someone tell me I could not and would have to buy another program and use that for classes.

On the other hand, as an instructor, I see the value of having everyone “on the same page.” Calvin Seminary does require their students to purchase one package (a specially tailored Logos package, if I recall correctly). Carl Bosma has developed a detailed seminar-like course that teaches students exactly (step-by-step) how to use the program. The course is part of a pre-semester orientation (the training is ongoing though). This means that the IT department and the professors all know exactly what program their students have, they can share filters, data, links, etc. with no conflict issues. They can pull material up in class and students can follow along on their own computers. Students are allowed to collaborate and share resources they develop. By the time they graduate, the idea is that they have a personal library of notes, sermons, etc. all linked in their Logos program and they know exactly how to do studies and sermon prep utilizing all their Logos text and book resources. There is a plan to have support for Mac users of Logos, but for now I think most of their Mac users run Logos in a Windows environment on their computer.

The issue, especially for students choosing seminaries, could come down to a minor decision-making fork-in-the-road along the lines of “I’m a Mac; I’m a PC.” In other words, if I really want to keep using my Mac, if I have heard that Accordance does fantastic searches and has lots of scholar-level texts, will I choose a school that is only PC and Logos-based? What about if my church has already given me a copy of BibleWorks and my mentor is very skilled in that program? Now, obviously much more important criteria will be considered (and should be) first. This is not a primary concern. But it isn’t a minor annoyance either. It’s more along the lines of deciding whether you want to live for several years with the cold weather up North vs the sunny South. Except that the decision will likely affect a student for many more years. The skills a student learns and practices in school/seminary will likely be the skills they continue to use later in the ministry. It would be very difficult to switch after becoming a competent user of one program for 3 or 4 years (not to mention the expense of switching programs or platforms).

So, what do you think? Should schools decide for students which bible software to buy? Does the benefit outweigh removing individual choice in the matter? Should all the options be made available to students so they can make an informed choice? What is your own experience?

To be completely candid, I now run Windows 7 via Parallels 5 on my MacBook Pro (please don’t condemn me). I needed to do this to run some Windows-only software to allow me to work with colleagues on some projects. As a result, I have SESB and limited Logos resources loaded on the Windows side. I also have Vocabula and some translator software for projects I am working on. I do use the Olive Tree iPhone app, and am a beta tester for some of the original language modules (more about Olive Tree in another post). The only program I do not currently have access to is BibleWorks (however, at one point I did have a copy to demo for my students, but I left that copy of the program with the instructor who followed after me).

UPDATE: The nice folks at Bibleworks have contacted me and offered to send a copy of the program so that I can include that resource as I continue to review software and develop digital tools. Thank you Jim Barr!

19 thoughts on “Should Schools or Students Choose Bible Software?

  1. Donovan

    Good blog asking a question that I think is pertinent.

    I am involved in coursework at the moment where I have wished more than once that the school had a “software standard” by which we all worked by. A lot of this has to do with the reasons that you listed above. Instead with everyone going their own way, we miss out on the ability to leverage our software together.

    I guess my view is that if the school’s had made a selection is not my favorite, I would just run more than one package. I use Logos 4 (PC version and hopefully soon their Mac version) and Accordance. The beauty of running more than one programme is invariably you will find that one package will be able to fill in for the weaknesses of the other.

  2. Karyn Post author

    Thanks for stopping by Donovan. I appreciate your comment. I’m glad you are able to use both Logos and Accordance. It’s an unfortunate reality that no one program gives you “everything.” Some books/modules are exclusive. I wonder how many students would purchase an additional program (like you did)? Many of the students I know are on a tight budget and may not have that option. The other thing that is hard to justify is purchasing the same book for more than one software package. I understand the issue (from the developer side/company side), but I wish we could buy a book and use it on whatever platform we choose.

  3. Colin Toffelmire

    I don’t really see much value in everybody “being on the same page.” Seems that what this would create, more than anything else, is an over-dependence on said software. Throughout my education me and my classmates have used a wide variety of software, and I’ve never noticed that it impeded class work at all.

    Additionally I strongly dislike adding yet another required financial burden on students who are already spending a small fortune on their education, and who are also unlikely to find very high-paying work as a result. Add that to the platform compatibility problem, and the problems seriously outweigh the benefits in my mind.

  4. Jim

    i actually agree with colin. unless the school is willing to buy every student the same software. and that i dont think will happen.

