Bible Software Timeline Infographic

The History of Bible Software (Infographic)

Surprisingly, it’s fairly difficult to find a clear, chronological accounting of Bible software development. Wikipedia, of course, has some of the major applications organized by operating system, but it doesn’t include release dates or offer much commentary on how they fit together.

UPDATE: Initially this post had a graphic timeline and some commentary on the major waves of development, but it was far too incomplete. I’ve since converted this to a chronological list that should be a bit more complete.

Major Events and Releases

Academic Inquiry (1950s onward)

  • 1957 – The world’s first computer generated concordance for the RSV by John Ellison
  • 1963 – Andrew Morton’s use of computational models to challenge Paul’s authorship
  • 1920 – Yehuda Ridday’s analysis of Isaiah, concluding that there were at least three authors
  • 1971 – Transcribed Leningrad Codex (Francis Andersen)
  • 1976 – Launch of the GRAMCORD project (D. A. Carson, Indiana University, Trinity International University)

Desktop Era (1980s onward)

  • First Commerical Application
    • 1982 – Verse Search – First commercial Bible app (“THE WORD processor” family, Kent Ochel and Bert Brown, Bible Research Systems, Georgetown, TX)
  • First Wave (1980-1987) from Bits, Bytes, & Biblical Studies
    • 1984 – The SCRIPTURE SCANNER (Michael L. Brandex, James W. Collins, W. David Jenkins, and T. Vick Livingston, Omega Software, Round Rock, TX)
    • 1985 – compuBIBLE (Delmer Hightower and Chris Epps, SASSCO, Borger, TX)
    • 1985 – Bible Search (Thomas L. Cook, Scripture Software, Orlando, FL)
    • BIBLE-ON-DISK (Logos Information Systems, Sunnyvale, CA)
    • 1985 – COMPUTER BIBLE (Computer Bibles International, Inc., Greeenville, SC)
    • 1986 – The Powerful Word (Dewey Hatley, Hatley Computer Services, Springfield, MO)
    • 1986 – EveryWord Scripture Study System (Dave Sorensen and Jay Ekstrom, Echo Solutions, Inc., Provo, UT)
    • 1986 – GodSpeed (Brian Moore, Kingdom Age Software, Plano, TX)
    • ComWord 1 (Word of God Communication, Thousand Oaks, CA)
    • Wordworker: The Accelerated New Testament (The Way International, Knoxville, OH)
    • KJV on DIALOG (DIALOG Information Retrieval Service, Palo Alto, CA)
    • COMPUTER NEW TESTAMENT (The Spiritual Source, Manorville, CA)
    • INTERNATIONAL BIBLE SOCIETY TEXT (The International Bible Society, East Brunswick, NJ)
    • VERSE BY VERSE (G.R.A.P.E., Gospel Research and Program Exchange, Keyport, WA)
    • MacBible (Encycloware, Ayden, NC) – from Accordance founder
    • MacConcord / MacScipture (Medina Software, Longwood, FL)
    • New Testament Concordance (Midwest Software, Farmington, MI)
    • BibleWindows
    • Bible-Reader
    • Online Bible
  • Second Wave (1987 Onward)
    • 1987 – WORDsearch (James Sneeringer, acquired by LifeWay in 2011)
    • 1988 – ThePerfectWord – Later renamed MacBible (Roy Brown, went on to found Accordance)
    • 1988 – QuickVerse (acquired by LifeWay/WORDsearch in 2011) (history) Originally called Logos Bible Processor (Craig Rairdin, Creative Computer Systems), became QuickVerse in 1989.
    • 1988 – PC Study Bible
    • 1988 – The Bible Library 1.0 (Ellis Bible Library, archive.org page) [first to use CD-ROM?]
    • 1989 – CDWord (Dallas Theological Seminary) – Sold to Logos Research Systems
    • 1991 – Logos (Bob and Dan Pritchett)
    • 1992 – BibleWorks
    • ???? – Bible Windows – Microsoft forced a name change to Biblio
    • ???? – Ask God (Integrated Systems, Kirkland, WA) – natural language input, verse output

Internet Era (1990s onward)

