Why Free?

How We License Our Videos and Resources

All of our resources are licensed as Public Domain or CC-0 (even though you may see the CC-BY-SA label on some of them), which you can read about here. This means that you do not have to ask us for permission to:

  • Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially.
 

Biblical Foundations

Why do we offer our videos and resources as Public Domain? Well, we want to take a moment to answer that. We acknowledge that much of what we have to say on this page may be completely foreign to most people, and may even come across as offensive. And we understand that these concepts are not easy to grasp in a short time. But in spite of that we invite you to read and consider this philosophy of ministry with an open heart, knowing that our intention is simply to encourage and inspire others to join us in a model of radical generosity, and carefully guard against the blind spots of our cultural moment.

Let’s start with some more general biblical foundations, and then move on to specific implications for teaching the biblical languages (and other forms of gospel ministry). Jesus said, “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matt 10:8). We believe that in the context of gospel ministry, this should have radical implications for the way we operate. The common knee-jerk reaction to Jesus’ words is, “But isn’t the worker worthy of his wages?” We’re all in agreement that you should not muzzle an ox while it treads the grain. That’s obvious. We all need to eat and pay the bills. Of course ministers of the gospel should have enough to eat and feed their children. But what we are interested in is how we can honor Jesus’ command in Matthew 10:8 to give freely, while at the same time being able to pay the bills.

One of the key issues to understand is that the worker is worthy to receive wages from the Lord of the harvest. That’s totally different from charging the harvest itself money for our labor. So the biblical principle in Matthew 10 is that our living should be provided for by God, through his people freely supporting gospel ministry out of obligation and gratitude to God, not out of a sense of obligation to us. We simply trust the Lord of the harvest to provide for us as we do our work. This also means that we shouldn’t say, “Maybe the Lord of the harvest won’t pay me my wages and provide the food I need, so I will now charge people for the ministry work I do for him.” Nor should we think, “The Lord of the harvest isn’t giving me a high enough paycheck, so let me take the money he gives me and also require payment of the people he sent me to bless.” Gospel ministry should be supported, not sold. (Which means that biblical language instruction should be supported, not sold.) 

It’s instructive that Paul did not charge money for people to have access to or copy his letters, and he opposed the idea of 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). He believed that selling truth and ministry compromised the sincerity of the servant of Christ. His passion to spread the truth freely was in step with the heart of Jesus, who never charged for speaking engagements, and never obligated anyone to give him money for ministry.

Therefore, we think these examples are worthy of serious consideration in the midst of the highly commercialized climate of Christianity around us. From the testimony of Scripture, we conclude, once again, that gospel ministry should be supported, not sold. That is, gospel ministry should never put anyone under obligation to give to someone who works for God. If someone works for God, God himself will pay him his wages, providing for his food and other needs through the free generosity of his people. God is a faithful master, and will give his laborers exceedingly above and beyond what they can imagine, and his laborers should not demand/require this provision from those who are not God (charging fees, paywalls, etc.). 

Paul wrote, “We put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ” (1 Cor 9:11-12). And in 2 Corinthians 11:7-9 he said, “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?… I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so.” 

In other words, Paul upheld the model of ministry that Jesus established in Matthew 10 to give gospel ministry freely as God’s servant, not man’s. Conley Owens explains, “In his epistles, Paul frequently speaks of his right to financial support. However, he speaks of this right in the context of his servanthood.” (The Dorean Principle).

By way of analogy, it’s improper for a royal soldier to accept money from the citizens he protects as though it were payment for his work (1 Cor. 9:7). He’s commissioned by the king, so this means that any other compensatory transactions are illegitimate. If he demands money from the king’s subjects, as though their taxes are owed to him rather than the throne, he may be found guilty of extortion. Ultimately, the soldier who accepts any form of direct payment from the citizens ceases to operate purely on behalf of the king, as one under authority, and begins acting out of his own interests. “Similarly, if Paul were to accept money from the Cor­inth­ians as direct (unmediated) payment for his ministry there, he would invalidate his status as a servant of Christ” (The Dorean Principle).

