Copyrighting the Holy Spirit's words, then living off the profit...

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But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities... (Acts 16:19)

(Tim, w/thanks to Lucas) A Greek Bible web site used by lovers of God's Word around the world has been shut down by the German/United Bible Society. Why?

Because they are intent upon defending the stream of money they've lived off for many years, now, provided by the Greek text of God's Word they've assembled. They claim their text is the closest anyone can possibly get to the original autographs inspired by the Holy Spirit.

So think about this. The better they do their job, the closer they will be to claiming copyright for the very word of God. In an e-mail, my son-in-law, Lucas, put it this way:

I was trying to figure out what, exactly, the UBS was copyrighting when they produce their version of the Greek New Testament. My only guess is that when they produce a Greek New Testament, they are copyrighting their specific choice of words. In other words, their copyright is not so much on the words themselves, but on the precise sequence of Greek words in their version of the Greek New Testament.

Their ultimate goal, of course, is to produce a Greek New Testament that is *exactly* the same as the original. But here's the crazy part: If they succeed in their goal, they will have succeeded in copyrighting the *actual* text of the Greek New Testament--not a translation, but the real thing.

Is that not crazy? If I'm right, then you can state it another way: the goal of the UBS is to copyright the *original* text of Scripture.

The head spins...

So what's the story behind this? relied on a project called MorphGNT to supply the data for it's very useful Greek New Testament application. The creator of MorphGNT, James Tauber, spoke at the 2008 BibleTech conference a year ago, and he described it as a "linguistic database focusing on morphological analysis of the text of the Greek New Testament, and, more specifically, the United Bible Society's third edition corrected text." (You can find the complete audio for his talk, along with one specifically about the history of, at the bottom of this page.)

MorphGNT was released under the creative commons license, so it was intended to be freely available to anyone who might benefit from it.

Then, along came the German/United Bible Society waving copyright.

The team responsible for maintaining the MorphGNT project was recently notified that the German Bible Society doesn't license the NA27 or the UBS4 Bible text for open source projects "as a matter of principle". Consequently, they requested that the MorphGNT be removed. The MorphGNT team notified Zack Hubert and the rest is history.

But in their effort to protect their ability to "generate revenue from the sale of the texts in order to support their important work," the German Bible Society has not only put the kibosh on Literally dozens of applications rely on MorphGNT, and every application that does will be affected by this decision.

Did the Holy Spirit inspire the Word of God so the German Bible Society or Rupert Murdock's shareholders who own Zondervan and the exclusive copyright license to the NIV can "generate revenue?"

Their lifetime of riches threatened, the German/United Bible Society has taken their ball and gone home while issuing statements about their important principles and work. But all we need to know is that online resources that have been an enormous boon to the Body of Christ have been removed in order to protect one organization's ability to make money--loads and loads of it.

It's as if anyone connected with the lucrative Bible publisher corporate world today can do anything they want--absolutely anything at all--citing the Biblical command not to muzzle the ox, and everyone packs their discernment in the suitcase, zips it up, snaps to attention, and says, "Yes sir! You're right, sir! Whatever you say, sir!"

One reason for the cowed silence within the church is the serious conflict of interest scholars face in the matter, and scribes today are respected by the people of God as they were in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. We love God's Word, and therefore the men that teach it to us. But we can't depend on these scholars to defend the church in its use of God's Word from the companies that they have been paid by, personally.

Famous Christian celebrities and professors in evangelical colleges and seminaries were remunerated handsomely by these Bible societies and publishers for the use of their names and work on these Bible texts; they were wined and dined, flown here and there, provided digs in fancy hotels around the world; and if they do say so themselves, the rarefied atmosphere seemed to suit them well.

It was a long, long way from the dairy farm they grew up on or the small Midwestern commuter suburb where they now teach New Testament survey to freshmen.

Beyond their work on the Bibles themselves, it's these same corporations that pay the advances and royalties on the books these men write. That's the origin of the serious money these Christian leaders' fame, fortune, and kingdoms are built on. Next to it, the salaries of these celebrities and profs are piddling.

Consider where criticism and investigative journalism are normally published outside the church, then note that publications such as Christianity Today and World live off advertising revenue provided by colleges, seminaries, and publishers (especially).

The men who edit and publish these magazines will be quick to respond that they have a lock down firewall between their advertising and editorial departments. But evangelicalism is a ghetto and Wheaton is a very small town.

For instance, the CEOs of Tyndale House Publishers (publisher of the New Living Translation), Crossway Books (publisher of the English Standard Version), and Christianity Today all are members of my wife's and my home home church in Wheaton.# The same congregation also includes many employees of those three corporations as well as any number of other evangelical businesses and missions. And of course, a number of the scholars paid to produce these Bibles.

In such a close-knit community, it's very hard for good criticism to be done, and accountability is almost impossible. This is why Dad opposed Christianity Today moving to Wheaton thirty or so years ago.

Discernment, criticism, and public accountability are normally hated by the church, but put them in these environs and they become almost impossible. To speak about firewalls between editorial and advertising when everyone's crammed together in the same sanctuary listening to the same sermon week after week is less than reassuring.

So again, who is left to hold these men accountable for the way they use the Bible? For the profits they make? Who will shame them when they refuse to license their text to the only affordable Bible software program that runs on the Mac? Will the scholars who produced and work on the German Bible Society's critical text call these men to account for shutting down the most helpful Greek project in the world today?

