If every piece of Scripture distributed by the Bible Society network since 2015 was added up, it totals more than 1.8 billion items – enough for almost a quarter of the world’s population. These achievements are revealed in the latest United Bible Societies (UBS) Scripture distribution figures.
The annual distribution of full Bibles has gone up from more than 34 million in 2015 to just short of 40 million in 2019. A decade ago, annual Bible distribution was below 30 million. The huge and growing quantities of Bibles provided reflect the ongoing demand for Scripture – and the commitment of Bible Societies to put God’s Word into the hands of everyone who wants it.
Looking back at last year, global Bible distribution is being influenced more and more by the internet. Almost a quarter of Bibles distributed were digital downloads, compared to 17% digital in 2018. Regions like Asia, Central and South America, Europe and the Middle East all saw an increase in the number of full Bibles distributed – primarily because more people are downloading Scripture.
But, behind the numbers, an even more encouraging story is emerging: more people are reading Scripture in more formats, which means they’re able to engage with God’s Word in ways that are right for them.
- Nearly 3.7 million Scriptures specially designed for children were distributed in 2019, with the largest number (1.27 million) provided in Africa, the continent with the world’s biggest youth population.
- Adults learning to read and write also received bespoke Scripture material. More than 4.5 million booklets for new readers were provided in 2019, the majority in Central and South America.
- Bibles with the deuterocanonical books, used by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox communities, have been distributed all around the world; 1.7 million in 2019.
Michael Perreau, UBS Director General, said, “It’s heartening to know that, through our efforts in 2019, millions more people are able to face the challenges of 2020 with Scripture in their hands. May God’s Word bring comfort and hope in these difficult days. And while record-breaking Bible distribution is something to celebrate, what’s more important is that we’ll see God’s Word transform individuals, their families and communities, as people engage with Scripture and its life-changing message.”
The UBS Fellowship continues to be the largest translator and distributor of Scripture on the planet; around 70% of the world’s full Bible translations have been provided by Bible Societies.
Almost 25% of Bibles downloaded
Almost a quarter of all full Bibles distributed in 2019 were downloaded from the internet. This strong growth compared to the previous year reflects the global picture of internet use. Today, more than 4.5 billion people (59% of the world’s population) are active internet users.
Central and South America saw the biggest number of downloads by far. The Bible in Spanish was downloaded nearly 3.2 million times in Central and South America. And in Brazil, there were over 1.7 million downloads of the Portuguese Bible.
Bible Societies in Europe saw record numbers of downloads in 2019; more than half of all Bibles were distributed online. But while the downloads are attributed to the Bible Society responsible for the text, most of these Bibles were actually downloaded outside Europe. For example, only 4.5% of the downloads of a Bible in English by the British and Foreign Bible Society took place in the UK, while almost a third (29%) were in the US. Likewise, only around a third of the downloads of French Bible translations by the French Bible Society were in Europe.
In Asia, full Bible downloads topped more than a million for the first time in 2019.
Much of the Scripture available through YouVersion comes via UBS’ Digital Bible Library (DBL), which has doubled in size over the past five years. It now holds 2,500 texts in 1,622 languages used by 5.7 billion people. Set up in 2011, the DBL stores Scripture translations by UBS and about 60 other contributors, and makes them available through apps and websites. Almost three-quarters of the full Bible texts in the DBL are provided by UBS.
3.7 million Scriptures for children
Everyone deserves God’s Word in a format that’s right for them – and children are no exception. So in 2019, Bible Societies provided nearly 3.7 million Scripture items specially designed for children.
The largest amount of Scripture for children, almost 1.3 million items, was provided in Africa, where children under 15 account for around 40% of the population. In country terms, the largest amount of children’s Scripture was distributed in Egypt, where ministry with young people is a top priority.
Through festivals, competitions and quizzes, the Bible Society of Egypt engages hundreds of thousands of children each year with the message of Scripture. Dr Ehab Tanas, Director of Sales and Church Relations, said, “One third of the Egyptian population is 14 years old or younger, so there are about five million Christian children who need to be served. Children are the future of the Church…”
“Our priority is two-fold: distribution and engagement. We want to keep children supplied with Scripture material, Bible stories, activity and colouring books, and we want these children interacting with the Scriptures and applying God’s Word in their everyday lives.”
Children under 15 make up just over a quarter of the world’s population (1.9 billion children), and Bible Societies are committed to sharing God’s Word with them in appropriate, relevant ways.
