Top iPad Apps for Bible Study (Part One)

I recently bought an iPad and have had a chance to explore some of the apps available for biblical studies.  If you search on “Bible” in the Apple App Store, you will get 942 iPad apps and another 2466 for the iPhone!  This is a bit overwhelming, so I will try to narrow the field a bit and comment on some of the apps I have used.  In part one I will focus on Readers, in part two I will focus on “other” apps which might be useful for biblical studies.

To a large extent, people who want to use their iPad for Bible study are really looking to read books, so this list is mostly book Apps. Most of these apps have similar features with respect to searching, highlighting, note-taking, etc.  The big difference is availability of new books and the price of those books.  Amazon and Logos are the clear leaders for book availability, Amazon can sell books for much less than the smaller competitors.  For example, the ESV Study Bible is available for $39.95 in Logos and Olive Tree Bible Reader 5.  Kindle has the ESV Study Bible heavily discounted, it is only $9.99.  The Holman Bible Atlas is $29.95 at Logos, $24.99 with Olive Tree, but only 16.48 in the Kindle store.   I will point out that Logos has frequent sales which reduce the list price considerably and their “pre-sale” program is a great way to buy new books at a discount.

Logos.  This is by far the best Bible App for the iPad primarily because of the number of resources available.

Logos for iPad

In addition, Logos is the clear leader for studying in Greek and Hebrew on the iPad. Language resources are excellent in Logos, although for the best resources you will have to invest money in the library.  For example, when you select a Greek word you are given the option to “look up” the word.  This provides a brief gloss and the form is parsed.  From this tab you can search for the word in the Greek New Testament or do a “word study.”  This is a stripped down version of the desktop Logos Word Study.  Since I own BDAG already, I am able to look Greek words up in this standard reference.  If you have not purchase BDAG, then you will have to use another resource.  The text of BDAG is identical to the printed version, all biblical references are tagged so that selecting a linked text opens a floating window with the text cited and the option to open the text in a full Bible. As in the desktop Logos version, all abbreviations are linked; selecting one will open a floating window identifying the appreciation.

A major selling point for me is integration of the desktop version of Logos with the iPad App.  For the most part, the books you own are stored “in the cloud” and the are available on the iPad or your desktop.  There are some exceptions: The Hebrew-Aramaic Lexicon on the Old Testament is not available on the iPad.  I have been a longtime user of the Theological Journals library from Galaxie Software and I am thrilled that all of the journals in that collection are available on my iPad.  Logos recently released a collection of Journal of Biblical Literature, 26 years of one of the finest journals for biblical studies (1981-2006) are now available on my iPad.  That is nearly 20,000 pages of fully searchable scholarship!

Logos is not perfect.  Highlighting and note taking is not yet implemented and occasionally the program crashes.  This is likely due to running multiple apps, so I usually shutdown other apps before spending time in Logos.  These problems will be addressed in future versions.  (An Andriod version of the Logos App is in beta. This review applies to version 1.3.7).  (UPDATE:  Logos 2.0 includes notes, highlighting, and stability).

Vyrso.  Also published by Logos, this app is virtually the same program as Logos, but does not have the original language features.  You can still read your Logos books, but links to lexicons are not included.  Vyrso is designed to read books sold through the Vyrso store, which is not quite online yet.  When it is fully launched, the site will focus on Christian literature.  Vyrso is more or less the Christian Bookstore of the Internet.  With the number of books Logos already has, the Vyrso store will open with a major library of books, many of which are not available in Kindle or iBooks.  I have already reviewed Vyrso and pointed out that the App is not designed to work with biblical languages.  You may read a Greek Bible, but there are no resources for looking up lexical forms or doing any kind of morphological search.  (This review applies to version 1.01).

Olive Tree

Olive Tree Bible Reader 5.  Olive Tree has been producing free and low-cost Bible software for years.  Their Bible Reader app is a solid Bible reader with some excellent features. When you download the app you have a choice between the American Standard and the KJV, but in-App store has a large selection of books for purchase.  Many of the free books are quite familiar since they are out of copyright resources (Jamison, Faussett and Brown’s Commentary for example). I was pleased to see many excellent scholarly resources in their store.  For example, they sell BDAG, the standard Greek Lexicon, for $159.  The App will link to Greek text this lexicon the same as Logos.  There are a number of other excellent lexicons (Louw and Nida, LEH) as well as word study resources such as TDNT and EDNT.

The reading page is clear and customizable. Select a word or phrase and the menu offers to copy, highlight, add a note, bookmark or search for the word in the rest of the Bible. Bible Reader can also search Bible dictionaries in their library as well.  Opening a note adds a floating window designed to look like a sheet of notebooks paper similar to the NotePad app.  This notepad can be expanded to the full screen.  The title is customizable and the heading includes the date created and last date modified.  Tags may be added for faster searching and notes may be saved to categories.

I downloaded the free SBL Greek New Testament and found the text attractive and easy to read, although I did not purchase a lexicon to test the linking.  There are problems searching the Greek Bible since there is no way to search on the lexical form of a word, only the form as it appears.  This is the same problem as Vyrso, the App is not designed for Biblical languages.  (This review applies to version  5.00.04)

Blue Letter Bible

Blue Letter Bible.  This is another veteran of online Bibles.  The App is not as appealing as others in this list and the reader is designed for reading Bibles.  The ASV, KJV and NET are included along with the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, other Bibles are only available online. Greek and Hebrew texts are available as well as LXX and Vulgate.  The Morpological Greek uses an unusual font, and individual words cannot be highlight, selecting a word selects the whole line. The Westminster Leningrad Codex and found the text rather small (although this can be adjusted), and words cannot be selected. The app offers a number of additional resources, all freely distributable.  For example, on John 1 I selected “available commentaries” and found a few of the usual older commentaries as well as  Chuck Smith, Ray Steadman, J. Vernon McGee (in English or Spanish), and a few others.  Unique to the BLB is the inclusion of audio in the commentary sections.  Selecting a sermon by Chuck Smith opens a player inside BLB (rather than iTunes).  This particular file was almost an hour and a half long. (This review applies to version 1.07).

Kindle.  The Kindle App on the iPad is an excellent book reader.  Since most of the readers are similar, what sets Kindle apart is the availability of books through the Amazon store.  There are hundreds of free or inexpensive books, many of which may be useful for biblical studies.  I have already mentioned that Kindle books tend to be less expensive than the retail price at the Logos store, but there is a huge selection books which are in the public domain and priced for almost nothing.  For example, the Babylonian Talmud is available for 95 cents, although it is the 1903 translation by Rodkinson.  (Hint: search the kindle store for the word Samizdat, many of books are taken from Internet Sacred Text Archive and “kindle-ized.  It might be worth a dollar to avoid making the conversion yourself.)   Not all the bargains are public domain.  I notice popular books like Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz and Norman Geisler’s I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist are only $1.99 each.  Prices like these are hard to beat.

I get a bit frustrated with the categories in the Kindle store.  For example, under “Christianity” there are Bibles, John Piper, the Velveteen Rabbit, and the Book of Mormon.  This is simple a matter of bad tagging and perhaps one of the reasons the Vyrso Store will be the choice for Christians, less wading through off topic books to find what you want.  (This review applies to version 2.7).

In the next installment, I will evaluate some other resources for biblical scholarship using an iPad.

Part 2:  Bible Atlases on the iPad

Part 3: Biblical Languages on the iPad

Part 4: Word Studies on the iPad

Part 5: Free Books for the iPad!

Logos and the Perseus Collection (thousands of Greek and Latin texts for free from Logos)