Software Smackdown for the Bible Geek and Interested Layperson

I’ve had some questions lately about what kind of software I use in my studies. There are really only three contenders: Bibleworks, Accordance, and Logos.
I’ve been a BW user for almost 10 years, and Logos for 5. Accordance I’ve only used the demo for and on others’ computers, and seen it demonstrated by the programmers. Nevertheless, I feel familiar enough with Accordance to include it here. This is not, however, a formal review or feature-by-feature comparison. Naturally, as all three programs are aimed at the same general market, there is a good amount of overlap.

Some general notes-
First is the question of platform. If you’re an Apple user from birth, Accordance is probably for you, as it is the only long-time native Apple program. Logos has just released its release candidate for their Apple version. Bibleworks is PC-only, though if you’re a switcher or dual-system user like me, BW runs very well under Parallels and VMWare.
Second is the question of approach. Bibleworks does not intend to be an electronic library but markets itself as text-centric, and indeed, at this it excels. Complex searches, even comparing different texts or translations, are easy to input and return results almost immediately, even on older systems. (Time-taken displays with each search.) Logos is more of an electronic library with a broader mandate- commentaries,
devotional books, historical, archaeological, etc. Accordance takes a middle ground, with fewer books and resources than Logos, but more of a focus on Bible text-search functionality.

I know many PC users who run both BW and Logos in complementary ways. The programmers have actually worked out a way to pass words and references from BW to Logos so you can two-click out of BW into Logos. For example, I can right-click a verse in BW, open a menu and click, and Logos will run a search through all my commentaries and grammatical resources to find wherever that verse is commented on. Then I read through my resources in Logos.

All three programs have a learning curve, but have very responsive forums, blogs, etc. BW also includes a slew of helpful video files keyed to the help.

What stands out about each program? What are its plusses and minuses from my point of view?

Bibleworks-

  1. Blazing speed, even in complex searches. BW really sets thestandard here for ease and speed in setting up, running, and seeing search results. (Though Accordance, partly due to programming and partly due to being Apple-based, has some ways of displaying search results that put BW to shame.)
  2. Amazing bang-for-the-buck. BW includes lots of things in the base package that you pay through the nose for in Logos and Accordance- Gesenius, full BDB, Joüon, Waltke/O’Connor, Wallace to name a few, a mass of original texts in morphologically-tagged Greek or Hebrew AND English (Josephus, Philo, Pseudepigrapha, Targums, Peshitta, Apostolic Fathers).
  3. While BW has virtually every Bible translation you can think of in a multitude of languages (though not always the notes), it also has a robust text importer so you can make your own or import other things. What this translates into is that I have copies of all the LDS scriptures, and do much of my study thereon. This is a unique feature among these three programs.
  4. Notes – I can keep three kinds of notes in BW; one set opens automatically when I’m in that verse, a second set for when I’m in that chapter, and a third set untied to any particular passage, which I use for thematic, topical, or teaching notes. These notes can include links to passages, the Web, documents on your hard-drive, or “bookmarked” spots in Logos books. For example, my notes on the siege of Jerusalem include links to the Assyrian account of the siege in both ANET and COS. Clicking on them opens up Logos and the book to the right spot. (This is not yet implemented in the Mac version of Logos, and I don’t know how, under Parallels, I’d instruct it to pass web links out of XP through Parallels into Logos-Mac.) I’ve spent time going through all my past scriptures, lessons, notes, etc., and now everything is essentially in BW. (The note files are rtf-format, but with a custom extension.)
  5. BW staff are VERY responsive to feature requests, especially after a new version comes out. (BW 8 arrives in December.) They’re always responsive to bug notices.
  6. BW lacks syntax searching, an OT textual apparatus (like Logos and Accordance, which both have the BHS and new BHQ apparatus available), and some other grammatical texts I’d like. I wish I had some more options in terms of layout, etc. as Accordance offers.
  7. I understand BW’s focus, and appreciate the functionality that focus has provided. But I wish BW would include more notes short of commentaries, such as those from the NIV Study Bible (Zondervan has its own kludgy proprietary software on PC, so their stuff is available through Accordance) and the Jewish Study Bible (available in Accordance.)
  8. An intangible complaint- BW feels NT-oriented, and I am not an NT scholar. (I have a similar complaint for Logos.) There are more texts  and resources for the NT scholar than the Jewish or OT scholar. To some extent, this is a marketing consideration. Many people willing to spend money on something like this are Protestant Christians, and that often means a Greek or NT focus. That said, I have been largely content with BW’s offerings for the OT. (I’d like some other databases, like Inscriptions, for example. I’ve had to buy them in Logos instead, and that lacks the oomph and ease of BW’s Hebrew/Aramaic searching. I was tempted by Accordance’s setup of the inscriptions, but still haven’t committed to spending money there.)
  9. Bibleworks 8 is to appear in December. Details are up on the site, and I’ve seen it in person, but not used it extensively. BW also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, so feel free to order, install, and try it out yourself.
  10. www.bibleworks.com , bibleworks.com/forums, and http://bibleworks.oldinthenew.org/ for a blog repository of user-produced texts and other things.

