BibleWorks 8: A Toolbox for Your Minister
Peter Gadsby, B.Sc., B.D.(Hons.)
Trowel and Sword, July 2010, pages 24-25.
The German Reformer, Martin Luther, struck a note that reverberated throughout the Reformation, down to the present day among its heirs:
“Therefore, although faith and the gospel may indeed be proclaimed by simple preachers without a knowledge of languages, such preaching is flat and tame; people finally become weary and bored with it, and it falls to the ground. But where the preacher is versed in the languages, there is a freshness and vigour in his preaching, Scripture is treated in its entirety, and faith finds itself constantly renewed by a continual variety of words and illustrations.”
As a Reformed church, the CRCA has always insisted that its ministers learn the original languages of Scripture, so as better to hear what God is saying and communicate it to his people. We send our trainee ministers to a College where competent teachers impart the knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, and we expect our preachers to make use of that knowledge as they work hard preparing sermons, studies and articles. However, it is a sad fact that the knowledge tools can become rusty, as our busy ministers are burdened with many cares in the church family.
In past decades, there was not much to assist them, but today there is a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of language helps for the serious minister. There are free resources on the web, and commercial products available for purchase. Some of the latter comprise a virtual library, with a plethora of searchable books, as well as language helps. (See http://bit.ly/csdpSY for more info.) But Bibleworks (BW) has long been the Rolls Royce of programs for the pastor or scholar who is serious about using the original languages.
The program runs on the Windows platform: there is no Macintosh version, but Mac users have the ability to run Windows programs, and BW works fine in that way.
The program, now up to Version 8, was the brainchild of Michael Bushell, a physicist and theology graduate, who developed it for his own use, beginning in 1992. His great desire then -- and it continues to be the outstanding feature of BW -- was the ability to perform complex searches on the biblical text, and generate almost instant results. The search can be set up using either a command line, or the BW ‘Graphical Search Engine’ (GSE) The latter uses a series of boxes to define the search criteria, linking them in various ways, and then hitting the ‘Go’ button. Even highly complex searches take less than a second, and produce a list of verses in the chosen language.
For example, in a recent article in the Reformed Theological Review (RTR), the author confirmed that the prime focus of the first Letter of John is the assurance of salvation. In part, he did this by looking at John’s use of the perfect-indicative form of verbs. In BW, it is simple to perform a search to show these: first you limit the search to 1John. Then select a ‘morphological’ Greek text of the New Testament (ie. one that has special coding to describe the form of each word), enter the search criteria into the GSE, and hit ‘Go.’
In Figure 1, the left-hand box has coding where wildcard *=any word; @=use morphological codes; v=verb; i=indicative; x=perfect tense; and *=any forms of vix words. The search produced 60 hits in 44 verses, and took 0.06 seconds! The words (or verses) can then be exported to a list manager, and printed out in order of frequency. As the RTR author found, verbs associated with assurance, knowledge, seeing and hearing, etc. are the most frequently-occurring perfect-indicatives, confirming that assurance was indeed John’s major theme.
Figure 2 shows a simple search in English (NIB=UK NIV): Find all the verses in which there appear the following: any word starting with ris-, raise- or rose; and containing either of the words, Christ or Jesus; and also containing the words dead or death.
Hitting ‘Go’ resulted in 55 hits in 30 verses and took 0.05 seconds. BW is seriously fast. GSE can also be used to take into account proximity (adjacent verse/s), punctuation marks, and much more.
A number of the English versions contain Strong’s concordance numbers for OT and NT, so that you don’t even have to read Hebrew or Greek to be able to make use of BW’s search power.
When BW starts up, by default it displays three windows: on the left, the Search Window; the Browse Window in the middle; and the Analysis Window on the right. See Figure 3.
At the top of the Search Window is the Command Line, in which you set various search criteria. When the search is executed, the results appear in the Search Window. Clicking on a verse makes various (user selected) versions of that verse appear in the Browse Window. When you mouse over the words in the Browse Window, the Analysis Window will show lexicon entries, and various other resources to assist in interpreting the text. These highly integrated resources give the user a powerful toolset for accurately interpreting God’s Word. That’s the short and simple version. Actually, BW8 has a staggering depth of ability: it’s like Chrystostom’s pool – shallow enough for a child to paddle, and deep enough for an elephant to swim! While usable even for detailed English searches, it will serve admirably for the specialist in biblical languages.
If the user ever feels like he’s getting out of his depth, there is a lifesaver at hand: the F1 key. Click on anything with the mouse, press F1, and help will arrive instantly.
BW8 comes complete with a large array of linked resources: just about every English Bible you’ve ever heard of, plus many you haven’t; foreign language Bibles; lexicons; grammars, maps; etc. From the publisher’s blurb: “a fully searchable library of Scriptures in Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin, plus 133 Bible translations in modern languages (including 41 English ones), 54 essential reference works, and more!” For details of these, it’s worth a visit to the BibleWorks website: www.bibleworks.com In addition, keen users also create databases that can be added to the setup further to extend its capacity.
Getting Started with BW8
Given its power, there is much to learn about BW if you are going to get the maximum benefit from it. Not only is there the F1 Help, but also a very comprehensive set of help files and tutorials, including videos, which are installed with the program. Additionally, help can readily be obtained from BibleWorks Forums (on the web site), as well as other BW related blogs on the web, and from firstname.lastname@example.org
BibleWorks 8 is focused on original language research, and excels at doing that job. If congregations or Sessions are thinking about ways in which to encourage their ministers, and help them in their work, BibleWorks 8 would be a very sound investment in gospel ministry. Koorong Books sells the DVDROM version of BW8 for $579.95 (but one could wait until one of their 20% off sales comes around!). Word Books has it for $10 less. That sounds like, and is, a lot of money, but it’s very good value for money, and will certainly repay the investment in providing a powerful research tool for your minister.
Disclosure: the reviewer has used BW7 for some years. That was a retail purchase, but the upgrade to BW8 was provided gratis for this review by the publishers.
Peter Gadsby is a minister of the Christian Reformed Church of Canberra (Australian Capital Territory).