For personal computer users, the Bible was one of the first books made available in digital format, and with good reason: There is a lot of information to be had in the Bible's pages. A computer can cross-reference and search such data easily and with accuracy.
Add in commentary, linguistic help and other reference items, and you soon have a resource for scholars, pastors, rabbis, students and laity.
Bible software is thought to be a $40 million to $50 million annual business in the United States. Logos Research Systems of Bellingham, Wash., has long dominated the field with its Logos Bible Software. Though it was available only for Windows users, an estimated 9 percent of Mac users who use Bible software were running Logos, either with a Windows emulator program such as Virtual PC or on a PC dedicated to that program.
Soon, Mac users won't have to resort to extremes. Logos says it will have a Mac version available by the end of the year. Most of the 4,000 or so electronic book titles in the firm's library will carry over to the Mac format. Only a very few, the company says, will need some revision.
Bob Pritchett, Logos president and chief executive officer, said last week that customers have long asked for the switch.
"We've had a lot of requests for Mac versions over the years, and we believe that Apple's position in the market has been getting stronger," he said. "We have a lot of content that is not available on the Mac, and we work with a lot of schools that are dual platform, and we want to be able to serve those schools well."
Mr. Pritchett said demands on today's clergy for personal counseling, visitation, administration and outreach are cutting into the amount of time available to prepare sermons. Having the tools on computer makes for more efficient work, he suggested.
"We're particularly excited about helping pastors do better Bible study," he said. "We're trying to build tools that help them do better Bible study in less time, [to] free up time for them to be out there and engage the people, without compromising the time to prepare a sermon."
I can attest to the Logos product's popularity. A training seminar sponsored by the firm drew a rapt audience, who marveled at the way you can link a Bible version to other research materials such as commentaries and lexicons to make studying easier.
Just about every major English-language Bible version is on the Logos system, as well as Hebrew and Greek texts, and even a interlinear Hebrew Old Testament, whose first 15 books are in online format now.
Commentaries from most major shades of Protestant thought are available, as is "The Encyclopedia of Judaism," published by Brill last year and edited by scholars Jacob Neusner, Alan J. Avery-Peck and William Scott Green.
Learning how to get the most from the program requires some effort, but it's labor well worth it. The ability to study a portion of Scripture from many points of view, quickly and digitally, is great; to then be able to take these references and use them in a sermon or academic paper (with attribution, of course) is nothing short of a blessing.
The Logos product will appeal to many students of the Bible, not just clergy. If the Mac version is anything like the Windows version I've used for a few years, we're all in for a treat.
E-mail MarkKel@aol.com or visit www.kellner.us.