I’ve spent the last few weeks downloading every Bible app I can find, and subjecting them to vigorous scientific screening, not at all unlike how Car and Driver tests new cars. I’ve done word searches, flipped through multiple translations, taken notes, read chapters, highlighted, used them in church, etc. To save you the time, here are the three apps that outperformed and outsearched the rest.
You will notice that my three favorites are also the three that are most popular. While generally evangelicalism does a terrible job of discerning—and usually the fact that something is popular is a certain indicator that it is useless—apparently in the area of apps, Christian Ipad users can indentify quality. All of these allow you to post highlights, notes, or verses directly to email, Twitter or Facebook. All three are free to download as well:
1. Olive Tree Bible reader: This is by far the best app for daily Bible reading. The pages are laid out like a print Bible (even the edges of the screen look like pages), and you go page-to-page by swiping sideways (unlike many other apps, which have you scroll down—very un-booklike). The verse numbers are offset with a different color/size font, and paragraphs are indented just as in the print Bible. So if you are reading the Holman, it is a an extra space between the verses at the end of a paragraph , ESV in paragraph form, and NAS with the bold verse numbers to start a paragraph. In other words, the pages look exactly like the print version of that translation. The background of each page is not bright white, but more of a faded white, making the pages look like an old book, and this makes it much easier on the eyes.
Switching verses is also quite easy. You can scroll through a drop-down menu of all the books, then scroll through a list of all the chapters (which can be cumbersome in Psalms or Isaiah), and similarly you can then scroll through a list of all the verses in that chapter. Or, alternatively, you can type in the verse reference in menu button (the menu button took me forever to find, as you have to swipe down the list of Bible books to see it; it is right above Genesis, but hidden initially), or (as one commenter pointed out) you can select a grid option from the menu bar next to the reference window.
Word searches are straightforward, but where Olive Tree excels is in the preview window of verses that your search turned up. For example, if you search for “Pharaoh,” the window opens with all the verses containing that word, but then the preview button shows you the context. Unlike most other apps, which simply show you the verse, here if the word is at the beginning or end of a verse, it shows you the verse before or after it, so that you get the full context. It also automatically loads the first hits, then allows you to refresh the list for more options. This is a very helpful option for a word like “Jesus,” which otherwise would take a while to load.
Here is the big downside to OliveTree: the cost. In English, you can get the Holman and KJV for free. Everything else is pricy ($10 for the ESV, for example). However, the SBL Greek NT is also free, and it comes with the textual apparatus. This is by far the most user-friendly and free Greek NT I have found. If you want a Greek NT on your phone, you need this app.
If you want one app to do Bible reading, and you do your devotions in the Holman (which I do) or in the Greek, then this is the app for you. If you use any other translation, this app is still worth the $10-20 cost for your translation of choice.
2. Logos: This app makes the $500 cost of an Ipad worth it. Your entire Logos library is available if you are on-line, and if you are going to be off-line, just download whatever books you want beforehand, and they are all there. Reading in the Logos’ app is easy, and the pages look like what you would see in Logos on your computer if you pressed F11. They show in a reader’s window, you swipe side-to-side instead of scrolling, and all the Greek/Hebrew fonts transfer perfectly. The links are all active, multiple books can be open and once, and like the Kindle there is a gauge on the bottom to show how far into a book you are.
This app has just about all the functionality of the real Logos. You can compare Bible translations, double-tapping searches words, and you can do the passage guide searches on the app in the same way you can on the computer. Things you highlight on your Ipad then show up in your computer’s library as well, as Logos synchs them. It is not that the changes are stored in the could, because once synched, they are still on your computer and Ipad even when one is off-line.
This app has helped me do sermon prep anywhere my Ipad is. Instead of being tethered to my computer or reduced to lugging around a stack of books, this allows me take my entire library anywhere. God made the internet for good—not for evil—and the existence of this app is evidence of that.
3. You Version Bible. This is the most popular and most downloaded Bible app. It is free, searchable, and has hundreds of translations in dozens of languages. If you are witnessing to a Thai speaker, you can find John 3:16 in Thai in 3.16 seconds. You can download most of their versions so that they are available off-line as well. It has the Greek NT, but you have to know enough Greek to read the word Koine in order to find it—perfect to keep out the pretenders.
In terms of accessibility, this is a better app than OliveTree because it is all free. It lacks the reference window of OliveTree, but switching from passage to passage is pretty straightforward. You swipe through the list of books, and then the chapters show up in a grid. Searching in YouVersion is easy as well, although unlike OliveTree, the preview window does not highlight the word you searched for. What YouVersion does do, which you may or may not like, is sort your search results by order of “relevance.” I’m not sure how that order is chosen, but for example when I search for “slave” the results show Gen 30:25, then Gen 29:24, then Mat 10:24, then Exodus 21:20, and so on.
The biggest drawback to this app is that you scroll through the chapter you have chosen, rather than flipping pages like most other Bible readers. And, each chapter is loaded separately, thus you cannot see the end of Isaiah 52 and the start of Isaiah 53 on the same screen. When you are done with a chapter, you hit an arrow button to go the either the previous or subsequent chapter. Moreover, the layout of the text is one verse per line, and there is spacing between each verse, so it looks less like a paragraph (or less like a print Bible) and more like a string of verses. This is fine in Proverbs, but less so in John.
Olive Tree is by far the best app for Bible reading. If you are going to make your Ipad your Bible, this is the app for you. Logos is by far the best app for studying. If you want your library to be on your Ipad, there really is not even a second best choice—this is so superior to the others. And if you want a free Bible on your phone for looking up a verse, for witnessing, or for comparing 100 different translations, YouVersion is it.
Do you have a favorite Bible app? How do you use it? Let me know below: