How I Use Biblical Software To Prepare Sermons

I have been preaching for nearly forty (40) years and my research and study has been tremendously accelerated by the use of biblical software for almost half of those years. There is much debate today among preachers and scholars as to which is better; electronic books or paper books? With me, it all depends. Some of my resources are in both forms. Sometimes I like to sit and read with a physical book in my hands and then, at other times, I like to sit in front of my computer to do my studies, sermon preparation, and research. But I want to share in this post, how I use biblical software in the study, research and preparation of sermons and/or biblical lessons. I have tried several across the years, but the three that are my bread and butter tools are: Logos 7, BibleWorks 10, and WordSearch 11.

After much prayer and meditation, that usually begins on Monday evening, by noon Tuesday, I usually have made a general choice (unless I am in the middle of preaching a series) of what I am going to preach the coming Sunday. After selecting a biblical text, I read the text several times in several different (I read the text at least 3 to 4 times in at least five, sometimes as many as eight different versions) English versions of the Bible. I do this using the BibleWorks software. BibleWorks is excellent for doing this because the program allows you to arrange the various versions side-by-side or vertically to quickly note differences in the versions. There is also a tool within BibleWorks that will color-highlight the differences for you. I do this to get a general feel of the flow and meaning of the text. After completing this step, I then do the same thing; comparing the various Hebrew (if it is an Old Testament text) and Greek (if it is a New Testament text) Bibles that are available in BibleWorks. By the way, in BibleWorks, there are over 200 Bible translations in 40 different languages, over 50 original languages and morphology databases, with dozens of lexical-grammatical references, plus a wealth of practical reference works, all available in the standard package at no additional costs! It is during the comparison-analysis of the original languages that I also conduct my word-studies. My first goal is to establish the integrity of the text. I especially want to do this if it is a familiar text because I want to find out, as best I can, what the original author actually said and/or meant, as opposed to the popular or common ideas of what the author said and meant. The only way to do this is by a thorough investigation of the text in the original languages. Now, if you have not studied the original languages, BibleWorks will greatly aid in overcoming that deficiency because, even as you look at the various English versions, you can hover your mouse over the English words and BibleWorks will display the corresponding Greek and Hebrew words and meanings in pop-ups and in the analysis window of the software. This information is available in an instant! It would take at least five to ten minutes per word to do this manually with paper books! Now, I use BibleWorks, primarily to establish the integrity of the text and for my initial word-study analysis, usually this process takes about a day of study or about 3-5 hours. As a pastor, husband, and part-time student, there are also many other demands upon my time. But usually the first day of study is devoted to establishing the integrity of the text; using BibleWorks as my primary tool.

The next phrase of study is where the Logos Bible Software comes into play! Although BibleWorks has an extensive selection of Bibles in English and in the original languages, there are still some that are available in Logos that are not currently available in BibleWorks, such as the Amplified Bible, for example. So when I first open Logos, I continue some of the work that I started with BibleWorks. This also includes consulting various lexicons and biblical dictionaries I have that are in Logos, but not in BibleWorks. In some cases, it is not a matter of these resources being available in one software and not in the other. In some cases, I purchased resources in the Logos format, rather than in BibleWorks because of how Logos cross-indexes and integrates the various resources. Plus, I’ve owned Logos longer than BibleWorks, so there are some things I know how to do in Logos that I have not learned how to do in BibleWorks. At any rate, I type the passage in and click go and within a matter of seconds, Logos pulls up every Bible, lexicon, dictionary, commentary and any other resources from my Logos library of resources that I have purchased across the years! As of the writing of this post, there are over 3,000 resources in my Logos library, representing an investment of over $13,000 in 15 years! The first tool I use with Logos is the Exegetical Guide. Type in the text and within a matter of seconds, every Bible (English, Hebrew, and Greek), lexical resource and Bible dictionary in my library is displayed; already cued or located at the text and the words of the text! Logos brings up in seconds what would take hours to do in paper books!

By the time, I’ve finished establishing the integrity of the text, using BibleWorks and Logos, it is usually late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning. The plan is to spend study time Thursday consulting what various commentaries say about the text. Now, by this time, I already have a pretty good feel of the author’s original intent and where I want to go with the text, but I consult commentaries to compare my findings with what other biblical scholars say about the text and also to gain additional insights. I was taught, and I strongly agree, that preachers should never consult the commentaries before the completion of their own personal work of research and study. Going to the commentaries first will short-circuit the development of your own investigative and research skills and severely compromise what the Holy Spirit wants to say to and through you to your listeners. But even in dealing with the commentaries, don’t just read the ones you agree with or the only the ones of your own personal theological slant. Read commentaries that challenge and as well as confirm your findings, thoughts and views.

