Is the Bible actually illegal anywhere?

Some Fundamentalist Christians are overly eager to tell you about their efforts to smuggle Bibles into countries that are hostile to the Gospel Message ™. Are there countries (or jurisdictions within countries) where simple possession of a copy of the Bible in your own language (or any language) is substantively illegal under applicable criminal law?

For example, if I go into a bookstore here in the USA and say, “I would like a copy of the Bible”, they will probably ask, “What version?” They will have several versions in English, quite possibly one or two in Spanish, and may be able to special order you one in Japanese, Zulu, or Finnish if you want one. Is there any country where, if a person walked off the street into a bookstore and asked for a Bible, the clerk would respond, “Sorry, that book is (or all versions in your language are) is illegal under Penal Code Sec 55.32a. Possession of a Bible is punishable by up to a 5000 zorkmid fine and 3-5 years in prison.”?

I’m not talking about areas where books are subject to a nominal sales tax (and the Bible smugglers just want to evade that tax), nor am I talking about countries that do not guarantee freedom of religion and that prohibit certain types of worship, nor am I talking about countries where possession of a Bible is socially discouraged by busybody neighbors. I’m talking about it being illegal to simply possess a version of the Bible that you can understand.

In some fundamentalist countries (Saudi Arabia comes to mind) it is illegal to atempt to convert Islamic adherents to other religions. However, many of these countries have Christian residents and visitors. I imagine if you tried to import a crate of bibles for missionary work you would be in trouble, and deported, but I have never heard of simple possession by a Christian being a crime.

I associate “Bible smuggling” with Brother Andrew, subject of the book God’s Smuggler which describes his actions “smuggling” Bibles and religious literature behind the Iron Curtain.

I realize this doesn’t answer the question of whether/where such things would be illegal today.

16th century England, maybe. Tyndale was put to death for translating the Bible into English.

Here isa story about a North Korean who was executed for smuggling Bibles in 2009. It says that it is not technically illegal to have a bible those who do are accused of spying and imprisoned.
From reading Brother Andrew’s books, I seem to remember that the Bibles were not officially illegal in the Communist bloc but individuals who possessed one or were found smuggling were charged with spying or possessing pornography,

Bringing a Bible into Saudi Arabia


Why do you say that? :confused:

Yeah, Bibles used to be illegal in some Christian countries at certain periods. It’s not necessarily a fault belonging strictly to adherents of other religions – it’s more about authoritarianism and control.

I think most if not all countries would not bother if you bring your personal Bible with you. The “Bible being illegal” stories seem to all be about thousands of copies and missionary/conversion efforts which is the illegal part.

In the history of the Catholic Church, owning a Bible and particularly a Bible in a modern language had long been viewed with a degree of suspicion. Having the believers study the scripture themselves was an idea that came up during the Protestant Reformation.

The Catholic stance was that it was the clergy’s job to teach their flock all they need to know about the faith.

That’s why translating the Bible into German was one of the first things Martin Luther did.

[Moderator Note]

Luk3112, religious jabs are not permitted in GQ. No warning issued, but don’t do this again.

General Questions Moderator

He was burned at the stake, wasn’t he? Was this just for translating the Bible into English? Or was it for making an allegedly false (and thus blasphemous) translation? I thought the problem was that certain zealous authorities had accused him of “errors” in his translation. Is that right?

Yes but by the beginning of the 17th, King James authorized a translation and I have read that an awful lot of it was based on Tyndale’s.

Yes, but Bibles in the vernacular were a major innovation at the time, and I suspect that this was more the real issue than any specific objections to particular aspects of the translation. This was the early stages of the reformation when things were still very much in flux.

Well, yes, but a lot had happened in political and religious terms in between - including the reigns of Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth I, during which England’s official Church went hard Protestant, hard Catholic, and back to (relatively moderate) Protestant again. Also, there were several English translations of the Bible in between Tyndale’s (which was not even a complete Bible) and the King James version (including that by Coverdale, who is easily confused with Tyndale). It is probably true that they all drew on Tyndale to some extent, though (probably mostly indirectly, via Coverdale cribbing a lot from Tyndale).


This means it was illegal, like possessing a set of lock-picking tools.

According to this it is illegal in the Maldives.

That article talks about laws against converting people away from Islam, but the subject was arrested for owning a bible in his home.

Ubeki-beki-beki-stan-stan too

I do not know who Brother Andrew is, but I very much doubt that that gives an accurate impression. Although religion was certainly officially discouraged in the Soviet bloc, there were not any very concerted efforts to stamp it out, and the Russian Orthodox Church, for instance, continued to function openly, although without the sort of privileges it might have had under the Tsars, and again today. Of course, American evangelicals trying to smuggle Bibles into Communist countries were probably dealt with a lot more harshly than the indigenous Christians were, but that is more about fighting cultural imperialism from your global enemy than it is about fighting Christianity. (Laypeople reading Bibles, of course, is a Western Protestant thing. It is almost as much counter to the traditions of Russian Orthodoxy as it is to Communism.)

North Korea may be a different matter. From what one can gather, those guys (who don’t even pretend to be Communists any more) have things locked down a lot tighter than the Soviets ever did. Also, of course, to them, Christianity is an alien, foreign religion.

Brother Andrew was Dutch, not American.
Here is the wikipedia page on the Soviet persecution of the Christianity “The state was committed to the destruction of religion, and destroyed churches, mosques and temples, ridiculed, harassed and executed religious leaders, flooded the schools and media with atheistic propaganda, and generally promoted ‘scientific atheism’ as the truth that society should accept”
Christianity is not an alien foreign religion to North Koreans, before the communists took over Korea was one of the most Christian nations in the world. Pyongyang was once known as the Jerusalem of the east because of the number of Christians.