BibleWorks 8 - The Must-Have Tool
Bible Software Review, February 23, 2010.
URL: http://www.bsreview.org/index.php?modulo=Reviews&id=8 [Retrieved on 2010-02-24]
A review written by Rubén Gómez, Bible software translator and beta tester. Copyright © 2010 by the author. All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce any part of this document without obtaining permission from the author.
In 1994 I ordered my first BibleWorks for Windows Research Bundle. The program was only at version 2.0 at the time, and I paid $299.00 for it. I was so amazed and thrilled at what the Greek and Hebrew Add-on Combo had to offer, even in those infancy stages, that I thought it was a real steal. Sixteen years later, my amazement has not diminished one bit. BibleWorks has come a long way, and its latest version, which retails for $349.00 has improved exponentially in terms of content, quality, and features.
A lot of water has gone under the bridge, and we have witnessed many changes in the Bible software scene over the years, but BibleWorks has remained true to its stated raison d'être as a first-class exegetical tool. It can do a lot more, but it excels at helping us face the fascinating task of unraveling the meaning of the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures.
A Word about Databases – BibleWorks includes all of the modern-language English Bible in use today (with the only exception, perhaps, of TEV/GNB), and a very complete sampling of foreign-language Bibles in more than twenty different languages. To put things into perspective, BW offers up to 11 Spanish Bibles, the largest number and variety to be found anywhere in a Bible software package, so far as I know.
All original language tagged texts come in couples. Typically, there is a plain text version of the Greek or Hebrew Bible (e.g., BNT, which is the Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 27h Edition) and a separate morphologically-tagged text that includes all the codes used to parse each one of the inflected words that appear in the running text (in this case, BNM). These sets of “brother texts” are a unique feature of BW. All non morphological searches have to be run against the “plain” texts, while morphological searches can only be performed by choosing a tagged database. It is possible, however, to search a morphologically-tagged text and have the results displayed only in plain text (i.e., without actually seeing the lemma and code abbreviations for each hit returned by a given search). On the other hand, if we want to see the results displayed in interlinear mode, with inflected form, lemma and parsing abbreviations, the tagged text is a good option. If we have the Word Tips option checked, mousing over any Greek or Hebrew term will bring up a pop-up with the lemma, English gloss and full parsing information. The fact that there is a pair of texts can be confusing at times, particularly when it comes to choosing the right search version, but since hits are always highlighted in both databases, it makes no difference as far as showing search results is concerned. Also, since BW does not allow us to use natural language syntax for morphological searches, being exposed to the raw codes in the tagged databases is a good way to get acquainted with the different abbreviations.
One of the most useful databases found in BW is the BGT/BGM, which merges the text of NA27 and Alfred Rahlfs’ LXX in one single module. Since the coding scheme used in the corresponding tagged database is the same, users can run searches across the whole Greek Bible (OT and NT) or build word lists comprising the whole Greek vocabulary in one single pass.
The program includes various types of morphological databases. Most follow a formal approach (notably, Aletti/Gieniusz/Bushell), but there is also room for the useful NT Grammatical Analysis Database developed by Timothy and Barbara Friberg, which adopts a marked functional approach.
User Interface – By default, the program invites us to follow a fairly typical and logical workflow, consisting of the following steps (from left to right): You look up verses or search for certain words in the Search window, see the results displayed in the Browse window, and follow up on any particular verse or word in the Analysis window. This is all very clean and tidy, but most people are not always that systematic in their study and research. Long-time users may prefer to stick to the old layout found in earlier versions, while others may choose among different predefined positions. No problem! BibleWorks offers a lot of flexibility . There are literally dozens and dozens of different user-defined settings that can be used to tweak not only the way the program looks but, most important of all, the way certain features work. This adds some complexity to an already sophisticated application, but also makes it one of the most customizable Bible software packages available. It does take time to learn the ropes, but it is well worth the effort.
Finding a balance between offering so many different options and features and the need to provide a user-friendly interface has always being one of the top issues programmers have had to wrestle with, and BibleWorks is no exception. There is probably something for everyone, but not everything will be to everybody’s taste. For example, I find the context menus very clear, and the shortcuts very useful, but for the life of me I still cannot figure out what some of the buttons in the button bar are supposed to do, and were it not for the mouseover pop-up tips, I would probably have never known! Happily, most features can be accessed via menu options or some other less cryptic means.
BibleWorks' Philosophy – Let's make no mistake about it. BW is a very advanced Bible concordance and exegetical tool. It is not intended to be an electronic library, although it does include some standard works, particularly in the area of Hebrew and Greek lexicons. Most features, though, revolve around the goal of working with the biblical texts (preferably, but not exclusively, in the original languages) and a few related extra-biblical sources with a view to help us get at the meaning of those texts.