  • 1993 – BibleGateway.com (Nick Hengeveld at Calvin College, acquired by Zondervan/Harper in 2008)
  • 1993 – Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) (Harry Plantinga, Wheaton College now Calvin College)
  • 1994 – Sword Searcher (first called Bible Assistant, Brandon Staggs, StudyLamp Software LLC)
  • 1994 – Accordance (Roy Brown, OakTree Software)
  • 1995 – Epiphany Bible Explorer (acquired by WORDsearch in 2004, become the foundation of WORDsearch 7, 2005)
  • 1996 – BlueLetterBible
  • 1997 – The Message for Apple Newton MessagePad (David Fedor, Servant Software). In 1998, David released Scripture for Palm OS, which was purchased by Laridian in 1999 and renamed MyBible.
  • 1997 – World English Bible (WEB) (Michael Johnson)
  • 1997 – Theophilos (Ivan Jurik of Bratislava, Slovakia, acquired by Laridian)
  • 1998 – OliveTree BibleReader (Drew Haninger, acquired by Zondervan/Harper 2014)
  • 1998 – Laridian launches PalmBible, forced by Palm, Inc. to remove “Palm” from name. Relaunched in 2000 as “PocketBible” on Microsoft’s PocketPC.
  • 1998 – SWORD Project (Troy A. Griffitts)
  • 1999 – iLumina (closed by Tyndale)
  • 2000 – e-Sword (Rick Meyers)
  • 2000 – New English Translation (NET) (professors from the Evangelical Theological Society, iLumina website)
  • 2001 – Digital Bible Society‘s first Treasures Library sent to China
  • 2001 – Zondervan Bible Study Library/PRADIS (closed in 2011)

Mobile Era (2000 onward)

Please add your thoughts and additional details to the comments.

Published by

John Dyer

In my day job, I work at Dallas Theological Seminary, and at night I write Bible software for countries whose leaders could be called "overlords." This one time, I wrote a book about technology and Christian faith. You can find out more about what I'm up to at http://j.hn/.

40 thoughts on “The History of Bible Software (Infographic)”

  1. Thanks for this, John. I have been working on the history of Bible Software for a research project and I think you’ve hit the majors here. (Many of my observations appear to track with yours.) If you think it is worth having a conversation via email about it, please feel free to contact me.

  2. John,
    Thank you for putting this together. This is a great resource! I started in this industry as a volunteer for the CrossWire Bible Society in the late 90s and am currently the Director of Software here at Olive Tree Bible Software. If you don’t mind, I had a couple of corrections and additions for you, from my point of view.

    1) The start date for The SWORD Project is sometime around 1995-96 started by Troy A. Griffitts (a close friend who helped me get into Olive Tree even though it meant he lost an active volunteer).
    2) One of Olive Tree’s main competitors early on up until about the 3rd or 4th generation iPhone was Laridian. https://www.laridian.com They were strongest on PocketPC, and we were strongest on Palm OS, but we both had apps on each platform.
    3) e-Sword was never open source. It has primarily been a one man team, Rick Meyers, which is what makes what he has accomplished so amazing.
    4) Another very noteworthy addition to the early Mobile era was Palm Bible+ http://palmbibleplus.sourceforge.net created originally (2001) by Poetry Poon (a dear friend of mine)

    If I can help in any with with other info feel free to ping me.

    1. Thanks David. I’m working on a more exhaustive accounting in my PhD thesis, and these are really helpful notes. The first mobile Bible app I ever bought was from Laridian, so deeply appreciate their work.

  3. CDWord Library had the first serious academic content for Bible Study, and was the first to use (require) a CD-ROM drive.
    Zondervan had their own proprietary software that worked only on their books. It went through a few revisions before being dropped a few years ago. Can’t recall the name. I got it so I could have the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology on my PC.

    1. Thanks Mark! Yes, CDWord is on the chart and in the text. However, I haven’t been able to find a clear start date for “Pradis: Zondervan Bible Study Library”. Once I do, I can add it.

  4. Hey John,

    Back in the late 90s a developer from Slovakia created Theophilos (http://www.theophilos.com/). An excellent software that blessed many around the world and became influential in the development of other Bible Software tools. I discovered it when I was still in Mexico and helped with some efforts made to include the old Spanish Reina Valera 1909 as well as some localization. Blessings! CA

  5. This is a great project, thank you.

    I’ve got two things to add:
    1. Accordance is Windows compatible now and has been for a few years.
    2. I don’t know if you’re interested in the smaller projects, but I met the creator of the HELPS bible software and he gifted me with a license. It looks like it was relaunched this month under a new name, “The Discovery Bible”. Their website says they’ve been working on the software for 40 years.

    1. I enjoyed this chart as well. Thanks for the work. +1 on adding that Accordance is Windows compatible. I’ve been thankful to see it develop into a full suite that will help keep competition hot with the other big platforms.

