Heal Your Church WebSite

Teaching, rebuking, correcting & training in righteous web design.

What About Christian Web Services?

Anyone remember the Google or Amazon APIs? Anyone remember my July 24, ’02 “An Open Letter to Christian Media Outlets” where I asked various existing online resources such as the BibleGateway and CrossWalk to provide the Christian web servant community some SOAP or XML-RPC based web services? Well someone did. Actually they remembered a reply from J.R. Whitby of GospelCom.Net and posed the following four questions I now pose to you:

  1. How excited would you get over a SOAP or XML-RPC interface to your favorite online Bible? Do you think it would catch on?
  2. What would you use the service for?
  3. Would you be willing to pay for extended services (double the number of queries, return output in PDF/RTF/XHTML formats)?
  4. Would you use it if you couldn’t use it in email or hard copy distributions? Would you use it if you couldn’t cache/store return results permanently on your system?

I’ve got some answers that I’ll post later. But first I want you to leave comments to any one or all of the above questions. While they will not be graded, they will be used to record attendance.


  1. My Answers:

    1) This would THRILL me.

    2) In working on our church web site, one of the features we’ve wanted to offer is interactive online Bible studies. Each study would have a Bible reading plan and a study guide to go along with the reading plan in which users could enter their thoughts about the passage and how it has impacted them. The Bible component is the hardest part, because everyone has their favorite version. How cool would it be to let them choose their version and then use these SOAP calls to go get the Bible text for the lesson in the version of their choosing!

    3) At this time the only thing I could forsee payment for is number of queries. For the application I described above, there’s not much need for PDF/RTF.

    4) We would still use it if we couldn’t email or distribute in hard copy, because we’re building an online study tool. And with the traffic we’re getting, caching on our system wouldn’t be necessary.


  2. That would be *very* nice. I was actually just researching about that very thing just the other day as a matter of fact, and read your July 24th post just like two days ago. When I was looking for it the other day, I was quite disappointed that I wasn’t able to find anything. Now I’m excited again. We would definitely use it for our churches web site. I would actually probably use it for my personal site as well even. It would just be awesome to have that kind of resource available. I’m not sure how much we would be able to pay though (new church plant…not a lot of fundage :) . Not that it wouldn’t be worth it, I just don’t know if we would have that luxury. I doubt we would use it for PDF/RTF, as I don’t see much need for that. We would definitely use it if we couldn’t e-mail it or use it for hardcopies, as again, there’s not really much of a need for it. We would mostly probably just use it to keep regularly updated content on our site. It’d be great. I can’t wait to hear what you’ve come up with.

  3. 1. Very excited. It will catch on, but slowly.
    2. Spread the word of God, in new creative ways.
    3. I probably would not pay with money, because I would use this on my personnal weblog and on my church website, but I would gladly supply a link back to Gospelcom, hyperlinks are the real web currency after all, Google is the stockmarket ;)
    4. Yes, I would use it on the web, and don’t mind not caching if their servers respond quickly to these requests.
    5. I would use the French version of the online Bible Web Service as soon as it is available. I would prefer a RESTy interface to a purely SOAP one. Amazon did a great job by supporting it’s API with both SOAP and XML over HTTP, it lowers the barrier to entry.

  4. 1. It would be very exciting. I think it would catch on, given the number of people who are already screen-scraping biblegateway.com. I am not, as you will see in my answer to the next question.

    2. I wouldn’t use the service immediately. My problem with biblegateway.com is that it does not provide access to the deutero-canonical books (ie, Apocrypha). So, from my ecclesiastical perspective, it’s not the whole Bible. Since we have readings from these books on a regular basis, this is a stop-ship issue for me. (No flames in response. I’m just stating the facts in my case.)

    If this issue were ever resolved, however, I would love to use it for daily lectionary readings. It would really be a wonderful way to expose my people to more of the Scriptures.

    3. I don’t pay for anything very much, because there is no money. I’m unemployed, so there would be no money for me to use it personally. And I host my parish’s website myself for free. The website, therefore, has no budget. :) Which is fine, because we are a mission that struggles to pay the bills we have already.

    I imagine that if the service was fee-based only, that I or someone I know would simply use a public-domain version of the Scriptures to do whatever needed to be done. However, it looks like fees were only proposed for “extended services,” which might be alright.

    4. I’m not sure I would want to use it for email or hard copy, so I don’t know that this affects me. This is simply a matter of redistributing the Bible versions that are copyrighted and licensed to Bible Gateway, right?

    However, restrictions on not caching the requests may be a little harsh. I don’t know. It would seem to be more of a burden on the network and the biblegateway.com servers than is necessary. And it could slow down the process pretty badly at times of peak activity.

    In conclusion, this would be a very useful service for a lot of people (possibly even for my websites one day), but I think that the proposed restrictions might make it inaccessible for some.

