"We did not use this right." —Paul
He had a brilliant mind, rich with cultural and linguistic knowledge of his mother tongue Fang. He would have mastered the biblical languages, but when he was in seminary they weren't offered anywhere in the country. He died longing to know Hebrew.
We agree with the Copenhagen Alliance that the global Church needs free biblical resources unencumbered by “all rights reserved” copyright. The Word of God and the languages it was written in were given to us, so let us in turn give them away to others! We believe that just as someone should not have to pay to hear or read the gospel in their own language, they should not have to pay to read the gospel in the original language. Jesus said, “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matt 10:8). Paul did not charge money for people to have access to or copy his letters, nor did he feel comfortable making a living as a “peddler of God’s word” (2 Corinthians 2:17) or even being perceived as someone who thought “that godliness is a means to financial gain” (1 Tim 6:5).
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:7, “Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge?” He went on to write: “I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so.”
While Paul recognized the freedom in Christ to make a living wage as a laborer for the gospel, he personally renounced that right: “If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ” (1 Cor 9:11-12).
Famine and Vulnerability
For most of the global Church it is impossible to learn the biblical languages because the required resources for learning and study are in English, locked up by copyrights, and expensive. Ignorance of the biblical languages can lead to theological famine, and leaves the church vulnerable to heresies, false teaching, harmful trends, spiritual immaturity, and a general carelessness in interpreting the Word. Without access to the sources, the church will remain subject to the whims and opinions of men, “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14). Without the languages, church leaders will always be second-handers, depending on commentaries, questionable YouTube videos, and whatever preachers they happen to see on TV. Christians in the developing world are sincere and eager to learn and grow, but many of us in the rich, walled garden of the West have been hesitant to let go of its resources and share them sacrificially, even if it hurts our pride or pocket book. Others have simply not thought strategically how they can follow Paul’s model and give away as much as possible. Most are merely unaware of the need, the problem, and the best way to solve it.
A Way Forward
We are convinced that if we want to be radically generous with our God-given resources and exponentially equip the entire global Church with the biblical languages, all the content we generate must…
- be released under one of the following licenses: CC0/Public Domain, CC BY 1, CC BY-SA 1. This grants the the irrevocable freedom to access, revise, translate, repurpose, redistribute, publish, and use the resources without hindrance, remuneration, or the need for custom licenses.
- be publicly accessible.
- be stored in a format and in a place that supports conversion into other formats to facilitate maximum distribution.
That said, there are many other reasons we give our content away for free, and encourage others to do so. Some of those reasons are explained in the following articles by Matt Perman at desiringGod.org.