Bible Study Software: The Options

The Products, by Classification

To provide a high-level overview of the options available in the Bible Study software world, I have classified them into a handful of categories. The first group I identify below are the two big-name commercial publishers, who dominate the academic market (and much of the non-academic market as well) with superior technical functionality. The second class is the other commercial vendors who sell various permutations of “library” packages bundled on top of core program functionality. The third category consists of free programs, published by individuals. A fourth grouping lists what I call vertical programs, which focus on very specific uses or markets. A fifth and final category consists of web-based tools.

The Big 2

For much of the first few decades of the existence of serious PC-based Bible study software, the upper end of the market was dominated by three programs: Accordance, BibleWorks, and Logos. These programs are each high-powered, professional-caliber tool sets. They are distinguished from the rest of the crowd primarily on account of their original language capability. They each provide powerful tools for searching and analyzing both Greek and Hebrew Biblical texts, and offer a broad array of lexicons and other resources supporting original language study. They’re also among the most professionally developed of this kind of software in other areas of functionality as well, and are highly configurable. However, as of June 15th, 2018, BibleWorks has ceased doing business as a software provider, so the tools available to consumers at the high-end have been reduced to a choice between Logos and Accordance.

Logos has, by far, the largest library of electronic resources available of all the platforms: some sold as parts of tiered library offerings, some offered  a la carte, and some offered either way. The scope of possibilities is gigantic, and range from trivial 19th century devotional works in the public domain to the highest quality contemporary academic works on the Bible, or other matters of concern to the Church. The program is published for both Windows and Mac platforms, also has a well-integrated app for the popular mobile platforms, and boasts a very good but still-improving cloud-based version of its application, available on a subscription basis, as well as a perhaps too-basic web interface into one’s library for non-subscription users.

Logos offers a set of outstanding tools and resources for original language study, including one collection specifically oriented toward study of the Biblical languages, but these tools and resources are often purchased as subsets of the content of larger, more diverse packages containing many secondary resources. These packages come in numerous tiers, and are also offered in configuration customized for specific sub-groups within the Church. The most significant, for my purposes, being the packages designed for Catholics. These are branded as Verbum, as opposed to Logos, but are essentially identical in functionality. The scope of Catholic resources available both inside and outside the Verbum packages is impressive and unparalleled in the electronic publishing world, being drawn from patristic, medieval,  post-Reformation, and modern periods: works both magisterial and theological.

Logos offers a free “Basic” package under both Logos and Verbum brands for those who want to check it out. A Catholic could combine the Verbum Basic package with a $50 “Catechism Collection” and a $10 copy of the New American Bible Revised Edition for a tidy study environment suitable for parish small group study, and have synchronized access to it from his PC or Mac, his tablet or phone, and via web browser. The full packages start at $235; packages with meaningful original language support start at $800. Logos is not cheap, but it offers a world-class study environment.

Accordance, like Logos, is highly capable and configurable. Also like Logos, it is offered in a series of tiered collections that combine Bibles and primary reference works with numerous secondary reference works and other volumes. The collections are offered with emphases on English, Greek, or Hebrew languages. Other targeted bundles are available as add-ons. There can be a lot of ways to buy certain resources.The set of available resources does not compare to the Logos inventory, but it is still substantial, and stands up against any of the other library-focused packages mentioned in the section below. Long a favorite of serious Bible students on the Mac platform, the original language capability of Accordance are comparable to Logos, once you’ve spent the money to purchase it. Like Logos, Accordance offers a free “Lite” package with a handful of resources and a functionally limited engine. A starter package is available for $60. Serious original language capability will cost approximately what it costs on Logos, but you can look closely for value, especially if you are primarily interested in only Greek, or only Hebrew.

Product Publisher Desktop App Mobile App? Web App? Subscription Option (Cloud)?
Accordance Oak Tree Software Mac/PC iOS No No
Logos / Verbum Faithlife PC/MAC iOS / Android / KindleFire Yes Yes

The Other Library-Oriented Commercial Programs

Several other library-oriented commercial programs compete against the above-mentioned products for the attention of pastors, preachers, teachers, and laymen, who need only limited original language capability in their Bible Study software, but are keen to have secondary works to assist in understanding and expositing the text.

