PocketBible for Windows Progress Update #10

Since the last update we wrapped up work on managing bookmark categories (add, rename, delete, etc.).

One of the things we’ve been working on are various display-related settings. “Settings” is not something you implement all at one time as a separate task. We have been doing them as we need them. One of the tasks we’ve undertaken in the last month or so is to make sure we’ve remembered all of them and that we’ve saved them so they can be restored the next time you run the app. This task will continue in the next month or so to make sure we have everything on the toolbar and menus that you’ll need.

In-App Store

One of the background tasks that has been going on here for some time is a revamping of our website. I could write a whole series of blog articles on that task, but suffice to say that the new design separates the data (like all the “catalog text”, screen shots, and book previews for each product) from the way it is presented. We’ve been able to use people who know Web design to do the “front end” development that the user sees, and use database developers to write the “back end” that provides all the data to the front end. It does this through an API (application programming interface) running on the server.

The initial plan for the in-app bookstore in this new version of PocketBible was to do it the way it’s done on Android, iOS, and macOS. On those platforms, the app has an embedded website viewer that opens a mini version of our website inside the app. As we contemplated how to do that in the Windows app, we had a different idea. Instead of making a little website and figuring out how to get it to interact with the app, we could use the existing API for the new website. All the code and user interface would be inside the app. It would use the API to get the data it needs.

The problem with doing it this way comes up when considering how to handle payments. Securely handling your credit card and PayPal transactions is hard to get right. (Unlike most other e-commerce sites that use third-party shopping carts, Laridian has a custom solution that interacts directly with the credit card processor and PayPal.) Doing it from inside the app creates security issues that we didn’t want to take the time to solve. So instead, when it comes time to check out, we securely transfer you to our website through your existing browser. You finish the transaction there then come back to the app to download your purchases. It all works pretty smoothly and it drew a nice boundary around what we had to implement in the app, saving us some time.

Accessibility

As our customer base ages we have heard more and more about the necessity to think about being able to control font sizes throughout the app. That means in menus and dialog boxes — elements normally controlled by the operating system, not PocketBible — in addition to book and Bible text. Each operating system on which we run presents us with different challenges. Most handle accessibility very badly. The way it’s done in iOS, for example, makes it virtually impossible to create any kind of data input form. If we adopt iOS’s way of doing things, we don’t really know how big any text is. They just take over and make it as big as you ask them to. It creates a real mess for every app.

Because of the development environment we’re working in, we have significantly more control. But with great power comes great responsibility. We have to be thinking about accessibility — especially text size — constantly. The problem is that there is a lot of text in a lot of places in the app — window/pane titles, button labels, section labels, instructive text, dialog boxes, and more. Rather than giving you control over the size of text in every context, we’ve decided to tie what we think of as “user interface text” to the sizes of your book text. You have one control that sizes the text in your book window and we base the size of other text in the app on that choice.

To demonstrate both the in-app store and accessibility features, I put this little video together. I don’t normally record video in the office because we get a lot of background noise from the restaurant below us and the street in front of our building. And because our offices are in a 19th century building with brick walls, original wood floors and 14-foot ceilings, there are a lot of echos. But I got here before anyone else this morning and thought I’d give it a try. 🙂

PocketBible for Windows accessibility demo.

One of the fun things about the way we develop here is that it is very iterative and nothing is ever final. While making this video I discovered that the range of font sizes I was allowing both for books and for user interface text was not wide enough so I made some adjustments. I also realized that it was hard to tell which switches on the preference page where you set the font size were on and which were off. I made a couple small changes so now switches turn green when they’re on.

PocketBible for Windows Progress Update #9

Search words highlighted in the note viewer.

Note Editor

We reported extensively on the note editor in progress update #8. We spent a little more time on that task, in particular as it relates to when we save the changes you make to a note. First, we wanted to make sure that your edits get saved when you exit the app, so we provided a notification to the note editor that the app is about to exit so that it can save your work. (You probably think that just “happens” — and it does — but somewhere there’s a programmer who wrote the code to detect the fact that the app was closing and made sure that your work got saved.)

In addition we took more control over exactly when we sync an edited note to the server. When the note is open for editing, our other apps periodically sync to the server to make sure your changes get saved. This is potentially important on a mobile device where you might drift out of Internet coverage or the battery might die at any moment.

On the desktop, we can be a little more patient. We wait until you are done editing the note (say you switch to the viewer or the other editor), then we save all your changes to the server at that time. Of course locally we save your work every few seconds so that you don’t lose anything if the power goes out. But by waiting to sync with the server until you’re done editing, we make certain problems easier to solve when you have the note open on more than one device at a time.

Finally, when linking to a note from search results, we now highlight the searched-for word(s) in the note viewer. This may be a first for PocketBible. I don’t recall doing this in previous releases, though some of you with memories that extend back to the last century more clearly than mine do might remember it differently.

Note Search

Note searching is similar to book searching except there are no indexes and of course the text comes from a completely different place. The overall structure of the code is the same except for when you get down to actually looking for the word or words in the text. Book text comes from an LBK file which has a lot of indices to support searching, but notes come from a database with no indexing. We’re able to use exactly the same code until we get to that last step, where it branches depending on the source of the text being searched. As a result, a lot of the logic of searching was already done.

The display of note search results is similar to displaying book search results. What we didn’t realize going into this was that it is so similar that it can actually share the code. So the Note Search, Book Search, and Journal Search panels are just 3 instances of the same chunk of code (we call it an “object” rather than a “chunk-o-code”). So we spent some time throwing away some work we had done on separate panels for Note and Journal searches and adapted the existing book-searching code to account for notes.