Logos-

  1. The engine itself, the program, is free. You pay for books and texts you want. Some are free, like the abridged BDB Hebrew lexicon.
  2. This program is what I wished the LDS databases had been back in the day. (Every time a new LDS program is introduced, such as Gospelink, the interface becomes dumber and dumber, and no new content is ever added.) Think of Logos as FolioViews on crack; everything is linked to everything else, with some exceptions.
  3. Responsive. When I’ve raised complaints or concerns about something, Logos reps have often worked with me in personal ways.
  4. When Logos decides to publish a book, you can often buy it at a large discount through the Pre-publication program. This is the only way I have been able to acquire my library, given my general lack of coin as a student. (See the Making of a Pre-pub)
  5. Logos has more texts and books available than BW (not being a library program) and Accordance. Lots of stuff available, including scholarly and semi-scholarly books. Sometimes you can buy books that include a disk with the unlocked Logos version for free, such as Collins’ Introduction to the Hebrew Bible.
  6. Logos is noticeably Evangelical-oriented, particularly if you spend any time in the newsgroup. Lots of useless fluff in the packages. This is understandable for marketing reasons, but still off-putting. I don’t own any Logos packages for those reasons, though I’ve purchased many individual books and sets. Recently they started putting together some other books into themed bundles, some of which are relevant and attractive.
  7. Logos can import texts, IF you pay for a special module which has to be renewed each year. Unlike BW you can’t distribute them to other people UNLESS you pay some more cash. I have not used this and wouldn’t based on the a) yearly license renewal and b) BW’s superior and included importing and searching capabilities.
  8. Reverse interlinears from Logos are very useful if you have little or no Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic training, but still want to play with those languages. See here for a lengthy video description. To my knowledge, Accordance has something similar, though weaker, and BW doesn’t have anything similar, though they both offer other ways of working with original languages.
  9. Logos is at work on version 4 for PC, which I have not seen. The Mac version will continue to be updated feature-wise.
  10. www.logos.com, blog.logos.com, logos.com/prepub, logos.com/mac (forum is a newsgroup) news://news.logos.com

Accordance-

  1. Lots of customizability totally unavailable in the other two. Excellent for the control freak who likes to tweak every setting.
  2. Along those lines, Bibles display in their poetic layout in Accordance, which is nice.
  3. Accordance is a native Mac program, and has been Mac-only from the beginning. This translates into a program that feels very Mac-like, looks very nice, and functions beautifully.
  4. The balance between text-focused functionality and electronic library, in terms of both availability of texts and functionality is attractive.
  5. Accordance offers the availability of texts I can’t find anywhere else like the Textbook of Aramaic Documents, “popular” Zondervan stuff like the NIV Study Bible and NIDOTTE, Jewish Study Bible, Hebrew/English Talmud Bavli, Qumran Sectarian texts (coming to Logos), Samaritan Pentateuch, etc.
  6. First to offer cross-grades, though they are currently quite limited. That is, if you buy an electronic text for another program and eventually decide to switch programs completely, you can get a discount for buying the same book in another format.
  7. EXPENSIVE. Generally, you pay for everything. There’s no prepub program like Logos, and while there are lots of different packages available, it’s potentially quite pricey.
  8. Can’t import other texts as text, to my knowledge.
  9. Accordance’s offerings and forums feel more scholarly and less NT/EV than BW and Logos. There are Catholic, Jewish, and other sets, as well as texts that I feel the other two would not market due to perceived or real unprofitability.
  10. Accordance offers a demo, which is very limited, as well as not the most recent update (8.0 instead of 8.1). I should also note that many of the screenshots on the site reflect an older version of the text that looks… not as good. What you get is much better than what you sometimes see.
  11. I regret, in some ways, that I really really like Accordance… but found Apple only recently and have already invested so much money and time in these other two programs.
  12. http://Accordancebible.com, http://accordancebible.com/blog/, http://accordancebible.com/forums/

What do I recommend? I’m a big BW fan, but what works best for you will be a function of how much original language work you do, what platform you’re on, and how much money you have. And of course, nothing says you can’t own all three :)

Questions?

