Review: Lumina (lumina.bible.org)
Online Bible Study Platforms: Lumina
Lumina is Bible.org’s Bible study platform and one of the primary access points for Bible.org’s translation of the Bible, the NET Bible. With a clean design and a select group of useful features, Lumina is very easy to use but is capable of scaling with you as you grow in your ability to do in-depth Bible study.
Bible.org is a collaboration of Evangelical scholars and web developers, often with institutional attachments to some of the most important conservative seminaries in the United States: Dallas Theological Seminary, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southwestern Seminary, Criswell College, and many others. In the mid-90s (at the dawn of the Internet as we know it), a group of conservative scholars began working on a new translation project with the intent of making it freely available and primarily accessed through the Internet. That project became the NET Bible, a name that simultaneously stands for “New English Translation” and is an allusion to the Internet. Originally, this project was accessed through the website net.bible.org, a pioneering online Bible study platform. This website is still available as such, but its much slicker evolution is lumina.bible.org or Lumina.
At a time when the Internet is now home to many online Bible study platforms, Lumina still stands out from the crowd. In large part, this is because of its user interface. It is easy for Bible study software and online platforms to become visually cluttered with all the features and resources one would ideally like to include. As any UI/UX designer can tell you, the problem with visual clutter is that it creates subconscious confusion and anxiety, and it drives users away for reasons they may not even be fully aware of. Lumina’s design is minimal and modern, with plenty of white space, only two panels, and just a handful of links/buttons in the toolbar.
But this simplicity belies Lumina’s power. Through smart design, the handful of buttons leads quickly and easily into features and tools that facilitate in-depth Bible study. The left panel is dedicated (with one main exception) to the biblical text, while the right panel can show:
- notes, including:
- the NET Bible notes (a standout feature of the NET Bible to which we will return in a moment)
- notes from three commentaries (Thomas Constable, Alexander MacLaren, and Matthew Henry)
- your own personal notes (you’ll need a free Bible.org account so you can log in)
- a parallel translation
- the original language of the text
- a library that includes:
- Bible.org articles
- articles from a number of academic journals (if you have a Galaxie Software subscription)
- a contextual Bible dictionary
- contextually relevant maps
- the results of the search bar (located at the top right)
That seems like a lot of content, but all of this on the right panel is accessed through a mere two-level menu that is easy to comprehend visually and has a calm Bootstrap-like design.
The Right Panel
The NET Bible’s notes are one of the most significant features of the NET Bible. Unlike text and translation notes in other translations (virtually all translations have them), the NET Bible’s notes are really an integral part of the translation. All Bible translations must deal with the problem of translation method: how to balance the concerns for word-for-word fidelity and thought-for-thought clarity. What the NET Bible translators and editors decided to do was go for a (slightly) more thought-for-thought approach and let the translation notes communicate the word-for-word meaning. You get a guided view into the process of translation. So having these present is extremely useful as a kind of built-in light exegetical commentary.
The selection of commentaries is limited, but to be honest the larger selection of commentaries you get as a standard part of Bible software or other online platforms is not especially useful: they are antiquated commentaries of minimal value that are added because they are public domain and in order to pad the content. I’d rather see an online Bible study platform focus on tools that facilitate individual study (e.g., having intelligent search capabilities and original language resources). Thomas Constable is a retired professor who spent years at Dallas Theological Seminary, so his commentary is more up-to-date and probably more relevant than Matthew Henry’s or Alexander MacLaren’s. The ability to add your own notes is nice if not innovative.
Lumina features a good selection of English translations, from the woodenly word-for-word NASB to the dramatically free Message. The NET Bible, HCSB, and ISV all aim to find a happy medium. You won’t find an NIV or NLT here, but honestly you don’t need them, especially in light of the original language resources Lumina provides. A full Greek New Testament and Hebrew/Aramaic Old Testament is available with just a single click. And all you have to do is hover over or click on a particular Greek or Hebrew word to see an information box with parsing information and glosses (i.e., mini-definitions) for that word. It is a very slickly designed interface with tons of potential. And double-click on a word to bring up two options – “Strong’s Search” and “Word Study” – the latter of which especially provides you with additional useful information.