Similarly, the Journal is just a collection of notes, so the work we do for regular note searches and note editing automatically applies to the Journal. So even though the Journal is an Advanced Feature Set feature, we’re doing the implementation now as we work through the general notes feature. (Other AFS features will likely be put of until work on the standard feature set is done.)

Note search showing note excerpts in results list and highlighted search words.

On the other platforms, when you do a search for a word in your notes, the search results will show an excerpt of your note, but it’s just the first couple of lines. You don’t see where the thing you’re searching for actually occurs in the note. In the Windows version, we’ve made it so that search words are highlighted in the note viewer and are also highlighted in the search results. And we’ve added a smart “excerpt” function so that if the word you’re searching for occurs later in your note than the first couple of lines, we’ll show you the portion of the note in which your word occurs.

Since the book search, note search, and journal search all turned out to be the same/similar code, when we added excerpts with highlighted search words for notes and Bibles, we were also able to add them for non-Bible books.

Study Panel

As a result of working on the note editor, we learned more about how to better handle layout of other panels. This is particularly related to the re-layout that happens when you resize the Study Panel or the entire PocketBible window. Previously we had been doing a lot of manual calculations to position buttons and text appropriately. It turns out there were some easy ways to allow that to happen more automatically.

Bookmarks

We’re just wrapping up work on managing (add, rename, and deleting) categories. This gets tricky when you’re syncing all that data to other devices, so we’ve had to do a lot of testing of the entire synchronization path from Windows to the server and from the server to other devices.

Book Display

We happened to notice while doing our own devotional reading that the book pane was not getting refreshed when you change the start date of a devotional. So now it gets refreshed to update the dates you see in the text.

PocketBible for Windows Progress Update #8

Quite a bit of progress since the last report. Some of it (note editor) was re-implementing something we thought was already done, but that has to happen every once in a while.

Copy Passage

One of the major accomplishments of the last month has been what we call the “Copy Passage” feature. It allows you to enter a verse or passage reference and select a number of options for how you would like the text to appear, then press a button to copy it all to the clipboard with all your options.

With this feature in place, you can use Ctrl+C to just copy the selected text, Shift+Ctrl+C to go to the Copy Passage dialog to choose options, or, once you have the options configured the way you like them, Shift+Alt+Ctrl+C to immediately copy the selected verses with all the formatting options you’ve chosen.

Both the current Windows versions have some limited implementation of this feature. The implementation in the new Windows version is based on the macOS and iOS implementations, which have more features.

Note Editor

Writing a rich text editor for notes is not easy. Back when we were at Parsons Technology doing something similar for QuickVerse 5, we paid someone $200,000 just to implement this one feature.

A few years ago, the people who define how the Web works created technology that is present now in every browser that does a lot of this work for us. It’s far from perfect, but it’s pretty good. Since we use HTML (the “language” of the Web) throughout PocketBible and render it with built-in HTML functionality that is part of the underlying operating system, it wasn’t hard to integrate this functionality into PocketBible for Android, iOS, and macOS.

When we originally started looking into re-writing PocketBible for Windows, this was one of our concerns — would we be able to use this built-in feature for editing notes? We discovered that Microsoft’s development environment was sadly deficient in this area and it became one of our main reasons for going with the Electron system I talked about in update #3. Electron includes Chromium, the guts of the Chrome browser, to provide HTML rendering in every Electron app.

The HTML editing that is built into Chromium can be difficult to use. So initially, we implemented the note editor using a free component we found called TipTap. TipTap is endlessly reconfigurable and seemed like it would meet all of our needs. We even reported that note editing was complete back in update #4. But after we got digging into this, I realized that there were little things that weren’t working at all. For example, if you copied Bible text with superscripted verse numbers into a note, TipTap would remove the superscript. If you had a note that included a table, the row and column information about the table would be removed and you’d only see the text, all run together in a blob.

Turns out TipTap was “easily reconfigurable” but required custom programming to support every single HTML feature. So there was a custom plug in required to make text bold, another one for italics, one for superscript, and another one for tables. But on closer inspection it turned out that they were sorely lacking. For example, you could create a table, but you couldn’t put borders around the table cells. And TipTap would intercept all our Bible verse links, launch a browser, and try to direct you to a site like “http://John 3:16”, which of course didn’t work. Further, if you were reading a note that you created on another platform, like PocketBible for Android or iOS, anything that TipTap didn’t recognize would be stripped from your note.

At first it looked like we just needed to update TipTap from version 1 to version 2, but that didn’t fix anything. So we bit the bullet, removed TipTap entirely, and wrote our own HTML editor based on what we’d done for other platforms. This ended up working fairly well. It’s done except for wringing out the bugs at this point.

One of the little things we noticed that turns out is a problem no matter what platform you’re on is that if you use the note editor to change the color of your notes then choose a color scheme that causes the note editor to have a dark background instead of the traditional white background with black text, you may not be able to see your notes. So the new version has an easy way to switch to a light or dark background color in case you need it to accurately view your notes.

Registration

In update #6 I said we had implemented the ability to log into your account, which is true. But we didn’t prompt you to register when you first launched the app. So that’s been implemented. You can now log into an existing account or create a new one. And the account screen in PocketBible settings/preferences will show you your Advanced Feature Set subscription status and give you options for synchronizing your notes, highlights, and bookmarks.

Current Tasks

We’re currently working on some polishing of the bookmark feature. We previously had implemented the ability to set and clear bookmarks, but not create new categories, remove categories, or rename categories. We’re well into that now. We need to do similar work with respect to highlights.