    2. Ah yes, I originally had the color for Accordance’s Windows version set to the color for mobile! It’s been corrected. I can’t seem to find a start date for The Discovery Bible. If you know when it was launched, please let me know!

  6. Thank you for this chart. It brings back many memories. However there is an (unintentional?) oversight. By far the best free Bible software for the better part of the last decade is TheWord by Costas Stergiou. I’m assuming you haven’t tried it because it runs circles around the free software mentioned (yes, even eSword) and many of the paid versions. It is also portable, which means it does not need to be installed on the computer you are using it on. It can be run from a thumb drive leaving no trace on the computer. Give it a try, you may even want to update your chart.

    Blessings.

    http://www.theword.net/index.php?home&l=english

    1. Oh, I forgot to mention that Costas released the first version in 2003 and it is Windows only (although some have it working on Linux thru an emulator)…

  7. I agree with Brett. TheWord is without a doubt the best free Bible software package out there by a long shot. The number of fee resources is beyond belief and even the paid ones are very reasonable. I would reccoment this package most highly.

  8. Thanks for doing this, John!

    I’ll dig through the archives and find my early notes… you’ll also find reference to early and academic projects in John Hughes’s “Bits, Bytes and Biblical Studies: A Resource Guide for the Use of Computers in Biblical and Classical Studies”
    https://www.amazon.com/Bits-Bytes-Biblical-Studies-Computers/dp/031028581X

    I think Ask God (an early MS-DOS project with a natural language query interface), the Ellis Bible Library, and BibleWindows also deserve inclusion, as well as Frank Anderen and Dean Forbes’ work on the Hebrew Bible starting in 1971. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Andersen

    1. Thanks for these, Bob! I just picked up John Hughes’ book from the library earlier today, and you’re right – he has some great projects cataloged in there.

  9. This infographic and timeline are superb, and provide valuable perspective on the past. Thank you for putting it together.

    I’m just commenting to say how impressed and thankful I am for your work. I recently stumbled upon InScript and DBS in the midst of searching for new and better web-based, ad-free Bible study suites. I tracked you down through GitHub as the developer and then found your website(s). If I knew any programming languages (I have an interest but zero skills), I’d jump at the chance to help.

    Looking forward to following your future work, and may God continue to bless it!

    1. Oh right…I actually meant to recommend an addition to the list here. Check out Lumina (https://lumina.bible.org/) from the folks at bible.org who provide the NET Bible. It shares some similarities with your InScript/BibleWebApp. And it’s the best way to get all of the wonderful notes from the NET.

  10. This is great! I worked for WORDsearch from 2005 to 2013, and I just have a small correction to mention. You have:

    1995 – Epiphany Bible Explorer (acquired by LifeWay/WORDsearch in 2011)

    Epiphany Software was acquired by WORDsearch in 2004, and their Bible Explorer program became the foundation for WORDsearch 7, released in 2005. WORDsearch was acquired by LifeWay in 2011.

    Previous versions of WORDsearch (through WORDsearch 5) used books built in an RTF-based format called STEP. Beginning with WORDsearch 7, the books used Bible Explorer’s HTML-based CROSS format.

    Thanks for sharing this work!

    1. STEP is worthy of its own mention. It was developed by a consortium of Bible software companies that included Parsons Techology, WordSearch, White Harvest Software, and Zondervan, and Christian publishers (primarily smaller houses like Loizeaux Brothers and Light By Design). It was an effort to get Christian publishers to agree to a *BINARY* standard for electronic publishing that was not proprietary to any one company. Books developed in the STEP format could literally be installed into any participating Bible software without further processing or manipulation.

      STEP had reasonable success from 1995-1999, with WordSearch and QuickVerse leading the way. Several hundred titles were published in the STEP format by all the participating companies.

      STEP was created just as the Web was coming on the scene. While HTML was a known data formatting standard, tools for editing HTML were few and far between. STEP went with RTF as its tagging format, as significantly more tools were available off the shelf for editing documents in RTF.

      Within a very short period of time, it was obvious that STEP had to migrate to HTML. But the upheaval of ownership changes at Parsons Technology at the time negatively impacted the ability of STEP to move forward, as the new management failed to understand its importance to the future of the company (as evidenced by their failure to do anything with the product of significance in the years after I left).