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com David Clark

    I just looked at the prices, OUCH! Of course this is coming from a Linux bigot who hasn’t actually purchased any software for over 5 years now. So, anything above zero seems like a lot to me. I guess I will have to take the dip at some point and buy one. It looks like Bibleworks is the only one that runs in a non emulator environment (Wine) which makes it easier for me to run.

    I am just curious what is the typical usage for this stuff? Is this just for shortening research times? Do you read entire books using this software, i.e. is it a substitute for reading dead-tree versions of books such as commentaries?

  • http://ldskaitabiblia.wordpress.com/ The Yellow Dart

    Thanks for the reviews!

  • Kevin Barney

    Wow, this is terrific, Nitsav. I’ve always been curious about these programs, but I’ve never pulled the trigger on any of them. I worry that since I lack the general computer chops that you have, it might be harder for me to figure these things out. In any event, that’s a decision for the future, as with two kids in school I don’t have any money. But I deeply appreciate you going through these various options in such detail; very helpful notes.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com Nitsav

    David, I try to avoid reading whole books online, since my screen isn’t great.

    The advantage is largely one of convenience- keep track of all my scripture notes. Do searches that would take hours and hours in one second. Find references and articles very quickly. AND, carry around a massive library.

    If I have my laptop, I have the following- All the “original” language texts, important translations, my notes, multiple commentaries (I own the one-volume Oxford and Harper’s, plus the 59-volume Word Biblical Commentary and the JPS Torah commentary), a lot of important historical texts (ANET, COS, Lichtheim’s 3-volume Egyptian texts, Amarna letters, Dead Sea scrolls in Hebrew/ARamaic/English, Josephus, Philo, Ugaritic translations, NWS Inscriptions etc.), the entire back issues of some periodicals (Biblical Archaeology Review and Bible Review, Semeia and (soon), some of the Journal of Biblical Literature, Journal of NWSemitics), various history books and grammars, the Anchor Bible Dictionary…

    It facilitates research in a multitude of ways and makes my backpack lighter :)

    It also makes available a lot of things that aren’t available online, and it wouldn’t be worth owning the paper copies, but electronically, what’s the downside?

  • Secco

    Nitsav,

    Thanks so much for this posting. I’ve been using Accordance for >5 years, and have accumulated many of the texts you mention. Being a long-time Mac user, Accordance was the only real game in town.

    From my experience, my best investments (beyond the tagged texts and primary languages) are NIDOTTE/NIDNTT, Anchor Bible Dictionary, JPS Torah, WBC/EBC, and an easy electronic version of some of my favorite study bibles, esp Schocken, Jewish Study Bible, and NET. I’ve actually found that the Life Application Bible can be helpful for coming up with homiletic approaches eg Sunday School, Seminary, Institute lessons, etc.

    Two questions. First, I’ve been wondering about buying an Apparatus for Accordance. Do you have any recommendations? I noticed the Studienbibel was on sale at SBL, but I didn’t buy it. Are the modules it includes adequate? Given what is available for those of us who can’t really read Greek/Hebrew eg the excellent notes in the NET, is an Apparatus really valuable?

    Second: I inquired a few years back whether Accordance would consider adding support for LDS materials: I’d love to have the LDS Standard Works (and footnotes, bible dictionary, etc.) incorporated. Helen Brown basically said if there was a market for it, they would do it. Would anyone else be interested in this? It would need to be for $, but I would definitely pay. If we could go to them with a number of interested customers, maybe they would step up…

  • Kevin Barney

    I would think that without a knowledge of the languages, an apparatus would be of limited utility.

    Jack Welch (through research assistants) is actually working on an English apparatus to the NT (basically a translation of the UBS apparatus) as part of the BYU NT Commentary series. I thought that was a brilliant idea when I learned of it. I bet if someone wanted to create such a tool and make it generic (i.e., not specifically part of a Mormon publication), you could probably sell a bunch of them through Christian bookstores.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com Nitsav

    The Studienbible includes, in English, the complete apparatus for both the BHS Old Testament and the UBS 4th edition. So what you see onscreen should match what you would see in the scholarly edition. BHQ is now replaing the BHS apparatus, but it’s far from complete. (Both are included.)

    One fo the advantages of the BHQ apparatus is that the editors rank the value and probability of the variants being “original” whereas BHS simply lists the variants without any editorial comments. Given that aspect, as well as the fct that electronic editions have pop-ups to “translate” the technical notation, BHQ could probably be used by a non-specialist.

    Textual criticism is its own speciality, and while I could translate a particular BHS text-critical section, I lack the text-critical chops to really evaluate it fully and completely.

    Regarding LDS material in Accordance, I think it would be useful. I probably wouldn’t pay for it since I already have it in Bibleworks, but I’d encourage others to ask. The Church would likely not license the 1981 BoM.

