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Blog / Find What You’re Looking For: A Tour of Bible Gateway’s Keyword Search Feature

Find What You’re Looking For: A Tour of Bible Gateway’s Keyword Search Feature

As we noted in yesterday’s post about the most popular keyword searches on Bible Gateway, one of the core features of Bible Gateway is its keyword search feature: the ability to search the Bible for a particular word or phrase. But with all the different options on the Keyword Search page, it isn’t always clear how to best search for the phrase you want. Today, we’ll take a short tour of the Keyword Search page and its features.

To start, go to the Keyword Search page. We’ll begin at the top of the page and walk through each of the options.

The first option facing us is the Bible language drop-down:


Simply choose which language you want to search; this choice determines which specific Bibles you can add to the search further down on the page. (The interface only allows you to search across one language at a time, although you can search through several Bibles of the same language.)

The next box is the most important one, as it’s where you enter the word(s) you want to search for:

That part is probably obvious to anyone who’s ever used a search engine; it functions like Google and other web search tools, and generally speaking, many of the strategies for good Google searching work equally well on Bible Gateway.

The drop-down box below the search field is an important one, however. It presents three options:

  • Match ALL words: when this is selected, Bible Gateway will only find Bible passages that contain every word in your search (although Bible Gateway doesn’t care about the order of the words you specify). This means that if you search for [jesus god], Bible Gateway will only find verses that contain both the words “Jesus” and “God”—it will ignore verses that mention only one of those terms.This can be a very useful way to restrict your search; for example, if you’re interested in seeing all verses that deal with Abram’s interaction with Lot, setting the search to Match ALL words and then searching for [abram lot] will only return verses in which both of those names appear together.
  • Match ANY words: this is the opposite of the above option. When this is selected, Bible Gateway will return all verses that contain even one of the words you specify. Generally speaking, this will return a lot more results than the Match ALL words option—in the [abram lot] example, searching for that term with this option selected returns 126 results instead of 9.
  • Match EXACT phrase: this is an even stricter version of Match ALL words above. This option returns results that contain all the words you specify, in the exact order in which you specify them. If you’re sure you know the exact phrase, this is a quick way to find it—for example, searching for [for god so loved the world] returns the verse you were probably expecting. The downside of this option is that if you get the phrase even slightly wrong, Bible Gateway won’t find what you’re looking for. For instance, if you mistakenly left out a word and searched for [for god loved the world], nothing comes up. (It would have worked if you had selected Match ANY or ALL, however.) This option works best when you want to search for an exact phrase that contains a lot of common words, and you’re certain you know the phrasing.

Near this drop-down form is a checkbox to Match whole words only. When this is checked, Bible Gateway will only return whole words that match your search terms. When it’s unchecked, you’ll get results that contain the words you typed. To see an example of how this changes the results, search for [sin] with this option unchecked; you’ll get a lot of words that contain the letters s-i-n, which probably isn’t what you wanted. This option is useful, however, when you want to make sure you get closely-related words (like [thankfulness] when you search for [thankful]), or when you can’t remember the exact spelling of a word (so try [jeh] when you can’t remember how to spell “Jehoshaphat”).

Next up is the Bible version selector drop-down:

Simply choose the Bible version you wish to search (limited to Bibles of the language you chose above). You can search across multiple Bibles at the same time by clicking the Search in multiple versions link and then choosing the additional Bibles you want. (Searching several Bibles in parallel is such a popular feature that we’ve given it its own tutorial elsewhere.)

Next up is a series of miscellaneous options:

Let’s look at each in turn:

  • References only / references + verses:this determines whether Bible Gateway returns your search results as a simple list of verse references (i.e. “John 3:16”), or if it returns the text of those verses as well.
  • Display XX results per page: chooses how many search results you want displayed on one page. If there are more results than the number you select here, they will be spread across several pages.
  • Sort by Book order or Relevance: this determines the order in which your search results are displayed. Choosing book order causes the search results to be ordered in the sequence that they appear in the Bible—so results from Genesis will be displayed before results from Proverbs. The Relevance option attempts to sort your search results with the most promising ones at the top.

The next three radio buttons define what parts of the Bible get searched:

  • Search entire Bible: Bible Gateway will look for your search term throughout the entire Bible text.
  • Limit search to…:If you select an option here, Bible Gateway will only look within that subsection of the Bible for your search term.
  • Search from…: This option allows you to restrict the span of Bible books (inclusive) in which Bible Gateway searches. To restrict a search to only one book, select it as both the start and end book.

That’s a lot of info to absorb, but I hope it’s helped shine some light on some of the less-obvious features on the Keyword Search page.

Filed under Frequently Asked Questions, Tips, Tricks, and Tutorials