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e-Sword: What Bible Software Ought To Be

 

This First Review Originally Appeared in Christian Computing Magazine in September 2006

The Update that Follows Appeared in 2007

 

Written by: Dr. J. D. Watson, Technical Editor

 

 

This month I’m again interrupting our series on the Windows Registry (just one more time) to address something of far greater importance, and in light of last’s month’s column, this one is timely. Our editor-in-chief Steve Hewitt chose to give me the singular honor of reviewing a Bible program called e-Sword (www.e-sword.net). I will, therefore, make a desperate attempt to do it justice.

 

e-Sword (eS) is a totally free Bible search and study program that author Rick Meyers has graciously given to the Church. In case you’re thinking, “Oh, it’s free so it can’t be very high quality,” I hope this article will dispel such notions, because here is a “Class A” piece of software (written in Visual Basic 6) that has been downloaded upwards of 4,000,000 times (which demands over five terabytes of bandwidth each month!).

 

e-Sword Features

 

Figure 1 should quickly show you what eS is all about. Most of what you need is right in front of you. In the upper left corner is the “Scripture Lookup” box, in which you can type in the reference you want, or you can navigate to it in the “Bible Tree” below (a feature you can turn off if you prefer, which I do; you can also change the entire layout of the main screen if you want). The Bible window displays a tab for each translation you have installed. The same is true for the “Dictionary” view at the bottom of the screen and the “Commentary” view to the right. This design nicely facilitates synchronization, so that when you click on a verse in the Bible view, all the commentaries and dictionaries follow.

 

You’ll also see two arrow buttons right beside the “Lookup Scripture” box that enable you to go back to previous reference and forward to the next reference. Clicking on the list arrow beside those arrows also displays a neat little “Verse Trail” window.

 

Figure 1 also demonstrates just how many high quality (and absolutely free) resources you have been given. Dictionaries include: Easton, Fausset, the invaluable International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Nave’s, Strong’s, Thayer’s, and even Webster’s 1828 dictionary. Even more of a blessing are the commentaries: Barnes, Clark, Darby, Geneva, Gill, Henry, Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, Keil and Delitzsch, People’s, Treasury of David, and Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, as well as Robertson’s and Vincent’s word studies. More are also available.

 

Fig. 1 – e-Sword’s main screen, showing a looked up verse (Eph. 1:6), the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia entry for “grace,” a ToolTip for Strong’s G5485 (charis), and John Gill’s commentary.

 

 

But even that’s not all. Under “Topic Notes” you will also find more resources, including: 2000+ Bible Illustrations, Anti-Nicene Fathers (9 volumes), Schaff’s Church History, Calvin’s Institutes (Beveridge translation, of course), and many others. There are also four daily devotionals available: Day By Day Grace (Hoekstra), Our Daily Walk (Meyer), Devotional Sermons (Morrison), and, of course, Spurgeon’s classic, Morning and Evening.

 

On top of all that, there’s also a “STEP Reader” that includes several free full libraries of selected authors, including the works of Bunyan, Meyer, Newton, Pink, Ryle, and a Wesleyan collection. This tool also enables you to read any other STEP titles you might already own. What a wonderfully handy tool!

 

Moving to Figure 2, the “Parallel” translation feature is really cool. Four separate columns enable you to see a parallel comparison of the current chapter in four translations. In contrast, the “Compare” tab displays the current verse in all the translations you have installed, which reminded me of the same feature in BibleWorks.

 

Fig. 2 – e-Sword’s parallel Bible translation feature and “Study Notes” word processor.

 

 

Figure 2 also displays the “Study Notes” feature, which is a nice .RTF word processor that acts very much like MS-Word. For illustration, I put in a tiny snippet from my own exposition of Ephesians 1:5-6. Notice the name of the file at the bottom (“Ephesians Sermons.not”). The list arrow to the right lists all your stored .not files. This is actually a very good little word processor, complete with formatting, numbering, bullets, text alignment, and indenting buttons, find and replace, a spell checker, and print preview. A really clever feature is the “Format Scripture ToolTip” button (or Ctrl+J), which as Figure 2 illustrates enables you to highlight a Scripture reference and turn it into a popup displaying the verse’s text in your preferred translation. You can also import and export your note files.

 

As an alternative to this feature, if you prefer using Word, Rick has also written four macros and a Toolbar (Fig. 3) for it. In order from left to right, the buttons “search e-Sword,” “paste verses” from it, “select Bible translation,” and “convert Scripture reference,” which automatically inserts the verse text after you type just the reference and highlight it (very nice!).

           

 

Fig. 3 – Microsoft Word toolbar macros for e-Sword.