      In 1999, Laridian participated with the a number of other software companies and book publishers on a project called Open eBook, which was an attempt to come up with a standard SOURCE format for ebooks (as opposed to the BINARY format that STEP defined). This was a more achievable goal and had broad support, but the committee failed to consider any of the design criteria that were put forward by Laridian and other Christian publishers that would have made it easier to publish Bibles and Bible reference material in the new format. When Microsoft stepped in with a proposal of their own, any hopes for Open eBook to work as a Bible publishing standard were dashed. This work eventually evolved into ePub. If you’ve ever tried to do lesson preparation with several Bibles and commentaries on a Kindle, you understand the degree to which it failed for our market. :-)

      Meanwhile, Laridian, Epiphany, and other Bible software companies moved forward with proprietary standards based on HTML. Those have dominated Christian software publishing for the last 20 years and no effort to come up with a shared book format has been re-attempted.

  11. Hopefully worth a mention would be Stephen Smith’s early work at Crossway on the ESV web properties. Published in 2001, the ESV first shows up on Bible Gateway in August 2002 (https://web.archive.org/web/20020820211207/http://bible.gospelcom.net/cgi-bin/bible), and by October is up on Good News Publishers/Crossway Books’ own site: https://web.archive.org/web/20021019013545/http://www.gnpcb.org/esv/, along with instructions for webmasters to add an ESV search form to their own sites.

    This followed up a few months later in Feb. 2003 by the first version of the ESV Web Service (https://web.archive.org/web/20030224085305/http://www.gnpcb.org/esv/share/services/).

    In March 2004, Stephen introduced “Javascript syndication”, allowing webmasters to easily embed the ESV text itself on a page.

    Without real numbers to back this up, I still credit a lot of the ESV’s success to Stephen’s innovations in making the ESV readily available to anyone who wanted it online, without much licensing hassle.

    Later, Stephen did the programming for Crossway’s first online study Bible, the ESV Literary Study Bible, first introduced on the web in Oct 2007 (https://web.archive.org/web/20071015173752/http://esvliterarystudybible.org/). I’m not 100% sure, but this *may* be the first study Bible available on the web.

    The very next year, Oct. 2008, Stephen produced the ESV Study Bible Online, as far as I know the first study Bible published online simultaneously with the print.

    Stephen’s also responsible for the first crowdsourced Topical Bible, http://www.openbible.info/topics/, which first appeared in 2007 (https://web.archive.org/web/20070612120500/http://www.openbible.info/topics/).

    He’s got a bunch more of his personal experiments online at http://www.openbible.info/. Not sure which other ones may be historically significant.

    He’s not one to toot his own horn much, so I thought I better toot it for him. :) Thanks for putting this together, John. I hope the research for your

  12. Thanks, John! This is great.
    Back in the day…

    BibleWindows goes back to 1982. It’s John Baima’s long-time project, and it still exists today as Bibloi. Microsoft pressured John when they started claiming any software with “windows” in the name, and that’s when it became Bibloi. In my opinion, it was the top program in its day and had the distinction of working with TLG and PHI CD-ROMs. It’s Silver Fonts were among the most widely used. It’s still around today as part of Silver Mountain Software. http://silvermountainsoftware.com/aboutus.html

    I also remember running some of the earliest versions of Logos and Parsons QuickVerse. Craig Rairdan has a full history of QuickVerse here: http://www.craigr.com/2013/04/04/quickverseparsons-technology-history/

    Thanks again!

  13. Thanks for putting this together. Some additions/corrections:

    David Fedor wrote a program called The Message for the Newton MessagePad in 1997 and sold it under his company Servant Software. In 1998 he released Scripture for Palm OS. In 1999, my company (Laridia, Inc.) acquired Scripture and renamed it MyBible. David has another Bible program called Verse3, which was released in 2014 (www.verse3.com).

    My QuickVerse program was originally called Logos Bible Processor and I sold it under my company Creative Computer Systems in 1988. That program became QuickVerse in 1989.

    The program that would eventually be called PocketBible was originally called PalmBible. It was changed to PocketBible in 2000 when Palm, Inc. began threatening thousands of developers to take “Palm” out of their program names.

    We had an app that ran on the earliest iPods, before the iPod touch, called iPocketBible (ca. 2007). We also used that brand for our short-lived Web-based Bible app.

    Thanks again. It’s cool to see this all in one place. :-)

    1. So in 1998, David Fedor released Scripture for Palm OS, the same year Laridian released PalmBible? And then in 1999 Laridian purchased Scripture and renamed it MyBible. Then in 2000, PalmBible became PocketBible?

      When and to whom did you sell QuickVerse to? Did you rename it before selling?