We’re also testing and tweaking the features mentioned above. While doing one thing we often discover better ways to do things that affect other parts of the program. For example, over the last couple of days I’ve revisited the “go to” pane and significantly streamlined the way it works based on work we did while implementing the note editor. This has made it more reliable by removing a couple hundred lines of code that just gave it more places it could go wrong.

We’ll soon move from the note editor to implement note searches. We have the basic user interface in place; we just need to implement the actual searching.

One behind-the-scenes task that is happening is getting us positioned to be able to create what we call a “release build”. When we build the app in its current state, it’s really suitable only for development use. It has additional panes and windows that show our developers the internal workings of the code for debugging purposes. The version you get (the “release build”) won’t have those features, of course. I want to be able to create a release build sooner rather than later so that we have time to work the bugs out of that process and get set up for beta testing.

What PocketBible really looks like during development. The large window in the upper left is the main UI thread with developer tools open in the right half. The smaller window in the lower right is a search worker thread that won’t have any user interface in the release build. Behind all this (and usually on its own monitor) is source code and output from the build process. When I screenshot this for public consumption, I maximize the upper left window and close the developer tools so it looks more like what you will see.

Construction Project

I see it’s been over 3 months since I updated you on the view out our front windows. As you recall the city completely shut down and rebuilt the main street through town, which passes in front of our building. At the same time, the strip mall across the street was torn down and a new combination retail/residential building is going up in its place. Our entertainment for the last 9 months has been watching (and listening to) the construction.

The street re-opened around Thanksgiving. Work on the building continues. The exterior appears to be completely framed. Windows are being installed and bricking has begun. Something is happening on the roof but we can’t see it well enough to tell what it is — perhaps an insulation layer that goes down under what I assume will be a rubber membrane style roof. On the inside we can see electrical work being done and also fiberglass tub/shower inserts in each apartment.

A similar build is being behind this one, which will have parking underneath and 2-3 floors of apartments. We won’t be able to see that one being built

PocketBible for Windows Progress Update #7

Christmas break and some changes in the availability of team members have taken a toll on productivity, but work continues on the app.

A lot of time has been spent implementing what we call the Go To Tab in the Study Panel. It’s where you go to navigate through a Bible or reference book. There are 3 different configurations of this pane. For Bibles, you have the ability to enter a Bible reference or choose book, chapter, and verse from drop-down lists. In addition, a list of your most recently visited verses is displayed.

For devotional books, the main interface is the ability to navigate to the first unread reading, previous and next readings, and to the reading for a specific date. A list of readings that are highlighted to indicate whether or not you have read them is displayed. Functionality is provided to “start over” on a devotional by setting the start date and clearing your existing reading progress data. Related to the implementation of the Go To Tab for devotionals is the ability to click on a heading over the reading for a given date to mark that readings as “read” or “not read”.

For all other books, a hierarchical table of contents is displayed, and your current position in the book is highlighted.

Study Panel and Toolbar Position and Size

While we were working on the Study Panel, we made it so you could have it positioned on either the left or right side of the screen. (You’ve seen it on the left side in every screenshot to date.) We also save the width of the Study Panel and allow you to double-click on its border to rotate between its minimum width, the width you’ve set it to, and its maximum width. This is in addition to being able to either show or hide the panel.

Related to the position of the Study Panel, we also made it so you can display the toolbar either at the top or at the bottom of the screen. We think this might be handy when using PocketBible on a Windows tablet. While doing that, we made both the toolbar position and contents persistent (saved in your user preferences).

Showing the Study Panel on the right and the toolbar on the bottom

We spent some time on a rough implementation of what we call “navigation history”. This is the data that lies behind the “back” and “forward” buttons on the toolbar. This is significantly more difficult in PocketBible than in something like a browser. In a browser, your back/forward buttons take you through the history of the current browser pane or window. PocketBible can have multiple panes and multiple books open in each pane. The history database needs to keep track of all of that.

We call this a “rough” implementation because there are a lot of places in the code where we need to “capture” history because the position is about to change. Further, there are a lot of places where we don’t need to actually capture history but we need to somehow mark the book or pane as “dirty” and in need of being saved. We believe we have identified most if not all of these places. Further testing is required.

A Few Smaller Things…

The ability to highlight a word and right-click to look up its definition is implemented.

The search field now displays a list of recent searches.

You can specify a range of verses to search when searching a Bible.

The range of font sizes you can select has been expanded.

We spent a lot of time (and continue to spend a lot of time) working on internal, non-user-facing elements of the code. Some of these are to accommodate updates to third-party libraries used by the app. Others are to flesh out implementations that were started with the idea we’d finish when we knew more about what they needed to do. Some are tweaks to the user interface that we’re getting around to as we pay attention to different aspects of the program.

Schedule

I have a hard time coming up with different ways of saying “we’ll be done when we’re done”. We go through periods where we make a lot of progress and others where we have a problem we just can’t figure out and get past. As I’ve said before, we don’t work with a specific release date in mind. We just keep working our way through the list.

A few of you have offered suggestions. We appreciate but can’t always implement those. That being said, the reason the toolbar can be moved to the bottom of the screen is because a PocketBible user asked us if we could do it. We had one false start that led us to believe we couldn’t, but then we backed up and took another run at it and the result is what you see above. So if you have suggestions, feel free to pass them along either here in the comments or to tech support. We are locked into some decisions but will always think and talk about good ideas, regardless of the implications.

PocketBible for Windows Progress Update #6

I was hoping to post a video update this time but if you’ve been following these updates over the last few months you know they’re doing construction right outside our windows. Today it’s especially noisy. So this is going to be a text-based update.

In the last couple of months we’ve made significant progress in several areas. I’ll go over each of these.

