Bible Software Review
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Publisher: Rick Meyers
Version reviewed: 7.9.8
Cost: Free
Reviewed: April 26, 2008
At A Glance (1-5)
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With over 6 million downloads to date, e-Sword is the most popular of all the free, single-author software packages, and one of the most popular of all Bible software packages even when the "big dogs" are in the mix. e-Sword was birthed in 2000 by its author, Rick Meyers. The software gained popularity fairly quickly, and when Rick's employer went bankrupt in 2001 he decided to go at it full-time. e-Sword has been improving rapidly ever since, and the user community has responded in kind. The theme verse for e-Sword is "Freely you received, freely give." (Matthew 10:8).


e-Sword's interface is functional, but not overly impressive. It seems to have a Windows 98, or even 95, feel to it's layout and icons. The main interface consists of only three panes. These panes are hard coded into four pre-set layouts from which you can choose. You then choose which category goes into which pane. The categories are Bible, Commentary, and Dictionary. It's flexible enough and does the trick, though it certainly feels restrictive. Even worse, there is no Apply or Preview button to view your changes, and just to add insult to injury, you can't even see them when you select your option - you must restart the program.

Nor is the interface very streamlined. If you have many resources, the combination of tabs and buttons for each pane quickly clutter up the screen. The situation is much less of an issue the wider your monitor is, as the tabs and buttons are spread out and look much better. But if you have a 15-inch monitor you'll know right away what I mean.

There are three maximize buttons that allow you to view each of the panes in a maximized version, and a fourth button to view all the panes at once.

The Bible pane lists the verse for the currently selected translation. It is a fairly standard view. You can find desired verses via the Bible tree, where you select a book and chapter, or in the open text box where you just type in your verse. This textbox also contains a dropdown history to quickly go back to previously viewed verses. The Bible tree can be turned off if you don't use it.

There is a parallel tab that allows you to select four different versions to view in parallel. Though it is unfortunate that you cannot choose how many versions you wish to view in parallel, the view is rendered nicely and is very useful. The parallel view is done in column mode; a dropdown selector at the top of each column is used to select the desired version.

Similarly, there is a Compare tab, which is actually a row-based parallel view, showing the current verse for all your translations. You can only view one verse at a time, which can be problematic as there is no navigation buttons to move forward or back by one verse.

Clicking on a verse will cause all the commentaries to jump to the appropriate entry. All the commentary tabs with an entry for the urrent verse are designated as having a corresponding entry, so you can jump right to a particular commentary. There is a link button on the commentary pane which you can turn off in order to keep a commentary entry in view while you continue to navigate to different Scripture passages.

Also, clicking on any word in the Bible or Commentary pane will jump to that word in any dictionary that has an entry for that word. This is a simple, but very nice feature that I wish more Bible software products utilized. Like the Commentary view, all the tabs on the Bible view that contain an entry for the current word will be designated with a different icon on the tab to make it obvious.

While we are on the Dictionary pane, each dictionary has a small widget containing a list of all the words defined by that book. This allows you to easily find a word in any dictionary. The combination of the word list and the single-click automatic lookup make the dictionary resources in e-Sword very useful.

The Commentary pane is also where you will find the extra resources and books that don't fit well under the three standard categories. There is a separate tab called Topic Notes. According to the documentation the Topic Notes are used to create works based on a topic. However, it appears to be the location for all standard books that don't fall in the Bbile, Commentary, or Dictionary category. It works, but it feels like this functionality was more of an afterthought, rather than incorporating the books into the interface in a more intuitive manner.

When this Topics tab is selected, there is a dropdown list at the bottom of the page from which you can select a book. Once you select your book, there is another dropdown list toward the top of the pane that lists the table of contents for that book, allowing you to jump to specific chapters. Sound confusing? It is a bit, though in practice you quickly get used to it.

e-Sword includes a STEP reader so you can read an STEP-format books. Unfortunately, this is a format that is long-since past its time. STEP was an initiative started over 20 years ago to create books in one format so any product that supported STEP could read any books from the STEP library. After a strong start, STEP quickly faded, as the claws of competition stepped in. I would suggest that e-Sword remove the STEP feature and instead concentrate on a PDF reader, the new global standard for electronic book publishing.