  5. 1. While I don’t have an *immediate* need, I can clearly see using something like this in the near future. I’m re-implementing our church site with a tool that has an XML Parser built in, which (in my admittedly limited knowledge) is what I’d need on my end to make the calls and display the results.

    2. Anywhere on the site that a Bible verse is needed, I’d rather pull it dynamically and offer the option of version. We’re also planning some online learning/devotion type things. Our site will be blog-based, so would love to offer the bloggers a way to just specify the verses they want rather than having to type them in.

    3. I’m willing to pay a fair price if our usage justifies it, but it’s hard to say yet what I’ll have left in my budget. I’d likely have a need for the other formats as well.

    4. I’d probably still use it if it were web-only, but would be pretty disappointed. Caching – like others would be determined by performance.


  6. I’d be interested, but I’m clearly in the presence of techie greatness and can’t comment on the tech uses. I think it’d be highly useful, though.

  7. 1) Such an interface would flat-out rock.

    2) I’ve been getting tons of new ideas just from reading these comments, but my first thought was that I’d like to create an interface for my bulletin-board system that makes inserting verses a piece of cake. Just some drop-down menus, and then *bam* the verse and reference appear in the post. Maybe even something like that for MoveableType.

    3) If I was working on a commercial site, sure. If I was working on my own site, not so much.

    4) Yeah–I’m thinking of purely online stuff.

  8. Ahem – “Here!” :-)

    I don’t think I would have an immediate need for something like that; not sure at the moment what I would use it for. (I really haven’t checked out many Christian portals until very recently.) But if it will encourage Christian sites and developers to utilize things like XML, Web Services, and other up-and-coming technologies, then I’m all for it!

  9. I can’t think what need I’d have of it, but I’m sure someone would find some great use of it that I would make me change my mind. I’m with Joshua here though, I’m not knowledgable enough about it to comment on the tech side of it

  10. 1.) I definitely think this could be a great idea. While it is possible to imitate these sort of services (to an extent) with tools like VerseScrape and the Scripturizer, it would be wonderful to have an official API for the Bible. It would catch on, I think, assuming that enough people took steps to create and distribute clever uses of such an interface.

    2.) For starters, I’d probably look at creating a MovableType plugin (as has been done with MTAmazon, for example) to interface with the API. I’d probably use that as an alternative implementation for the Scripturizer plugin. Obviously, VerseScrape would benefit (although I don’t currently use anything like that). I can imagine there could be many other creative uses, however.

    3.) Pay? Right now, nothing…but if I had the need for it at some point, possibly…especially if it was for a large church site/ministry forum/etc.

    4.) Certainly. I avoid hardcopy like the plague. Umm..actually, I TRY to avoid hardcopy like the plague, but (like the plague) it always seeks me out. But I have no intent to increase the amount of paper in the world if it can be avoided.

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  12. would be nice but I don’t think i’d pay for it…

  13. I think that the most useful thing would be a spell checker (using Google) for MT.

  14. I’m thrilled that so many Christian webmaster-types are interested in this kind of stuff. The last time I really actively surfed the Christian web was about a year ago, and I was quite dismayed with content, aesthetics, and functionality of most Christian sites. Things seem to be better (and this site’s layout/writing style rocks).
    Our own site couldn’t afford to pay anything for anything, and I don’t know enough about XML or SOAP to use anything except an “out-of-the-box” solution.
    I created a lectionary feed using javascript to syndicate from our site, primarily thinking that very few sites would be able to use XML. Actually, XML would be better for sites that can do caching so we could reduce our bandwidth.
    More “out-of-the-box” tools-solutions would be great for the Christian web, giving webmasters more time to focus on their own content instead of just tech stuff. I don’t think the PDF/mail restrictions are a big deal for most people.

  15. I am really excited about this from an application developer standpoint. The prospect of integrating this function into an app is intriguing, once upon a time I was writing the first and definitive Sermon Writer/Electronic Bible app for MacoS X, and this sort of function would have been invaluable.

    Sorry it took so long for me to respond Dean-O, love ya brother.

    Celebrate His Theophany!


  16. I’ve always thought I would like this, but I personally couldn’t find an application for it. I like the IDEA, but I don’t think I personally have a place for it in practice.

    Would I like to provide a Bible verse lookup on my church site? Sure, but why not just refer them to some other site, or provide a form that posts to, say, CrossWalk or something?

    If I got this, I think I would do a lot of re-inventing the wheel. But I know there are others (as evidenced above) that would make good use of it. I’d like to see it happen just from a Web geek / Christian point-of-view.

  17. I am just finalising development of a PHP routine (Perl version possibly available if anyone needs it) that parses http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible output (just pasages i.e. Luke 15:8-14 at the moment – but with more features to come) into XML. If anyone is interested feel free to contact me at michaeld.biblexml@fireblademm.com.

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