Searching

I demonstrated searching last time. Since then we have made it so search words/phrases are highlighted in the text and in the search results themselves.

Search results are highlighted in the text and categorized in the search results pane on the left.

If you’ve used PocketBible for Android, iOS, or macOS, you’ve seen how we organize search results into categories like “exact match”, “sounds like”, “same root word”, etc. We’ve implemented all those searches now in the Windows version. You can tap on the heading of each section of results to collapse or expand it to make it easier to navigate through the results.

Search results are displayed as they become available and a progress bar shows you how far along you are in the search.

The “did you mean ‘go to’?” result category is implemented, so you can “search” for John 3:16 in a Bible and the app will realize that you just want to go to that verse and will take you there.

In addition, there are three different “sizes” of the search results excerpts. You can display just the Bible reference, just a one-line excerpt, or three lines of the full verse.

Text Display

The program allowed you to change the font and font size before; those settings are now saved between sessions. Changing the font size affects the size of text in search results, lists of highlights/bookmarks, notes, etc.

Highlights are shown in the text. The “words of Christ” color (red here) is adjusted to maintain contrast against each highlight background color.

Note links and highlights are now shown in the text. Before you could highlight a verse and it would show up in your list of highlights, but was not shown in the text. The app automatically adjusts colored text (links, search hit, and words of Christ) so that the text has adequate contrast against each of the highlight colors. If we didn’t do this, you wouldn’t be able to see “words of Christ in red” against a red highlight background.

Note links in the text are active. Clicking on a note link shows you the note in the Notes pane.

Color Schemes

While working on highlight colors, and especially while adjusting the various text colors to make sure they’re visible against all the highlight colors, we did some work on color schemes, especially to make sure that text colors were visible against all the different backgrounds.

Color schemes are now persistent between sessions.

Create a custom color scheme. Start by copying an existing scheme.

We’ve added a custom color scheme so that you can choose your own background and text colors for various parts of the user interface. You can copy an existing color scheme then modify it. If you don’t like your changes, you can revert to your previous custom scheme.

In the process of tweaking the color schemes, we’ve defined some additional built-in schemes. We may or may not keep these.

Go To…

The Go To Verse pane works for Bibles. You can type a reference like “John 3:16” to go directly there. As you type, a list of all matching Bible book names and abbreviations is displayed to help you get the spelling right.

Go To Verse pane with list of recently visited verses.

Instead of typing a reference, you can choose a book from a list of all the books of the Bible, then choose a chapter from a list of all the chapters in that book, then choose a verse from all the verses in that chapter. PocketBible will correctly display weird chapter schemes, like the “Prologue” in the apocryphal/deuterocanonical book of Sirach and the lettered chapters that appear in Esther in some Bibles.

Any time you go to a verse or click on a link to a verse, the verse is added to a list of recently visited verses that appears in the Go To Verse pane. This allows you to quickly navigate to a passage you were previously reading. A button at the bottom of this list allows you to clear it, though it’s not necessary to every do that.

For dictionaries, commentaries, and “other” books, you will navigate via the table of contents. As of today, the table of contents navigation hasn’t been implemented, but you can type a word into a field at the top of the Go To pane to go to the dictionary entry for that word, or type a verse reference to go to the commentary article for that reference. In both cases, a drop-down list of all possible words (dictionaries) or Bible references (commentaries) helps you navigate these books.

Account

We’ve implemented the ability to log into your account. We use that to determine if you own the Advanced Feature Set and will enable/disable features as a result. Previously we had been using a hard-wired test account.

Schedule

We were really aiming for the end of the year but it’s looking like it’s going to be a little longer than that. A few unexpected and some arguably predictable factors have affected the schedule. One of our key programmers was in a car accident and suffered a concussion that manifests as an inability to focus and think clearly. This has impacted our productivity substantially. In addition, one of our outside contract programmers has had very limited availability. We’re expecting that to improve over the next couple of months.

The biggest issue is that we severely underestimated the amount of time it would take to re-write the entire program in a new language and deal with issues that would arise as a result. There are still major pieces of code (especially Advanced Feature Set features) that have not even been touched.

We’re not going to predict a new date at this point. Suffice to say it won’t be in 2021. Sorry about that. Stick with us, though — the program is really going to be good when we get it done. And as soon as we feel like we can be 80% sure of a ship date (or a beta date) we’ll let you know.

Construction

As I mentioned above, our office sits right above a major construction site. The street in front of our office has been closed for complete replacement for a block and a half in each direction. At the same time, a one-block wide, three-story tall retail/apartment building is going up across the street. This has been going on since June or July. They hope to open the street by the end of the month, then close it back down next spring.

180° panorama of the street below.

The construction project has been a source of endless surprises, such as showing up one morning a couple weeks ago to discover that there was literally no access to our building. The sidewalks were closed from both directions. Yellow caution tape was taped across our door. We discovered the secret was to walk boldly through the construction site as if you belong there, and remove the caution tape as if the danger is past. The downside, however, is that then they pour a new sidewalk right outside your door and you can’t leave until it’s dry enough to walk on.

On another day, the electricians were digging a hole for a street light foundation and augured right through the new water main in front of the neighboring building. We didn’t anticipate a problem, since one of the features of the new system is that they can shut off water to one building without affecting the others. Despite that grand promise, we were still without water for most of the day for some reason.

On a positive note, we were able to get a bike rack installed, so no more locking our bikes to whatever stationary object is convenient. Just in time for winter. 🙂

Reading Through the Bible in 2021

Every year, our church encourages members to start a program of Bible reading with the goal of reading the entire Bible by the end of the year. Each month we all exchange emails with progress reports and are encouraged to keep going. Despite the planning, the encouragement, and the reminders, about half of those who start don’t finish.