 

Figure 4 illustrates two approaches to searching in eS. One, of course, is by just displaying the “Search” dialog box and entering search criteria. This includes not only the options displayed, but wildcard searches are also supported, which greatly expand searching power. The other approach to searching is by highlighting a word, right-clicking on it, and then selecting the “Quick Search” option to locate occurrences of that word elsewhere in Scripture. I must interject here that I was extremely impressed that this “Quick Search “also works on Strong’s numbers, enabling you to find the frequency of any Greek or Hebrew word. Additionally, the “Extended Verse Search” feature enables you to search multiple translations simultaneously.

 

 

Fig. 4 – e-Sword’s search features.

 

 

The “Tools” menu lists several rich additions to eS. Besides the “Daily Devotions” mentioned earlier, “Bible Reading” is a small applet that includes a wizard that enables you to generate your own Bible reading plan. Similar applets are “Prayer Requests,” which tracks prayer requests, and “Scripture Memory,” which aids you in creating your own system for this important part of Christian living. All four of these tools also have an option to display them at startup. What struck me most about these additions is that only a spiritually minded person would think of them. This helps underscore the motive behind this whole project.

 

Finally, among several other features that space doesn’t permit me to detail (highlighting, bookmarks, verse list, font control, background texture, and more), eS also includes a “Graphics Viewer,” complete with maps courtesy of the American Bible Society (16), NASA satellite images of the Holy Land area (18), Clarence Larkin’s classic charts (58), Doré New Testament woodcuts (45), classic Bible maps (4), ancient Mediterranean maps (9), and the Son Light Bible Atlas (14). Once again, this is first-rate stuff in Bible software.

 

Fig. 5 - e-Sword’s Graphics Viewer displaying one of the sixteen maps from the American Bible Society.

 

Oh, and BTW, I do want to mention that eS and many of its add-ons are also available for your Pocket-PC.

 

Improvements?

 

I hesitate mentioning weaknesses because I feel like I’m looking a gift-horse in the mouth, so I do so with all due respect.

 

Improvement could be made in the Help. It’s currently a bit rudimentary and needs a little more detail on how to do certain things. While this is a pet peeve of mine, as I used to write documentation professionally, I think it’s a fair observation. There’s not a single word, for example, about importing and exporting files, the Word macros, and several other features. While most features are not hard to figure out, better documentation would speed the process all the more. I should note that Rick does provide a  “Training” web page with several demos and a 105-page tutorial manual (written by a third party in PDF format) that demonstrates almost every feature. Sorry, but I still prefer immediate access through the Help system.]

 

Like many products today, eS is a bit slow in loading and sometimes in searching. Additionally, it’s just a bit bothersome that layout changes (such as not displaying the “Bible Tree”) do not take affect until you restart the program. It would also be nice if a “Save Desktop” feature could be added, enabling you to save various desktop setups.

 

In the same vane as wildcard searches, I need to make a special note on Boolean logic. Rick has successfully simplified this for the non-techie using “All words” as an implicit AND statement and “Any words” as an implicit OR statement. For example, I got exactly the same result with “grace truth” using “All words” as I got using “grace AND truth” in QuickVerse 4 (Jn. 1:14, 17; Col. 1:6; 2 Jn. 1:3). I also got virtually the same result using “grace truth” with “Any words” as I did “grace OR truth” in QV4. That, however, is as deep as the Boolean logic goes. Rick felt that since his target audience is often the less savvy user, less would be more. I, however, would prefer the “other” more—full Boolean logic. To be fair, of course, many products today don’t have this capability at all, thereby weakening their search capability.

 

Finally, it would also be nice if the graphics files in the viewer were not proprietary, or if the viewer would at least enable you to view and/or import other standard graphic formats (i.e., .jpg, .tif., .bmp, etc.).

 

These observations, however, in no way detract from the overall quality and functionality of this superb program. Believe me, I can much more severely pick apart several other products.

 

Support for the Project

 

I am compelled to say here that I was shocked (and just a tad appalled) when I read these words on the donation page: “If this ministry blesses you, are your willing to join me in it? Less than 1% of the people who download e-Sword return to say ‘thanks’ and donate.” Come on now, Christian Brothers and Sisters, as our Lord Himself declared, “Freely ye have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8; cf. Acts 3:6; 20:33-35). Here is brother who demands nothing for the ministry God has laid on his heart (and that is, indeed, what ministry [diakonia] is all about). Should we not, therefore, encourage and support him? I strongly urge you to help this ministry by giving what you can. If you still need incentive, a donation of $15 or more gets you a CD with most of the available resources on it.