Unintended Consequences

This leads us to the issue of copyright. When anyone claims “all rights reserved” on the biblical/gospel content they produce, they are (usually unintentionally) communicating the following:

  • Everyone I am ministering to through this content is obligated directly to me (not to God) to use my content as I dictate (not as God would dictate).
  • Everyone must pay me directly (or my publisher) for this content if they want to be blessed by it.
  • I trust in the laws of men and the commercial publishing industry standards to enforce the monetization of my work (in order to provide for my needs) more than I trust God to provide through the free giving of his people.
  • I would rather put this hindrance in the way of the gospel than trust God to do things with my work beyond what I could ask or imagine.
  • As a soldier for Christ I prefer to extort money from the citizens of his kingdom, rather than depend on him to give me the funds I need to live on.

This may sound harsh, but we want to reiterate that probably most people who follow the status quo of “copyright, all rights reserved” do so unintentionally, never having given thought to the biblical implications or the repercussions it has on the marginalized of the global Church. So we want to encourage more people to carefully consider these implications in light of Scripture.

Besides the biblical precedent to let go of our resources, there is a simple logic to it: the Word of God and the languages it was written in were given to us, so why would we not 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.

Famine, Vulnerability, and Bearing Our Brothers' Burdens

Meet our friend Acacio from Equatorial Guinea.

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.

The current practice of severely limiting the free sharing of biblical resources is not just a biblical problem, but a practical one. Others have noticed this problem, such as the Copenhagen Alliance. They believe that the global Church needs free biblical resources unencumbered by “all rights reserved” copyright. Why? For most Christians it’s 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 our resources and share them sacrificially, even if it hurts our pride or bank accounts. 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 (read much more about this in the free book The Christian Commons).

When we give freely as Jesus commanded, we should not be surprised if it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable (like most things involved in following Jesus). It may hurt us financially. But perhaps this is part of what Paul says to the Galatians: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). One of the severe burdens that most of the global Church carries is the scarcity of biblical resources in their language and the difficulty of accessing the knowledge they need to study the Bible more deeply. If a bilingual person from one of these groups wants to translate a book into their mother tongue, they are not pre-cleared by the publisher to do so. The “copyright, all rights reserved” status quo places a burden on their backs. And if someone happens to be privileged enough to know some English, the cost of obtaining good resources is another burden we place on their backs. Most of the world cannot afford a book that costs $9.99, which may seem trivial to westerners. But when we make our resources unencumbered (as we describe in detail below), we take part in bearing the burden. The fact is that many Christian authors and teachers act as though those to whom they are ministering should bear their burdens and make their lives more comfortable by paying them to cover all their labor and expenses. But the law of Christ is different. It consists in taking on burdens so that others may dance, bearing pain and inconvenience and poverty for the sake of our brothers who need biblical resources more than we do.

A Way Forward

So here’s what we think is the best practical solution to the need and problem we’ve discussed. We’re 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: CC-0/Public Domain, CC-BY, or CC-BY-SA. This grants 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, easily accessible, with zero friction (no signups, no limitation based on IP address, not buried in a maze of links, optimized as much as possible for searchability on Google, etc.)
  • be stored in a format and in a place that supports conversion into other formats to facilitate maximum distribution. (To see how we’re doing this, go to this page on how to download our resources for use offline.)

A Pathway to Joy & a Test

The “Copyright, All Rights Reserved” model fails to distinguish the Church from the world by means of radical generosity that reflects the gospel. In the early church, if someone who claimed to be God’s servant asked for payment for ministry, this was a clear sign of being a false teacher (see more on that here). We don’t mention that to openly condemn those whom we love and respect who currently require payment for ministry, but rather to humbly highlight this reality for your consideration. So we encourage others who are involved in creating biblical resources and training materials to follow a new paradigm and publish everything as Public Domain, Creative Commons, or some other Open Access license that has been adapted to their country. Even secular nations like Switzerland are now requiring all grant-funded academic research to be published as Open Access. And we believe it would be tragic if the Church failed to be as generous as secular institutions. Even Elon Musk has generously given away his “intellectual property:” you can watch the video below to hear his philosophy on the issue, which resonates with our own. We believe this is the pathway to incredible joy.

