‘Anyone want to test a gateway?’: How the Number One Bible Search Engine Got its Start at Calvin College

In 1993, Nick Hengeveld was working in the information technology department at Calvin College, the post-secondary educational institution of the Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich. He was fascinated by the emergence of the Internet and was looking for content to put on the college’s website, which had not yet gone public.

One day, he started converting text from the King James Version of the Bible into hyper-text (HTML), the computer language that became the first standard for creating web pages. And then he posted to the electronic message board: Anyone want to test a gateway?

“I was hungry for text that I could put out on the web that was in the public domain,” Hengeveld said. “It seemed like an obvious fit.”

Hengeveld’s work led to the creation of what is known today as Bible Gateway, the world’s most visited Christian website and most popular Christian search engine. Now owned by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Bible Gateway marked  its 25th anniversary in 2018—with more than 14 billion site visits since it began.

In its initial form, users of Bible Gateway could access a passage of Scripture by typing the desired chapter and verses in an onscreen search engine box. “You would enter the passage, like Genesis 1:1-10,” Hengeveld said.

Later Hengeveld would convert text from other translations of the Bible into hyper-text so users could compare translations. He also developed online versions of the devotionals Our Daily Bread. Hengeveld worked at Calvin from 1988 until 1995 and is now a web developer in San Francisco, Calif. He continued working on his Bible database project when he moved to Gospel Communications Network in 1995 (then Gospel Films). Zondervan, a subsidiary of HarperCollins, acquired Bible Gateway in 2007.

Today, visitors to Bible Gateway can find more than 200 different versions of the Bible translated into more than 70 languages. An app for both Android devices and iPhones allows users to read more than 90 Bible translations and listen to more than 20 audio versions of the Bible on their phones. Users can also take notes, highlight text, search concordances, and follow Bible reading plans.

Hengeveld never thought that 25 years later, Bible Gateway would become the go-to online resource for Bible study.

“I never saw it coming,” Hengeveld said. “I didn’t think it would still be around. I didn’t think it would be so extensive in what they offer.”

The most common words typed into the keyword search function of Bible Gateway? “Love” ranks first, followed by “faith,” “peace,” “hope,” and “joy.” The most common Bible verse searched and shared is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Other popular verses are Jeremiah 29:11; Philippians 4:13; Psalm 23:4; and Romans 8:28, according to Bible Gateway.

About the Author

Greg Chandler is a freelance news correspondent for The Banner. He lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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