OS X Verse Insertion Utilities Compared

Tools for getting the text of the Bible into your documents

by David Lang (Posted: 8/1/05; Updated: 11/29/05)

FKeys, Services, and Widgets

Picture this: you're in your word processor writing a sermon, paper, blog entry, or whatever, and you think of a well-known verse that you want to quote. At this point, you can:

  1. Type the verse in. But you may not remember the exact wording, and besides, who wants to do all that typing?
  2. Switch to your favorite Bible program, look the verse up, select the text of the verse, copy it, switch back to your word processor, and paste. This approach saves you the typing, but it involves quite a few steps and takes your focus away from your writing.

Back in the early nineties, Ken Hamel, the developer of Online Bible for the Mac, came up with a better idea. He decided to develop an FKey which would work with Online Bible and allow users to access Bible verses directly from within their word processors. Never heard of an FKey? In the Classic Mac OS, an FKey was a small piece of software which would perform a certain action whenever a particular key combination was used. For example, the Mac operating system had its own FKey assigned to shift-command-3 which would take a snapshot of the screen.

The beauty of an FKey was that it worked at the level of the operating system and so could be accessed from within any program. Online Bible's FKey was invoked by pressing shift-command-7. This would bring up the following dialog box:

The user would simply enter the desired verse reference, select which Bible version he wanted to use, and click OK. The text of those verses would then automatically be copied to the clipboard and pasted into the frontmost application at the insertion point. Thus, you could enter a reference and insert the text of those verses into a document without ever having to leave your word processor.

Without a doubt, Online Bible's verse insertion FKey became its most popular feature, and many users made it an important part of their personal workflow. Unfortunately, since it was a modification of the Classic Mac OS, the FKey did not work completely in OS X, so those who came to rely on it have been frustrated for some time now.

Fortunately, OS X users who have been waiting for this functionality now have several options available to them. MacSword utilizes OS X's Services to enable the insertion of verses into Services-aware applications. The recently released beta of an OS X-native version of Online Bible likewise uses Services as a replacement for its FKey. Accordance Bible Software accomplishes the same feat through its newly released Dashboard widget. Each approach is slightly different, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. We'll look at each of these approaches in turn.


MacSword was the first OS X Bible program to offer a verse insertion utility—a wise move given the number of former Online Bible users who switched to MacSword when they moved to OS X. MacSword uses a service which is available from within any Services-aware application. In general, only Cocoa apps are Services-aware, so this utility doesn't work with AppleWorks or Microsoft Word. It does work, however, with Cocoa word processors and text editors like TextEdit, Pages, Mellel, Nisus Writer Express, BBEdit, TextWrangler, etc.

To use MacSword's verse insertion service, you must first enter the reference for the verses you want in your word processor and then select that reference. The MacSword service is grayed out unless you first have a selection of text. The Service can be accessed through the Services menu, or by using the old Online Bible key combination of shift-command-7. MacSword will then be launched in the background (if it is not open already), the text will be copied to the clipboard, and will then be pasted into your word processor around the selected reference.

MacSword does not offer any formatting options for the pasted text, so what you see above is what you get. Likewise, there is no easy way to specify the translation you want to use. You can specify the translation used by the Service in the Preference panel of MacSword itself, but there is no way to switch to a different translation on the fly.

Update: Will Thimbleby, the developer of MacSword, has pointed out that there is, in fact, a way to specify the translation you want on the fly. When typing a reference in the word processor, you can specify the translation by typing it at the beginning of the reference, in a format similar to a web-site URL. For example:

//KJV/Gen 1:1 or //WEB/Gen 1:1

This can even be done for any MacSword module. For example, //StrongsGreek/3588 will insert the Strong's Greek Dictionary entry for Strong's number 3588, while //Pilgrim/PART I/THE FIRST STAGE will insert that portion of the Pilgrim's Progress. This makes MacSword's verse insertion utility the most flexible in terms of the kind of content which can be inserted.