  14. Your timeline of Scripture/MyBible and PalmBible/PocketBible is correct. For a few years we were selling Bible software under several different brands, including some smaller ones I haven’t mentioned here just to keep it simple. We had PocketBible, MyBible, Simple Bible (webOS), NOAH (Blackberry), and Theophilos at one point. :-) We’ve tried to migrate toward just PocketBible and Theophilos, and we’re in the process right now of phasing out Theophilos so we’ll be back to just PocketBible.

    Here’s the details on QuickVerse — you can simplify this for your chart in whatever way you’d like:

    1988 – Logos Bible Processor by Creative Computer Systems

    1988 – Licensed Logos Bible Processor to Parsons Technology, where it was renamed QuickVerse. (Parsons Technology was founded by Bob Parsons of GoDaddy fame.)

    1994 – Parsons was purchased by Intuit (makers of Quicken).

    1997 – Parsons was purchased by Broderbund (makers of “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego”, “MYST”, “Reader Rabbit”, “Print Shop”, etc.). At this time, QuickVerse belonged to me, personally, and was being licensed to Parsons. Prior to consumation of the sale, Intuit purchased QuickVerse from me outright so that it could be included in the sale to Broderbund.

    1998 – Broderbund was purchased by The Learning Company, which was basically a scam perpetrated by Kevin O’Leary of “Shark Tank” fame and his management team. At the end of that year, I left Parsons due to ethical issues with the new owners. This is also when PalmBible (later to become PocketBible) was released by Laridian.

    1999 – The Learning Company duped Mattel (makers of Barbie) into buying them. Mattel shareholders later sued the company over this deal, which cost the CEO her job.

    1999 – Mattel sells the Church Software Division (QuickVerse) to Findex, which was a dormant publicly traded company at the time. (The next year, they were forced to simply give the rest of The Learning Company to Gores Technology to be sold as scrap.)

    2011 – After struggling for several years, Findex sells QuickVerse to WordSearch. A month later, Lifeway purchases WordSearch.

    I was able to develop PalmBible while still working at Parsons Technology due to a glitch in the purchase of QuickVerse from me that left me with no non-compete or intellectual property agreement with Broderbund. Since PalmBible was for mobile devices, a market Parsons/Broderbund chose not to pursue, there was no abbrogation of fiduciary responsibilities in my “moonlighting” activity. During the Mattel lawsuit, I testified against the company on behalf of the shareholders. I was deposed by a dozen lawyers who spent a day and a half going through my phone logs and journals looking for impropriety in this respect. None found. :-)

  15. One correction: The development head of the 1982 product (which was then called The WORD Processor) was Bert Brown, not Bret Brown. Also, although CD WORD (Dallas Seminary) was in development at the same time as WordSearch, WordSearch was the first commercial product to require a CD-ROM drive. That was crucial for enabling the product to index every single word of the Bible text and return lightning-fast search results (lightning fast by the standards of the day).

    1. Thanks for the typo correction on Bert’s name!
      Do you have any documents or links on when Wordsearch switched to CD-ROM? I haven’t been able to find a definitive release date on when the first Bible app on CD-ROM was released.

  16. I’m not sure about WordSearch being the first commercial product to require a CD-ROM drive. I bought my first CD-ROM drive for the purpose of using the Bible Library from Ellis Enterprises, which was only available on CD-ROM due to its size. I’m positive that I was also using WordSearch at the time; this would have been in 1989 — which also means the date in the article for Ellis is wrong — should be 1988 not 1998. I’d have to dig through some boxes in the basement to confirm this, but they are pretty deep in the stacks so I’ll just go with my memory on this one. :-)

    CD-ROMs were very slow at the time. What made WordSearch fast and small was use of a sparse bitmap compression scheme that allowed it to index every word in minimum space. We used the same compression algorithm in STEP, and I used it when I wrote PalmBible/PocketBible.

    1. Craig,
      Thanks for date change on Ellis Bible Library. I have a link to their old website from archive.org and had simply typed the date wrong. It’s good to see that it predates at least CDWord (1989), though I’m not clear on the relationship to WordSearch in the timeline.

  17. Those interested in this history might also be interested in recent brief interviews from John Dyer, David Instone-Brewer, and Stephen Smith, focusing especially on web-based Bible technology:

    (1) David Instone-Brewer, Tyndale House, Cambridge. https://bigbible.uk/data-bible-instone-brewer/

    (2) John Dyer, DTS/Durham. https://bigbible.uk/bible-online-john-dyer/

    (3) Stephen Smith, Bible Gateway & openbible.info. https://bigbible.uk/data-bible-online-interview-stephen-smith/

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