Most of the commentaries I own are found in my Logos software (nearly 1,500 volumes). To access my commentaries in Logos, I click on the Passage Guide tool, type in the text, click go, and every Bible, commentary and any other resource in my library that deals with the text instantly opens to my text and/or pulls up pertinent information about the text; all in a matter of seconds! However, some of my favorite commentaries are only in my WordSearch software, such as The Preacher’s Sermon and Outline Bible, Barnes Notes of the Old and New Testaments and a few others. There are also times when I consult commentaries that I only have in book-form. As a side note, there are some books that I own in book-form that I have also purchased in various software platforms. Some of these, I purchased years before I became computer savvy and once they became available in software form, I purchased them again because of the ease of use and the speed of research the software provides.

Well, Friday is the day I usually write the sermon! Yes, I am (as my Daddy used to describe preachers who use manuscripts) a paper boy! I have detailed that process in a prior post (From the Mind to the Manuscript: 5/2/13) But I just wanted to share with you a little bit about what biblical software platforms I use and how I use  them. If you are serious about biblical studies; whether you are a preacher, teacher, or just someone who loves the Bible, I strongly suggest you look into investing into a biblical software program. Of the three I use, each one has strengths and weaknesses. There are some tasks I do in one that can’t be done (I have not learn how to do) in the others and there are some task that could be done by any one of them with equal ease. But as I use them, they don’t compete with one another; they complement one another. You can check them out at their various websites for pricing and more exact details. You can find out more about Logos Bible Software at: www.logos.com BibleWorks at www.bibleworks.com and WordSearch at www.wordsearchbible.com.

This is What the Verse Means to Me!

Ecclesiastes 1:9 says: “History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.” (NLT) I was reminded of that verse as I was reading an article for a paper I am required to write for one of my D. Min., (Doctor of Ministry) classes. The article was about preaching, postmodernism and the New Homiletic. Without going into too much depth, postmodernism is a movement or a way of thinking that denies the objectivity of knowledge and truth. According to postmodernism, there is no objective truth, but rather truth is socially and culturally constructed. When you hear people saying such things as “my truth,” that is an indication that they have been influenced by postmodernism.

The author of the article, in describing the various elements of the New Homiletic (Homiletics is the art and craft of constructing sermons and preaching. Simply put; the New Homiletic advocates the construction and preaching of the sermon should start with the listener, whereas in traditional homiletics, the process begins with the biblical text) said, according to the New Homiletic, the purpose of the sermon is not to communicate information, but rather to evoke a communication event from the audience in which the audience, with the help of the preacher, creates or discovers the meaning of the text. In the New Homiletic, the most important thing is not what the text actually means or says, but rather the meaning the listener or reader gathers from the text or the preaching event. The article goes on, in much detail, to talk about this ‘new’ way of thinking, preaching, and listening to sermons. As I read the article, I said to myself: “This is nothing new; this is the same thing I did in Sunday School as a boy!”

When I was a youngster, my Sunday School teachers were not, by no stretch of the imagination, biblical scholars. Now, this is not to be disparaging, or disrespectful toward them because they, and the church, did the best they could with what they had! (The only qualification required to teach Sunday School back then was just the willingness to do it; not too much has changed in most churches I am familiar with today!) But, I thank God that they did know enough to light a fire within me to want to know more about the Word of God and the God of the word! Now, I mention them because, as we went over the lesson, each student had to read a verse. Then, after reading the verse, each student would stand up and explain what the particular verse they read meant to them. I didn’t know it then, but the most important thing in biblical study is NOT what the verse means to me, but rather, what the verse actually means! No! I didn’t know it then, (and my Sunday Schools teachers apparently didn’t know it either!) but you really can’t know what the verse means until you know what the verse meant! In other words, the primary thing is not so much what the verse is saying to me, but rather what was the original author’s intended meaning for his original audience. You can’t get the application right (what the verse means and how it applies to your life) until you first get the original meaning right! My New Testament Greek professor; Dr. G. Roger Greene, at Mississippi College (MC) always asked and challenged his students, when I was in his class: “How can you know what it means if you don’t know what it meant? As preachers and teachers of the Gospel: You can’t tell them what it means, if you don’t know what it meant!”