The NIV Bible contains 753,429 words. Divided into 365 equal readings, that would be 2064 words per day. The average person reads at a rate of 200-300 words per minute. If you’re a college graduate, you probably read around 450 words per minute. So reading through the entire Bible can be easily done by most people in 4-1/2 to 8-1/2 minutes per day. Certainly less than 10 minutes.

So why do so many people fail at keeping this goal? The time itself is not the problem; we all have 5-10 minutes sometime in our day to read the Bible. Here are some suggestions on how to get through the Bible this year.

Make it a part of your morning ritual.

We all have a list of things we do like clockwork every day. Wake up. Shower. Shave. Brush teeth. Get dressed. Have breakfast or at least a cup of coffee. Check email and social media. Go to work. The next day it repeats. Maybe on the weekend it happens later in the morning, but it happens.

Put your Bible reading on that list. In my case, I make a cup of coffee and sit down to make my first pass through email, Facebook, and moderation of my church’s email prayer/announcements list. It was easy to add 5 minutes of Bible reading to that schedule.

For you it might be 5 minutes before you even get out of bed. Or while you eat breakfast. The important thing is to find it a place in your morning ritual so that it becomes habitual.

Use PocketBible on your phone or tablet.

You might think this goes without saying, since it’s coming from Laridian, but it’s a valuable point to make. Laridian offers a number of free and low-cost Bible reading plans and devotionals for PocketBible and makes it easy to access each day’s reading and keep track of your progress. Simply tracking your progress by marking each reading as complete will motivate you to keep going and help you catch up if you get behind.

In addition, for most of us, our phone or tablet is with us all day. This makes it easier to take advantage of break-time, commute-time, standing-in-line-time, and other moments in our day to do our Bible reading. Instead of Candy Crush or Facebook, spend those minutes getting your Bible reading done.

Be realistic.

Figure out how much time you want to devote to the Bible and schedule your reading appropriately. 5-10 minutes will get you through the Bible in a year. 10-15 minutes will get you there in 6 months. Don’t set out to get through the whole thing in a month unless you have an hour each day to set aside for Bible reading.

Try a different translation of the Bible.

Because PocketBible reading plans are not tied to any one translation of the Bible, you’re free to experiment with something different. My previous reads through the Bible have always been in the KJV or NIV. So last year I tried the Christian Standard Bible (CSB). This year I’m using the World English Bible (WEB). (Note that neither the CSB nor WEB are compatible with the Windows versions of PocketBible, but work fine in the Android, iOS and Mac OS versions.)

I think the unfamiliar wording of familiar verses helps me comprehend the passage better. For example, the WEB uses “Yahweh” where the KJV, NASB, and NIV all use LORD. Encountering “Yahweh” in the text seems to make God more personal to me – as if he’s more of a character in the story with his own plans, motivations, and ways of interacting with the people I’m reading about. When I just see LORD in the text, he seems to just blend in and is more of a nameless force or entity in the background. It’s a subtle but important difference in the way I’m perceiving the text.

Last year I ran into the phrase “half the tribe of Mannaseh” (vs. the more familiar – to me – “half-tribe of Mannaseh”). I found this confusing, since I had always assumed the “half tribe” title was because Mannaseh and his brother Ephraim shared the inheritance of their father Joseph (each was half the tribe of Joseph). Running into this wording in verses such as Deuteronomy 3:13 caused me to realize the title is based on the fact Moses gave land on the east side of the Jordan to half the tribe of Manasseh and land on the west side to the other half. The important point here being that running into an unfamiliar phrase caused me to stop, ask the question, and go looking for an answer.

Don’t tell anyone, but it’s OK to skim some passages.

I had a person tell me that they were doing fine reading through the Bible until they got to “the part with all the ‘begots'”. To be honest there aren’t that many of these, but they are mind-numbing. Come back some time and look at the names in those lists and try to learn more about them, but if those lists are what’s keeping you from getting through the rest of the text, just scan ahead to where the story picks up and keep reading from there.

You may run into other places you just can’t get through. I get bogged down in the various sacrifices, dimensions of buildings, descriptions of furniture and draperies, and quantities of items plundered in battles. It’s ok to skip ahead a few verses. None of these are that long. Don’t let a verbal description of an architectural diagram keep you from finishing your reading.

Read it in a different order.

The order in which the books of the Bible appear isn’t ideal for reading through from start to finish. The Old Testament is ordered by genre – first the books of Moses (the Pentateuch), then history, wisdom/poetry, major prophets, and minor prophets. The New Testament follows a similar model, but more by author – first are the gospels; then history; letters from Paul (kind of in order by length, longest to shortest); the letter to the Hebrews (which some argue was written by Paul, but the author is generally considered to be unknown); letters by the apostles James, Peter, John, and Jude; and finally the New Testament’s only book of prophecy.

This year I’m reading through the Bible in chronological order using The Harmony Bible. The author of The Harmony Bible has rearranged the text so that you read about events in the order they occurred, not the somewhat random order that they appear in the Bible. So Job is inserted into the Genesis narrative. David’s psalms are inserted into the stories of his life. The prophets are inserted into the historical narratives, primarily in the books of Kings and Chronicles. In the New Testament, letters to the churches are intermingled in the book of Acts.

Other alternatives include reading a little from the Old and New Testament each day, which is what I did last year.

Some of the devotional books for PocketBible include short commentary or homiletic passages for each day. These can provide context for the passage and help you find application for what you’re reading in your daily life.

Be accountable.

