Disclaimer: This article provides an overview of the basic principles of Bible copyright in the United States. The material contained in this article is NOT legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client or other confidential relationship between the User and the Author Learning Center. Users should contact an attorney in their jurisdiction for legal advice regarding their particular situation.

Question: I have a book that has Bible scriptures and original material. How can I use these scriptures without violating the copyright law?


When writers use scripture or verses from the Bible, they must be cited correctly.Answer:

Christian writers often use text or verses from the Bible to emphasize themes, clarify thoughts, explore ideas, or provide inspiration. Whether writing nonfiction or fiction, understanding how to properly quote and cite from the Bible is important. By not following the established policies, you can be hit with copyright infringement, which occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner.

What is Copyright?

Copyright is the legal principle intended to prevent a work from being copied and distributed by another party. Per the United States Copyright office, “A work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”  

Copyright gives the owner the exclusive right to:

•  reproduce the copyrighted work
•  prepare derivative works
•  distribute copies
•  display the work publicly (including social media)

Religious works are copyrighted in the same manner as any other type of work; however, since most of the world's major religions have been practiced for over a thousand years, many of the original scriptures are in public domain. A work is generally considered to be within public domain if it is ineligible for copyright protection or its copyright has expired. You’ll likely encounter copyrighted material when using one of the numerous translations of the Bible, which are much newer and typically under copyright.

Newer versions and translations of the Bible may be under copyright.Bibles in Public Domain versus Under Copyright

The text from public domain Bibles can be used without restrictions and without prior written permission. For example, the King James Version (KJV) is in public domain in the United States, as is The World English Bible (WEB), so that means there are no copyright restrictions or permission requirements to quote from these versions. This copyright status may differ in other countries, so please check your local copyright laws when publishing outside of the United States.*

Bibles not in public domain are protected under copyright. Each of these versions have a publisher with a different set of rules for quoting text. Most will let you quote a certain number of verses or a percentage of the text, as long as it’s not a significant portion of your work. You may also be required to include a copyright permission notice on the copyright page of your book.

BibleGateway.com is a reputable resource that authors can use to find the reprint policies for various Bible versions. Just click on the version in question and then visit the “Copyright” tab.

If you can’t locate the policy for the version of the Bible you want to quote, or, if you want to use the material in a way that's not covered by the policy, you must contact the publisher for written permission.

When quoting Bible verses, it's important to properly format the text.How to Properly Format and Cite Text From the Bible

When quoting from the Bible in your writing, it’s important to use the correct formatting. This is not only for legal reasons, but also for helping your editors and readers identify the origin.

Most modern Bibles use the same chapter and verse system, dividing each book into chapters and then each chapter into verses. To point a reader to a particular verse, a writer must give the abbreviated book name, then the chapter number followed by a colon, then the verse number. In the blog post “10 Tips for Quoting Scripture in Your Writing”, author and editor Katy Kauffman shares important formatting and citation tips taken from The Chicago Manual of Style.


While these policies and guidelines can seem a bit cumbersome, proper usage of any borrowed text is extremely important in the world of publishing. It will make your work appear professional and credible, and will help mitigate any potential legal issues.

*NOTE: Copyright law may differ country to country and there is no such thing as “international copyright law”. To protect creators around the world, nearly 180 countries have ratified a treaty called the Berne Convention, which establishes minimum standards for protection from country to country.