[sword-devel] Copyright, profiteering, and the Great Commission

Michael Paul Johnson sword-devel@crosswire.org
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
mpj@eBible.org    http://ebible.org/mpj