So, I guess what I’m saying is that postmodernism and the New Homiletic are not really “new” at all! The same thing was happening in my Sunday School class over fifty (50) years ago! But, we could go back, even farther than that! Judges 17:6 and Judges 21:25 are two verses that are identical in most English Bibles, the verses say: “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” (KJV) The New English Translation renders it: “In those days Israel had no king. Each man did what he considered to be right.” (Jdg. 21:25 NET) Isn’t that where we are today, with people talking about ‘their truth’ and ‘my truth?’ Isn’t that the same thing postmodernism and practitioners of the New Homiletic are doing and saying when they say there is no objective truth and that truth is subjective and relative? It’s amazing to me, because it seems like the more modern man seeks to discredit the Bible as the Word of God, the more he actually proves it to be true!

If you are a preacher, a prophet, a teacher, or deal with the word in any kind of way, I admonish you to be careful to be faithful to the text. Please remember, we are not being faithful to our calling when we assign meaning without finding and understanding the original meaning. We must remember, the scriptures were not written specifically to us or for our modern frame of mind. They were written to ancient people, who processed things much differently from the way we do today. Therefore, to be honest in our exposition, we must first understand their position! Even in modern communication, the real meaning is not the meaning you, as a reader might assign, but rather the real meaning is the meaning the writer or author intends! For instance, if you assign a meaning to this blog post that I did not intend, there has been no communication; but rather there has been a miscommunication! Even in our daily conversations, we should make sure we are actually communicating instead of just merely saying words to each other. One of the main problems with communication today is with people are using the ‘same’ words, but those same words often having ‘different’ definitions! For example, when I tell you, “I’m cool.” Before the conversation is over, we both need to understand whether or not I’m talking about my discomfort with the temperature, or am I talking about what a great guy I am, or am I saying, I have no problems with our relationship or with something you might have said earlier that might have caused me to be upset!

Now, if we have those communication issues with just simple everyday conversations, and we are in the same culture, time, and place, then how much more do you think there are communications issues involved in properly reading and understanding the Bible, when we are dealing with communication issues with people from a different time, culture, language, and way of thinking? Imagine this scenario, if you will: Suppose, I write you a note and I tell you about this funny joke I heard. And in the note, I make the statement: “That joke was so funny, I died laughing!” Now, fast-forward several thousands of years and my note is found by people of a different culture, language and time. A people who no longer or never, used the expression; ‘died laughing’ to express how funny something is. There will be a distinct possibility that those people might mourn my untimely death because they will think I literally died from laughing so hard! And God forbid that my note should somehow be misconstrued as factual scientific data! Then they would be some sad people indeed, afraid to laugh, lest they were to ‘die’ from laughing! Now, as unlikely as that might sound to you, some of the things that people are so uptight today about what the Bible says were not meant to be doctrines, dogma, or deep truths, but actually were originally just hyperboles and figures of speech! But, you won’t be able to tell the difference between the deep stuff and the fluff, if you don’t dig for what it meant and just take someone’s word for what it means!

We live in an amazing time! On one hand, with the advent of biblical computer software programs such as Logos Bible Software, BibleWorks, BibleSoft, WordSearch, Sword, and many others (some of which are free), access to the Bible in the original languages and the tools for research and correct interpretation are just clicks of the mouse away! Yet, biblical illiteracy, even in the church is increasingly alarming! I remember one night, I was teaching a New Testament Survey class at a church I once served. One student asked me why I kept referring to some of the epistles as ‘Pauline.’ He thought ‘Pauline’ was the wife of Paul! (No joke; he was serious and he was a deacon!) He was almost as bad as the joke I heard about the kids who thought the ‘epistles’ were the wives of the apostles! Or even worst, I actually heard a person reviewing a Sunday School lesson say that he thought the ‘Gentiles’ were called that name because they were gentle!

God help us all! At a time when the need for biblical authority in preaching and teaching is so great, the airwaves are flooded with preaching and teaching that has no real depth or substance! There is an overwhelming number of preachers and teachers, with many followers and listeners; boldly, loudly, and authoritatively proclaiming nothing more than: “This is what the verse means to me!”