Tips on How to Use your Computer for Bible Study

An Electronic Bible Study Guide
Audio MP3
 

These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.—Acts 17:11

Jeff Mezera

Since the 18th to 19th centuries, a boom in Bible reference materials has helped the Christian student of the Scriptures come to a better understanding of the word of God. Multiple Bible translations, Hebrew/ Greek/English interlinears, and reference works such as Strong’s Concordance, Bible encyclopedias, dictionaries, maps, and numerous biblical commentaries have proven tremendous aids for the studious Christian.

With the advent of the computer and Internet in the last century, and the prevalence of Bible study software, these tools are now available with just a few keystrokes and clicks of a mouse. With programs like these, anyone can find a reference as easily and as fast as it can be typed. Concordance searches are exponentially faster, providing opportunities previously impossible, such as searches on multiple words or phrases, partial words, and Strong’s numbers. If so desired, these searches can be done in any combination or even all at the same time. Search results are found in mere seconds and can easily be copied to text or word processors for a Bible study.

In the previous two decades most of the known writings of the Bible Students of the past century have been put in electronic format. Over several years, the writings of Pastor Russell were meticulously keyed in by pairs of typists. A computer program was used to compare electronically the two texts to find differences. Anything that did not agree was flagged by the computer for correction. These finalized texts were eventually made available to other like-minded Bible Students to use in their own research projects. During the past decade, other Bible Student materials were scanned and a computer program was used to convert the scanned pictures of these books into text without having to type anything.

With many Bible programs available, it can be difficult not only to know what software to choose, but also how to use the tools available. Do not let the many choices overwhelm you. Most Bible programs are easy to use, but ask questions before deciding which software package to utilize. It is important to know how user-friendly the software is, and also how quickly it works. Since many older Bible translations are in the public domain, one must not only decide which translations to use, but also which modern translations to purchase, since these newer versions carry a nominal purchase fee. Determining whether the included reference works are valuable to your type of Bible study is also important, since this would also affect price. Keep in mind when the included materials were published and whether they may be available free as a public domain work elsewhere. Ask yourself if you are looking for devotional or informational materials and what the costs for the software and add-ons might be.

For the Bible Student, ease of access to Bible Student specific materials, such as the writings of Pastor Russell, is an important consideration when choosing which program to use.

A short overview of the most popular Bible study programs is given below, and a chart on page 33 evaluates the features available in each. This list also provides the Bible Student with an analysis of items of interest from the past century-and-a-half.
 

Logos/Libronix

Logos (also known as Libronix) is an advanced analysis tool. It is possibly the most advanced tool, but it is also difficult for the computer novice. Its Library feature allows easy access to commentaries, books, and other purchasable add-on resources, opening a specific scripture and searching all resources on that scripture; but it takes time to learn. Some resources such as Biblical Archaeology Review, the Christian History magazine, and other scholarly materials are available only in Libronix format and not in any other program, making this a bonus for the Christian scholar. The strength of the program lies in the greatest availability of resources, but its weaknesses lie in having no Associated Bible Student resources, and the sometimes extravagant prices of the add-on materials (www.logos.com).

Biblesoft

Biblesoft’s PCStudy Bible is an advanced research tool (www.biblesoft.com). It includes multitudes of modern commentaries, atlases, Bible land photos, history books, Bible studies, grammars, and other modern Christian books. The Hebrew and Greek interlinears show grammar, tense and case; and along with advanced lexicons of Hebrew and Greek words are several pages of definitions and discussions of individual words found in the ancient biblical languages.

While its strengths are remarkable and not found in most Bible programs, its weaknesses are its lack of Bible Student references, its slowness to move from one passage, commentary, resource to another, and its pricing may be prohibitive for some users.
 

Harvest Truth Database [HTDB]

The Harvest Truth Database was the first program available to Bible Students containing Bible Study material, such as Studies in the Scriptures, and a complete collection of the Reprints (1879-1916). It was the first time a Bible Student was able to quickly find every Scripture reference, or topic written by the Pastor. Its weakness is the lack of other materials, Hebrew and Greek resources, and other Bible translations. For study using only the writings of Pastor Russell, this tool is simple enough to use. It contains the Pastor’s foundation writings, but lacks the three-volume Harvest Gleanings series, Convention Report Sermons, and similar works. A free HTML internet-based version is available online at www.agsconsulting.com.

E-Sword

E-sword is a free tool available on the Internet for downloading to a personal computer (www.e-sword.net). It has many of the same resources contained in the basic Online Bible package. Some brethren have made resources specific to the Bible Student: Studies in the Scriptures, Emphatic Diaglott, and a few of the Pastor’s other writings; they are downloadable (www.ctrussell.us). Installation is somewhat cumbersome, but easy enough for the average computer user. Some modern translations are available for purchase and download. The program is fast and easy to use. However, while Bible Student materials are accessible, searching these materials is not possible in the current version of the software.
 