For this review I've been using the latest version of BibleWorks (8.0.016c.1), as well as some additional modules (most notably, BDAG, HALOT and LEH). For a full list of modules included in BW8, see here.
I'm not quite sure what to make of the fact that many resources (basically grammars, commentaries and other secondary literature) are Microsoft Compiled HTML files. In one sense BW plays it safe by adopting one of the current standards, instead of locking the books to another proprietary format. Problem is that I, for one, don't like chm files one bit. Time will tell whether or not this has been a good decision.
BibleWorks 8 comes as a set of five CD-ROMs, containing all the necessary program discs, video tutorials and unlockable add-on modules. Alternatively, it can be ordered in DVD-ROM format.
Installing the program is a rather uneventful process, where the user has full control over which modules should be installed. Most people will not perform a full installation, given the fact that there are many ancient and modern languages represented. Even so, the files will easily fill up 5-6 GB of space on the hard drive.
Following recent trends, BW needs to be activated or else it will only run in trial mode. As for the documentation, the box includes a printed 16-page Quick-Start Guide, but most of the help is available from within the program itself. There is a comprehensive help file and a number of instructional videos that give a good introduction to the main features of BW. Besides, a complete library of Study Guides is always a couple of click away (Help | Study Guides). These are very task-oriented, and immensely helpful. Other means of getting help are the BibleWorks User Forums, the excellent Classroom Tips, and the Training Workshops. Unfortunately there is no BW blog as such, but the unofficial BibleWorks Blog is a great repository of tips and files for BW users.
Once the program is installed, it is advisable to check for any available updates (Help | BibleWorks on the Internet | Check for Updates). Chances are that there will be quite a few (depending on the modules installed), since the company is noted for its aggressive policy of regular updates. This and the responsiveness to users' suggestions are two of the main characteristics of their technical support service.
It would be impossible to try to go over every single feature in BibleWorks (if you like, you can check out this overview or download a PDF brochure), so I will attempt to highlight those aspects that I think are particularly worth mentioning. In saying that I must admit I've had to leave out certain tools and features (e.g., Report Generator, XRefs, Synopsis Window, or the new Ermie – External Resources Manager) that no doubt many people will find useful. All I can say in my defence is that I had to draw the line somewhere.
The Graphical Search Engine (GSE) – BibleWorks' GSE (formerly known as ASE – Advanced Search Engine) was the first, and most successful to date, Windows-based implementation of the venerable tradition of building object-oriented searches pioneered by Accordance for the Mac some years earlier. It is not particularly intuitive at first sight when you get into complex searches that include, for example, proximity and agreement parameters, inclusion/exclusion lists, and the like. However, once you get a hold of it, it is an extremely powerful tool that can be used to perform searches that would otherwise be impossible by means of a command line interface.
Combining Word, Merge and Agreement boxes it is possible to specify just about any relationship between the different items or building blocks of a search. The dialog boxes where the options are set by the user can be accessed by double clicking on each of the boxes.
The GSE can import most searches from the Command Line and should be used for case-sensitive searches, when looking for an exact number of intervening words – or a range – between the search terms, when searching for the absolute position of a search term within the verse, when we wish to perform certain NOT searches, and, generally speaking, for all complex searches. It is also the way to go when we need to perform cross-language searches (see below).
The GSE uses the standard Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT)  to show the relationship between the various search terms, and search results are always displayed in BW's main window. Its queries can be annotated and saved.
The Word List Manager (WLM)– Creating and working with word lists is one of the strengths of BW. In fact, it is unsurpassed in this area. The WLM can receive input from four different sources (any of the Bible versions installed, search hits from a previous search, Louw-Nida domains or saved lists), and the range can also be defined by means of Boolean operators, although these are not represented by the same symbols used in the Command Line. Thus, for example, AND = & (rather than .) and OR = / or ; (instead of simply /). 
The flexibility of the word lists extends also to the ways in which the items in one or two lists can be combined, modified and saved. Building a word list with the WLM is only the beginning of the process, since lists can be very easily reused by the GSE or the Command Line.
The Key Word in Context (KWIC)/Collocation Table Window – This tool allow us to spot connections between words and produces the typical output we can find in any printed concordance. In the figure below we have searched for all the instances of wrath in the New American Standard Version (1995 Update), and since we have specified a limit of five words either before or after the search term (ignoring verse boundaries), the collocation table below displays the positions in which different words appears in connection with wrath. We notice that only once does god appear two words before it, in contrast with the twelve times is comes exactly two words after it. This 13 occurrences (12 + 1) are exactly what we would get with and OR search on the Command Line, but here we have a different display that can be easily copied to the Editor or another application.
Louw-Nida Lexicon – While Louw-Nida's semantic domains are not disambiguated in BW, the way this Greek lexicon has been integrated into the program makes it a very valuable tool indeed.
