Annual Bible distribution has been growing steadily since the turn of the decade, reflecting the ongoing demand for Scripture as well as the tremendous commitment of Bible Societies to put God’s Word into the hands of everyone who wants it. Since 2010, United Bible Societies (UBS) has provided more than 305 million full Bibles to the world.
In 2018, 17% of all full Bibles were internet downloads – and for global languages such as Spanish, English and Portuguese, Scripture downloads all topped a million.
More New Testaments were distributed in 2018 than at any other point this decade. Almost 15 million print copies were provided, mostly in Asia where Christianity is considered a minority religion.
All in all, more than 354 million Scripture items, including Bibles, New Testaments, Gospels and smaller Scripture items like booklets for people learning to read, were distributed in 2018. More than 97% were printed. These figures are compiled from 2018 Scripture distribution numbers reported by Bible Societies, and include local sales and exports of Scripture material.
“The way that Scriptures are made available varies greatly according to the different contexts in which Bible Societies are operating,” notes Elsbeth Scherrer, UBS Director of Global Bible Publishing and Distribution. “But every item of Scripture distributed is a reason to celebrate: it has the potential to initiate and nurture a lifelong encounter with the Word that transforms individuals as well as communities from within. It is a seed of hope!”
The UBS Fellowship, which is made up of around 150 Bible Societies operating in more than 240 countries and territories, continues to be the largest translator and distributor of Scripture on the planet. Together, Bible Societies have provided around 70% of the world’s full Bible translations.
In 2018, 17% of all full Bibles distributed were internet downloads – and the majority of Bible Societies are now making Scriptures available to people online.
Downloads of Scripture are recorded against the Bible Society which developed the translation, rather than the country where it is downloaded. So, download rates are particularly high for Bible Societies which have developed Bible translations in major global languages.
The Bible Society that serves England and Wales distributed 84% of its full Bibles via the internet. Bible Societies in France, Hong Kong and Portugal provided around three quarters of their Bibles online.
Meanwhile, a third of all Bible downloads in the world were Spanish Bibles provided by Bible Societies in Latin America. It’s thought that there are around 480 million mother tongue Spanish-speakers in the world, and around nine out of 10 Latin Americans are Christians.
More than half the world’s population now has access to the internet, according to recent statistics, and the internet is becoming an increasingly popular way to access Scripture, especially among groups like diaspora communities.
Most Bible Societies store their Scripture texts in the Digital Bible Library®, which is owned and maintained by UBS, in partnership with other Bible agencies. YouVersion, the world’s most widely-used Bible app, is the route by which most of these texts are made available and downloaded.
Children’s Bibles a priority
More than 1.5 million children’s Bibles were distributed in 2018. It’s the first time numbers of children’s Bibles have been recorded separately, and it shows that passing God’s Word onto the next generation is a priority for many Bible Societies.
Over half a million children’s Bibles were provided in Brazil, reflecting the nation’s contribution to global Bible distribution. Second on the list was Germany, where almost a third of the national Scripture provision was children’s Bibles (more than 150,000 copies).
Twelve books of Scripture for children are available to buy on the website of the German Bible Society, and General Secretary Dr. Christoph Rösel said, “Different kinds of children’s Bibles are always an important part of our publishing.”
The ‘top five’ for Bible distribution
Bible Societies in five countries accounted for nearly half the full Bibles distributed in 2018. The Bible Society of Brazil (BSB) continues to provide more Scripture than any other Bible Society. One in five full Bibles distributed in 2018 went to Brazil, and the nation accounted for two-thirds of the global Scripture distribution. Nine out of 10 people in Brazil are Christians.
“Some of the groups who benefited were people with disabilities, those in hospital, prison inmates, Amazonian riverside populations, families, students and victims of disasters,” said BSB’s Communications Manager, Marcia Carneiro.
Meanwhile, five languages account for 61% of all full Bibles distributed in 2018, with Spanish in first position (followed by Portuguese, English, Chinese and French). By comparison, the most widely-spoken languages in the world are Chinese (Mandarin), Spanish and English – in that order – with Portuguese in sixth place and French in 18th position.
One in five full Bibles provided was in Spanish, the vast majority of which were distributed in Latin America. Bible Societies in the region are committed to making Scripture available both digitally and in print and are using innovative ways to serve and engage their audiences.
A million Bibles for Cuba
Cuba’s five-year campaign to supply a million Bibles concluded in 2018 – with 1.3 million Bibles handed out in total over the period. Such was the demand, the team are now hoping to provide a further million Bibles by the end of 2022.
Bibles were supplied by Bible Societies around the world, demonstrating the impact of the global Fellowship working together, and were distributed through more than 60 church denominations in 16 provinces.
Alysney Rodríguez Galán, from the Cuban Bible Commission of the Cuban Council of Churches, said, “Cuba is still a country with no technology to print its own Bibles and no Christian bookstores, but it does not stop the growth of its Church. The soil is ready and we are ready as well. With people passionate for the Bible, this is the time to go for more!”
Focus on full Bibles
In three regions of the world, there was a clear focus on providing full Bibles – reflecting Bible Societies’ commitment to making the whole of God’s Word available to people.
The largest proportion of full Bibles were distributed in Oceania, a region accounted for independently for the first time in the 2018 figures. Here, four out of every five Scripture items distributed were full Bibles.
By comparison, globally just one in 10 of every Scripture item distributed is a Bible.
People in nations like Papua New Guinea, Micronesia and the South Pacific, where Christians account for 90% of the population, have a strong preference for full Bibles. In Australia, where full Bibles accounted for 80% of all Scripture provision, it was the result of a marketing campaign to make Bibles available in a variety of price ranges, to ensure everyone has access to God’s Word.
Across North America, where there was a 6% increase in Bible distribution, more than three-quarters of Scripture items provided in 2018 were full Bibles.
In Africa, full Bibles made up 72% of the Scripture distribution – and overall, Bible distribution was up by 9% in 2018. There were notable increases in countries like Zimbabwe, Eritrea and Central African Republic, where Bible distribution has more than doubled since 2017. In Eswatini (Swaziland), Bible distribution was up by 63% and in South Africa, by nearly a quarter.
As the Church continues to change and grow in different regions across the world, Bible Societies remain committed to serving the needs of all churches with the unchanging Word of God.
“So also will be the word that I speak – it will not fail to do what I plan for it; it will do everything I send it to do.” (Isaiah 55:11)