Olive Tree offers many high-quality secondary works, often at very competitive pricing. The app is free, and the resources are offered a la carte. The mobile app is very nice, though I found the desktop application less functional and flexible than I’d expect from an app boasting availability of such an arsenal of secondary works. I published an analysis here.

Biblesoft is one of the oldest commercial providers of Bible study software (PC Study Bible, since 1988), and are moving toward a subscription-based cloud app called the BibesoftApp. Compared to other platforms, Biblesoft does not offer a particularly extensive set of ebook options, and is weak in terms of top-shelf resources, particularly as relating to original language support. Pricing often seems less competitive than some other platforms.

PocketBible is the second Bible study app written by Craig Rairdin, who also wrote the original QuickVerse application (now defunct). PocketBible is a multi-platform app that began in the world of early mobile devices, and the Windows Desktop app seems like a bit of an afterthought. Functionality is limited, and available resources are weak in terms of top-shelf resources.

SwordSearcher is an odd duck in this category in that there are no a la carte resources available with which to augment your library. The package is $60, and includes all resources available for the platform, which consist more or less entirely of what can be called “classic” works. Even in terms of Biblical texts: there are no major English versions newer than the 1901 American Standard Version. Catholics will not find a single Bible or secondary work that engages the full Biblical canon.

Wordsearch offers probably the deepest catalog of ebook resources among the second-tier Bible study software publishers, including an increasing selection of top-shelf titles. Functionality in the desktop application is richer than those from the other second-tier publishers, but often lacks polish. A functionally-limited edition (based on an earlier app version) is available for free. The lack of availability of the NABRE Bible under Lifeway ownership is an unfortunate development, at odds with decades of the program’s history. I’ve written an analysis of the platform here.

Product Publisher Entry $ NABRE? Desktop Mobile Web Cloud
Olive Tree Bible Study Olive Tree Bible Software $0 $20 PC/Mac iOS / Android / Kindlefire No No
PC Study Bible Biblesoft $190 $24 PC/Mac iOS/
Android
Yes from $4/mo
PocketBible Laridian $0 $15 PC/Mac iOS / Android No No
SwordSearcher SwordSearcher $60 No PC No No No
WORDsearch Lifeway $40 No PC/Mac iOS / Android Yes No

Freeware PC-Based Programs

These are free PC-based applications, which also offer optional secondary resources for free and/or at a cost. Aside from being free to install and run with a basic set of resources (which is also the case for half of the commercial programs already mentioned), these apps differ from the previous class mostly in that they are the work of individuals, rather than software companies, but The SWORD Project is an exception to that, it being an Open Source project contributed to by many individuals, and overseen by the CrossWire Bible Society. There are actually many applications that have been written as front-ends to the open source framework established by CrossWire, supporting Windows, Mac, and Linux desktops, iOS, Android, and other mobile platforms, as well as web applications.

Product Publisher Add-ons?
Bible Analyzer Timothy Morton Yes
e-Sword Rick Meyers Yes
LaParola Richard Wilson Yes
Online Bible Larry Pierce Yes
The SWORD Project CrossWire Yes
The Word Costas Stergiou Yes

Verticals

These are niche programs with narrow focus, which can’t fairly be evaluated against the more comprehensive programs. Biblia Clerus is a tool developed for the Catholic clergy by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy to search for Biblical references in various patristic and other writings. It’s not the smoothest piece of software, but it is free. The Verbum Catechism Collection from Logos, mentioned above, is just a terrific little resource kit for Catholics looking for a basic but good electronic study environment on the cheap.  Interlinear Scripture Analyzer is a simple, effective little free tool for examining the Biblical text (note: Protestant canon only) in an interlinear setting. The final two entries, Bibloi and GRAMCORD, are very dated, niche solutions that were geared toward searching and analysis of original language texts. Neither product appears to have been updated within the last decade, and they may not work on newer versions of Windows. However, they are still offered online, and may provide a cheap way for someone to do morphological original language searches, etc.

