July 11, 2012

Three must have Bible apps

by Jesse Johnson

Bible AppI’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:

Olive tree1. 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.

Logos bible softward2. 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.

youversion3. 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:

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • JackW

    OliveTree has always had the grid option. In the Go To window pull down or swipe down and you will find three options including grid.
    OT is also less clunky than logos and the resources end up being less expensive and you can uh only what you need instead of a bunch you never use anyway.

    • Woo hoo. I have a new freedom. Thanks Jack, I fixed the post above to reflect that. 

      Also, I think the joy with Logos is the interconnected nature of it all. That it can search through your library by passage, word, etc., and everything is hotlinked together. So it is not a simple “I don’t use those books” but more of a “all of my books can be used together. I do grant that it costs like 2k to get a good package though. 

      • JackW

        You’re welcome! I do pretty much what you are describing in OT using the Resource Guide, but without worrying if the resources are downloaded or not.

  • MikeWorrell

    As a cheapskate, erm, frugal person, I try to stick to the free apps. The Bible app I end up using most, usually during small group, Sunday School, or sermons, is Strong’s KJV. While the KJV is not my version of choice, it’s very handy to be able to quickly check Greek or Hebrew words.  

    • Sweet. Thanks Mike. I too played around with that app, and liked it for what it does. 

  • spro

    Any thoughts on MySword (its much like like E-Sword for the PC)? It seems to have many Bible versions, Greek, Hebrew studies, dictionaries and lots commentaries built-in..

    • I used MySword on my droid phone. I’m not sure if there is a Mac version. It reminded me of BibleWorks. There is lots you can do, but only if you remember all those short cuts! Ultimately, I found that using YouVersion was simply easier. 

      • Scott

         I have used Cadre, You Version, and Olive Tree and did so for upwards of 9 months.  You Version excelling for when I want to have the bible read to me and for my daily bible reading plan.    Olive tree and Cadre were close favorites for their different pluses and minuses.   But when i found MYSWORD everything changed.  I wanted something that provided me the rich commentary access, ease of use as well as a simple way to have a greek english parallel on the screen at once.  Plus Greek fully parsed and also linked to lexical information as needed.  This program which is FREE except for a couple of advanced features that require a small donation to activate is RICH.  There is also a wonderful third party site called biblesupport dot com with 1000’s of more add ins for mysword.  I have the complete Gill, Henry, Calvin, Robertsons, JFB, Expositors Bible, Nicholls GNT Commentary, and several others all instantly linked by verse. Plus several dictionaries and books and maps. 

        Love it.  If it ever becomes available on an ipad maybe I’ll consider that for my next purchase otherwise I’m sticking with my 10″ acer iconia with android.   I take it everywhere.  My main goal in owning a tablet is the ability to carry the Greek and Hebrew Text with me at all times with access to the helps as I need. 

        It’s also very handy while reading other books and quick way to consult the text in the original languages – compare what an author has written with another commentary. 

        Only I will say – I don’t know any shortcuts – I should check that out.  Everything I do is menu driven except for the finger swiping to scroll, or to brighten and dim the screen.  Would love to find further shortcuts.  

        I did have to reload Mysword when my Tablet bricked and was replaced almost at the end of warranty.  When I reloaded I discovered new and better features.  Probably a good reminder to keep upgrading – hey its free anyway.

        • Very helpful comment. Thanks Scott. 

          And I totally forgot to mention in the post above about YouVersions reading plans. They are very cool. Although they do become a little bit stalkerish… 

  • Shawn Trueman

    As a Mac user I purchased Accordance for my laptop some time ago. The Accordance app gives me access to all of my modules / texts and is a great tool for my iphone.

    • Sweet Shawn. I never went down the Accordance road. There are a few life choices that define you: who you marry, to buy/rent, and Logos/Accordance. It’s never healthy to ask what might have been.

  • Matt A.

    I use the Pocket Sword app for iphone from CrossWire Bible Society. It’s free. It does a nice job linking commentaries to bible passages. Also, it is great for doing Greek homework/translations because it contains Strong’s numbers for Lexicon and Morphology for parsing.

    • I actually really liked that app too. I liked how quickly it found verses, and the commentary feature was a plus. 

  • AppHead

    The new BibleGateWay app is off the hook.
    I dropped all the rest like they were hot.

    • I’m not sure I tried the new one. I’ll check it out though. Thanks.

  • Dmwagner Jr

    Another good one is Accordance. 

    • So the Accordance app reminds me of Saturn drivers. Those who have it, love it. 

  • aaron wragg


    Have you tried the Bible Gateway App? 
    It is fantastic!

    • I have, and I liked it. In fact, that was the first one I downloaded. I just think you can do so much more on these other ones. 

  • Scott Bashoor

    I also like some of the add-ons that Olive Tree has. For instance, you can get the Jewish Study Bible (a non-Messianic, a non-conservative, but nonetheless helpful for research book) on Olive Tree for half the price offered on Accordance.

  • Bob

    Thanks Jesse.  I have a Nook Color and use Olive Tree on it.  The Bible Reader allows you to switch between scrolling and page turning modes.  I find the page turning mode useful for reading.  But when someone is preaching or teaching, I often switch it to scrolling, so that the whole passage appears on one page, allowing me to see the text in context a little easier. 

    • Sweet Bob. And you make a good point about scrolling. It is more convienent to listen to most sermons while scrolling, while it is more convenient to do devotional reading by page turning. That is why I bounce between OliveTree and YouVersion. But switching views in OliveTree is probably a better option. 

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  • Have you tried the “official” ESV app? It’s free and really fast to navigate around the bible.

  • mrben

    I’ve always used the ESV’s own Bible app. 

  • Thanks for the great review of Olive Tree!  Have you played with the resource guide for Bible Study?  http://blog.olivetree.com/2012/06/05/resource-guide-my-personal-research-assistant/

    Also, you can take a highlight, note, or bookmark on your iPad it can sync to BibleReader on your Windows or Mac desktop.  To do the sync you have to use the sync button from “My Stuff” (the brief case icon).

  • Mikehenry

    and perhaps, spellcheckers when needed, as in “…
    apparently in the area of apps, Christian Ipad users can indentify quality. ” 🙂

  • Ah Jesse, admit it… you were thinking of our little group when you wrote that description for You Version, weren’t you? 😉

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  • Nickman31

    Blue letter bible app is great easy access to lexicons and concordinaces

  • Jill Mackin

    Glo Bible is awesome too!

    • I have a friend who loves that. I tried it, and it kept crashing. 

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