Is Bible Software Cheating?

In a post describing a blog dedicated to BibleWorks software, Michael F. Bird declares, “I do not know what biblical scholars did before BibleWorks, I’m not even sure I could use a concordance if I was given one anymore.” I don’t know Michael personally, so this may be a hyperbolic declaration. Nevertheless, he raises an interesting point regarding the potentially overwhelming seduction of bible software. For the past two years I have been an avid user of Accordance (BibleWorks’ counterpart for the Mac), and it has since become one of the secrets of my success in divinity school. I can view a large variety of translations in parallel, search the textual apparatuses of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia and Nestle-Aland critical editions, and even jump to relevant entries in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, all with just the click of a mouse. However, there are times when I wonder if my knowledge of Greek and Hebrew would be more thorough if I had invested additional hours memorizing vocabulary and parsing verbs, instead of simply placing the cursor over an unfamiliar word and receiving instant results. It’s easy for such a dependable resource to become an equally dependable crutch; some of my professors have even predicted that the increasing use of such software will result in a significant erosion of linguistic aptitude among biblical scholars.

Despite these apparent misgivings, I’m not giving up Accordance (or any other internet resources, for that matter) anytime soon. The electronic format offers too many promising possibilities for the advancement of biblical studies–not only flexibility and ease of use, but also raw power. Complex grammatical searches of ancient texts can be completed in a matter of seconds. As Bird observes, print concordances are now virtually obsolete. But like any innovation, it is best used in moderation, and in conjunction with more traditional methods. My well-worn copies of Seow, Hewett, and Blass-Debrunner-Funk are still sitting on my bookshelf, and they’re not going anywhere.


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August 2007
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© 2006-2009, Matthew Burgess. All rights reserved. Any unauthorized use of the original content of this website is strictly prohibited. Quotations or citations should include a link to this website. The views and opinions given here are my own and do not represent those of the University of Virginia (or anyone else, for that matter).

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