Online Bible

Online Bible is another free tool available on the Internet (www.onlinebible.net). It is one of the oldest of freeware programs, and has the most extensive downloadable library of resources and books of any Bible program, free or for purchase. Several official modules are freely downloadable at the Online Bible web site, and user-made modules, including an audio Bible, are found at several websites (www.ccel.org/olb and www.fundamentalistbaptists/host/olb have the largest databases of materials). It has the most Bible Student related materials at hand, including several difficult-to-find materials of Pastor Russell not available anywhere else (find at www. heraldmag.org). It is the most customizable of the programs, allowing user-created buttons for specific tasks, such as quickly finding a Reprint page by typing the page number, or finding a volume or Reprint reference by double clicking on the reference in the Expanded Biblical Comments. All of the Bible Student resources are searchable. Online Bible is quick and easy to use, but is possibly the most difficult of the programs to install and set up.
 

Adobe Acrobat Based Research Tools

Several biblical materials have been made available in Portable Document Format (PDF), a special type of file that can be read through the freely-distributed program, Acrobat Reader (www.adobe.com). One Christian company (www.ageslibrary.com) distributes Christian literature solely in this format: Bibles, commentaries, histories, devotionals, and other books. AGES Library helped produce the massive McClintock & Strongs’ Cyclopedia set in PDF electronic format.

The strengths of this format are that all the known writings of Pastor Russell are available, along with other writings of the Bible Student movement over the past century; tracts, booklets, books, every issue of nearly a dozen periodicals, and other helps. The weakness is that only one Bible translation, commentary, or study resource can be open at a time.

Internet Tools

Many free online tools (bible.crosswalk.com www.biblegateway.com, and others) duplicate the features and references of several of the programs above. Many Bible versions as well as numerous modern translations are freely available for use, but mostly only public domain resources. Multiple Bible Student resources are also available online. The writings of Pastor Russell or links to them are found at many sites (www.ctrussell.us, www.agsconsulting.com, and others), while multiple or selected writings are found at www.heraldmag.org and www.biblestudents.net.
 

Electronic Study Tips

Although no two resources are alike, most use similar search conventions. Simply type in a word you wish to find and click “Search.” However, this often produces overwhelming results. Searching for a phrase instead of a single word can help, but many are unaware of the best way to generate the results desired.

Many programs use “stemming” technology. This technology means that searching the word “justify” will also bring up such words as “justified,” “justifieth,” “just,” and “justification.” Type the root word to find similar terms, or variations of the root word. Other programs accomplish the same task by typing the root word with an asterisk after it. Try “justif*” to find all of the same stemming results in other programs. If this fails, some programs may use a question mark instead.

One could begin a study on the wedding in Cana with multiple programs or approaches, but without knowing the technical aspects of each resource, the desired results may take longer to find. Searching for multiple words is accomplished in different ways, depending on the resource. When searching the words “wedding” and “cana”, the four lines below illustrate how to do this search in the resources listed above.

1) Wedding AND Cana — Logos

2) Wedding & Cana — Online Bible

3) Wedding + Cana — PC Study Bible

4) Wedding Cana — Google and other Internet search engines will automatically add the boolean search query “AND.”

Adding more words to a search, as well as choosing the right words, helps narrow searches, making it easier and faster to find a useful answer. Most Bible programs allow a search to be limited to a specific book or books desired.

Searching for an exact phrase is also done differently, depending on the source:

1) “Wedding in Cana” — Libronix, PC Study Bible, Google and other Internet search engines.

2) Wedding in Cana — In Acrobat click “exact phrase,” or “Match All of the Words,” (click proximity) and in Online Bible “phrase search.”

Sometimes a combination of different types of search queries can help you find what you want. An exact phrase search is ideal for locating comments on specific Scriptures in different resources. Since not all documents use the same abbreviation for a Scripture citation, try multiple searches for comments on Scriptures. For example try searching for Jerm. 1:1, Jer. 1:1, Jeremiah 1:1, Jer*1:1, or Jer* 1:1.

Even using the techniques above, one can still get vast results if a search term has multiple meanings. Refine your search by limiting words you desire to keep out of your search results. Perhaps you want to find all places where the word “wedding” appears but without the word “cana.” This can be done with a “NOT” type of search as shown below.

1) Wedding Cana — Google, PC Study Bible

2) Wedding NOT Cana — Libronix,

Many article titles and sub-headings in resources are listed in upper case letters, so a search for a word in upper case will often produce areas where a word or topic is covered in greater detail. Such is referred to as a “case-sensitive” search. It means that you want to find only lowercase (as an example, “b”) or uppercase (“B”). This would be important if you look up Eve, wife of Adam, and didn’t want to see every reference to “eve” (time of day), an abbreviated word for evening. Most programs have a check box which allows a “case sensitive” search, though not in Google for which search queries are not case sensitive.

