Is It Wrong to Copyright and Sell the Bible?

The following is an edited transcript of the audio.

Is it wrong to copyright and sell the Bible?

The Word of God is not synonymous with paper and ink. It doesn't cost anything. Paper and ink do.

God wants Christians to say, "Freely I have received, freely I give," and, therefore, to share the gospel without price. However, if we really believe that the Bible (as a paper-and-ink book) is good to have, it has to be paid for. The issue really comes down to the question of profit.

I would be very hesitant to try to turn the Bible into profiteering.

In order to get the Bible out, however, I would not hesitate as a publisher to say, "We have to cover our costs somehow." Part of it can be raising money, but part of it would be selling. We would sell not for the sake of building big profit for shareholders, but for the sake of investing in ministry for more and more Bible distribution. That's why I like certain Bible publishers that are essentially non-profit ministries. Yes, they charge for their Bibles, but they're not eager to get rich employees.

So I think that selling the Bible at a reasonable cost in order to fund the translation and printing is not an evil. The people who want to share the Bible should labor to give it away as much as they can, to give Bibles away that they buy.

The question might be, "How many Bibles have you given away recently that you paid for?" Because somebody has to pay for them, and maybe that should be you.

As regards the copyright question, that's really important to think about. I would say "Amen" to copyrighting a version of the Bible if that copyright is used to protect the version from distortion rather than to make anybody rich. Getting rich is not the point.

A Bible version, like the English Standard Version, ought to be copyrighted not because you're going to keep paying translators or a committee. That's not the point. The point is that unbelievable care, prayer, and energy goes into a translation's accuracy, and you don't want anybody taking it, saying it's the ESV, and then changing the words to wrong translations.

The safeguard we have in our culture to prevent such distortion is to copyright things. If you want to produce another translation of the Bible you have to call it something else. You can't call it the ESV, NIV, RSV, or NASB. You have to call it your own thing, so people know that you're taking responsibility. Because these folks are putting their lives on the line to say that this is a faithful translation.

So as a right to protect wording, copyrighting seems good. As a right to maximize wealth, that would be a terrible motivation for doing it.

©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in physical form, in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For posting online, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. For videos, please embed from the original source. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org