    I do wish that something like Gospelink existed in the Logos or Accordance engine, with everything cross-linked to everything else.

  • Secco

    An English translation of the UBS apparatus indeed sounds wonderful. Do you know how far along Welch’s efforts are? I agree a standalone version would be of widespread interest.

    I must confess that the NET translators’ notes have often left me satisfied that I can get access to the critical discussion despite my lack of Greek/Hebrew knowledge. Someday it would be nice to be able to read the original languages, but learning languages just isn’t my gift. (We all have one kind of gift or another, I acknowledge; mine happens to be the ability to find parking. Oh well.)

    Thanks for the guidance re: Studienbible. Sounds useful if/when an apparatus actually ends up being on my list.

  • Kevin Barney

    Secco, I agree that for the average reader’s purposes the NET notes or other commentaries generally are going to give you access to the key text critical issues without needing to consult an apparatus. (I have no idea when the BYU NT commentary volumes will begin to appear.)

  • Nitsav

    For the NT, Bruce Metzger’s Textual Commentary on the Greek NT probably works better than an apparatus, at least for the non-specialist. It was part of the base package in BW 7, and I’m sure it’s available for Logos and Accordance. It should only be $30 or so.

    http://www.accordancebible.com/products/modules/details.php?ID=520#

    http://www.logos.com/products/details/1903

  • http://sundaypage.wordpress.com/ jondh

    Accordance does have an import text feature. I don’t know how it compares to BW, but it seems very limited to me. Requires lots of user work to make it good. Some glitches I still haven’t figured out, but Accordance works hard to improve this feature with each release.

    Accordance is expensive, but they do offer small discounts from time to time. Full-time students receive a 10% discount.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw/ Clark

    I know Accordance has an OSX version. Do the others?

  • NItsav

    Jondh, it sounds like you’ve used the import feature. It imports as html, not as a Bible-like searchable text, right?

    Clark, BW only runs under emulation on Macs. Logos on Mac is a Cocoa app built from the ground up since OSX 10.4, so yes.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/cgw/ Clark

    Whoops. Missed the part where you answered my question. BW is Windows only.

  • http://sundaypage.wordpress.com/ jondh

    Nitsav – Accordance actually has two methods of importing texts: the first is Bible import and the second is user tool import.

    In order to import a Bible, the text file must be formatted in a specific way and must contain biblical verses. This means that even though pseudepigraphical texts may be tehmselves divided into verses, they cannot be imported Bibles because they don’t contain Gen 1:1 or John 3:16, etc. Accordance does indeed offer several non-biblical texts, but I can’t afford them, so I don’t know how they are formatted or how they behave.

    User tool import will import text as html, though the user has some ability to modify the text and divide into sections and subsections, add linked biblical cross-references, etc. I have successfully used this tool to import a Book of Mormon text (from the Gutenberg project), and I’m currently working to improve it. Hopefully some day it will be available for download from the Sunday Page.

  • Rick

    Good discussion all, charitable to products represented.

    One thing that is a bit off is the answer in #7 above:
    The Studienbible includes, in English, the complete apparatus for both the BHS Old Testament and the UBS 4th edition. So what you see onscreen should match what you would see in the scholarly edition. BHQ is now replaing the BHS apparatus, but it’s far from complete. (Both are included.)

    The Apparati contained on the CD are not necessarily in English, and the Greek does not correspond to the UBS4 apparatus. The BHS Apparatus is in Latin, while the NA27 Apparatus itself is Latin, but the introduction is in English. As mentioned the NT Apparatus corresponds to the Nestle-Aland 27th edition. While the text is predominantly the same, the apparatus is much different in each one. The NA27 is more scholarly, though harder to decipher at first. The great thing about the Accordance edition (not sure on Windows side) is that each critical sigla is hyperlinked to its description in the intro, so you can hover over it and see the description in the Instant Details box below. For an example on how to use the different Apparatus along with the tagged texts see here.

    Accordance also offers the CNTTS Apparatus (now complete except 1-2Cor, and Rev – this update is not yet included in the BW version, but will be), and Tischendorf’s.

    Rick Bennett
    Accordance Development

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com Nitsav

    Thanks for the correction Rick. I’m not sure why I said the apparatus is in English, since I use it (in Logos, anyway.) I’m an OT guy, so I just don’t use the NT apparatus very much.

    Again, thanks for dropping by with useful comments.

  • Al Cantley

    Nitsav (or others)
    I use Bibleworks 8 (BW) and have the BOM database in BW format. Are you aware of any way I can port the cross reference file from the LDS Scriptures from Intellectual Reserve into BW format, dbf, csv, txt, or any standard format? Thanks.

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