What Bible Gateway Looked Like in the 1990s

Remembering getting these in the mail?

Do you remember the internet of the mid-1990s? If you do, you were on the cutting edge—probably using Mosaic or Netscape Navigator to browse the hundreds (maybe even thousands!) of websites on the World Wide Web. There was a quirky and chaotic vibe to the web; all-knowing search engines like Google didn’t yet exist, and if your company, organization, or church had a website, odds are it had been designed by an enthusiastic employee in her spare time, or by somebody’s tech-savvy nephew.

The internet of the 1990s in a nutshell.

As you may have guessed, it’s also a time and environment that evokes a lot of nostalgia for me and many others. This year, Bible Gateway is celebrating its 20th anniversary—20 years since it was first “born” on a as a student project on a Calvin College server—which means that Bible Gateway came into being as part of that early, adventurous period of internet history.

So what was the Bible Gateway of the mid-1990s like? What did it look like, and what could you do with it? Let’s take a trip down memory lane and find out what Bible Gateway looked like in its earliest days.

We don’t have screenshots from Bible Gateway’s earliest years, when it lived on a college server. (For the truly interested, a search of Usenet discussions on comp.infosystems.announce and other newsgroups turns up discussions of these earliest incarnations, now lost to time.) However, by 1997, here’s what Bible Gateway visitors were using (click to enlarge):

Bible Gateway as it appeared in 1997.

Bible Gateway as it appeared in 1997.

I’ll pause a moment so you can go ahead and get the giggles out of your system—it looks crude to modern eyes, but believe or not, this was state-of-the-art in 1997. Take a look at what Apple.com and Yahoo.com looked like that year! (And hey, at least there’s no blink tag!)

What immediately jumps out at me is that as far back as 1997, the core features of Bible Gateway were already present: you can search the Bible by passage or by keyword, and you can access a (small, but promising) selection of both English and non-English Bibles. At this time, Bible Gateway’s library consisted of seven English Bible translations and 1-2 Bibles each in German, Swedish, Latin, French, Spanish, and Tagalog.

While some of those Bibles were (and are) in the public domain, several were provided by organizations like International Bible Society (now Biblica) and The Lockman Foundation—partners who continue to make Bibles available on Bible Gateway today. From its earliest days, Bible Gateway has worked with partners in the Bible translation and publishing community.

Here’s what you got if you looked up a Bible passage on 1997 Bible Gateway (click to enlarge):

A Bible Gateway passage view from 1997.

A Bible Gateway passage view from 1997.

It’s pretty basic—no sign of the many different text display and formatting options that you’re used to today. But it does the job.

And… that’s about it. In the years to come, Bible Gateway would add a great many new features—not just a bigger Bible library, but also more advanced search and display options. And here are some of the big features we may take for granted now that were nowhere in sight in 1997:

  • Audio Bibles.
  • The ability to view more than one Bible passage or translation side-by-side.
  • Commentaries, Bible reference works, reading plans, and devotionals.
  • A mobile-friendly site (let alone an app).

All of those features came later.

But even in its relatively simple 1997 incarnation, Bible Gateway was a groundbreaking tool. For one thing, in an era of expensive computers and proprietary software, it was free—a showcase of the fledgling internet’s culture of generous and open access to information. It showed that the Christian church could be present on the cutting edge of the internet era. And with its ability to be accessed all around the world—even in countries hostile to traditional missionary and evangelism work—it had tremendous implications for international missions and discipleship.

Of course, the individuals behind Bible Gateway (and it really was individuals—Bible Gateway started out as, and has always been, a project run by a small, very dedicated team) didn’t have all those lofty visions in mind when they put it online in the mid-90s. But today, we can look back at their work and marvel that through God’s grace, this college student project has grown to present the Word of God to millions upon millions of people, all around the world.

Related posts:

  1. Celebrating 20 Years of Bible Gateway!
  2. The new Bible Gateway arrives tomorrow!
  3. Internet Explorer 9 and Bible Gateway
  4. The new Bible Gateway launches on June 1!
  5. Take the Bible Gateway with you at mobile.biblegateway.com

Posted by Andy

Filed under 20th Anniversary, Fun