Top five for Bible distribution
More than 18.3 million full Bibles – 46% of the global provision – were distributed in just five countries. Between them, the teams serving in Brazil, China, USA, India and Nigeria distributed one full Bible every two seconds throughout 2019.
Brazil topped the list with 7.7 million Bibles distributed. In fact, one in five Bibles provided around the world were in Brazil, and this Bible Society continues to provide more Scripture than any other on the planet.
Meanwhile, five languages account for 62% of all full Bibles distributed by the UBS Fellowship in 2019.
One in five full Bibles provided was Spanish, and the overwhelming majority of these were in Central and South America. A further 6.5 million full Bibles were in Portuguese – and two-thirds of these were distributed in Brazil. The most widely-spoken language in the world, Mandarin, accounted for 3.5 million Bibles – just under 10% of the global full Bible distribution.
Almost 1.7 million Bibles for Catholics and Eastern Orthodox communities
Globally, almost 1.7 million full Bibles including deuterocanonical books (DC) were distributed in 2019. These are used by Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox believers, with different DC books. More than a third of those were provided in Asia. The USA was the country that distributed most Bibles including the deuterocanon (405,910), followed by Indonesia (163,800) and China (150,383).
In a Catholic church in rural China, the wooden benches are crowded with people waiting to receive a Bible of their own.
“In the past, Bibles were really scarce,” says Father Wang, who leads the congregation in Pingyin, Shandong Province. “I saw a Bible for the first time in my late teens!” But today, thanks to the commitment of the United Bible Societies Fellowship, Chinese Bibles are now available to many Catholics in China.
There have been Catholics in China since the Yuan Dynasty of the 13th Century. The translation of the Catholic Chinese Bible (the Studium Biblicum Version) was completed in 1968 and has been available in mainland China since the early 1990s.
In 2019, more than 150,000 DC Bibles were distributed by the Catholic Church in China. With UBS’s help, the Catholic Church in China was able to provide 100,000 copies at a subsidised price, and 7,000 for free to poor parishioners.
Fifty-five-year-old Zhang Yaodong, a Catholic who’s been confined to a wheelchair for the past five years following a work accident, received a new Bible last year. He said, “I owned a traditional script Bible previously, but this is simplified and it’s much easier to read the Word.”
Bibles for Christians under pressure
In countries where Christians are under pressure, having access to God’s Word on a smartphone can be safer than keeping a physical copy of a Bible hidden. In 2019, many Christians in places like Iran, Yemen and Pakistan have downloaded full Bibles.
While the Arabic Bible was downloaded more than 27,000 times in Egypt, where nearly eight million people are Christians, it was also downloaded 1,167 times in Yemen and just over 800 times in Iraq, where Christians make up less than 1% of the population.
In Iran, where Christians are a tiny minority, records show that the Bible in Persian/Farsi was downloaded via YouVersion more than 2,000 times. However, many people use VPNs, as the internet is filtered, so many of the nearly 5,000 downloads of the Persian/Farsi Bible that were recorded in other countries were possibly downloaded inside Iran. But apps are not the primary way that people are obtaining electronic copies of the Bible in Iran; many thousands of people are sharing the full Bible and portions of it via social media platforms, so the actual distribution is thought to be much wider.
And in Pakistan, where there have been a number of attacks on the Christian community, the Urdu Bible was downloaded more than 500 times.
Focus on full Bibles
Bible Societies around the world are committed to providing full Bibles, and the proportion of Bibles compared to all Scripture reached a record level in 2019. One in eight of all Scriptures distributed last year was a Bible. In 2015, Bibles only made up one in 13 of all Scripture items provided around the world.
Oceania, which includes countries like Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, tops the list for the largest proportion of full Bibles distributed. Here, four out of every five Scripture items provided was a full Bible.
In North America, three-quarters of the Scripture distribution was made up of full Bibles in 2019, and in Africa and Europe the proportion is just under two-thirds.
Central and South American Bible Societies distributed significantly more Bibles than any other region, yet they also provided a tremendous number of smaller portions of Scripture, meaning that the picture is not only told through percentages. In Brazil, more than 190 million of these smaller Scriptures were distributed through its social outreach programs in hospitals, prisons, villages along the Amazon, and among people with disabilities. And in Argentina, new reader Scripture booklets for its literacy program accounted for more than a third of Scripture provision.
“So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55.11