I have really benefited from my email group that is made up of people who are all reading through the Bible at the same time. Find some other people in your church who want to read through the Bible. Meet together or at least exchange emails throughout the year to discuss what you’re reading. Encourage each other to keep reading. Ask your partner what was in those passages you only skimmed. 🙂

Don’t stop.

If you miss a day, keep reading the next day. PocketBible lets you adjust your reading schedule to account for missed days. If it ends up taking you an extra couple of days or weeks to get through the whole thing, that’s fine. Nobody’s keeping score. Don’t let a missed day derail your entire year. Just keep going.

Photo by Rohit Tandon on Unsplash

What Americans Believe

Every other year, Ligonier Ministries conduct The State of Theology survey. In it, they question Americans about their religious beliefs. As you might expect, the results are generally disappointing.

While it’s easy to blame one’s neighbor for believing that humans are basically good, or blame the person sitting next to you at church for believing that religious belief is not about Truth but about personal opinion, the fact of the matter is that they’re often not getting good teaching.

I’ve spent the last 30 years helping pastors, teachers, and everyday Christians have everything they need to understand and apply what they read in the Bible. Whether it was QuickVerse for MS-DOS in 1988, PalmBible for Windows CE in 1998, or PocketBible for iOS and Mac OS in 2018, the goal has always been to put the tools in peoples’ hands to help them discover what the Bible has to say and to teach others what they’ve learned.

While the general philosophy of those around us drifts farther and farther from Truth, it’s important that we stay firmly grounded and that we share that Truth with others.

Read the complete survey results here. Read about our new Pastors and Teachers Library here.

When the Bible Becomes an App

You would think by 2018 we would be well beyond 20th-century thinking about the relative merits of printed vs. digital Bibles. But apparently not. Recently, a PocketBible user sent me this link and suggested I send the author a copy of our PocketBible app.

The author (Trevin Wax, Bible and Reference Publisher at Lifeway Christian Resources) argues that the form in which we experience the Bible (print vs. digital) matters. How the words of Scripture are presented to us says something (or many things) about those words. The question Wax asks is, does a particular format (in this case, print or digital) take away from our experience of reading, comprehending, and internalizing the message of the text?

The conclusion Wax comes to is that one should continue to read and study their printed Bible because what is lost when going from print to screen is simply too great. I want to address those alleged losses from the perspective of one who doesn’t have the author’s vested interest in print publishing and who has been carrying a digital Bible in one form or another for over thirty years and has been exclusively digital for almost as long.


Wax states that a leather-bound Bible with gilded edges and single-column layout “says something about the value” of the words it contains. But remember that the words of the Bible were originally written by hand on common paper or animal skin. The words themselves carried the value, not the medium. It could thus be argued that wrapping the words of Scripture with fancy covers and printing them on expensive paper with handcrafted fonts and gilded edges takes away from the value of the words themselves and places the emphasis on the physical presentation of those words.

The very argument that “presentation matters” makes the case that the form in which the Bible is published adds to the words of Scripture. I’ve long argued that the benefit of an electronic presentation of the Bible is that it removes the text from its fancy wrapper and places it in a position of prominence. A couple years ago I acquired a KJV Bible from about 1908 that was literally falling apart in my hands. There was nothing special about this Bible except that it was the first “red letter” edition of the Bible. After a couple months of sweeping up the crumbs it left behind wherever I placed it, I sent it off to be rebound. I was stunned by the results. Even though I no longer read or study from the KJV as I once did, I wanted to carry this luscious Bible everywhere. I had developed an emotional attachment to the look and feel of this Bible that overwhelmed the fact that the archaic language of the KJV doesn’t speak to me as clearly as some of the newer translations do.

Even binding the books of the Bible together adds meaning and makes implications that some Christians have difficulty overcoming. While I believe the Scriptures were “God-breathed”, it’s a fact that the Bible wasn’t written by one person at one time. It was written by over 40 people over a period of some 4000 years. The copies of those documents that we have were transmitted and copied by hand over centuries. It has only been in very recent history that Christians have had a “Bible” that collects all these works into one convenient binding.

The implications of presenting the sixty-six books of the Bible as one continuous book can include the idea that the worldview, culture, and understanding of God experienced by a person reading an original autograph of the book of Job (considered to be the earliest-written book of the Bible) would be the same as or similar to that of one reading an original account of John’s vision on Patmos as recorded in Revelation (probably the latest-written book of the Bible). We’ve all heard Christians refer to “how they did things in Bible times” – as if the customs of antediluvian nomadic hunter-gatherers were “basically the same” as those of a freed Roman slave living in Corinth when Paul wrote his epistles to the believers in that city. It could be argued that this misunderstanding is exacerbated by our practice of collecting the biblical books of history, law, prophets, poetry, gospels, and epistles all into one book.

But even this “benefit”  that is, that printed Bibles bind the disparate books of the Bible together, presenting a message of unity of message, thought, and ultimate authorship – is not a unique property of printed Bibles. Digital Bibles “bind” the same content together in the same way; they just present it differently.

The author cites research that indicates that screens are best for “surface reading” and that books are best for “deep and meditative reading”. I’ve seen those studies. They conclude that reading comprehension is higher when reading books vs. reading text on a screen. But it isn’t clear whether the medium itself is the cause of this difference. Other studies indicated that reading paginated text results in better comprehension than reading scrolling text. For years, our PocketBible app for iPhone presented the Bible in a paginated format for exactly this reason. While many PocketBible users appreciated this format, most objected to it, as it was so different from their customary experience with interacting with text on their device. We could have continued to ignore their pleas for change – arguing that it is for their own good – but in late 2017 we relented and now present text with both scrolling and paginated interfaces.

