Last Monday, in a meeting at the University of the Nations, I was struck by the term “viral” electronic Scripture distribution. Of course, as a man who done battle with computer viruses and been tasked with protecting many computers from malware, the term “viral” has many negative connotations. I’ve been trying to think of a better analogy, but the only other one that fits is that of supercritical nuclear reactions, and that isn’t exactly devoid of negative connotations, either. So, I embrace the term “viral” in this instance. I like the idea of creating weapons of mass discipleship and evangelism resulting in a pandemic of repentance, salvation, and righteousness. And, as much as I detest the sort of computer virus that illegally and immorally usurps other people’s computing resources and cause damage, there are a few things that we can learn from them. The main difference is that we seek to spread the Word of God with the permission and consent of the propagating agents, not violate laws where those laws do not contradict God’s Law, and doing good instead of evil with our payload, which is the Holy Bible.
To be effective at viral propagation, Scriptures, like their biological virus and computer virus counterparts must have:
- An initial distribution or creation point (i. e. a web site),
- Adaptation to the hosts that carry them (i. e. formats for different devices and programs),
- Fruitful reproduction (i. e. freely downloadable, permission and ability to easily copy and mirror),
- Effective means of transmission (i. e. various Internet protocols, memory sticks & cards, etc.), and
- Resistance to attempts to control or slow their spread (i. e. legal operation in Christ-friendly countries, diversity of sources and channels, applied computer security technology, design for survivability and tamper resistance, etc.).
Viral electronic Scripture distribution goes beyond conventional publishing, and it goes beyond direct control of the initial publisher over the distribution. The initial publisher can digitally sign releases to provide a tamper-evident seal, and forbid alterations (other than legitimate revisions and adaptations), but intentionally makes no attempt to control or limit redistribution beyond the initial publication. There are well-accepted legal ways to express this desire, in the form of Creative Commons Licenses and similar copyright licenses.
Virally published Scriptures that have been in distribution long enough cannot be effectively censored or eliminated by active persecution, even by major totalitarian governments known for similar activities. There are just too many copies in too many places, and those copies can be easily and quickly copied to other places to fill in where persecutors thought they had eradicated it from.
I’ll mention in passing that for the world’s majority languages, there are several sources of Scriptures in electronic form, mostly in the form of copyrighted, proprietary software, usually with deliberate safeguards against making further copies to protect the worldly intellectual property rights of the Scripture publishers. There are also web sites with permission to serve limited amounts of Scriptures at a time, and no permission to redistribute. There is little risk of a global pandemic of Scripture from these sources, but they do some good in their realm.
If you look diligently for viral Scripture distribution points today, you will find a few good ones. These include the Crosswire Bible Society, eBible.org, PNGScriptures.org, and a few others. There is not yet a single authoritative site to find all of these, and they are being put up by different people. There is a bit of cooperation and communication going on, though. For example, I’m using and adapting Prophero for use in PNG, Vanuatu, Jamaica, and a couple of spots in Africa. Prophero was first put together for a few Indonesian languages plus Hawaiian Pidgin, and I’m using that software, improving it, and sharing it with others. For a longer list of Scriptures on the Internet that also includes nonviral Scripture distribution points, see http://eBible.org/bible/.
Looking to the future, there are Scripture portions in at least 200 languages that could be put on the web in viral forms within the next year, as well as improving the viral nature of what is already there by increasing the number of formats that can be downloaded to fit both the leading edge/affluent platforms and networks and the sorts of things I see in the developing nations (OLPC, second-hand computers, expensive pay-per-megabyte Internet, etc.). Doing all of that in a year is way too much for the current team to pull off by ourselves, but in partnership with YWAM‘s CROWN (Christ Revealed on World Networks) Information Technology ministries based at the University of the Nations, and following God’s leading, it can indeed be done.
I would like to thank those who have been working to provide copyright permissions for many Scriptures. A major roadblock to viral distribution of Scriptures has been knocked out, and soon we will see the Lord show us how to break through the remaining barriers to getting the existing Bible translations published. We will see the ideal of Scriptures being published electronically in many formats, book by book and language by language, as soon as they have been translated and properly checked.