The Northern Spy
Bible and Bible Study Software
We're not talking about "bibles", say about some piece of software or the Mac platform here, Nellie. The software under review this month relates to the real thing--front ends to search the Scriptures in the original languages and multiple translations. These packages are for the person who wants to move into the twenty-first century from the massive old paper versions of Strong's and Young's concordances, Nave's Topical Bible, interlinear Hebrew-Greek-English, and parallel KJV-NASB-NIC-RSV that can consume vast resources of scholars' study space and time. The sixty-six books of the standard English Bible (plus Apocrypha) are the most analyzed collection of books on any subject, and these electronic packages simultaneously take their study both to new heights of efficiency and to greater depths of scholarship. (You want to search the Dead Sea Scrolls, in the original language of course, for all occurrences of a particular word or grammatical construction? You want to put up the book of Isaiah in Hebrew, Latin, Greek, English and Norwegian side-by-side? Want to know what Calvin, Luther, Bunyan, Darby, and Spurgeon said about a topic? a verse? It can be done.)
There is of course nothing on any computing platform directly comparable to Accordance (currently version 5.5), the MacOS-only Rolls-Bentley of all Bible study software. The basic program consists of a multi-faceted user interface to a search engine capable of summarizing information gleaned from numerous plug-in modules, which can be Bible versions, commentaries, word studies, map collections, dictionaries, your personally-created modules, or assorted other tools--singly or in concert. The program runs under OS 7 or above, or on OS X, and walks in a Mac emulator on Pentium boxes (see www.torahresource.com). It is available from the creators, Oak Tree Software, or from distributor Gramcord (source of both the grammatically taged texts and of their own Bible program for Windows.) Additional information, announcements and free resource exchange are available via on line links from either or both.
In Accordance, one can of course perform simple or complex searches on single or multiple files, copy material into new windows, create one's own modules, put up parallel Bible versions side-by-side, speak text from a window, and, with the right modules, search by grammatical constructs in Greek or Hebrew. Prospective buyers should sample the limited module, timed-run demo before buying, as the wow factor requires first hand experience, and it is difficult to describe all the features Accordance offers. Suffice it to say that it is possible to make one's desktop layout within the program as elaborate as one wishes to imagine. Some of my Religious Studies colleagues (especially those in TWUs prestigious Dead Sea Scrolls Institute) need twenty-four inch monitors just to display all the information with which they customarily multitask.
For the lowest level personal tool collection, $59 buys the Accordance program, and various non-royalty modules, including ASV, Darby, KJV with Strong's and Apocrypha, World English Bible, and Young's Bible versions. Also included are the Easton Dictionary, KJV Dictionary, Nave's Topical Bible, Strong's, Henry's Commentary, Wigram's Hebrew Verb Parsings, paralled database tools, and an assortment of other books and commentaries.
For $139, you get all the above plus the NAS group (NAS 95 with Strongs, Notes, Greek, and Hebrew) and Classic I group (references such as Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown, additional devotional and other books). The classic II group adds the Textus receptus and Majority Greek texts (both untagged at this level), Calvin's complete commentary and other reference tools, plus another wad of books, including the Fathers, Calvin's Institutes, Foxe, selected works of Luther, Warfield, Whitfeield, the Wesleys, Edersheim, and Milton, Pascal's Pensees, and Patrick. Numerous other modules are available by buying a $49 CD and purchasing unlocking codes at $30 per module. Site licenses are also available.
Since users can create their own modules, Accordance could be used as a front end to search text books, software and hardware documentation (including multiple-language instantiations), flat text records, and other materials with the same degree of sophistication.
But that's only for starters. Scholars and students might want to buy the Scholar's collection instead for $59, and purchase unlocking codes (prices vary) for such things as:
- Grammatically tagged Greek NT, LXX, Hebrew OT, or Apostolic Fathers, Greek and Hebrew Grammars
- Louw & Nida, LEH, Liddell and Scot, Hebrew, Brown-Driver-Briggs (Abridged), Jenni-Westermann, or Spicq Lexicons,
- Samaritan Pentateuch, Mishna (Hebrew or Neusner English translation), Jewish Readings & Prayers, and Hebrew New Testament.
- NIV, NRSV, RSV, Vulgate, German (3), French, Italian, Finnish (2), Norwegian, Albanian and other Bibles.