The point is that the medium (print vs. digital) may not be the cause of the difference in reading comprehension, but rather the way that text is presented in that medium (paginated vs. scrolling). Interestingly, while it’s difficult to change the way text is presented in a printed book, it’s easy to do it with a digital book. In PocketBible, the user can simply choose to interact differently with the text to regain the benefit of pagination vs. scrolling.

Wax further states that when the Bible is presented digitally, we lose the “geography” of the text – just as we do when using GPS to navigate in an unfamiliar city as compared to using printed maps and our own innate sense of location and direction. Digital Bible readers can simply type “John 3:16” to get to that verse; they don’t have to have a concept of where the Gospel of John lies physically within the text. They may lose the idea that the book of Psalms, which, according to its order, lies right in the middle of the Old Testament, actually lies right in the middle of the entire Bible. They may not realize that the “second half” of the Bible – the New Testament – isn’t “half” the Bible at all — it’s more like one-fourth or even one-fifth of it.

But I would argue that this sense of geography is only “important” because printed Bibles are so difficult to navigate. Small books like Obadiah and Jude are invisible in printed Bibles unless you have a really good idea where to begin looking. But they are just as “big” and “visible” in an electronic Bible as Jonah and Revelation, their larger and more familiar neighbors. In other words, the idea that the geography of the Bible is important is only true if knowledge of that geography is important to accessing the text, which is the important part.

Wax goes on to make a bizarre claim – that we more easily submit to the text when we read it in print than when we read it on the screen, because we have less control over print and are forced to “become more attuned to the complexities of family life, the vicissitudes of social institutions, and the lasting truths of human nature” when reading words on a printed page. This claim is questionable if not outright false just on its face. But if “complexities, vicissitudes, and truths” are what is important, it can be argued that an electronic Bible is better able to convey them because of the depth of resources it places at one’s fingertips.

On a recent Sunday, I was listening to a sermon on 1 Peter 2:1-3. Verse 1 tells us to “put aside all slander” (NASB). Having myself been falsely accused of slander (by a sociopath as part of her request for a restraining order against me – but that’s another story), I’m very familiar with the nuances of the term. I was intrigued by the fact that other translations of the same verse used “evil speaking” instead of the very specific term “slander”. I noticed this because my digital Bible, unlike my printed Bible, allows me to simultaneously view multiple English translations, multiple Greek New Testaments, and multiple Greek dictionaries.

The word used in 1 Peter 2:1 is καταλαλιας, which literally means “to speak against”. This includes more types of speech than simply slander (making statements about a person that are provably false), including gossip (which is often true statements being told out of context). The proscription of καταλαλιας includes more than slander, a fact I may not have realized if I did not have access to Bibles other than the one most people in my church carry on Sunday.

Wax concludes with an admonition against relying solely on digital Bibles and an encouragement to depend primarily on a printed Bible so as not to lose the benefits of reading the Bible the way God intended it. I believe I’ve shown that the perceived detriments of reading a digital Bible are not negatives as much as they are simply differences between reading words from a screen vs. reading words from a page, and that in some cases, the same positive (or negative) characteristics apply to both screens and pages.


Since we’re making arguable arguments, I’ll make this one. Do a study sometime on occurrences of the phrase “the word of God” or “the word of the Lord” and similar phrases throughout the Bible. (Needless to say, this is easier with a digital Bible.) You will find that the word of God is “received”, “heard”, “given”, and “spoken” but not “written” or “read”. This is not to say that written words are not the Word of God, but rather than there is more to the “word” than its form on a page. The Word of God is the message itself, as communicated to humans by God. It is not constrained to shapes made with ink on pages made of dead trees. It is God’s Word that is “sharper than any two-edged sword”, not your leather-bound Christian Standard Bible. The pages of your printed Bible do not convict of sin or judge the thoughts or intents of your heart, but the Word of God does.

The point is that God’s Word transcends medium, language, and typographical style. The Law was no less authoritative because it was printed on stone instead of paper. Paul’s letters convict believers of sin whether they were the original autographs written on papyrus or parchment, or a modern translation printed on paper or illuminated on a screen. The Spirit of God conveys the Word of God to people through their hearts and minds. Always has. Always will.

Photo byAaron Burden

Does It Matter Where Your Bible App Comes From?

DumpsterTrevor McKendrick is an atheist who wrote one of the top-selling Bible apps for iOS. A former Mormon, McKendrick saw an unserved niche market on the App Store and created a Spanish audio Bible to fill it. Now he’s banking over $100,000 per year selling the app. He compares the Bible to Harry Potter and describes Christians as people who learn the spells in the book and try to use them to heal their children. He compares them to people who teach The Lord of the Rings as real history.

Does it make any difference whether or not the people who create the products you use for Bible study agree with the materials they publish?

When I started writing Bible software in 1988 there were very few other products on the market. I purchased the King James Bible from Public Brand Software, a distributor of freeware and shareware programs for MS-DOS. While browsing their catalog (paper catalog — this was before the Web) I saw a Bible program called WordWorker and picked up a copy of that, too.

WordWorker was pretty impressive compared to other programs available at the time. My problem with it was that the programmer who wrote it was associated with The Way International, which denies key teachings of historic Christianity and adds a few of their own. They encourage severing ties with family and friends and living with other “believers” instead, which many argue qualifies them as a “cult”.

Coincidentally I had been unsuccessfully recruited by a member of The Way while in college. Noticing a strange-looking guy observing me playing pinball at the student union, I struck up a conversation and bought him a couple games (he had never played pinball). He invited me to join his “twig fellowship”. As a brand new Christian with very little foundation in the Bible, I struggled with figuring out if this was God’s direction or not. Fortunately I dodged that bullet, and got involved with a local church that had a strong emphasis on the Bible and Bible study, which is what eventually led me into developing Bible software.

