[sword-devel] Copyright, profiteering, and the Great Commission
Michael Paul Johnson
Thu, 06 Jul 2000 09:40:47 -0600
Thank you, Bob, Chris, Brandon, et al., for your comments.
There is a tension, here, and I see support in the Scripture for part of
the arguments of all viewpoints recently expressed. It is obvious to me
that this has great importance, because it affects the way we conduct
ourselves as Christians writing Bible study software. At the risk of
offending everyone, please allow me to suggest that there is a middle
ground that some of you may not have noticed.
First of all, let's remind ourselves of two commandments of Jesus Christ
that overrule any commandment of men:
1. We are to love one another. We love God, we love our brothers and sister
in Christ, and we love the lost. If we get this straight, all the rest of
God's commandments follow easily.
2. We are to make disciples of all nations. A disciple is one who studies
and learns about God to know Him better and to serve Him. Naturally, the
Word of God may be spoken, written on paper with ink, and written in
electronic form. Just as the invention of the printing press caused a
quantum leap in Bible distribution possible, so computer technology has
made another quantum leap in Bible distribution possible. We are all
unified in our desire to take advantage of this additional opportunity to
spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
When I look at the Scriptures to see what the perfect model of financing
the Gospel distribution is, I see a mixture. I see that God uses personal
gifts to ministers of the Gospel (Jesus had a list of supporters recorded),
gifts from churches (i. e. from Philippi to Paul), personal income from
"secular" jobs (Paul worked as a tentmaker for a while), and offerings from
those who benefit from the preaching. This is the support model for the
World English Bible translation costs. It works, because God is faithful.
Jesus said that whoever is not against us is for us. We have so much work
to do in fighting the real enemy (satan, darkness, and thoughts contrary to
God) and spreading the light of the Gospel, that we have no time to waste
attacking well-meaning brothers and sisters. Let God deal with them in His
love and grace. It grieves me to see such harsh words as have been
exchanged here on this list directed between brothers in Christ.
I believe that God has a way of blessing what His people do as much as He
can, even if it is less than perfect.
When it comes to the issue of Copyright compliance, there is a certain
tension in the Scriptures in that we are to comply with the laws of man as
much as possible without violating the laws of God. This sometimes boils
down to a judgement call. It takes wisdom from God to get the call right.
It was over this exact issue in prayer before God that God called me to do
a Bible translation. That was His definite answer to me. Behold, several
years and many volunteer hours later, we have the World English Bible New
Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs, with the rest of the Old Testament under
way. Without God's call, I wouldn't touch this project with a 3 meter pole.
With God's call, I dare not be lax in doing it.
Look at the beauty and wisdom of God's answer to me. He didn't call me to
attack Zondervan/IBS. He didn't call me to engage in civil disobedience. He
gave us a way to reach English-speaking people with an accurate translation
of the Holy Bible in a language they understand without having to pay
royalties to anyone for a Bible translation. It has cost me time and money
from my own pocket. It has caused me to delve deeply into the study of the
Scriptures, and enriched my spirit. It has built my faith. It has allowed
me to be a blessing to many people. It has allowed me to witness and
participate in miracles and "holy coincidences" that caused me great joy.
Glory to God! God is good! This isn't about me. This is about Jesus Christ.
This is about loving Jesus Christ and doing His commandments.
In saying all of that, I don't mean to condemn anyone for selling Bibles or
enforcing copyrights. If there is conviction from the Holy Spirit, so be
it. It isn't my job to convict people, though. The profit motive has indeed
done a lot of good in making Bible translations available in a variety of
print styles, bindings, etc., and I believe it will continue to do so.
Indeed, that is one reason the World English Bible is Public Domain, and
not GPL. If Bob Prichart wants to put it in Logos format and sell it for
$20/copy, he has my blessing and encouragement to do so. (I won't go so far
as to pay him to do so, but it should be trivial to convert GBF to Logos
tags.) If he wants to put it in Logos format and give it away, then great
glory be to God! That doesn't stop anyone else from publishing it in other
formats and competing with his company, but they will probably still make
money on it, because some people really like how Logos software works and
are willing to pay for it.
There is nothing wrong with selling books and tapes. I know lots of
preachers of the Gospel who do. None of them sees that as making people pay
to hear the Gospel, which they love to preach freely, and they gladly
preach to anyone who will come to church to hear them -- or who sits next
to them on an airplane or bus. It does help cover the cost of duplicating
the books and tapes, and sometimes helps cover the cost of their preaching,
as well (although they rely mostly on free will offerings). The Gospel is
as free as water. Sometimes you have to pay for some pipes to get it where
it is needed, though.
If you are dedicated to free Bible study software, then by all means write
free Bible study software for the Lord, and rely on Him for your provision!
If you write commercial Bible study software, then do it for the Lord, and
rely on Him for your provision! In both cases, be ready to give some away
for the sake of the Great Commission whenever and wherever God prompts you to.
Michael Paul Johnson