Copyright and Christian publishing, today...

If technology is behind many evils, although I wouldn't put it at the top of the list, the aggressive lobbying of publishers for expansion of their copyrights would be way up there. You know a recurrent theme here is the click we all are forced to perform before new software installations and updates: "Yes, I've read and agree with your 10,000 words of legalese here binding me to give notice to Apple if I ever put on a pair of socks again without explicit permission from Apple's in-house socks permissions department. And no, I will never, ever eat an apple again without paying you a user fee. Promise and cross my heart." You know the routines and the lies it's made pervasive.

But this is almost the least toxic part of the abuse of copyright, today. We have Christians threatening lawsuits against those who copy works in the public domain when those works are not and cannot be covered by copyright, so their threat is a lie. We have Bibles copyrighted when the Holy Spirit inspired every word, and Moses, Kings David and Solomon, and the Apostle Paul did the work and have been dead for many centuries. We have Mickey Mouse getting an extension of royalties for Disney simply because he has well-paid lawyers and lobbyists buying legislators who think making the Disney corporation filthy richer is fine because Disney is next to apple pie and motherhood.

It's a mess and we all need to remind ourselves that there's another way for believers... When David and I were selling John Piper, Paige Patterson, Vern Poythress, Lane Dennis, Wayne Grudem, and R. C. Sproul on the necessity of coming out with a new Bible translation to replace the NIV in the pews and homes of Evangelicals, our long background watching Bible and other Christian publishing up close and personal in Wheaton, particularly through our own familes, led us to propose that the ESV be published with the copyright only doing one thing: protecting the integrity of the text. We told the men that we ought to return to the patron model for the funding of the work of revising the RSV. Get one or two rich men to pay some men to do the revision and then Crossway (and any other publisher who wanted to) could issue the ESV for anyone and everyone to print or distribute in any way they wanted as long as they didn't violate the integrity of the text.

Of course, this is not the way it went and Crossway now has its cash-cow. Thankfully, it's been fairly free-handed in allowing the distribution of the e-text on the internet, but for them this is simply good business. Back in the late nineties, I convinced Lane Dennis to allow us at CBMW to place Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood on the web for free distribution (don't let the "posted" dates confuse you—they're wrong) of the e-text. One year later they told me their sales had gone up ten percent that year. Crossway then became a believer in internet distribution juicing other sales, and concerning the ESV, I'm sure the concept has been proven in spades.

No Bible should ever be copyrighted and the truth of the matter is partly seen in the fact that the Nestle-Aland critical text is up to the 28th edition, now. Each edition claims to be getting closer and closer and closer to the original Hebrew and Greek text and yet that simple fact strikes no one and leads to no ironic statements. Think about it: the German and United Bible Societies hold copyright on what they tell us are the actual Hebrew and Greek words inspired by God (the "base" or "initial text") and they use the force of law to bar anyone anywhere from copying God's inspired original Hebrew and Greek words without paying them for the privilege. But hey, who knows; maybe the Apostle Paul required each congregational reading of his letters to have an offering taken afterwards which would be sent to him for his support as he worked on the next letter? I mean, you never know, do you? (And yes, I've read their statement that they don't make a profit on Nestle-Aland, but such statements are, at best, misleading when one understands the Byzantine inner workings of what constitute profits when it comes to non-proft profits.)

Christian publishing is a mess today. It used to be you could scan the bottom of the spines of books lined up on used bookstore shelves and watch for certain publishers names, knowing their orthodoxy. When you saw a good name at the bottom of the spine, you'd turn sideways to see if the title and author were something worth having. It doesn't work now, though; Zondervan publishes Wayne Grudem and Rob Bell with both men paid their very large royalties by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

"Houston, we have a problem."