As with the rest of lexicons and dictionaries, Louw-Nida can be displayed and searched in its own window, as shown below.
However, the most powerful way to use it is, by far, choosing its semantic domains to create inclusion/exclusion lists and search arguments. These IEL allow us to go well beyond the standard word searches.
The Related Verses (RVT) and Phrase Matching (PMT) Tools – These are intended to give us hints about various quotations and allusions in biblical (and sometimes extra-biblical) texts, and become useful for intertextual studies. The RVT is used to look for other verses sharing a given number of words, in no particular order, whereas the PMT searches for phrases in common with other texts.
In both instances, the search can be extended to all the same language versions, instead of only the current version, and the granularity of the search can be customized in order to widen or restrict the number of hits.
BW includes a text comparison feature that color codes differences between any given base version (which is always the first one on the left) and up to three other same-language texts. This can be used, for instance, to see at a glance the differences between textual traditions or translation choices. A maximum of four different sets of texts can be compared at any time, and the highlighted discrepancies can be displayed both in the Browse and Parallel windows.
Colorizing text can be very useful for study purposes, and BW offers a great variety of ways to do just that. Moreover, the ability to apply any combination of colors, backgrounds and styles to search results becomes very handy for highlighting original language texts according to different parts of speech.
User Bible Versions
BW includes a Version Database Compiler (VDC) with the stated purpose of allowing missionaries and translators to compile their own versions of the Bible for use in BibleWorks.
This is a great way to build versions in the public domain, personal versions, or versions designed for a specific purpose (e.g., transliterated Greek or Hebrew Bibles for those who cannot read the original languages). Versions built with the VDC work exactly like any of the official modules included in the program.
Verse and Chapter Notes
BW includes a very capable RTF-based editor. Apart from the formatting options (including hyperlinks to any Bible verse or tool included in BibleWorks), and the ability to drag and drop text from other parts of the program, the use of tags can greatly enhance the notes. These tags can be searched with the built-in file search feature.
External Links Manager (ELM)– BW8 plays nice with other Bible software packages thanks to the External Links Manager. There are a number of predefined links that can be enabled, but users are able to create new ones to their favorite applications.
This is a clear example of how BW can complement or be complemented by other Bible programs.
Maps and Timeline
A brief mention is in order here about two graphics modules included in the application. Maps are represented by the NET Bible Maps set and a BW's own fully customizable Map module. This module comes with a number of predefined maps.
There are also editable timelines that display key events in chronological order.
Original Language Features
BW includes a Vocabulary Flashcard module that helps those who study Greek or Hebrew keep track of their progress as they review the vocabulary. Sets of review files from some of the most popular textbooks are provided, but users can create new ones.
Parallel Hebrew and LXX
This electronic version of Tov-Polak Parallel-Aligned Greek-Hebrew Old Testament is a great tool for finding out the ways the LXX translated the original Hebrew text, or vice versa. In the following example, we have searched for all the different Hebrew lemmas translated by the Greek term ἔλεος.
BW comes with a full set of NT diagrams created by Randy Leedy. However, it offers all the necessary tools for those who want to create their own diagrams and use this popular method as an aid in exegesis.
The Command Line (CL), which is always found at the top of the Search window (but can be invoked as a popup window), on the left hand side of the main window, is extremely powerful and versatile. It can be used to look up verses or passages, to set search and display versions, search limits, parallel versions, favorites, etc., and to perform all sorts of different searches. It can even handle LN domains and word lists, as well as LN+morphology or word lists+morphology. 
Command Line (CL) searches must always be preceded by a series of control characters that indicate the type of search that is going to be performed.  A helpful way to learn the search symbols is to right-click on the CL and check the Code Insertion Buttons option in the context menu. In case of morphological searches, the Morphology Assistant can also come in handy for those not familiar with the morphological codes.
Once the CL syntax has been mastered, the amount and breadth of searches that one can carry out is quite outstanding. It would certainly be easier if one could use the search operators themselves, instead of symbols, but there aren't that many symbols to learn after all.
The table below shows some of the kinds of searches that can be done with the CL.
The CL keeps track of all successful searches, and they can even be saved. Moreover, it is possible to search across different versions at the same time.
BibleWorks is a must-have tool for original language exegesis and Bible translation. It is an affordable package, offering solid tools and excellent features. In my estimation there is no doubt that this is the best Bible software product of its kind for Windows. This, added to the fact that it can be used alongside other library-oriented programs, makes it a clear choice for the serious student of the Bible.
To be able to search on Strong's numbers via the context menu, even when the numbers themselves are hidden from view, would be a nice enhancement.
Adding Undo and Redo options to the GSE, as well as a few more shortcuts, would be very useful, and I regularly miss them when I work with it for any extended period of time.
Rubén Gómez is a Bible software translator and beta tester.