Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dusty Reference Tome, meet the Web 2.0

***Note: This is kind of a departure from your typical "Works for Me Wednesday," but I love simplicity, so I'm throwing it out there.*** 

In case you have been working in an orphanage in Haiti or training at an off-the-grid missions school in Montana for the past...10 years...the web rocks. Especially for you, Bible Scholar. If you don't believe me, let me share with you my two favorite bible websites and how they make studying the bible much simpler than it has been in the past.

Have you ever used Strong's Exhaustive Concordance? I mean that huge hardcover monster with which you can, literally, beat away the devil's advances?

I love that baby, just holding it made me feel like a scholar. But it's a little hard on your back, especially if you are also carrying around The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge. Dorsalgia notwithstanding, these two references tomes are, arguably, the twin pillars of bible study. So what's a budding exegete with lower back pain to do?

*Enter the World Wide Web. Cue angelic voices and grateful weeping*

In bible college, while the rest of the girls were finding husbands, I fell in love with the Blue Letter Bible website.

This is a beast of a bible reference website, and the "blue letters" refer to the hyperlink buttons to the left of each scripture which access the various references available on the site.
They are a little cryptic at first, but after a few visits you'll pick up the shorthand:
  • "K" the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge
  • "C" Greek/Hebrew concordance lexicons useful for word studies (Strong's or Vine's are both here)
  • "L" a (somewhat limited) list of text/audio/video commentaries available on that verse
  • "I" images or maps and, if a music icon appears, any hymns associated with that verse
  • "V" different translations of the text (includes the Vulgate, the Septuagint, and a Spanish version)
  • "D" dictionary or encyclopedia topics for that verse
This has been my one-stop shop for bible reference for about as long as I've been studying the bible. It's jam-packed with reference tools, it's easy to use, and I love having all of my information in one place. Simplicity is a beautiful thing whether you're a bible college student, a bible teacher, or someone who doesn't have time to sit down and pull out 3 reference volumes to do an in depth study (read: Mom). But, I have to admit that...well, its a little boring.

BLB does reference amazingly well, but it has been slow to integrate more dynamic or interactive features. It wouldn't be fair say that without mentioning the Blue Letter Bible Institute which offers free courses in theology, apologetics and straight scripture study. This is a very, very cool program (did I mention that it's free?). Still, it's a more traditional "Web 1.0" kind of site: lots of great information, not a lot of interaction. So, if you are looking for a more dynamic, customizable, "Web 2.0" kinda tool with greater interaction, you have to check out my new cyber-bible infatuation,

A product of, YouVersion is probably the most popular (free) bible mobile app out there but they have a great website as well.

It has this lovely interface that all you app-ers are going to love.

Enchanted as I am with YouVersion's snazzy appish cover, it really doesn't have much in the way of reference tools (yet) while Blue Letter Bible pretty much scores straight 10's when it comes to hermeneutics (oh yeah, "hermeneutics" and "exegesis" in one post!). Instead, YouVersion is geared more toward user-interaction which you can see by their "My" and "Community" menus at the top of the screen.

Having your own account gives you the ability to add your own bookmarks, notes, and "likes," to verses which takes you one step closer to a virtual copy of your much-highlighted-margin-notated old school bible. This has been one of the biggest voids in my experience with BLB.

Especially rad is YouVersion's tagging tool, which not only allows you to highlight a scripture and add a keyword tag (faith, promises, etc.), but you can also see tags that other users have used which creates your own kind of user-generated Treasury of Scripture Knowledge. I'm really jazzed by this idea.

I really haven't explored the community feature all that much, but it looks to be an attempt to create a kind of bible-oriented social networking site. I like the idea of connecting with other people based on what they are reading; I've already received some comments on my public notes which is kind of fun, but I have found that the best way for a site to create a "networking" option for their users is just to use Facebook Connect.

So, if BLB is a desk covered with reference books (surrounded by pastors and bible commentators), YouVersion is the bible and journal on your lap (and your life group as well). Still, I have to admit I'm using it much more than BLB these days. Why is that? I could say that the interface is prettier, that the options are more robust, or that it is easier to use. But the truth is that I use my phone to study my devos more often than I use my computer and...

I've been waiting for a year for a BLB Android app!

While it has finally worked it's way into the App Store, there is neither whisper nor a rumor that it'll be showing up in the Android Market any time soon. It's petty, but this hurts my feelings.

Be fair, Sarah, developing a mobile app is expensive (it's even more expensive to develop two...and what about all the Blackberry users out there?) and BLB does have a very nice mobile site. Still, until I can get a 4G connection in Podunk, Eastern WA, I'll be using apps much more frequently than mobile sites.

But the good news is, if you use an iPhone or an iPad and you love the Blue Letter Bible, there is, in fact, an app for that. And if you're looking for a more interactive mobile bible reading experience, now there's an app for that too.

Here are a few honorable mentions:
How about you? What's your favorite bible website or app (extra points if I can get it on Android!)?