Buying Reference Tools for Bible Software: Pros and Cons

Nowadays most people have access to various applications on their computers, tablets, or phones that they use to study the Hebrew Bible. Many of these programs include electronic copies of bibles, dictionaries, grammars, commentaries, and many other reference tools for biblical studies.

While this software has become essential for almost all scholars, working with an electronic resource is still a very different experience from working with a hard copy. There are advantages and disadvantages to using electronic resources over physical ones.

Advantages to Using Electronic Resources

There are at least 3 different advantages to using electronic resources.

1. Tagging

Often electronic copies of reference works contain tags that link to specific verses being cited. This means that if you are reading an entry on a word or grammatical phenomenon, rather than having to manually look up each bible verse, you can simply click on a link and immediately view the verse in question.

Tagging can also be used in the other direction. If you are looking at a particular verse, you can easily look up words from that verse in reference works. With a few clicks you can have access to relevant entries in multiple dictionaries and reference grammars.

As you can see, tagging is an almost magical invention that can save biblical scholars a huge amount of time.

2. Cost

Depending upon the bible software program, some electronic copies of resources may come included in the software (for example, BDB is almost always free). You can save a lot of money simply by using the resources already included in bible software.

However, some resources are rarely included in the basic packages for bible software programs (for example, HALOT and DCH). These resources can be bought as add-on modules. Often these electronic modules are cheaper than their physical counterparts.

3. Ease of Access

If you own an electronic copy of a resource, you can access it anywhere you take your computer, tablet, or phone. For students and scholars who commute from place to place (and can’t carry all of their books with them wherever they go), this portability is invaluable.


Although there are many advantages to having electronic copies of resources for biblical studies, there are at least 3 serious disadvantages as well.

1. Higher Rate of Mistakes

It is a gigantic task to code, format, and copy an entire reference work so that it can be used by a bible software program. Because this is such a huge task, inevitably there are mistakes. One can often find typos in the indexing of biblical verses. Such typos make tagging useless.

Although there are relatively few mistakes in electronic resources, there are virtually no mistakes of this kind in hard copies of reference grammars or dictionaries. Therefore, even if you primarily use electronic copies of reference works, every now and then you will be forced to consult a hard copy.

2. Difficulty of Access

If you only have an electronic copy of a resource, then you will only be able to access the resource when you are using the bible software on your computer, tablet or phone. Many people find this frustrating. What’s more, if you ever switch bible programs you cannot transfer your electronic resource to your new program.

3. Books are Underrated

Sometimes certain resources for biblical studies are only available in hard copy. The field is rapidly changing as more and more materials become available electronically. However, until all resources become available electronically, students and scholars must be able to work with actual books and not just software for biblical studies.

Finally, while electronic resources are very functional, sometimes it’s just nice to have a book. This feeling is hard to explain, but I think other bibliophiles will understand.

Final Verdict

Buying and using electronic copies of biblical reference works can save you time and money. However, these electronic versions cannot yet fully substitute for hard copies of reference works.