In addition to these limitations, those who are used to the old Online Bible FKey are likely to find the process of invoking MacSword's service a little clumsy. Where Online Bible's FKey could be used without taking one's hands away from the keyboard (press shift-command-7, type reference, hit return), MacSword's service all but requires the use of the mouse (type reference in word processor, drag mouse to select reference, press shift-command-7). Both involve the same number of steps, but MacSword's approach requires more manual effort and hand-eye coordination.

Online Bible for OS X Beta

The OS X version of Online Bible is still being beta-tested, but since it has been publicly available for several weeks, it has offered a second option for those who need the rapid verse insertion pioneered by Online Bible's original FKey. Like MacSword, Online Bible uses OS X's Services to make this feature available from within other programs.

For the Service to work, the Online Bible folder must reside at the root level of the Applications folder. For people like me who like to keep all their Bible applications in a subfolder of the Applications menu, this is a bit of an annoyance, but hardly an insurmountable one.

Online Bible's documentation says that "a Command-7 or Command-Shift-7 keyboard shortcut" is assigned to the Copy Verses service. For me, it's command-7, presumably because shift-command-7 is already taken by MacSword's service. I would assume that if MacSword is not previously installed, either command-7 or shift-command-7 would invoke the Online Bible service.

When invoked, Online Bible's Copy Verses service switches the user to Online Bible (or launches it if it was not already open), and opens the Copy Verses dialog box. This dialog box looks very similar to the old FKey dialog:

In this dialog, you enter the reference for the verses you want in the entry field, or you can choose from a list of previous references entered by opening the pop-up menu beside the Copy to clipboard label. The Version pop-up menu lets you choose a different translation on the fly, and includes all the translations currently installed in the Online Bible application. The Send to pop-up menu lists all open applications, and should default to whichever application was last active. Thus, if you're in TextEdit when you invoke the service, TextEdit will be the program into which the verses you enter will be pasted. You can, however, have the verses sent to another application if you want to.

When you click OK, the Copy Verses dialog box is dismissed and the selected verses are pasted into your word processor. Unfortunately, your word processor is not automatically brought back to the front. Rather, the Online Bible application remains active, and you must manually switch back to your word processor to keep writing. This is an additional step compared to the old FKey, and requires the user either to hit command-tab to cycle through open applications or to use the mouse to make the word processor active.

Since Online Bible uses the Services menu, the Copy Verses utility is only available from within Services-aware applications. It won't work with Carbon applications like AppleWorks or Microsoft Word. However, the Copy Verses command can be used from within Online Bible itself to copy verses to the clipboard and send them to any open applications. This has the potential to work with Carbon applications, but only if those applications support certain Apple events. In the case of AppleWorks, the auto-paste feature does not work, so you must switch to AppleWorks and select Paste. With respect to Word, the auto-paste feature does appear to work with Word 2001, but not with Word 2004!

Although Online Bible's new Copy Verses service does not quite duplicate the convenience of its former FKey (at least not yet—it is still in beta), it does offer a wide variety of options for how the pasted verses are to be formatted. These are set in Online Bible's Preferences:

Detailing what each of these options does is beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say that no other verse insertion utility currently offers this much flexibility when it comes to how the pasted verses are formatted.

Accordance Bible Software

Rather than using OS X's Services menu, Accordance Bible Software has just released a Dashboard Widget designed to do rapid verse insertion. Obviously, the disadvantage of using a widget is that it only works in OS X Tiger, but the advantage over Services is that it works with any OS X application—including Carbon applications like AppleWorks and Word.

When you drag the Accordance widget onto the Dashboard for the first time, the widget appears as a blank, rolled up scroll of parchment. The widget will automatically locate your Accordance application, after which it will display an entry box and default translation:

To look up a passage, simply enter a reference in the entry field and hit return. The scroll will unroll to display the text of the verses you entered, like this:

You can then use the Copy button to copy the displayed verses to the clipboard, and paste them wherever you want once you've dismissed the Dashboard.