One complaint here, but it’s an important one: the Hebrew lacks vowel markers. I have my PhD in Hebrew Bible, so I can generally read it just fine, but I also know that the lack of vowel pointing means I’ll be consulting my BHS continually in places where the consonants support multiple pronunciations. For those who aren’t experts in Hebrew, I think this lack seriously limits this feature’s usefulness. I also would like the ability to change the Greek and Hebrew font natively. You can use a CSS injector browser plugin, like I did, to change the Hebrew font to SBL Hebrew or whatever. Also the size of the original language type is tied to that of the English type, but not in an exact way. In the middle sizes it’s okay, but at the smallest size, while the English is still readable, the Greek and Hebrew really aren’t. And at the biggest size the Greek and Hebrew are just ridiculous. Again, these things could be changed with a CSS injector, if you know what you’re doing, but that would be a nice feature to have natively.
The “library” tab of the right panel is where the really relevant commentary and Bible dictionary entries can be found. Also, if you have a Galaxie Software subscription ($5 per month or $50 per year) you have access to a number of conservative academic journals. These greatly enhance the value of Lumina as a Bible Study platform, and I definitely would recommend considering this subscription if you are pastor using Lumina as your primary study environment.
The “search” tab leads to the results of a previously executed search, which you do from the search field at the top right corner of the screen (so if you click on the “search” tab without having executed a search, you won’t see anything). This is an intelligent search field that encompasses searches for words and topics, searches for Bible references, and searches for Strong’s numbers (if you know the one you need already). My one complaint about the search is that, while it can be used as a Hebrew or Greek concordance (which is extremely valuable), it cannot be used strictly as an English concordance. What I mean is this: I can generate a list of every occurrence of a given Hebrew or Greek word (according to Strong’s concordance), but sometimes I may want to see every occurrence of an English word, regardless of the original words behind it. When I search for an English word, what I get is actually a mixture of a concordance result and a topical Bible result – not every scripture reference listed in the results actually contains the word. Sometimes it is a related word and sometimes it is simply that the topic is being discussed. So the search feature Lumina is really outstanding, but it lacks one simple feature to be the perfect search. (***NOTE: The kind people at Bible.org got back to me on the search feature. What it is doing is a multi-translation concordance search, i.e., looking for every instance of a word in lots of translations at the same time. As they point out, this is a really great and unique feature that sets it apart from other online Bible study environments. Even so, I think having the ability to do the occasional targeted concordance search, for example “KJV: ‘Truth'”, would just be the icing on the cake, like I said above, taking an outstanding search feature and making it the perfect search feature.***)
Lumina Drawer and Lumina Mobile
Lumina also has a mobile app, but it is only available on iOS, which means I won’t be using it. It also means I can’t review it for you, but given how well designed lumina.bible.org is, I’d recommend giving it a shot. It’s a free app.
Lumina stands out from the crowd due to its outstanding UI/UX design and integrated original language research tools. I would like to be able to use the search strictly as an English concordance, but this is not a serious issue. A bit more serious is the fact that its Hebrew and Aramaic needs vowel pointing to be maximally useful to the broadest number of Bible students. It is free to use, but you can pay for a subscription to Galaxie Software, which will give you access to a number of conservative academic journals.
- Multiple access points, including:
- a desktop web app
- an iOS mobile app
- Built-in audio NET Bible
- Daily reading plans
- Library of articles written by the Lumina community
- Easy bookmarking and sharing to Facebook and Twitter
- Two-panel format – the left is dedicated to Bible translations (NET Bible by default), the right can be a parallel Bible, NET Bible translation notes, your own personal notes, or an array of helpful reference resources and articles
- Intelligent search bar for topics/words, Bible references, and Strong’s numbers
- Lumina’s desktop version has a pleasing UI that is simple, streamlined, and easy to comprehend
- The UI is so well designed that it deserves a second “Pros” point 🙂
- Original language study is easy to do and full featured
- The NET Bible’s built in notes (which deal with translation and text-critical issues) are well done
- Integration with browser through the Lumina Drawer is convenient
- Easy access to a library of resources, including articles written by the Lumina community
- Search feature is intelligent, looking not only for occurrences of a given word but also occurrences of the search criterion as a topic
- Paid integration with a selection of conservative theological and biblical academic journals sets this site apart from most any other online Bible study platform ($5 per month or $50 per year) (list of journals at http://www.galaxie.com/journals)
- Mobile – only on iOS
- Fewer commentaries than other sites
- Hebrew does not include vowel pointings
- Cannot change Greek/Hebrew fonts natively (CSS is easy to edit with a GreaseMonkey-like extension, though)
- Greek/Hebrew font-size is connected to English font-size, and this is not a great match at the largest and smallest sizes
- Search feature cannot function strictly as an English concordance (or, if it can, I cannot figure out how to make it do so)