- Qumran Secular Manuscripts (grammatically tagged, and New English Translation) and Qumran Index.
Other add-on commercial products, some from other manufacturers, include a Bible Atlas, Bible Photo Guide, additional Bile software Library, NIV study Bible, Expositor's Bible Commentary, and Anchor Bible Dictionary. This list is a sampling, not intended to be exhaustive. If you are a Biblical scholar or serious student wishing to delve into the Greek and Hebrew grammar, and cost is not much of an object (unlocking fees can add up sharply) Accordance is the must-have tool, your killer app that you buy a Mac in order to run. In fact, it is the only realistic contender to Excel for the title of best application program ever, any platform, any price. Indeed, with the slippages in bug control lately, Accordance may have passed Microsoft's one and only good offering for the overall lead.
If you want to spend a little less, settle for a more pedestrian and not quite so fully-featured user interface, or just don't need grammatical tagging, Canadian Ken Hamel's Mac variant of Online Bible (currently version 3.0.1) should do the trick, and then some. The distributor is By The Book, who also sell the church management software Roll Call, Church clip art, and a separate map package. OnLine Bible runs in Classic (for me since at least system 7) and a Carbonized edition is in the works. A Windows program of the same name, also from By The Book, shares most texts and features, but has a different interface. The best thing is the price--free if all you want is to download the basic program, KJV and other non-royalty texts, $40 (CDN $50) if you want a CD and manual with additional resources (free program upgrades online). A deluxe edition with more Bible versions and resources is $90 (CDN $120). Prices may vary with distributor. Note that the Windows variant of Online Bible, though available from the same sources, is a different program, and by a different author.
There isn't quite the same level of user interface sophistication, tool availability or ancillary commercial support here. Gramcord texts, the Anchor Bible, NIV Study Bible, and modern copyrighted commentaries such as Expositor's aren't yet available for OnLine Bible, and the OS X version is yet to come. However, for most pastors and non-seminary students, especially those in a hurry, OLB is much more than adequate as a Bible search and study program. It also costs a lot less.
Neither does OnLine Bible skimp on the texts—on the contrary, many that Accordance includes as part of paid packages are either online or unlocked on the basic CDs for no additional charge. This includes Greek, Latin, and Hebrew resources, numerous Bible translations to English and other modern languages, dozens of commentaries and study aids, and many of the same references as Accordance offers. (Interlinear Textus Receptus, Strong, Nave, BDB, Thayer, Easton, Bunyan, Calvin, Wesley, etc.) There are some that Accordance appears to lack, including Darby, Robertson, Spurgeon, and others. Assorted additional books can be downloaded from the distributor sites free of charge.
Modern translations can be unlocked for fees ranging from $10 to $20, considerably less than with OakTree's Accordance. In addition, OnLine Bible offers its deluxe CD with unlocked NIV, NASV, NRSV, KNKJV, and NLT, with the Complete Jewish Bible and Lamsa RVR '60 unlockable.
One can do complex searches on single or multiple books, save notes, transfer material to a word processor, synch versions in parallel windows, create and save note files, work with the reference material, and create verse lists, among other things. In other words, for all but the in-depth scholar who wants to research Greek and Hebrew grammatical constructions, OnLine Bible can do the job and then some. I've used it successfully for many years, found almost no bugs, and gotten fast, reliable results.
The Bottom Line
Other companies have from time to time gotten into this market on the Mac, but left, unable to take the competition from these two powerful, tried-and-true packages. Zondervan marketed their own software for a time, then replaced it with a specially packaged version of Accordance. Parsons Technology (Windows leader in popular level Bible software) was also at one time a Macintosh company, but gave up entirely in the face of superior competition. Accordance and Online Bible deserve to have this Mac market niche sewn up.
You shouldn't settle for cheap imitation hardware and operating systems. Likewise, when you go to the software market, you should buy the best. Notwithstanding Gramcord, Parsons and the Windows variant of Online Bible, every Bible student ought at least to own and use Ken Hamel's masterpiece on the Mac. And, my advice to aspiring heavyweight Bible scholars: Buy a Mac to run Accordance, then tack Online Bible onto your application set for insurance. You won't regret it, and hey, you might just learn something with slightly longer-term applications than those of any other software you've ever owned.
--The Northern Spy