  5. Neil

    After thinking about it, although I do like the idea of having better education regarding the program given, the cost is quite pricey, as Jim mentioned, and if you add to that the necessity of buying a program, not to mention a laptop for those who do not have them coming into their schooling, plus the fact that some students just do not have the necessary computer skills for this… not that they should not learn, but to mandate that they learn computer skills instead of other theological matters would simply further complicate the already overloaded seminary curriculum.

  6. Karyn Post author

    Thanks, Colin, Jim, and Neil for your comments. I hope that someone who has attended a school that does use one program for all students gets a chance to give us their thoughts!


  7. danielandtonya


    No software was required at HBU, but virtually everybody who brought a laptop to class brought an Accordance-loaded Mac. Most PCers who started on BW or Logos switched (like us who started on BW6). Our Hebrew prof had a lot to do with it. He should have been a paid Mac evangelist. He would shriek and say, “What’s that evil noise?” when a PC would startup.

    That being said, the only thing he made sure all of us had access to (for research; in-class technology was limited to slideshows) was some form of the Westminster morphology. The dept had a few macs and a few pcs (with bw, i think) that students could use.

    I don’t think the issue is software (thus-mac or pc?), but rather tools. As long as you can get BHS and GNT tagged texts, (plus HALOT/BDAG and Waltke/Wallace to save your back from carrying too many books!), then you should be fine in a seminary class. Beginner language classes probably won’t get far enough to really need all the bells and whistles that the various programs have.

  8. Rick Bennett

    Good question; one which I don’t think has an easy answer.

    At my seminary there were two Hebrew tacks: Electronic and Traditional. Electronic required Logos 3. The first two semesters covered half the grammar and supplemented the other half with instruction on how to do basic searches. The third semester concentrated on doing word studies, and had an intro to syntax searching. The Traditional track did not require any software, though in certain (rare) cases the prof would show how to do a particular search in the third semester course (Exegesis). Focus was on grammar and reading the Hebrew Bible.

    My views on this approach are mixed. On the one hand I empathize with the professor’s approach. The fact is that many (most?) people don’t keep up with their languages after graduation. His goal is to give them instruction in the software which they are more likely to use and keep up with (though I imagine if they don’t use it they will forget this as well). He initially used Bibleworks, but then switched to Logos. From his perspective he noticed that the vast majority of students were on a PC, and chose the software program he liked best. Mac users were forced to either buy an emulator, plus the software (no small investment), or use one of the PCs in the library.
    On the other hand, I feel that there is a way to integrate software into the “traditional” approach without watering down the curriculum.

    Ultimately, I think the student should be able to choose. Much like the experience of DanielandTonya, the prof could integrate features which are capable with any program.

    I have more thoughts on this, but I’ll allow others to chime in and possibly say more later.

    Thanks for the good topic, Karyn. 🙂

  9. Nevada

    Hi Karyn,
    I was one of those who sat through Carl Bosma’s classes 🙂

    Initially, I was a bit perturbed about having to shell out a fair bit of cash to get a laptop and Libronix (i.e., Logos). However, the seminary had plenty of loan money to help out. Complicating things was my decision to buy a Mac. Nonetheless, with Bootcamp installed, I was able to run Libronix with no problems.

    I think the reality on the ground at Calvin was a little different than an outsider might guess. Most people did get Libronix and found it useful for much more than language work (it’s essentially a portable library system that you can upload your sermons into, etc.). However, there were also people who had Accordance, etc. Most of the assignments were clausal outlines and different types of work which really only required a person to be able to copy and paste Hebrew into a word-processing program.

    Regardless of which system you were running on your computer, it was helpful to have every professor working with the same system, using the same technical “categories,” etc.

    The only thing that could prove to be a problem with running another system was the computer language exams. For those who were too scared of taking the good old pencil and paper Greek and Hebrew comprehensives, Calvin offered the option of a Libronix seminar which last 2 or 3 days. If you went this route for comprehensives, you have to be running Libronix because the seminar is essentially all about learning to use the system (or at least so I am told… I was one of the Luddites who went for pencil and paper 🙂

    Overall, I think the choice of one program/system was very beneficial. It helped everyone stay on the same page and offered a way for students who were not Hebrew and Greek scholars to still use the languages after graduation.

  10. Karyn Post author

    Hi Daniel & Tonya,
    Your situation is more rare than I’ve encountered. Most people in the institutions I’ve worked in have used PCs and didn’t switch to Mac (a few individuals were convinced, but most could not make the financial and cross-platform investment). But, I’m glad you ended up seeing the light and going with a Mac!