Concerning contracting with or buying books from this or that publisher, I think it's time we give ourselves to the foolish consistency which is the hobgoblin of faithful minds. For fifteen years now, I've been asking my friends who write to do two things: first, don't publish with Zondervan, IVP, and other houses that make their money off heresy while claiming to be orthodox Christians. No one should help the bottom line of Zondervan or IVP today, and I say this as the son of a man who at one time served as Publisher at IVP. Sadly, IVP has long ago turned its back on the Truth of God and it's time for all of us to move on and give ourselves to strengthening the publishers that remain faithful. If you have a book to publish, give it to Banner of Truth or Canon or Crossway or Tyndale House Publishers. Not everything they do is good, but they're not pimping for Rob Bell.

(And by the way, I have no problem with going with a completely secular publisher just as I have no problem with studying at a completely secular college or university. It's the half-Christians gone mad at Wheaton and Zondervan I fear.)

Second, negotiate that every book published is made available on the internet in e-text and free. I asked Vern Poythress and John Frame to do this and allow us to put their works up on the internet a number of years ago and that's where came from. Since then Andrew Dionne has volunteered his web design services and a lot of grunt work to run the web site. What a debt of gratitude we owe Andrew (whose work has all been without remuneration) as well as Vern and John for getting their publishers on board. Send these men e-mails thanking them for this service to the church—they need encouragement just like the rest of us.

The technology of digital reproduction has been a huge boon to the church as we see dead church fathers able to be distributed today across the world, almost without cost. Praise God!

But we have hanging fire in a number of areas and we should be thinking strategically about how to move on from the buying and selling of what used to be called the annual Christian Booksellers Association, but now is called the International Christian Retail Show. (The people of The Book are moving on from books: other merchandise now comprises a larger share of the profits than books, hence the name change.)

One suggestion is to return to the subscription-based model followed for centuries, but modernized in the form of a Christian kick-starter for solid writers who are both orthodox and have something to say. Instead of one or two rich men we'd have one hundred poor men who would each give—not invest—enough money to get good books finished and into print and e-reader format. This would be sort of a mass patronage model and no one would make any money once the book was printed, although maybe the printer would hold onto enough of the sales to be able to reprint the work without a second kick-starter campaign?

But I know I don't have the solutions, so think away, dear brothers. Both Dad and my father-in-law, Ken Taylor, started publishing companies, so there's no reason we can't ourselves change the way the Church approaches copyright, publication, and distribution.

And in that connection, look for some announcements from Clearnote Fellowship soon about a couple publications in the works we're convinced you will find helpful.

* * *

Incidentally, if you want to know what inspired this post, read the good news of the Supreme Court's decision in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley and Sons in what is said to be the most important first sale case in a century. Librarians are very happy.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and fifteen grandchildren.


Let me then just put in a good word for the Metropolitan Tabernacle bookstore in London.  Tons of good reformed books and judging from their prices they must be selilng right around at cost.  It would seem they want people to read the books more than they want to make money.

Producing a quality translation of the Bible involves significant upfront costs. There are probably three main ways that a translation can be funded:

1. The investment is recaptured using the current for-profit model.

2. One very large benefactor funds the project.

3. A denomination or group of denominations funds the translation and then allows free access to the text.

Since you have been beating this drum for some time do you have any idea why the second and third options are not being tried?

I've thought about trying to organize volunteers to translate the Bible into a version that would be available w/o charge, but I have never been able to come up with a way to do this without having several full-time paid editors. This would still entail a large upfront investment.

Best wishes,


David, you actually suggested 4 options. My understanding is that the NET Bible was done somewhat like your 4th option. I've not read their copyright stuff, but here's the link.

You see this yet from Keller?  Before reading your blog starting a few months ago, this would have shocked me.  Now, not so much.

Sad, but entirely predictable. To pomos like Tim, there's nothing more terrifying than the chance of being viewed by worldings as insufficiently progressive. Everything he says, including the way he preaches, can only be understood using that key. By his own admission, no preaching against abortion and sodomy—both sins rife among his congregants—and support for sodomitic faux-marriage with a line tossed off here and there about the sin of homosexuality. Whenever a man is perfectly position between God and the world, you know something's wrong.

