Why study the Bible on computer? I’ve written previously about significant negatives associated with electronic study, especially Bible study. I don’t find it especially conducive to prayer and worship; it doesn’t draw me quickly into a sense of fellowship with God. Now I’m about to turn around and explain why that’s not so true after all.
Here’s the short version: deep study is a matter of focusing, expanding, meditating, and ultimately applying and/or presenting, and all of them are entirely wrapped in and around prayer and worship.
I’ll come back to that later, after I spend some time on focusing, expanding, meditating, and presenting. This is where great resources can be a great help. I’ve spent time lately with two top Bible applications, Logos (available for Windows and Mac) and Accordance for Mac. In what follows I’ll be assuming the position of a layman, although one who is serious about studying Scripture. Those who have a more extensive background in Bible or biblical languages will have no trouble seeing how this would apply at their level.
Let’s focus first on focusing.
To study the Bible requires, well, study. I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your attention that God’s primary revelation to us is in the form of a book. My pastor tells me the difference between reading the Bible and studying the Bible is a pencil: writing what you see, think, wonder about, conclude, apply, and so on.
Well, that might work for him. For me there’s a problem. A pencil is no good without paper. Once I write something on a piece of paper, I have to decide where to keep it, so I can find it when I need it. I’m not very good at that dauntingly difficult, nay, oppressive life skill. I don’t get along well with paper, and paper doesn’t get along well with me. As I’m writing today I can turn my head and glance around the office, and I see seven stacks of paper. (I’ll organize it all someday, I promise.)
So the first time I downloaded an open-source Bible study application years ago, I had one question: can I make notes on a passage of Scripture, and can I tie those notes to that passage so I can find them next time?
It seems so simple, and in fact there are free software packages have made this possible now. Howard Hendricks, the great discipler/teacher from Dallas Theological Seminary, has a line for that, though: “Don’t let the simplicity fool you.” To me this is the most basic and most crucial service required of any Bible study system. If you’re like me—if keeping track of your study notes is a major life challenge, or even a minor one—then get yourself a good Bible study application and make good use of it. (I mentioned some free applications last time, and a reader suggested I add Olive Tree software to that list.)
After a pencil, or the on-screen equivalent, the next great difference between reading and studying the Bible is the resources you call on as aids. Top-tier software packages allow you to dig underneath the English, without requiring years of Greek or Hebrew study. I found the following in my study of Ephesians 4:15, for example: the Greek word translated “speaking the truth,” according to multiple sources,“has the widest sense of being true.… It it almost impossible to express it satisfactorily in English.” It is “holding the truth”; “following the truth”; opposed to “error” or “deceit” (Ephesians 4:14); it is “truthing it;” or being “followers of truth,” though not in the sense of searching for it; “lit., ‘truthing in love,’ which has the idea of maintaining truth in love in both speech and life”
That insight came out out of perhaps half a dozen sources—dictionaries, commentaries, alternate translations—but just one computer screen. Not incidentally, it also corrected my erroneous understanding of what that verse was about. I thought it was really about speaking, but I was wrong; it’s much more than that.
This Electronic Student series is for those who, like me, are not trained in the original languages of the Bible. Those who do know Greek and/or Hebrew will find much more to like in commercial Bible software’s Greek and Hebrew tools: parsing, diagramming, explaining, analyzing.
In my next entry in this series I’ll expand to a discussion on expanding your Bible study, with the aid of a good Bible study application. Also still to come: using Bible study software as an aid in presenting (for Bible studies, devotionals, lectures, etc.) and in applying your studies to your own life; and finally, specific software recommendations.