Product Publisher List Focus
Biblia Clerus The Congregation for the Clergy Free Catholic Resources
Verbum Catechism Collection Logos $50 Catholic Resources
Interlinear Scripture Analyzer Scripture 4 All Free Greek & Hebrew Analysis
Bibloi Silver Mountain Software $95 Greek & Hebrew Analysis
GRAMCORD The GRAMCORD Institute. $100-$235 Greek & Hebrew Analysis

Web-Based Tools

Below are brief assessments of web-based study environments. These are mostly reasonably useful, though I don’t think any but the Logos Cloud App are adequate replacements for desktop applications. This list includes the sites at which some of the commercial vendors provide cloud-based access to licensed resources from their product lines.

BibleGateway.com

A simple, easy-to-use site boasting about 60 English versions, plus many other translations, to go along with a few Hebrew and Greek texts. Catholic translations include the NABRE, Challoner, and Catholic editions of the RSV and NRSV. View search results or chapters in from one to five side-by-side panels. Save highlighting and notes with a free account. Add other study resources for a $4/mo subscription. No word study apparatus. Also has mobile apps.

Biblehub.com

Offers a couple dozen English versions, of which the only Catholic version is the Challoner. Also offers translations in a few dozen other languages, to go along with a good sampling of original language texts. Uses Strong’s-tagged versions of KJV, NASB, and HCSB, linking words to a page showing entries from Strong’s and Englishman’s concordances, and Brown-Driver-Briggs. Also offers tagged versions of Greek & Hebrew texts. Displays texts within a single pane as either as single translation, parallel comparison, Interlinear, or in tabular textual analysis format. Provides a couple dozen older commentaries. Pretty good site in terms of resourcefulness, except for the lack of Catholic versions; average in terms of interface.

Biblesearch
(American Bible Society)

The ABS site offers roughly 20 English versions, including the NABRE. I suspect the site offers every version that the ABS publishes in print. Many other languages are available as well, as is a Hebrew text and ancient and modern Greek texts. The interface is a clean, variable panel display, using a theme common to some of the other sites. It is clean for reading, but offers little in the way of study tools except a basic note-taking tool.

Biblesoft
(PC Study Bible)

Very simple, single-pane, single-resource interface providing access to the usual assortment of English translations (a couple dozen or so), plus a few others. A small number of commentary and topical resources are also available, plus any resources (including additional Bibles) licensed to the user in PC Study Bible. Biblesoft appears to be working on a couple other web interfaces which might provide more functionality – which is a good thing, because this interface, while very easy to read, does not provide so much as the ability to copy text to the clipboard.

BibleStudyTools.com

This is a rather busy looking site, which offers access to about 30 English translations. It presents a single panel, set against an ubiquitous array of colorful advertisements or similar come-ons. I find it difficult and unfriendly to use. It is linked to crosswalk.com, and is correspondingly sappy and sentimental.

BibleWebApp.com

This site uses the popular variable panel theme, but provides more intuitive ways of launching new panes, which include several useful study tools and aids. Though it offers only 8 English translations (none Catholic, or even containing “the Apocrypha”), 3 of them are tagged with Strong’s numbers (KJV, NASB, NET). IT even offers Strong’s tagging on one Hebrew and several Greek texts, including the CATSS LXX. If it weren’t for the lack of the Deuterocanon, this would be my pick for a free web Bible site.

Biblia.com
Bible.faithlife.com
(Logos)

These two all but identical sites published by Logos/Faithlife are very basic web portals into your Logos/Verbum library. The interface is two-paneled, and provides very little functionality. This is a pure reader, although it does incorporate the Notes from your Logos/Verbum user data. For those without Logos libraries, free registration provides access to a couple dozen English translations (including the Catholic Edition RSV and the Challoner), about a dozen other translations (including the Clementine Vulgate), and about as many Greek New Testament editions. None of these texts integrate with lexicons or other resources. A few dozen other free resources are highlighted by the Lexham/Faithlife Study Bible and Bible Dictionary. Library access is serviceable for free/basic accounts, but inadequate for handling full Logos library contents.

