No matter what software program I bet there are features you never used, seldom use or don’t even know exist. My dad owned an old ‘72 Oldsmobile and he worked on it a lot, mostly because it was a piece of junk. But he could work on it. Now, you need an engineering degree to work on an Oldsmobile or almost any car. You can do a few simple things like change tires, batteries and plugs. But the real work needs a computer system and a specialist with training most of us don’t possess. Bible software feels like that today.
Early Days of Bible Software
I’ve been using Bible software since I got my first computer back in the early 90s. It was QuickVerse, a program that back then, ran on a handful of 5.25-inch black floppy disks because the hard drive didn’t have space for it. It pretty much did two things, that I can remember anyway. You could read and search the NIV Bible.
If you searched for a broad term like grace or God, then you had to swap out the disks one after another as you looked through the hits on your search. The Pentateuch sat on disk one, the rest of the history books on disk two, poetry and major prophets on three and so on. I may be wrong about the break down, because … you know … it was nearly 30 years ago. But that was all I think it could do – search and display the NIV.
Now, you can install 24 GB of books and content on your hard drive. The menu of features rolls off the screen when you click it. You look at the books and you see dozens of ways to look at the data included. If I used everything in my chosen programs, I’d never have to time actually write my sermons. I’d study the passage for 60 hours.
I know that some people need very advanced searching and data presentation tools, but for the ordinary pastor who preaches simple sermons week-in-and week out, the answer is an YES!!! Many Bible Software programs are way too complicated.
Why is Bible Software So Complicated?
When I first started writing Bible study software reviews, I felt like I could share with my readers all the great features with some depth. Now, I’m just scratching the surface in a 2,000 word review. Recently I shared a 3,000 word review and still felt like I didn’t really cover all that the program could do.
Why is this so complicated? First, I think the developers are trying to please everyone in one package. More people are reading the Bible digitally than ever before, but few people go in depth the way a pastor or Bible scholar needs to. So, the program developer wants to make it useful for the person who just wants to read devotions on their Bible and the scholar who needs to do intricate searches.
Average Christians want to read the Bible and occasionally find out who King Darius was or see a map of where Edom might be. They would like the notes they get with their physical copy of a favorite Study Bible.
However, a pastor needs more. He wants to study what the original author intended to say and how translation effects the meaning of key ideas in a passage. What does it mean when Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 “Give thanks in everything for that is God’s will in Christ Jesus.” He can look up the words translated “give thangs” and “will” in any number of great lexicons. He can search on the Greek term and find every form of it in Paul’s letters, the whole New Testament or even the Old Testament Septuagint.
A scholar studying an obscure topic like the use of prepositions in poetry can get deep into technical things like textual criticism, Hebrew or even Aramaic study and more.
All of these purposes show up in some of the more complicated and powerful programs like Accordance Bible Software and Logos Bible Software. Some used to use BibleWorks before it went out of business.
Should Average Christians Use Complicated Bible Software?
Yes! That was easy. Here’s why.
The Christian is meant to grow deeper in their understanding and appreciation of God’s word. Sure, you can do that with a simple Bible app so long as you have some books in your library. But it’s just easier to grow more advanced with a program that offers a higher ceiling.
Let me illustrate with my own life. When I left home I took with me a trunk, a suitcase and a few boxes of belongings. This included some clothes, a radio and some mementos. Then I met my wife and we joined our simple collections of belongings. Soon we had our first and then our second son. What fit in the back of my family’s Pontiac Station Wagon in the summer of 1987 got replaced with a house full of stuff that we would struggle to fit in the average Uhaul.
Similarly, a Christians needs for Bible study can and often will grow with their discipleship. At first, you do well to read a few verses a day out of the Bible. Then you start needing to know more and you want a Bible dictionary, an atlas and a good study Bible. If you start to teach a Bible study now that you’ve grown into Christian maturity, a good commentary might help. Then what if God calls you to preach or scholarship.
The biggest mistake yo can make is buy books repeatedly. However, with Digital Bible Study that’s easy to do. Why not start with a powerful program that can grow with you but also makes it easy to read devotions in the early days?
What Should Bible Software Makers Do to Make Their Programs Simpler?
Stop making them too complicated? Again, that was easy. But you know I can’t leave it there. Here’s what I’d like to see from the larger companies.
I’d like to see the Bible software companies focus on a few things. First, focus on speed and simplicity of the User Interface. Bring in customers and experts in design. I have a friend who’s very good at this and he looks at Bible software shaking his head. It could be so much easier to use. Find a UI design genius like Antoine to help with strategies.
Second, make sure your program is fast. I regularly use three programs and one loads in seconds. They all load in seconds actually, but the fastest loads in under 5 seconds on a fast computer. The second one still loads quickly but it does take a little longer. A third takes half a minute to a minute depending in which system I use. Then, when I do work on that third one it takes longer to finish.
During installation all three programs take forever to get set up. I own very large libraries in all three. I wish they would find a way to download and sync with little to no interaction from me. Two of the three require me to reorganize my library each time I install the program because they don’t sync the books list as I have them organized. The slower program does sync the settings and library listings. I don’t know how to solve all these, but I would like to see them focus their creativity here before adding new whiz-bang features.
Let me turn off advertising. I know they gotta make money to keep offering cool features, but I’m going to go months between buying new books for my library. This annoys users and we should be able to limit the amount of advertising.
Focus on feature parity between platforms. Bible software runs on a Mac, Windows, Android tablets and phones, iPhones and iPads, and the Web. Before adding new features to any of those platforms, make them all look and act essentially the same.
I’ll use Wordsearch as an example since it’s now nearly defunct. They had a nice desktop program, a decent web app and a horrendously bad mobile app. One reason I think they got bought out and discontinued by Logos is the pitiful mobile app. If they had spent more time updating the mobile app, they would have succeeded. They didn’t and floundered into failure.