Tyndale House Cambridge Launches Beta-version of Scripture Tools for Every Person (STEP), a new free Bible study resource

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Today the STEP development team of Tyndale House Cambridge launched the Beta-test version of a new free Bible study resource at www.StepBible.org.

STEP software is designed especially for teachers and preachers who don’t have access to resources such as Tyndale House Library, which specialises in the biblical text, interpretation, languages and biblical historical background and is a leading research institution for Biblical Studies.

The web-based program, which will soon also be downloadable for PCs and Macs, will aid users who lack resources, or who have to rely only on smartphones or outmoded computers.

About STEP

The project began when STEP director Dr David Instone-Brewer created the Tyndale Toolbar for his own use. It became popular among researchers at Tyndale House and is now used by thousands of people across the globe. The Beta launch of STEP invites users to try out the new tools and give suggestions for improvement.

“STEP represents the most comprehensive yet user friendly tool for Bible Study I have seen in over 35 years of research,” said Dr Wesley B. Rose. Tim Bulkeley, a contributor to the project, said “I wish I was just starting to teach in Kinshasa now, with STEP and a smart phone. Students would find learning Hebrew and Greek, to read the Bible directly, so much easier.”

Almost a hundred volunteers worldwide have contributed to this work, including 75 who helped to align the ESV, used with the kind permission of Crossway, with the underlying Greek and Hebrew. All their work will now be freely available for other software projects. There are many exciting features in the pipeline for others to get involved with.

Try it out at www.StepBible.org.

Further information

The special problems of the Majority World have inspired some unique technical solutions. The whole database-driven program is designed to be downloaded onto computers as diverse as decade-old desktops and Android phones. This download, which is still being tested, enables it to continue working when internet access goes down.

Ten language interfaces are available and another 83 are ready for volunteers to work on. Bibles in many languages are already present and agreements are in place with the United Bible Societies and other organisations to add hundreds more. Someone using a Swahili browser can see buttons, menus and Bibles in their own mother-tongue.

Some of the features are unavailable on any other software, and the ease of use belies its extraordinary complexity. Even in Basic View you can get answers to questions like: Which other verses use the same original word found here? This works for every Bible in all the available languages without requiring knowledge of any Hebrew or Greek. In Advanced View one can see multiple interlinear texts with word-by-word alignment in English, Chinese, Hebrew and other languages. Information about grammar and dictionaries is also given at three levels so that someone wanting quick information isn’t overloaded with the complex details, which are also available.

Some Thoughts about Archive.org Digital Texts

A few months ago I was asked to undertake a project for Tyndale House which involved searching through their catalogue for out-of-copyright books and try to link these with electronic versions already on-line. This naturally brought me to archive.org to search through its massive collection of on-line texts. On the basis of that experience I thought that it might be helpful to write down a few thoughts on the subject that may spark a discussion.

First of all, here are some of many positive features of archive.org texts:

  1. There is a huge amount of material available. Well over 90% of the 450 titles I searched for were already there.
  2. This material can be downloaded in a wide range of formats, including, PDF, DJVU, TEXT, HTML  and Kindle compatible files.
  3. The site is supported by an enthusiastic user-base who are constantly adding new material.
Now, some issues that need to be considered.
  1. Some books that are still under copyright in the UK because they were printed there are listed as being in the Public Domain on archive.org because it is hosted in the United States. In order to prevent them being downloaded outside the US Google Books (linked from  archive.org) has blocked non-US IP addresses from accessing them – which of course can always be circumvented using a US-based proxy.
  2. Some material that is in the Public Domain in the UK is being blocked by Google Books..
  3. The first two points serve as a reminder that users cannot rely on the accuracy of the copyright declaration on the site outside of the US – you need to double check everything.
  4. Some scans are incomplete and/or of poor quality.
  5. Scans to PDF are often very large files. By reprocessing the files it is possible to reduce the file size by 50% in one trial I conducted.
  6. The search facility is fine if you know the exact title of the work you are after. However, if you misspell it or get a word wrong then the book you are after will not appear in the results.
  7. Perhaps as a result of (6) the usage statistics listed next to certain titles showing the number of downloads are often surprisingly low.
Please “weigh” rather than just “count” the points above, as the benefits of the site far outweigh the negative issues. For me they indicate a number of opportunities to make this work further:
  • Important UK-published theological books in the Public Domain could be re-scanned and hosted so as to avoid the unnecessary blocks on accessing them.
  • Poor quality scans can be replaced.
  • When serving users on dial-up or slow access Internet connections there is scope for reprocessing selected works and hosting them elsewhere to reduce the file sizes.
  • The site lends itself to being linked with specialist bibliographies (such as those provided by the TheologyOnTheWeb sites) linked directly to material hosted on archive.org. This gets round the problem of searches when the material is not being blocked.
What has been your experience with using archive.org? Can you suggest any other ways in which the wealth of material there can be better used?