It was difficult to get excited about using WordWorker because I felt like I was supporting a cult. Even if it coincidentally met my needs, it was hard to recommend to others or even use enthusiastically because I knew where it came from. One benefit of using Bible software that comes from a person with whom you share a common faith is that you don’t have to feel guilty about supporting something with which you disagree. You and I may not agree on every fine point of doctrine, and we may not share a common worship style preference, but I bet we’re closer to agreeing with each other on the fundamentals of the faith than you would be with an atheist.

I originally wrote my Bible study software as a tool for myself to use. Its features were designed to meet my needs, which I obviously knew well. I didn’t have to do any research to figure out what people who read the Bible wanted; I wrote what I wanted.

I took my Bible program (QuickVerse) to Parsons Technology in 1988, where, over the next ten years, I employed a couple dozen different programmers. Not all of them were practicing Christians, but they were good programmers. Jeff Wheeler (who would later leave Parsons with me to start Laridian) and I led the development of the program. Both of us were Bible-believing Christians who were not just developers, but users of the program.

Having real Christians write your Bible study app guarantees that it is designed to meet the needs of someone who really studies the Bible.

Parsons Technology was not a “Christian company”. It was a plain-old software company that happened to have a Church Software Division that published church management and Bible study software. Parsons was eventually purchased by Intuit (1994), which sold us to Broderbund (1997), which was purchased by The Learning Company (1998), which was purchased by Mattel (1999), which sold the Church Software Division to a dormant company that was rumored to have previously been a booking agency for Las Vegas acts (2000). During those years we were faced with a number of demands from our pagan overlords that compromised the quality of QuickVerse. They saw “unserved niches” on store shelves and wanted us to create products that were just old versions of QuickVerse with a new cover. They weren’t interested in meeting needs, but in making money.

This was the final straw for me. When it got to where creating Bible software was about duping people into buying old versions of our program at a cheap price because BestBuy or Costco was looking for 25-cent CD-ROMs to fill an end-cap, I bailed out and started Laridian in 1998.

Our goal has always been to focus on our customers and our product, not on creating a company to sell to the highest bidder. The features and reference materials you see in PocketBible come from customer feedback (and from our own needs as our product’s first customers). We bristle at doing things like renaming our product “@Bible” so that it pops up first in alphabetic search results on the App Store, or calling our program “Bible App” to cause it to come up first when you do a generic search for a Bible app, or seeding the store with identical products, all with different names, so it appears more often in your search results. This is what marketeers do to trick people into buying shoddy products. We aim for letting the quality and usability of our apps speak for themselves.

So another benefit of having real Christians write your Bible study app is that they’re not just seeing you as a rube who will spend their hard-earned money on a quickly thrown-together, shallow product, but rather they are committed to creating not just one download but an ecosystem of products that will meet your Bible study needs not only today, but for years to come.

I don’t have a doctrinal test for people with whom I do business, but I expect my Bible study materials to come from people who are as firmly committed to the Bible as I am. It’s not that they’re the only ones who I can trust to create useful products, but it is at least more likely that they’re doing a better job.

Is Your Bible “Missing” Verses?

We occasionally receive reports from PocketBible users that a PocketBible Bible is missing a verse (or verses). These “errors” are usually discovered in a group Bible study situation. Following along as someone else reads, you realize that a verse appears to be missing in your Bible. But in this case, there is more to this than meets the eye.

What are these “missing” verses and why are they missing?

The numbering scheme for verses in the English Bible was first used in the Geneva Bible in the year 1560. This pattern was followed in subsequent English translations including the King James Version, published first in 1611. In the years since these Bibles were translated, many additional manuscripts have been found which predate those used by the translators of the Geneva and King James Bibles. Because of their age, these older manuscripts are believed by many scholars to more accurately represent the original documents. In many cases, however, they do not include all the verses that are in the more recent manuscripts.

Translations such as the New International Version, Revised Standard Version, and other newer translations take advantage of these more recently discovered manuscripts and therefore do not include all of the verses found in the older translations. Rather than reinventing a numbering scheme for the whole Bible, the translators decided to use the same verse numbers as the older Bibles but leave the missing verses blank (or move them into footnotes). The result of this is that several verses in these newer translations appear to be “missing”.

The affected verses are:

  • Matthew 17:21; 18:11; 23:14
  • Mark 7:16; 9:44,46; 11:26; 15:28
  • Luke 17:36; 23:17
  • John 5:4
  • Acts 8:37; 15:34; 24:7; 28:29
  • Romans 16:24

For the Revised Standard Version, in addition to the above list, there are other verses and points of interest:

  • Matthew 12:47; 21:44
  • Luke 22:43,44
  • The order of Exodus 22 in printed form is 1, 4, 2, 3, 5. PocketBible displays these verses in numeric order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
  • James 1:7,8 was combined in verse 7 leaving 8 blank. 3 John 14 was split into 14 and 15.

Another point of view

Some are quick to jump on the idea that the newer translations are removing text from God’s Word and therefore are not to be trusted. It is important to note that it could just as correctly be argued that the older translations added text to God’s Word. Where one comes down on this argument depends on the nature of one’s own research, or on which scholars one decides to trust. We’ve determined it’s best to present a variety of options to you so that you can come to your own conclusions when choosing the Bible (or Bibles) that you find to be the most beneficial to your own spiritual growth.

If you enjoy learning about the history of the Bible, consider the PocketBible book: The Origin of the Bible by Philip Comfort.