Bible = Open Source?

While listening to Speaking of Faith on NPR, they’re talking about how Muslim faith remains a mystery to most Americans as the Koran is usually (always?) studied and recited in Arabic. Contrast that with the Christian Bible which has been translated into English (and many other languages) many, many times.

Back in early Church, the Bible was read and recited mostly (always?) in Latin. The Priests read and interpreted the Bible for the congregation, and few if any had access to the ‘source code’ of their faith.

Then the Gutenberg press arrived on the scene, suddenly everyone could afford a copy of the Bible and read it for themselves.

Is the Bible the first example of an open source type mindset? The Gideon’s (and may other organizations) give them away free, so many times it’s free (as in beer) open source… faith.

Just some thoughts…


When I say ‘open source type mindset’ I mean:
– By allowing anyone to view the code, many eyes means fewer mistakes and more secure code (do I need to elaborate?)
– No one person or group controls the software, you can always make your own version (reformations)
– Any changes/improvements must be sent back to the community (theology)
– It’s always being improved and refined but has a core/kernel that tends to stay the same (gospel= core, practice= refined/changing)
– it’s usually written by a loose team of people whose sole motivation is the common good (many books, many authors, one bible)

7 Responses to “Bible = Open Source?”

  • dan Says:


    i don’t know much about open source, but isn’t part of ‘open source’ being able to change the code? not to be overly critical, but that would sort of make it not open source…

  • Jayson Franklin Says:

    Well, with the onset of the protestant reformation, Christian belief has in a sense become “open source”. That is, anyone can read the bible and interpret it anyway that they feel fit. So i guess it is open source interpretation.

    Oh, and the mass was in Latin, the reading and homily were in the vernacular.

  • Nick Says:


    The point of open source is that you *can* change it, but also that you can see it, and know what it does…

    Translation is like ‘porting an app’ to a different language/platform… the wide availablility of source code made this possible.

    The KJV changed the source code (added verses)… The Message ‘updates’ the source code to modern day ‘code’…

    I think the metaphor fits.

    Thanks for the info, which makes my point I think. Windows is closed source (like Latin in that time) but has APIs to allow communication in a common well known langauge (like vernacular). Seeing the API does not mean you can see the source code, thus you still are ‘in the dark’ a bit. There’s a lot of trust involved…

  • dan Says:

    but the source doesn’t change, thus it isn’t open source. ???

    ok, so isn’t the point of being able to see the source in open source in order to understand how it works, but to the end of changing the source code.

    the kjv changed the source ???
    message updated the soruce ???

    i like the idea of porting, but scripture as open source isn’t my fancy.

  • Nick Says:

    Open source means the source is open. That’s all. It does not have to change to be open. If I write an open source app, never update it and no one ever changes the code, it is still open source.

    I understand your dislike of the concept of ‘changing’ scripture, but that’s not what I’m saying by saying the Bible falls into an open source mindset.

    Eugene Peterson translating the bible thought for thought and using different expressions that then original authors… how is that not changing the source? Of course the original source is open as well- you can go read the Greek or Hebrew texts if you want, which only further proves my point 😉

    Perhaps a practical example will help you:

    Company A releases a new application. They say it does X, Y. They say it never does Z. You have to trust company X that they are telling the truth. Company B ports this application to Mac. They say it’s a faithful port and is verified to have no bugs and all features intact. There is not way to verify this.

    Company C release a new open source application. They say it does X, Y. They say it never does Z. You can view the source to confirm this. Company D ports this application to Mac (open source). They say it’s a faithful port and is verified to have no bugs and all features intact. You can view the source to confirm this.

    Joe Pastor says God is good. He says to take him at this word. Do you trust him?

    Jack Pastor says God is Good. He points to several scripture examples. You read them and verify this. You can dig further if you want and read the Greek to verify that the translation you read is correct.

    Thus, the Bible/Christianity is open source by my logic 😉

  • Nick Says:

    Ah, a clarification might help:

    The Message is based on the original source (Hebrew & Greek). It does not change the source, but builds upon it.

    The KJV, NKJV, NASB, NIV are the same way. The key is that you can always go back and view the original source- made widely available by the printeing press (and now the internet).

    In open source software, you cannot actually ‘change the source.’ Every ‘change’ is actually a building upon the original which remains unchanged and freely available for review and verification.

    A matter of semantics 😉

  • Michael Wheeler Says:

    I like the analogy. It is very true that the ‘openess’ of the text has brought our understanding a long ways.
    I am not a computer code person so the phase ‘open source code’ doesn’t cause to much problem. However, from my perspective as a health policy writer for EPA/FDA the phrase ‘open source’ implies transparency. The EPA/FDA doesn’t want people to have the ability to change the open source document but to have the ability to review, critique and challenge with the intent to improve its application.
    That’s what the Bible as ‘open source’ means to me

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