 

Summary

 

In short, e-Sword is first-rate Bible software that is on the same level as commercial products, some of which cost hundreds of dollars. Its free price tag is truly what Bible software ought to be and challenges all other products to reexamine their own approach.

 

While I am more than aware that publishing costs money and that books have authors who deserve a royalty for their work, e-Sword throws down the gauntlet. I’ll probably ruffle a few feathers with my next statement, but I would challenge all Bible software companies to offer the program itself free and only charge for the resources that demand it. I’ve seen companies, for example, that charge high prices even for public domain titles (e.g., $40 for Hodge’s Systematic Theology). We should all find that troubling to say the least. What is our true motive in all this, ministry or money (read an article titled "Ministry or Money").  Will not God bless a giving spirit (Rom. 12:13; 2 Cor. 9:7; Eph. 4:28)?

 

 

e-Sword Update

 

Back in the September 2006 issue, I reviewed the wonderful free Bible software program e-Sword (www.e-sword.net), written and given to the church by Rick Meyers. I’d like to invest my space this month in updating you on this product.

 

The latest version of eS is 7.8.5. (BTW, the 6,000,000th download of eS occurred in July!). This version has a new “Gospel Harmony” feature (“Bible > Gospel Harmony”), which is actually a reproduction of A.T. Robertson’s classic, A Harmony of the Gospels (Fig. 1).

 

Fig. 1 - e-Sword’s new “Gospel Harmony” feature (A. T. Robertson’s A Harmony of the Gospels).

 

Also new in this latest version is the addition of several more Bible book abbreviations that the program recognizes, such as: Mt, Lk, Php, Jas, etc. There is also additional support for Japanese and Vietnamese modules.

 

The best news is that there are several new add-ons. Free stuff includes an update of Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the OT, the Hebrew New Testament (translated by Franz Delitzsch), the ESV translation, the Textus Receptus, Byzantine, and Westcott-Hort Greek New Testaments (all with Strong’s numbers), William R. Shepherd’s Historical Atlas (graphics), the CIA World Factbook (graphics), and a few others.

 

Of special note, however, are the many low cost contemporary titles that are now available for eS. This is one big reason why eS is such a wonderful value. You pay nothing for the program and even the add-ons that do cost something are still inexpensive. New from AMG Publishers, for example, is A Word for the Day: Key Words from the New Testament (www.e-sword.net/word4day.html), a daily devotional based on Greek word studies made practical for Christian living ($10.00).

 

And then there is eStudySource, who has jumped on the eS bandwagon with both feet! Check them out at www.eStudySource.com. While they have been offering the NKJV, NLT, and the Complete Jewish Bible ($14.99 each), as well as the Message and the HCSB ($9.99 each) for a while, the BIG news (and you read it here first!) the NIV is coming very soon.

 

Also brand new at eStudySource is the very popular Life Application Study Bible Notes ($14.99), which is nice because you don’t have to buy another Bible. An absolutely must-have title (IMHO) is William MacDonald’s Believer’s Bible Commentary, the best one-volume commentary I have ever seen (and I’ve seen them all)—and at $20.00, it’s way cheaper than hardcopy. The Bible Knowledge Commentary OT and NT Set (the classics from the dudes at Dallas) is also a great value ($34.99). And you just can’t get the beloved J. Vernon McGee’s five-volume Thru the Bible anywhere as cheap as here ($39.99). The same is true of Lloyd J. Ogilvie’s (ed.) massive The Preacher’s Commentary, which at $79.99 is cheaper than any other software platform (and in hardcopy, forget about it!). Other great values are Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (NT; $19.99), Larry Richard’s The Bible Teacher's Commentary ($19.99), the old standby Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words ($14.99), and Nelson’s New Bible Manners & Customs (only $9.99, although it does not contain all the illustrations of the print version).

 

I would dare humbly add a word or two about eS’s documentation. As mentioned in my original review, while the On-line Help is rudimentary, there is 105-page tutorial manual (in .PDF), written by Barrie Gordon and Johan Struwig of South Africa. As a former documentation specialist, I am impressed with this manual. It’s simply written, well organized, and very graphic. Its last update, however, was 6-27-03, so if these dear Christian brothers would have time, a revision is in order. It would also be nice if this manual were accessible from the eS “Help” menu, which could also serve as an alternative to more robust Online Help.

 

Finally, if I may be so bold, I would again strongly urge you to support the eS project. As I originally mentioned, and it is still true, less than one percent of the people who download eS return to say thanks and contribute financially. That continues to burden me deeply. PLEASE go to the support page, http://www.e-sword.net/support.html, and encourage a selfless Christian brother. I said it once, and I say it again, e-Sword is what Bible software ought to be, so let us support this effort for God’s glory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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