Faithlife Connect
(Logos Cloud App)

This is the site for cloud-based Logos use, where Logos in making its desktop toolset available on the web. It is open to those with Faithlife Connect or Now subscriptions. Panel layout is via a handful of templates. The Library function is still very crude. Logos/Verbum user data is fully synchronized with the mobile and desktop apps. The Guides and Tools already in place are done very well, and performance of such intense tasks as the Passage, Word Study, or Exegetical Guides is favorable compared to a fairly robust PC with a large local library. This is a promising venture for bringing the Logos product into the cloud.

CCEL Study Bible

The Christian Classics Ethereal Library offers a page with a simple, two-pane view of either two Bible versions, or a Bible and one of a few old commentaries. Only a handful or so of Bible versions are available, and none of them Catholic (although the NRSV and KJV include “Apocrypha” sections. This site is more valuable for their web versions of Schaff’s Early Church Fathers, and other patristic works in translation.

Lumina
(Bible.org)

This site, from the publishers of the New English Translation (NET) Bible, offers the new 2nd edition NET (NET2), along with a handful of other major modern translations (none Catholic, no “Apocrypha”). It’s a two-panel, easy to read interface, with modest functionality. Its most distinctive feature is the linking of words (via highlighting) between the NET2 text and Greek/Hebrew texts featuring a dynamic pop-out frame displaying lexical and morphological information for the highlighted word (also works with KJV).

Mywsb.com
(Wordsearch)

A clean, multi-panel interface with in-panel search applets, but no general search. Integrates most books from your Wordsearch library, though navigating large libraries is tedious. A handy Word Study tool is available as a panel, linked to Strong’s-tagged Bible versions (KJV, NASB, HCSB), but it supports only the Strong’s and NAS dictionaries. Notes/Bookmarks/Highlighters are not synced with either Wordsearch’s desktop or mobile apps. The app seems very resource-intensive in its browser window, at least when using a large library.

StudyLight.org

This site has a somewhat busy interface, though not in a glitzy manner. It offers more translations than most other sites (40+ English, including LXX and Peshitta translations). However, it is not the easiest site to use, does not provide a clean reading interface, and does not integrate study tools very well.

Change Log

2018/06/30: Adjusted “Big 3″section to reflect demise of BibleWorks (now “Big 2”). Expanded section of second-tier commercial offerings to include brief descriptions of each platform. Performed major overhaul and expansion of section on Web-based solutions. Other minor corrections and updates.

2017/11/12: Moved this assessment to its own page after updating the site to eliminate the Tabs & Sliders plug-in. Restructured categories to focus more on products and less on pricing models. Updated tables to reflect availability of non-desktop options. Added previously overlooked Olive Tree Bible Software. Removed entry for the defunct WORDsearch Basic free app. Moved Bibloi and GRAMCORD to Verticals section. Significantly updated and expanded much of the explanatory text.

2013/09/15: Removed entries for QuickVerse, Welcome to the Catholic Church, and iLumina; Replaced Bible Explorer entry with WORDsearch Basic; Added link to Logos’ Verbum (Catholic) collections in Libraries section; Added Verbum Catechism package to Verticals; minor edits and updates. Note: as of this edit, the pricing should be considered unreliable, as some of it has changed but I have not taken the time to update the page.

2011/01/17: Added Bible Analyzer to table of free programs; added Biblia Clerus to table of Verticals; moved ISA to Verticals table; noted price increase of SwordSearcher to $60; removed Nelson’s eBible (I could be wrong, but it doesn’t appear to have a future next to Logos 4); general update & link clean-up.

2010/01/21: Duplicated Accordance & Logos into the original language category; adjusted current pricing on Bibloi & Welcome to the Catholic Church; Removed Catholic Scholar’s Pack from Verticals table; general update

2008/12/24: Removed Ellis Bible Library; added Verticals table; general update

2008/09/26: Added LaParola to table of free programs