A close-up photo of a worn-out Bible lying open on a wooden table, highlighting the copyright page, symbolizing the intriguing question of who holds the rights to this sacred text.

Who Owns The Bible Copyright

The Bible is the most popular book in the world, with over 5 billion copies sold. But when it comes to copyright, things get a bit complicated.

If you’re wondering who owns the rights to the Bible, read on for a deep dive into this complex question.

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: Zondervan, the largest Christian publisher in the world owns the copyrights.

Major Bible Publishers Own Popular Translations

Zondervan owns the NIV translation

Zondervan is a major Christian publisher located in Grand Rapids, Michigan that has published the New International Version (NIV) Bible translation since its initial release in 1978.

The Committee on Bible Translation oversees the NIV translation, but Zondervan owns the copyright to the translation and distributes over 2 million NIV Bibles per year.

It has become one of the most popular modern English Bible translations.

Crossway owns the ESV translation

Crossway is a not-for-profit Christian publisher based in Wheaton, Illinois that publishes the popular English Standard Version (ESV) Bible, first released in 2001.

While the ESV publishers oversee the translation, Crossway owns the copyright and has sold over 120 million ESV Bibles worldwide since its initial release.

The ESV is now one of the most popular word-for-word Bible translations.

HarperCollins owns the NLT translation

HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. is one of the leading publishers of Christian books and Bibles.

Located in Nashville, Tennessee, HarperCollins owns the copyright to the New Living Translation (NLT) Bible after they purchased the publisher Tyndale House in 2012.

With over 150 million copies sold, the easy-to-read thought-for-thought NLT translation is one of HarperCollins’ most popular assets.

 A close-up shot of a Bible, open to a page containing verses about love, compassion, and healing, emphasizing the ethical dilemma of blood transfusions.

What Parts of the Bible Are Copyrighted

Study notes and commentary can be copyrighted

The actual text of the Bible is not under copyright, as it is considered public domain material. However, study Bibles often contain supplementary content written by modern scholars and theologians which can be copyrighted. This includes:

  • Introductions to each book of the Bible
  • Footnotes and commentary
  • Book introductions and outlines
  • Maps and charts
  • Indexes and concordances

For example, the NIV Study Bible published by Zondervan contains the text of the New International Version translation, which is not under copyright, along with over 20,000 study notes written by scholars.

The notes and supplementary materials can be copyrighted and reproduced only with permission.

Popular study Bibles like the Life Application Bible, the Archaeological Study Bible, and the Reformation Study Bible contain copyrighted notes authored by modern Bible teachers.

Supplementary materials may also be protected

In addition to notes, many Bibles contain extra materials and teaching aids that can be covered by copyright. These include:

  • Book introductions
  • Charts and graphs
  • Timelines
  • Character sketches
  • Subject indexes
  • Cross-references
  • Concordances
  • Glossaries
  • Dictionary

For example, the NLT Study Bible from Tyndale House contains over 25,000 study notes and hundreds of other supplementary materials authored by scholars. All of these added materials can be protected by copyright.

However, copyright does not extend to facts, historical information, or short phrases and definitions.


While no single publisher owns the rights to the full Bible, copyright law still impacts certain versions and ancillary content related to Scripture. The core text remains freely available thanks to its ancient origins in the public domain.

However, specific translations, study materials and other supplementary content can still be protected under modern copyright law.

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