It seems clear that God has presented the church with a gift and a test, much like the master in Jesus’ parables who tests the stewardship of his servants (Matt 25). The gift he has given us is the unprecedented ability in the digital age to spread knowledge and truth with virtually no limits. And the test is to see what we’ll do with it, how we steward such amazing power. Will we use it to bless more people freely, or will we create a false sense of scarcity and limit the potential blessing for the sake of monetary gain? Will we use this gift to spread the knowledge of the glory of Yahweh over all the earth as the waters cover the sea, or will we find clever ways of justifying our efforts to dam up the floodwaters, and then only quench the thirst of those willing to pay or play by our rules?

Objections & Hindrances

Because we are saturated and surrounded by a culture that screams that everything should be monetized, we know that many people may have more objections or misgivings about what we’ve said. So let’s walk though a summary of some of these hindrances laid out in Tim Jore’s excellent article:

Fear of bad things happening to good content

The fear that bad things will happen to good content if it is made available under an open license is usually rooted in three assumptions that seem alarming but, upon careful scrutiny, turn out to be more frightening than dangerous.

The first assumption is that restrictive “all rights reserved” licenses prevent bad things from happening to good content. But copyright restrictions do not (and cannot) prevent bad things from happening to good content.

The second assumption is that making content available under an open license makes it easier for cults (or malicious characters) to distort the content and deceive others by claiming it is the original. In reality, this is not permitted by open licenses any more than by restrictive licenses.

Finally, it may seem that making content available under an open license makes it easier for cults or others who are opposed to the truth (but who purport to be its defenders) to perpetuate their error by granting them legal permission to create their own derivatives, in which they introduce theological distortions. While this is legally permitted, it is highly unlikely to occur, because they would be legally required to declare that their work builds on original work done by someone else—thus establishing someone whom they believe to be theologically deceived and whose work is doctrinally corrupt as the authoritative source. The same open license that permits the creation of the derivative work also requires that the truth be made known regarding the provenance and authoritativeness of the original. Although this posture may involve risk, the Bible tells us of many who, believing in the sovereignty of God, risked everything on the proposition that God is sovereign, and all His purposes are good and invariably come to pass. There is much joy in trusting God more than the copyright laws of man.

Reluctance to give sacrificially

Setting aside this hindrance involves loving the global Church to the point of being willing to give generously and irrevocably for the building of the kingdom of God, even if someone else takes advantage of it by taking the credit or getting for free what they might have paid for. If those who own biblical resources are willing to give sacrificially, those resources can be used to their fullest for the glory of God and the good of all his Church.  

Eric Metaxas writes, “Luther received no income from his torrential publications because even though the publishers made a mint from them, Luther refused to take a penny, nor did he take money for all of his preaching. He simply wanted to spread the Word and trust God would provide.” Today, there is an urgent need to adopt a similarly gracious mindset and collaborate in the creation of biblical resources that are unencumbered by monetization models. 

Incomplete missiology

What was Paul’s model in the New Testament? He committed new churches to God’s care early (Acts 14:23), continued in relationship with the churches (1 Cor. 4:15; 1 Thess. 2:11), taught them as needed (Acts 20:17-35, every epistle), visited them when possible (1 Cor. 16:5), urged them in the right direction (Eph. 4:1; 1 Thess. 5:14), encouraged them to imitate the pattern of those who were faithful (Php. 3:17), but resisted leveraging the power of his apostleship to control them (2 Cor. 11:9; 1 Thess. 2:6-7). The solution to the problem of “Bible poverty” is not for “experts” to develop a plan and build technologies that they then administrate on behalf of the global Church, complete with custom licensing and governance structures. It does not involve building better mobile apps around an even bigger silo of restricted biblical resources, thus inadvertently blurring the lines between providing the Bible to the global Church and presiding over their use of it. Instead, it is for the entire global Church to be irrevocably granted the legal rights—in terms of the unhindered freedom to make full use of the best biblical texts and hermeneutical resources—to solve their own theological problems and meet their own Bible translation needs. It requires tearing down the wall of separation between “us” (the “haves”) and “them” (the “have nots”) by granting everyone the legal right to “have”, without exception.  