If one is unfamiliar with the types of search queries that can be done, or not sure how to limit searches, look for an “advanced search” link or query which will simplify things by producing several search boxes to find words, exact phrases, “Not” queries, and even searches by date which will help find the newest, or oldest documents available on a subject.

There are more ways to search. Instead of using Google directly, try clicking on its “More” tab at the top and select “Books,” or just go to books.google.com. While both are on the same internet site, they are quite different and produce different results. Google searches multiple sources, while searching with its “Books” tab limits search results to books that can be found in a library (even rare books). Google has partnered with several libraries throughout the world to scan and eventually make every public domain book in the world available. Several of Pastor Russell’s books are available on Google books, as are many resources he quoted from. Other similar Internet sites are doing the same thing (see www.archive.org, bookslive.com). Each resource has a different look and feel; so you will need to experiment to find your favorite interface. Different libraries have partnered with these sites; so try another web site if you cannot find the book or resource you have been searching for. Each site also provides a “download” button which will allow you to save an Adobe Reader copy of the book freely onto your own computer. The only limitations are how much disk space you have and how much of it you wish to devote to the books you desire.

Click Google’s “Advanced search” link to limit searches to the works of just one specific author. This is especially helpful if: you desire to search only that book, you are trying to locate other books by an author, or you do not remember the title of the book. This type of search can also be done in most Bible programs as well. By selecting “Author” in the “Use these additional criteria” section and typing the author’s name, you could search just those writings. Perhaps you want to search only the writings of Edersheim. By selecting “Author” in the “Use these additional criteria” section and by typing “Edersheim” you would limit your search to just the writings of Edersheim. If you want to search just Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, select “Title” in the “Title” area and type “Pilgrim’s Progress” and add your search query to the search section.

E-Bible study may be enhanced by using CONTROL F to find words or phrases in webpages.

What will you do with it?

There are many Bible research programs and tools. Simple tools are available for those unfamiliar with computers, and more advanced resources can provide information virtually inaccessible a decade ago (without spending a lifetime in research libraries). The chart below lists the programs discussed, their available resources, as well as which Bible Student materials are available, their prices, and how easy or difficult they are to use and install.
 


Daniel 12:4 says, “knowledge will increase.”  May the Lord increase your knowledge of him and his plans for mankind as you utilize the tools available.
 

Additional e-Bible Study Aids

Some prefer other e-Bible study aids:

blueletterbible.com Eight English versions, Latin Vulgate, and Hebrew/Greek interlinears. CD may be requested online (for partial capability offline).

mostholyfaith.com [Atlanta Bible Students. Others comment that it is “really well designed.”] Contains King James Version (KJV); Young’s Literal Translation (YLT); the text of RVIC2000 (RVIC) Bible, though without the footnotes; and also for the New Testament, the Wilson Emphatic Diaglott (English without Greek). Optional commentary links to works of Pastor Russell.

bibletoday.com  [Oakland County (Mich.) Bible Students] Sections on Why is the Bible God’s Word?{1} How to Study the Bible; and How to Study Revelation.

www.heraldmag.org The website of the Pastoral Bible Institute accesses all issues of The Herald of Christ’s Kingdom from inception in 1918, and since 1994 issues with themes; also booklets and books. A Polish edition is available, along with two other magazines.

Links to about two dozen other working websites are accessible. For example, clicking on the “Links” oval and then (to the right of) ‘Dawn Bible Students’ will reach www.dawnbible.com. Click on ‘Chicago Bible Students’ to reach www.chicagobible.org. Literature in the Polish language is accessible by clicking on ‘Polish Bible Students.’ The link to ‘Berean Bible Students’ reaches overseas to Australia. Click at ‘The Divine Plan of the Ages’ to access Studies in the Scriptures, vol. 1, The Divine Plan of the Ages, in any of thirty-two languages.
 

Aids for PDAs, Smartphones and iPods

In addition to Bible study aids for personal computers, there are some also available for PDAs, Smartphones and even iPods. One might try www.olivetree.com and www.laridian.com.

A basic HTDB-type collection of Pastor Russell’s writings has been published (2003) in a book reader format used by both PocketPC and PalmOS called iSilo. The bookreader used can be found on www.isilo.com. (It looks like now there is even a beta version of iSilo to read these files on a Blackberry!) The files can be made available, for anyone who would like them, courtesy of nojgrays@verizon.net.

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1. The sections on New Testament manuscripts need correction and updating. The claim of a Syriac (Aramaic) manuscript from about 100 A.D. was never verified. While a majority of the texts listed as “spurious”  should be corrected, a significant minority should not be changed. An updated and corrected list may be found in a booklet, Difficult Text References and Spurious Passage List for Bereans (revised, 2007); 33 p., avail able from Dawn Publishers, 199 Rail road Avenue, East Rutherford NJ 07073.