I’ve been fortunate to receive a review (meaning “free”) copy of the Scholars base package of Logos Bible Software. The price is that I must post at least two articles reviewing the software — which is exactly what I was going to do anyway.
In April 2010 I received a review copy of the competing product, BibleWorks, and posted a number of articles regarding that product. Since then, it has replaced all my other Bible research software, so much so that I paid for the upgrade to version 10 a few weeks ago. It’s proved invaluable in my research.
But it has its flaws and annoyances, and I wondered whether Logos might be a better product. I had already discovered that Logos offers an iPhone app that would allow me to do some Bible research sitting in church or Bible class — if I owned one of their packages. It was an overwhelming temptation for a Bible wonk such as myself. And so I begged for a free copy — one of the very few economic benefits that comes from being a blogger.
I requested the Scholars Library because it’s targeted toward textual and original language studies — which is the primary reason I use Bible software. Logos does much more than that, and so it’s not really an apples-to-apples comparison.
Logos is sold in a host of base packages. The package I have is the Scholars Library, presently on sale for $535.46 — no trivial sum. The list price is $629.95. The BibleWorks package I own costs $359.95 — still expensive as software goes, but not as much.
I should note that Logos also sells an Original Language base package that has most (not all) of the original language resources provided in the Scholars package, and it costs $419.95, which is much more price competitive with BibleWorks.
Per their website, the Scholars Library includes —
43 Bibles and Interlinears
24 Reference Books
27 Bible Intro & Surveys
29 Maps, Photos, Media
26 Preaching & Teaching
75 Ministry Resources
38 Original Languages Grammars & Tools
…and 250+ other Resources
Some of these materials are public domain, but most are not. And this is a much larger library than BibleWorks. BibleWorks has some resources not found in Logos’ Scholars package (such as Thayer’s Greek dictionary and the Early Church Fathers), but Logos has vastly more total resources.
Indeed, Logos serves as an eReader application. You can download an app for your iPhone or iPad and read Logos eBooks. And they have a vast library of scholarly and popular Christian literature, many of which are not available in eBook form from Amazon.
Their sister website Vyrso sells electronic versions of popular Christian literature, and this time of year, they’re even giving away a number of eBooks and having dramatic sales on others. For example, John Piper’s Holy Ambition is being given away for free until Christmas.
But my own interest is in hardcore Bible research. Therefore, I’m not interested in the features that help me build word puzzles for children (although I would have been 20 years ago) or “verse of the day” pop ups. Rather, I want to be able to sort out the meaning of “repent” in Acts 2:38 by seeing how the Greek is used throughout the scriptures, including the Septuagint. Once in a while, I’d even like to dig through the Old Testament Apocrypha in Greek — but with lots of help, because my Greek skills are limited. And if I could poke around a bit in the Early Church Fathers, that would be great, too.
If could have access to someone else’s scholarship via commentaries to see if I’m reading things correctly and maybe get some ideas I wouldn’t have found on my own, now, that would be perfect.
I have this crazy idea that software should be designed to make your life easy. These programs have been on the market for a long time. They should be as consumer-friendly and intuitive as the iPad or iPhone. It’s rare that I have to actually use the instructions to use my iPhone or the dozens of iPhone applications I have. Therefore, I shouldn’t have to read the instructions or watch videos to use these programs (although both offer instructional videos and other help features).
On the other hand, I realize that Logos is a very sophisticated program designed to do more things than I would even think to ask of it. And so I expect to suffer from some instructional time. But it shouldn’t be much. And none for basic Bible study. Zero.
That’s a tough standard, but this is the 21st Century, and that’s today’s market.
The out-of-the-box experience
I received my copy by download from the Logos website. Once it downloaded, the software took quite a long while to build an index, that is, a database that cross-references all the words in all the texts in the package.
When the program finally finished indexing itself, I was presented with a homepage. Now, I work on a 22″ monitor. I think you need at least that much visual real estate to make the best use of Logos (or BibleWorks). Both programs run multiple windows, which you can customize, and you need them.
The home screen for Logos is slick. There’s a “book of the day” (which is in the package, not a sale offer), a welcome paragraph with a link to the sales being offered by Vyrso, a link to download some free books off Vyrso, an excerpt from a commentary dealing with baptism, a sale offer on the New Interpreter’s Bible and Dictionary, some verses to read for Advent, a link to Earthly Footsteps of the Man from Galilee (another book already included), and a place to select my preferred English Bible translation (ESV).
And so the home page is both marketing of new material and an effort to acquaint me with what I’ve already bought — which makes some sense given that I just downloaded hundreds of books. At least it’s not a Flash program, and it doesn’t play music.
At the top of the page are tabs for Home, Library, Search, Files, Guides, Tools, a search box, Layouts, and Help. So I start by typing “Acts 2:38” in the search box.
I was then offered the options to go to the verse, to hear the verse read aloud (not interested), or to search in the “top Bibles” or “entire library.” I picked the entire library.
I was then presented with a new screen, divided into 6 windows, with various tabs. It was actually a bit overwhelming. There were 1,110 results in 120 resources! Too many!
I clicked on the link for “Exegetical Resources” and I’m presented with Apparatuses, Grammars, Visualizations, and Word by Word — and a place to write notes. Hmm …
I’m not one to write notes. My notes are the blog — but I’m not a preacher. I can see that being of great help to many, and Logos has places to add notes everywhere. BibleWorks also has note features, but they are not nearly as extensive.
Visualizations took me to three texts that do sentence-by-sentence parsing of the text. And these all showed a visual representation of each sentence, which I took to be like the diagramming of sentences we used to do in 7th grade. Nice, but not much help for what I do.
The Grammars window was grayed out. Evidently, I have no Greek grammars. (BibleWorks has a few, and at times, I find them very helpful.) However, an Old Testament verse search turns up four Hebrew grammars.
Apparatuses takes me to Apparatus for the Greek New Testament: SBL Edition. This provides the critical apparatus, that is, variant readings among the ancient manuscripts. The apparatus is simplified to largely compare the Westcott-Hort text (critical text) with the Majority Text (similar to Textus Receptus). But it doesn’t tell me which manuscripts differ. That’s a problem. (I guess I’ll have to keep my old copy of Nestle-Aland.)
BibleWorks also has a critical apparatus feature, which is much more detailed. But I’ve not yet figured out how to read it. (I still use Nestle-Aland.)
Word by Word provides Acts 2:38 in Greek and highlights certain key words. It then provides as to each key word the Greek, a transliteration (thanks!), and English equivalent. It provides a button to hear the word pronounced, the morphology or declension (verb, aorist, active, imperative, second person, plural — in the case of “repent”), with each word linked to a definition.
Thus, I can look up “aorist” to learn the impact of the aorist tense in that passage. Cool. BibleWorks does not do this. I have to look up the sense of “aorist indicative” in a book.
Finally, I’m given 7 Greek dictionaries to look up “repent.” Some are highly abbreviated (little more than “repent”), whereas others offer pages of discussion. Again, cool. This is more dictionaries than BibleWorks, which has six.