Setting aside this hindrance involves the implementation of a missiology that grants the rights to the global Church to meet their own needs and equips them to become equippers of others as well. Open-licensed resources lead to a decentralized model that can scale in a non-linear progression by removing all legal friction from the process. Anyone who needs to use the content in any way for the building up of the Church is pre-cleared do so immediately, subject to the conditions of the license. This enables the entire Church to collaborate together in the translation, redistribution, and use of the content, in whatever way needed, without hindrance.  

Misunderstanding ‘open’ licenses

With regard to the licensing of content, the term “open” means: Anyone can freely access, use, modify, and share for any purpose (subject, at most, to requirements that preserve provenance and openness). The specific freedoms contained in this concise definition can be summarized by the “5 Rs” of freedom: 

  1. Retain – The right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage). 
  2. Reuse – The right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video). 
  3. Revise – The right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language). 
  4. Remix – The right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup, or to repurpose it for another use). 
  5. Redistribute – The right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend). 

An open license is necessarily irrevocable, granting the stated freedoms perpetually. This is critically important, as these freedoms are not merely addressing distribution of finished content. They are intended to create a stable foundation for creation of other resources from them. An unstoppable movement of interlinked and interdependent biblical content in every language must necessarily be built on a foundation that can never be shifted or removed.  

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that provides royalty-free public licenses that make it easy to release restrictions on content, subject to certain conditions. They are designed to be internationally valid—essentially jurisdiction-neutral while remaining effective globally. This makes it possible to easily and legally combine and remix content across languages and domains using standardized licenses. Not all the licenses they provide constitute “open” licenses, however. There are only three Creative Commons licenses that qualify as open licenses: 

  • Creative Commons Zero (CC0) – this waives all rights, effectively making the content equivalent to the public domain. 
  • Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) – this license waives all rights other than the preservation of the provenance of the original (Attribution). 
  • Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) – this license waives all rights other than the preservation of the provenance of the original (Attribution) and the perpetuation of openness in derivatives (ShareAlike).  

The essential step for the content owner to take is from “closed” to “open” by releasing their content under a truly open license, for the glory of God and the good of his Church. Here, the global Church is able to participate with equality in the translation and adaptation of the content for effective use in every people group and language that desires it.

Future Potential

In short, the future could look remarkably like the past. About 400 years before the first known use of copyright to restrict access to a Bible translation, Martin Luther accidentally changed the course of history. Luther’s pamphlets and books could not be restricted by copyright law, because that would not be invented for another two centuries. Eric Metaxas writes, 

The success of the Reformation—the rapid spread of ideas that changed the world forever—was accelerated by the “free and open” nature of the publishing environment of that time. Of course, in this new era of printing, before there were copyright laws, a single copy of Luther’s writings could quickly beget others—which begat others, which begat others—and before anyone knew it, they would be fanning out across the landscape like Abraham’s descendants and would become as numerous as the stars in the heavens.

Today, we have the opportunity to experience the same kind of “going viral” with regard to the spread of the biblical languages and the resources that facilitate their study and application. The technology already exists, and the church in many parts of the world is highly motivated to meet their own needs for Scripture engagement. Billions of people have already equipped themselves with digital devices that could be used to study the Word of God in the original languages, and to legally give unlimited copies of training materials and resources to everyone they meet.

Think of your favorite Bible study program and all the resources in it, but available in every language of the world, with text and multimedia content, and with the freedom to print, stream, broadcast, and give away copies to everyone, by any means desired. And consider that this freedom extends beyond merely giving “consume only” access—it provides freedom to reuse the content for the creation of new theological resources that are deeply connected to and interlinked with the Bible and other resources.

