In an earlier post I mentioned that one major producer of Bible software actually suggested that aside from the Bible itself, major reference works like lexicons and grammars are about the only electronic resources one would want to use on a computer. Commentaries, individual books, and theological journals (just to name a few things) would continue to be used in printed form, not in electronic format. The article went on to suggest that because software companies go out of business and software formats change, a large investment in electronic resources for your computer did not make sense. Whether this is in fact a reason not to acquire and use Bible study tools in electronic format I will leave to you to decide. But what I do disagree with, and radically so, is the restriction of Bible study software merely to finding words in the Bible (an electronic concordance) and looking up word meanings (an electronic dictionary). To limit the use of Bible study software in this way is to throw away most of its advantages.
The big advantage to using any major Bible software program, if you're a pastor, teacher, Christian worker, or seminary student, is saving time. Time, as any busy pastor will tell you, is worth its weight in gold. If a Bible software program can shave several hours per week off Bible study and sermon preparation for the pastor, those hours can be used for other things. They can be spent discipling parishoners. They can be spent in counseling. They can be spent in writing. They can be spent with spouse and children.
So what kind of things should the ideal Bible software be able to do, to maximize time savings in personal Bible study and in ministry? Here is my list, and it's only a starting point. But these are things I would look for, or wish for, when I went shopping for an ideal Bible study software program.
When used to its maximum capabilities, Bible software should be able to generate easy-to-understand reports in formats similar to a web browser, something almost every computer user is familiar with. By their very nature these reports would be easy to understand and use. Embedded links would enable me to pursue in more depth and detail topics I was most interested in, just like on the Internet. These reports should pull together more than just word meanings and frequency of usage (occurrences), though. If I have any commentaries in my electronic library, it should include relevant sections of those. If I have works on the grammar and syntax of the biblical languages, it should include those. If there are articles in Bible encyclopedias, Bible dictionaries, or theological journals in my library that discuss the passage I'm studying, there should be links to those. If there is digital imagery on my computer (or on the Internet) related to people, places, or things discussed in my Bible passage, I should find thumbnails in the report, and clicking on those would take me to full-size imagery. The pictures ought to have descriptive captions included, along with links to more in-depth resources like Wikipedia articles. Also, map imagery -- preferably satellite map imagery with zoom capability -- should be easily available, with labeling capability and even 3-D imagery of selected buildings and archaeological sites. If I want to parallel scroll an English translation -- any English translation -- and the original biblical language texts (Hebrew and Aramaic for the Old Testament, Greek for the New Testament) I should be able to do so easily, without having to manually open and align multiple windows. (A friend of mine runs a software company. He and I did a workshop together on computer and Internet tools for Bible study and sermon preparation several years ago for a Christian leadership conference. He obtained a demo copy of one of the latest and greatest Bible software programs then available -- I won't name the program in order to protect the guilty. After two hours and even attempting to read the user manual -- which almost no one ever does -- he could barely get two Bible texts to parallel scroll. Needless to say this software was not going to win any user-friendliness awards.) Another important feature is search capability -- yet many Bible software users do not do searching with their Bible software because it is too difficult to use, or too slow. You ought to be able to double click (or right click) on a word to search it in the Bible and/or in the electronic library. Phrase searches should be equally easy. Search hits should be viewable in context, and graphable as well. I should also be able to mark up resources in my library just like I was using a highlighter pen, or a pencil, or with my own custom set of markings. I should be able to hide these whenever I wanted, or make them visible whenever I wanted. I also should be able to add my own custom sets of notes if I wanted, and export these to a word processor or PowerPoint presentation whenever I needed to do so.
These are just a few of the capabilities on my "wish list." No current commercial or web-based software package does all of these things, though some do more than others. Several of these things would involve the integration of installed software and web-based resources beyond anything currently available.