This is the way the Accordance widget behaves by default, and it's pretty good for quick lookups; but the widget's real power becomes apparent when you turn the widget over to reveal its custom settings:

The Translation pop-up lets you choose which of your Accordance Bible texts the widget should use. The Update button simply updates the list of available Bibles, and only needs to be pressed whenever you've installed additional Bible modules into Accordance.

Since the translation pop-up is on the back of the widget rather than the front, it's not quite as easy to change translations on the fly as it is with Online Bible's Copy Verses command. However, it is possible to place two or more Accordance widgets on the Dashboard at the same time, and by setting each one to a different translation, you can have instant access to multiple translations.

Update: Subsequent versions of the widget allow you to cycle through the available translations using the control-plus and control-minus key commands. Thus, it is now possible to switch translations on the front of the widget, without having to turn the widget over.

Checking the Auto Search option will cause the widget to automatically look up a selection of text whenever you open the Dashboard. With this option checked, you could select a verse reference in a web-page or other document and then simply press F12 to see the text of that verse displayed in the Accordance widget.

Checking the Auto Insert option will cause the text of the verses you look up to be auto-pasted into the frontmost application. With this option checked, you can be typing in your word processor, press F12, enter a reference, and hit return, and the text of the verses you entered will automatically be pasted into your word processor at the insertion point—just like the Classic Online Bible FKey.

Checking the Copy as Citation option will cause the verses you look up to be formatted as a series of continuous paragraphs (as opposed to separate verses) in quotes, followed by the reference for the entire passage.

Once you've made the desired settings, click Done to turn the widget back over and begin using it.

Verse Insertion Utilities Compared

The following table offers a quick comparison of the various verse insertion utilities currently available:

  Classic Online Bible FKey
MacSword Lookup
OS X Online Bible (Beta)
Copy Verses
Accordance Widget
System Requirements: Mac OS 7-9
Classic in OS X
Any version of OS X Any version of OS X OS X Tiger
Compatible with: Classic Mac applications Cocoa applications Cocoa applications Cocoa and Carbon applications
Steps involved: 1. Shift-command-7
2. Type Reference
3. Hit return
1. Type Reference
2. Select Reference
3. Shift-command-7
1. Command-7
2. Type Reference
3. Hit return
4. Switch Back to Word Processor
1. F12 or Dashboard hotspot
2. Type Reference
3. Hit return
(Describes Auto Insert Option)
Switching Translations: Select from pop-up menu Enter desired translation in the form of an URL:

//KJV/Gen 1:1

Select from pop-up menu Use control-plus and minus to cycle through your list of Bibles

Or Turn over widget
Select from pop-up menu
Click Done

Formatting Options: Numerous None Numerous Two
History of Recent Searches? No No Yes Yes
Greek and Hebrew: Pasted as Plain Text. User must change font for Greek or Hebrew to appear correctly. Pasted as Unicode. Pasted as Plain Text. User must change font for Greek or Hebrew to appear correctly. Pasted as Unicode. (Only available in applications which support Unicode)
Cost: Free Free Free Free to users of Accordance 6

Whither QuickVerse?

Conspicuous by its absence from this discussion of verse insertion utilities is the "Verse widget" promised in the early advertising for QuickVerse Mac. This widget did not make it into the initial release of QuickVerse and is no longer being advertised. If and when it appears, we'll evaluate it as well.


For those who want a quick and easy way to insert verses from their Bible software into their documents, there's never been a better time to be a Mac user. Not too long ago, this functionality seemed to be a thing of the past, but there are now more options than ever before. So the next time you're in your word processor and you think of that perfect verse to quote, don't bother typing it in . . . it's only a keystroke away.

David Lang is CMUG's Content Editor. David works as a developer of Accordance Bible Software, and lives in Maitland, Florida with his wife, Lisa, and four children: David, Caleb, Bethany, and Alexa.