When we say "Ministry First", there are a number of things we mean including:
Bible.org is guided by the principle of “Ministry First.” Our translation team desires to follow the Bible’s teaching with regard to the distribution of God’s word versus the sales of printed Bibles for massive profits. The NET Bible team has reflected on the model described in Leviticus 23:22 and asked how Bible publishers ensure that they “not completely harvest the corner of their field…for the poor and the foreigner.” Our ‘crop’ is a Bible translation. Even though some for-profit Bible publishers have allowed Bible societies to print and give away millions of Bibles, the amount of funds available to all Bible societies and publishers in all of history does not come close to being able to actually give a free printed Bible to all of the two billion people who have some ability to read English. This is why we feel so strongly that the NET Bible must not only be available for viewing on the Internet, but also for free downloading and use by everyone, worldwide, for free, forever. It is a cornerstone and guiding principle of our ministry. This approach helps us come closer to fulfilling the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20 by allowing all people of all nations on earth to learn what God has revealed in his word for them to understand and obey. Learning and following the Bible’s instructions must apply to Bible translators and publishers as well as Bible students. This is why we offer the NET Bible for free to the world – because we desire to offer Bibles and Bible study resources for free to those who cannot afford to pay for them. Now you know why the NET Bible is available for download and use in Bible studies free to all people, everywhere. These are exciting times, and while we are honored to have been the first modern English translation to do this, we are pleased to see that many other modern English translations are now posted on the Internet for free use as well. As a pioneer in this space, the NET Bible goes beyond just offering free online use and actually offers people around the world the ability to obtain a free download of the entire NET Bible in a popular word processing format as well as a searchable electronic NET Bible for free so that you can easily study for yourself and then write study materials quoting the NET Bible for use by others. We call this a “Ministry First” model, where ministry always takes priority.
We still don’t fully like the copyright notice for the NET Bible, but in our litigious world it remains a challenge. The reason for this dilemma is that we stand at the beginning of a new era made possible by the Internet. New approaches to ministry, publishing, distribution, and collaboration are made possible by the Internet. When the first Bibles and books began to be printed rather than copied by hand, new issues emerged (plagiarism, author’s rights, freedom of the press versus censorship, copyright laws, etc.). It is now time to recognize that the copyright and permissions conventions carried over from printed books must now be upgraded for the Internet age. The innovations will create new opportunities for ministry while also providing new opportunities for authors to support themselves. We believe that 1 Tim 5:17-18 (the author has the right to be paid) and Lev 23:22 (allow the poor and foreigner free access) can be simultaneously satisfied far better with a new Internet model.
The Problem: It’s difficult to quote a modern Bible translation legally
Bible.org’s ministry objective is to be used by God to mature Christians worldwide. To accomplish this we needed to quote a modern Bible translation in the production of thousands of trustworthy Bible Study resources that could be offered on the Internet for free. We predicted in 1995 that the number of Bible verses quoted in these studies would soon surpass available legal permission limits. We tried for a year, but could not obtain the necessary permissions. Lack of a legal ability to quote the Bible online makes online Bible studies impossible and threatened bible.org’s “Ministry First” model. Quite simply the only way we could secure permission to quote a modern Bible was to sponsor a new translation – the NET Bible. We now want to ensure that other ministries and authors don’t experience the same roadblocks. The NET Bible is not just for bible.org, but for everyone.
You may ask (as we have): “Why not just make the NET Bible public domain? Wouldn’t that solve the problem?” It does solve the permission problem but stifles ministry another way. When a publisher prints a public domain KJV they pay no royalties to anyone, but they still make millions of dollars in revenue – and don’t have to spend any of that money on ministry or charity. We didn’t create the NET Bible to save royalties for such publishers. We think a better approach is to leverage copyright laws to ensure that anyone selling NET Bibles must support ministry.
How we intend to solve the problem
The first major step was taken 10 years ago when we posted the NET Bible on the Internet when no other major modern English Bible translations had done so. The other major Bible translations partially followed suit – all of them are now viewable on the Internet – but after 10 years, the NET Bible is still the only major modern translation that can be downloaded for free in its entirety and used seamlessly in presentations and documents.
We think it is time to take a few more steps. NET Bible study software will now be offered free to allow those who can’t afford Bible study tools to search the Bible electronically. We also will remove an important barrier for teachers, pastors, authors, and students of the Bible who plan to write and distribute their studies. Bible copyright policies typically require special permission before Internet posting, writing commentaries, allowing mission organizations to translate works into other languages, or when quotations exceed some verse limit. The result is that an author is forced to delay writing until permission is granted, use an old public domain text, or proceed illegally in order to serve missions. Other authors have found that a valuable work is simply not publishable because they lack permission for the Bible translation quoted in it. We want all authors to know that the NET Bible is a safe choice. We intend to make quoting the NET Bible easy for both commercial publications and ministry by making the vast majority of requests covered by an automatic “yes.” This new copyright permission policy, when implemented, will result in many more works being created for charitable use and Internet distribution. A second major historical reason used to justify prior written approval of papers, books, and commentaries quoting Bibles is to ensure that nothing embarrassing is written using a copyrighted Bible. We’d rather risk embarrassment than hamper thousands of worthwhile projects. We’ll let the Internet community label the rare bad works and bad authors. We’d rather remove barriers so that the other 99.9% of Christian authors can be more productive. We solicit your ideas for an optimal solution for Bible quotations in the Internet age.
Characteristics of a good solution
It is time for ministry to be more free – and for a Bible which puts ministry first. The best way to encourage ministry is to give people the tools they need and remove barriers which encumber their work. Let us know how we can better serve your needs.