Each pane has its own search button, and does a search inside the respective area. The search is conducted only for the currently selected book. Search results are return in a popup window, however, meaning you cannot keep the results in view while continuing to interact with the program. You can select a particular entry to jump to, but once you close the window you have lost the search results.

Each search does the standard "all words," "any words," or "phrase," and you have the ability to select a partial match. The Bible search has the option to search within a specified range - you can easily select the beginning and ending book, or the OT or NT. The searches are not terribly slow, but not nearly as fast as the searching in most other software packages.

Under the menu options exists an Extended Search button for each category. This is very similar to the normal search, except that you can search across multiple books in the same category. However, there is no capability to do one search across the entire library. This is a significant shortcoming, and one I hope is fixed at some point.


As one of the most popular Bible packages, e-Sword has done what normally only the "big guns" have been able to do - acquire a wealth of resources, both classic and contemporary, across all the major categories. The program installation brings with it only the KJV Bible along with Strong's numbers and a Strong's dictionary. But you can immediately start downloading extra modules through the web site. There is a large amount of free modules, but there is also a considerable amount of for-purchase modules, mostly for the more contemporary works. Fortunately, prices are reasonable to downright cheap.

Dozens and dozens of Bibles are available, but more importantly, all of the major and recent translations are available. In addition to the free KJV, popular translations such as the NASB, NIV, The Message, and the New King James, are all available for nominal fees. However, in a major coup, the ESV is available free of charge.

Most of the standard classic commentaries are available (Henry, JFB, Barnes, etc.), you can also purchase a decent set of newer commentaries, such as the Preacher's Commentary and the Believer's Bible Commentary, to name a couple. The Dictionary category suffers a bit in the contemporary field, though all the usual suspects are available. e-Sword also has a large number of "Extras" - resources that fit into the Dictionary category but are more or less standard books. Again, there are a few contemporary works that require payment, but a large number of classics, some that have withstood the test of time, such as Alfred Edersheim's tomes on Jewish history.

Finally, not only is there is a very active user community creating a wealth of add-on books and modules, but there are 3rd-party tools available, the best know one named BeST2 (Ben's e-Sword Tool), that will download and covert resources from Crosswalk, Bible Gateway, or any books in the OSIS format.


Creating your own verse commentary is pretty straightforward. In the Commentary pane there is a Study Notes tab. Select this when you are on the desired verse, and start typing. Your text will stay linked to the verse in question, no matter which Bible translation you are using. The editor is a fairly decent WYSIWYG interface. While it is not smart enough to recognize verse links, it does not force you to enter archaic pre- and post-fix symbols for it to recognize a verse. Instead, there is a Format Scripture button on the pane that brings up a small window where you type the Scripture reference; e-Sword will insert the link where the cursor was.

While you can search through your study notes, they are not fully integrated into e-Sword and are not included in the Extended Search, which is disappointing.

As stated, the Topics tab allows you to view books and topic notes. You can easily create your own Topic file, importing an entire book if you wish. Again, the location of all these extra books is a bit odd, though it does work ok. On the other hand, creating a topic creates a ".top" field in e-Sword's main directory, which you can then easily distribute to whomever by simply copying the .top file. Nice and simple.


Support provided by e-Sword is minimalistic - just a Feedback page from which you can report a problem or ask a question. There is a small FAQ as well, but no official forums or place where the author hangs out. I submitted a question via the feedback form but never received a reply.

What there is, however, is a huge user community that is very active and ready to help. Most of these groups are located in Yahoo groups. Your best bet is to go to
Yahoo Groups and search on "e-sword." However, here are some of the main groups:
  • The main e-Sword group (6,400 members!)
  • e-Sword tools (3,200 members)
  • e-Sword hosted user modules

    I almost gave e-Sword a 3 in this category due to the non-reponse to my support question, but the vibrant and responsive user community means you will always get the answer you need, which is what support is all about, right?

  • Value

    It is easy to see why e-Sword is so popular. The product is free, with paid content available for contemporary works, large and active user community, a decent program, and a wealth of tools. However I will say this. If you were to purchase three or four of the major translations, as well as a couple of the more recent commentaries with contemporary scholarship, you are still looking at $150 or more. For that price you are in the territory of lower-end packages of the "big guns", which include most of the said translations, more commentaries, and more books. Just something to think about.

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    Foster Enterprises
    Email me at: Jerry [ at ] Fostertribe [ dot ] org