    Having two tracks sounds like a good idea, but I doubt many institutions can afford to split their language tracks to accommodate that. I do agree that we have a problem of languages not being used after graduation, and that we need to address that issue. Bible software may be part of the answer, but I think we all would agree that there is more to the issue to consider.

    Nevada, Thank you SO MUCH for commenting! I really did want to hear from some people who have attended a school that required a certain package. Maybe you can convince some others to give their comments too.


  11. Timothy P. Jenney

    Great post, Karyn!

    I have owned Accordance for 14 years, worked for them for the past year. I have also been a college prof for 15+ years. So far, there is not a single Bible software program that meets every need. BibleWorks is for Windows. Logos is for Windows (though they now have an alpha release for Mac). Accordance is for Mac, but runs on Windows only under an emulator. The easiest program to use is Accordance, which is also generally the scholar’s choice. I also like the fact that their levels start so inexpensively and the student can move up with no penalty. [Obviously] it gets my vote.

    From a faculty point of view, having everyone on the same kind of computer running the same program would be ideal. [I taught at a seminary that required BibleWorks for everyone. The Mac users were miffed.] Alternately, using a single program that works well on all computers would be fine. Unfortunately, none of us are there yet. Maybe if we all just cross our fingers and pray…?

  12. Joe Miller

    Good question!

    The “I am a Mac” vs. “I am a PC” argument though will be moot in a few months when Logos finalizes development on their Mac platform which will have all the core functionality of the windows version. This would make it easy for a prof to require Logos and they could easily give instructions to everyone no matter which OS they have chosen.

    I am not saying I agree they should require one or the other, but just that part of the argument wont matter by mid 2010.

    God bless!

  13. Joe Miller

    Oh, and quite frankly I may also come down to which books are available. If one company has the resources needed for the coursework, then that software will win out regardless of platform.

  14. Karyn Post author

    Hi Joe, thank you for stopping by. I agree that the next “leap” in the Logos program is planned to make the Mac and PC versions co-equal. I do applaud Logos for this. The only way for Bibleworks or Accordance to be run on a cross-platform machine is with an emulator. I always prefer to run programs native on the local operating system.


  15. Daniel Van Minnen

    When Bibleworks, Logos and Accordance are all cross platform, and cheaper, then one can think about requiring it.

    I got by with a lot (but not all) of what I needed with convenient nav buttons to the right websites before. It’s not as good, but good enough for too many right now. And I am talking about my seminary classmates. The general public (which we presumably are doing this for) is even less inclined.

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  18. Robert Schaefer

    I notice several readers have expressed reservations here regarding the financial burden of requiring students to purchase Bible software. As a pastor who will be paying off his student loans for a very long time, I can certainly sympathize. But I remember spending ridiculous sums on lexicons, grammars, interlinear Bibles, and other basic references that were required texts. It seems to me that the difference in cost between these books and a Bible software package that would include digital editions is negligible. Assuming professors didn’t require both hard copy and software, I don’t think there would be a huge financial burden to requiring Bible software for all students.

  19. jonathon

    If the point of seminary is to learn how to use a specific program, with the seminary secure in the knowledge that, due to obsolescence, the individual won’t be using that software after they graduate, then mandate a specific program, that only runs on a specific operating system.

    If, OTOH, the point of seminary is for a student to learn how to study and analyze the Bible, and related literature, then let the student pick the operating system, and software program of their choice.

    How many students, graduates, or seminary professors could successfully do all five items in the SBL Bible Software Shootout, using only dead tree editions?

    How many students, graduates, or seminary professors could successfully do all five items in the SBL Bible Software Shootout, using Xiphos and Ubuntu Christian Edition as their operating system?

    For Bible Study Software, the crucial elements are:
    * The resources that are available;
    * The toolset that enables one to produce new data;

    At BibleTech 2008, Sean Boisen described the future as being entirely web based. Craig Rairdin, in his talk, proclaimed the future was platform independent licensing. Stephen Johnson, in his talk, described the Bible Study Software future as cross platform development.

    All three are trying to get a handle on crucial issues: Data portability; Future Proofing; What happens when you change your platform;

    Mobile devices have a half life of almost one year.
    The half life of a laptop is just under two years.
    The half life of a desktop is roughly 30 months.

    What Bible Study Software uses the same file format in 2005 and 2010?

    What Bible Study Software was distributed in both 2000, and 2010? (Version upgrades are acceptable.)

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