How have we arrived at the point that courts adjudicate such matters, rather than the Bride of Christ? Has the Church nothing to say about these things? That something is legal does not make it right or godly.

Back in the day, my brother and I went in print in World with the proposal that Bibles be copyright-free except for the purpose of protecting the integrity of the text.

People in the pew didn't understand what David and I were proposing or why it was important, and I believe a number of the rich men and their scholar-employees thought we were joking.

But tell us, please: how did the Bible survive the first nineteen-hundred years before there were non-profits and for-profits living off Bible copyrights and aggressively defending their huge wealth provided by those copyrights?

For starters, there were patrons, but that's another post for another time.

Fifteen years ago, I appealed to Zondervan to allow the Online Bible for the Mac to license the text of the NIV for their software. Zondervan was adamant in their refusal, though, and the good folks of Online Bible were forced to go over to the UK and license the British text of the NIV, instead. Why?

Because Zondervan had started up its Mac Bible software division by making the terrible mistake of trying to sell software that was so bad, they couldn't give it away. Bloated code brought over from the PC world had corrupted what formerly had been a superb bit of software I owned and used called MacBible. But being clueless about the Mac, Zondervan dove in and, the code ruined, the product was stone-cold dead.

Thus they would not allow the program-of-choice in the Mac world to license the text of the NIV.

It didn't help Online Bible's case that the cost of their software competing with Zondervan's own MacBible was not money, but the explicit statement in the ReadMe file accompanying the program that every user was required to give copies of the program--not the Bible texts, mind you, but the program--to five friends in the first month of use. The publishers of the Bible texts were paid royalties for the use of their own Bibles but the code driving those Bibles was free.

In other words, whereas Zondervan charged for their software, the good folks of Online Bible refused to do so. So you'll understand my saying that this did not endear the good folks of Online Bible to Zondervan. Zondervan had an investment to protect and Mac users around the world were up a creek without a paddle. If your Bible of choice was an NIV and you used a Mac, too bad.

Hearing about the situation from Online Bible's development team and knowing some of the executives at Zondervan, I tried to mediate the conflict. The correspondence was eye-opening. In my judgment, it was all about money and not a bit about serving the church. So, again...

As David and I have said many times (including personally to those who make a living off copyrights they hold on English language Bibles), no one and no corporation and no non-profit organization should ever be allowed to hold a copyright on any text of Scripture for anything other than assuring the integrity of the text they worked to produce.

This is not to say that U.S. and international copyright law won't sustain the aggressive defense of such assets, but that such aggressive defenses are counter to the very Authorship of the Word of God which is the Holy Spirit. Certainly there are substantial creative contributions by translators which are sufficient to guarantee a favorable verdict in any civil suit scholars or their agents and publishing companies would file. No argument there.

But open the financial books so we can all see the full dimensions of the wealth these Bibles have provided evangelical publishers and their proprietary foundations and Bible societies. Then we'll be yanked back to the reality we all should have learned with Roe v. Wade--that to say something is legal is not to say it is right.

It is not right for Bible societies or corporations or scholar-businessmen to refuse to allow the use of a particular translation of Holy Scripture simply in order to protect their cash cow. Whether the version of Scripture providing wealth is the ESV or the NLT or the NIV or the NASB95 or Nestle-Aland's critical text, it is inexcusable for copyrights of Bibles to be used to provide an ongoing stream of wealth for these men over the course of the next seventy years or so.# Remember, the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit and it belongs to the Church.

Likely in every single case we are looking at, long, long ago, these men recouped their initial investments--not their advertising budgets, mind you--and now it's the gravy train.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake in Bible publishing today.

To be clear: We have no objection to a Bible publisher or society using copyright as a defense against someone publishing a portion of Scripture and naming it, say, the "NIV", while altering the text so it's not actually the text of the NIV. People should be able to read a particular translation and know the words they're reading are an accurate reproduction of that translation.

But no one should use copyright to protect the wealth of men, their coporations, or their non-profits when it's the Word of God inspired by the Holy Spirit now two thousand years or more old that's the source of that wealth. And the fact that we've all become inured to this recent development in Bible publishing makes it no less shameful.

It's entirely proper for publishing companies to recoup the investment they've made hiring scholars to work on this or that version (although it seems better for a patron to fund them for a whole host of reasons). But then, let those publishing companies announce how much they invested in the scholars; let them announce it beforehand, so we all know how soon it will be paid back when the version's first printing comes out; so we all know how long before that version will become royalty-free.

This is not hard to understand.

Congregations know and vote on how much their pastors are paid. In the same way, it's time for all those whose wealth comes from Bible copyrights also to have their income provided by the Word of God open knowledge within the church. Bible societies and publishers must be accountable, financially, to the church.

Until they are, they will continue to shut down godly, humble, and poor servants like those who wrote and ran the MorphGNT and ReGreek projects.

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# It should be noted that some Bible publishers have a much better track record of humility and generosity with their Bible copyrights than others. In the author's judgment, Crossway and Tyndale House are particularly commendable in this regard. In the interest of full disclosure, though, the author is related by consanguinity, marriage, and affection to the owners of these corporations and has received money, directly or indirectly, from these coporations or their owners.