All of this is possible and within reach of the global church. But we will continue to be plagued by inefficiencies until we release the Word of God from the legal restrictions with which we, the church, have bound it. By letting go and making biblical content and original language training available under open licenses, the global church can make the most of every opportunity that the internet and mobile technology affords for advancing the Word of God. The full capacity of the rapidly expanding, educated, connected, and motivated global church can then be unleashed to translate, distribute and use the Word of God in every one of their spheres of influence.  

So we invite you to be a catalyst for change in this arena. Help your church become more aware of this issue. Encourage those in your life who are creating biblical content to consider publishing it as we’ve discussed above. Pray for authors and big publishers to catch the vision, step outside their comfort zone in faith, and give sacrificially. Take part in gently pointing your friends away from the “all rights reserved” rut the American church has been stuck in for so long. We look forward to what God will do with all of this for his glory and the joy of his people.

Is There Such a Thing As "Intellectual Property"?

We believe that the idea of “intellectual property” is not found in the Bible or in natural law. Some of the greatest Christian thinkers of our time have challenged the idea of “intellectual property” here and here (also read a secular perspective here). As Owens writes in his book The Dorean Principle:

A biblical view of natural law delegitimizes the entire notion of intellectual property…. the relatively recent advent of copyright regulations demonstrates their nature as purely human inventions.⁠ If they were instead codifications of a divine principle, one would expect such statutes to appear earlier in human history. Additionally, while most relevant laws protect material property to perpetuity, the copyright protection offered by governments is—in all but a few circumstances—temporary. This constitutes an implicit concession that “intellectual property” is not property in the truest sense. The fact that some of these protections last for twenty years and some longer than a lifetime testify to the arbitrary nature of intellectual property law. With material property, a violation of the eighth commandment (thou shalt not steal) results in direct loss for another individual. With intellectual property, undesired copying and use of a published work may only be counted as a loss when estimating the potential of an idea to garner profit. In the words of Thomas Jefferson:

If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.⁠

Just as Christians are called to resist any government who would contradict God’s word and redefine something like marriage, we suggest that we must resist the unbiblical category of “intellectual property” and the notion and practice of “copyrighting” in the context of gospel ministry. This may come at a cost, but the joy and eternal reward will be worth it.

In summary, this is what we know:

  • Copyright law did not exist for all of human history until 1710.
  • The idea of intellectual property or copyright law is nowhere to be found in the Bible.
  • Scripture itself was never copyrighted by its authors or Author. If this had been important to God, he would have revealed its importance and providentially guided human governments to enact copyright laws long before Scripture began to circulate.
  • To our knowledge, no one has ever written a full, robust biblical defense of intellectual property and copyright law. Until that happens, it must be assumed that no biblical defense exists. Christians throughout history have written thousands of defenses of just about all minutiae you can imagine, but never about this, which makes it suspect. We sincerely would love to see someone undertake this task if they are serious about showing that copyright is a biblical principle. 
  • Copyright hinders rather than helps the growth of the Church, the spread of the gospel, and Bible translation (see The Christian Commons for examples of this).
  • If you want an idea to remain solely in your possession, God has already provided a perfect way to do that: never tell anyone about it. Keep it a secret.
  • To be clear, we’re not totally against the idea of intellectual property in the context of for-profit business that isn’t related to Scripture and the gospel. But we want to point out that IP should not be taken for granted in the context of Christian ministry, and if someone claims IP rights in that context, they should have clear, compelling biblical reasons and precedent for doing so.

Explore Further

For more robust and lengthy rationale behind what we’ve said so far, please read this free book by Conley Owens: The Dorean Principle: A Biblical Response to the Commercialization of Christianity. Also make sure to read this important article and The Christian Commons by Tim Jore.

The Christian Commons book cover

Both are 100% free. For those who want a shorter treatment of this issue, we’ve compiled one in this document. You can also listen to Andrew’s summary of the article on his podcast.

Also, don’t miss the three-part podcast series below that Andrew has done regarding the dorean principle and other things related to the commercialization of Christianity:

Its leaders give judgment for a bribe; its priests teach for a price; its prophets practice divination for money; yet they lean on Yahweh and say, “Is not Yahweh in our midst? No disaster shall come upon us.” —Micah 3:11