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Studying the options

By Rich Tatum

You need Bible study software. But, how do you pick the right one?

You’re a professional. And, like any pro, you want the right tools for the job.

Your personal library reflects that: It’s full of books chosen for your personal education and regular sermon preparation, including commentaries, biblical-language helps, homiletic aids and helpful insights from others who (like you) are engaged in the work of studying and teaching from the Bible.

But, libraries are bulky and cumbersome. While you’ll gladly spend hours preparing every message, too much valuable time disappears while you search for a dimly remembered passage, track down footnotes, and relocate books from the shelves to your desk and back again.

This is where Bible study software comes in. Of course, choosing the right program can be tricky. Here’s how to navigate the decision.

Questions to ask yourself first
If you view this choice as an investment in a professional tool — rather than a quick, one-time purchase — you’ll make a better decision in the long term. Here are some critical factors to weigh.

Evaluate your needs. Each major Bible study platform has its own strengths and weaknesses. Before choosing between them, you need to determine your primary needs. After all, a small-church pastor’s needs might differ from those of a Bible translator.

  • Do you only need a tool for personal study?
  • Will you mainly access various English versions of the Bible?
  • Do you need tools that will help you translate, parse and exegete a passage?
  • Do you need to perform in-depth word studies across the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts?
  • Do you need a tool that will allow you to access commentaries, sermon archives and the latest offerings from major publishers?
  • Do you need a tool that will allow you to import and search your own sermon manuscripts?
  • Do you need software that runs on multiple platforms?What hardware does it need?
  • If you’re also going to invest in new hardware, which Bible study software can it support?
  • Can you use the software on multiple devices without additional cost? If so, do you need the software to be able to sync across multiple devices? (In other words, if you plan to use the software on a machine at the office and on your iPad at home, do you want to be able to synchronize your reading progress, your notes and your library materials?)
  • Do you need to be able to access your library via the web?

logosView your decision as an investment. Several free options exist to enhance your Bible study and sermon prep — but, free isn’t always better. While great for casual use, these tools rely mainly on public-domain material and won’t help you arrive at the depth of insight you can get by accessing a broader conversation and a more robust body of modern material.

Plus, while you might be able to add additional modules and books for a fee, you’re still left with far fewer options to deepen your research than with commercial software.

Today, major Christian publishers are producing digital versions of their new books and actively converting their backlists, making both new and old titles available through major software suppliers. Sometimes these versions are cheaper than print, but not always. (With the additional features and utility gained within a Bible software library, the content conversion process might drive up the cost.)

As long as money’s on the line, the next step is to decide how to spend it.

  • Can you spread your investment out over time? Are there monthly payment options you can explore so that your expenditure can fit within a monthly budget?
  • Can you convert your monthly book/educational budget into library-building investments with the software of your choice? (For example, Logos Bible Software offers  a “Book Cache” program.)
  • Are there regular discount opportunities you can take advantage of?
  • Can you preorder titles at a discount?
  • If you’re a student, what academic discount options are available?
  • If you plan to return to school, does your institution require a particular Bible study software package?     Does it offer a particular Bible study software program upon enrollment?
  • Are there books, DVDs or courses to help you learn the software package? Are there active user-communities that  can help answer questions down the road?
  • What does the supplier’s future look like? When you buy any software package, you want to know if the company that made it will be around to continue developing and supporting it. The software will grow either more stale and less useful over time, or more useful and dynamic — depending on whether the developer is growing the business or not.

Ask about ownership, end-user-license agreements and licensing options. You might not be buying what you think you are. When buying digital content, what you’re generally purchasing is a license to content — not the content itself. Some suppliers retain the right to remove or restrict access to content you’ve purchased because they’re at the mercy of the publishers, who are the owners of the actual content you own a license to.

  • After you buy a title, what if the publisher decides  to stop offering it?
  • When the publisher or the supplier updates the original content, do you get free updates?
  • Can you sell or give away your library or any of its contents? Can you transfer ownership?
  • What happens to your investment if you die? Can you will it to your son or daughter?

Take the long view. You’ll want to evaluate immediate, off-the-shelf options versus the ability to personalize your collection over time.

Each supplier sells products that come ready-to-use with preconfigured content, and each also offers additional features, books, modules, bundles or packages to customize your initial collection. So, if you have no long-term plans to augment or replace your physical library, you might prefer a solution that has more built in for a cheaper price. But be careful, because that decision could box you in and limit your ability to expand your library as you grow with the software.

  • Does the software come with the English Bible versions you need? What will the necessary translations cost to add?
  • Will you need access to modern commentary offerings? Most of the suppliers provide at least some commentary support out of the box — but, many such commentaries will be low-cost or public-domain, so your options will be reduced if you plan to add the valuable modern commentaries offered by the major publishers.
  • What original-language materials come preinstalled? Some suppliers provide a great deal of initial biblical-language support. Some have limited lexical options until you invest in higher-level offerings of the product or purchase multiple add-on modules.
  • What level of lexical sophistication do you want out of your Bible software application?
  • Which dictionaries, reports, encyclopedias and word-study aids will you be able to take advantage of? Which ones do you need and can’t live without?
  • What kind of digital library do you intend to build over time? Each supplier enjoys different strengths in catalog offerings — but, if you  plan to reduce your personal library tonnage, your options are suddenly much clearer.

Bottom line
While the Bible study software decision is personal, it will profit your professional, personal and spiritual development. Ultimately, the best package is the one you come to use and rely on — not only for study, but also for devotional and spiritual growth.

Rich Tatum helps tell the story of Logos Bible Software online. He is a graduate of Southwestern Assemblies of God University and has worked at integrating technology and faith for more than 25 years. Find him on Twitter.

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