When he's a preacher with a bunch of best-sellers, you know it's you who are wrong. ;-\



Thank you for pointing out the NET Bible. I'm not aware of how much initial funding was provided for producing the NET Bible or where this funding came from. The NET Bible project has been driven by men associated with Dallas Theological Seminary. Such institutional involvement can take the place of denominational support. In fact, for many dispensationalists there is probably a greater identification with DTS than with their denomination.

Yes, I did mention four approaches but I don't really consider the fourth to be a viable option. Apart from a significant source of funding or clear institutional support I doubt that a very high quality translation could be completed and published.

Thanks again.


The NET Bible copyright rules look pretty good to me. I'd change only one thing (tho that is important). It says only free distribution of paper copies is allowed. I would allow sale of them too, not-for-profit and for-profit. The idea is to encourage distribution, after all. Who cares if the distributor makes a profit? Or, actually, good for them if they make a living selling Bibles--- as long as it is by increasing the sale of Bibles, not by restricting it. If someone is paying you cost plus a penny a page for the NET Bible instead of getting it for free off the web or by writing to a charity, it must be that you are providing them with good value. 

        It's analogous to a famine. Suppose there is a famine in Hungaria and the good-hearted king takes his entire wealth and buys foreign grain to give away. Then, he decides to help even more. He proclaims a law saying that nobody may import foreign grain and sell it-- they must give it away. Imports fall to a trickle, half the people die, and those remaining rise up and  cut off the king's head. 

  Another thought, though. The NET Bible seems to be a wicked and stupid translation. I didn't know Dallas Theological Seminary was such a sorry place.  See

    The idea, though, could be repeated and vastly extended. Imitate Wikipedia. Ask for translating by people around the world. Make them take a Greek or Hebrew test first, as a rough filter, and to  say they will follow  the translation's theology and style.  Warn them in advance that if they don't, their contribution will be deleted anyway. Ask them for footnotes explaining their changes--footnotes in the background, as in Wikipedia. Start with the old translation closest to the preferred style--- the King James, for example, and let the volunteers go at it. Then, the editor needs to go over each chapter and tentatively freeze his preferred translation once it appears. For a year or two, allow further footnote commentary on whether the frozen version is good, and maybe change it again--- but the editor will insert the changes now.  Then freeze it forever--- no NIV style "improvements" allowed. 

  This would be like editing Wikipedia entries on controversial subjects--- version wars would ensue, the editor would have to make choices, and rude volunteers would have to be expelled. And the result would only be as good as the editor. But it is feasible. 

Yes, the NET Bible is a net debit. As in bad.

A new translation is needed that avoids the bondage to political correctness scholars like Dan Wallace demonstrate as they go about their book sales. (I remember Dan at a CBMW meeting going on and on about how he couldn't allow himself to be associated with CBMW because of our battle for leaving the sex markings of Scripture intact. It was clear he was another Don Carson--too big for his own britches and desperately fearful of being viewed by his pagan colleagues as "not sufficiently progressive.")

Thus Dan's facile or simplistic statement in this page Eric links to concerning the meaning of 'anthropos' is revealed for the bondage to PC-effeminacy it is by this excellent piece by Michael Marlowe. Read what he has to say about the uses of 'anthropos' in Scripture that must mean "man" as opposed to "man or woman."

Any idiot can see it, which is to say it takes a whole lot of education to have it beat out of you so you're blind to it.


PS: Josh Congrove helpfully pointed out that I'd linked to the wrong post by Michael Marlowe. The link is now correct.

Unlike Tim Keller, I do not support "so-called same-sex marriage" [a term I picked up on the local RC radio station]. But unless God changes the hearts of many millions of young people, I fear that it will become legal in more and more states as time goes on. 

Case in point - In 2004, Ohio citizens passed an amendment to our Constitution that banned both so-called same-sex marriage and civil unions. Now there's a movement to for another referendum to overturn the amendment. If I understand correctly, there will be no trouble gaining the signatures to get the referendum on the November (?) ballot. Also, majority of Ohioans support so-called same-sex marriage according to a recent statewide survey. 

Unfortunately, it seems like the catholic (note small "c") church will have to come to terms with this trend no matter how abhorrent we find it.

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