Where is the Bible banned?

March 10, 2020 by Ryan Hamm in Bible and Gospel Advancement

Bahia held her Bible as she was dragged her out of her house.


Women and men beat her, hitting her wherever they could.


“Why are you beating me?” Bahia shouted at the mob.


“You are a Christian!” her attackers replied. “You have to go. This is not your home.”


“I live here,” Bahia yelled back. “This is my home!”


She was unable to protect herself from the blows and started to bleed. One person held her left arm, another the right. She squeezed the Bible tight under one arm and protected it as long as she could.


Finally, someone yanked it from her, saying:


“We are going to burn this book.”

They dragged her away. Her copy of the Bible was no more. For her to have God’s Word was proof of her faith in Jesus—the reason she was being beaten.

Bahia’s story is one that plays out all over the world. The Bible is opposed, outlawed and challenged in places where following Jesus is costly.

Banned and controlled

Imagine digging your Bible out of a hole from a forest floor, brushing dirt off the pages so you and your family could read God’s Word together.

Imagine never having a Bible in your own language—because translating it is forbidden by the government.

Imagine converting from another faith to Christianity, and then having your home and family endangered because you have the Word of God in your home.

Or imagine risking death because you have a Bible in your home.

All of these scenarios are real situations faced by real Christians in different places around the world where God’s Word is a target. And yet, people are desperate for Bibles. The Bible is one of the primary ways God reaches people in places where it is hard to follow Jesus—His Word is a light for His people, the bread that sustains their faith.

In rare instances, the Bible is completely illegal, like in North Korea; but much more often, it is tightly controlled by the surrounding government or culture. Just because it is not technically “banned” doesn’t mean it’s simple to gain access to God’s Word. For instance, in some very hardline majority-Muslim countries, perhaps some categories of Christian communities—non-converts, for instance—are allowed by local authorities to possess a Bible, but only under severe restrictions.

In other places in the world, local authorities might allow the Bible in a legal sense, but families or communities may actively oppose ownership of God’s Word, making the Bible effectively outlawed. And in still other nations, some parts of the country might allow the Bible while others may more tightly control or forbid it.

Where the Bible is restricted and challenged

Kids in Syria holding their Bibles

Kids in Syria holding their Bibles

So what are some of the restrictions on the Bible around the world? Here are some of the most prominent examples:

  • In North Korea, children sometimes are unaware of what their parents’ Bible is. Even having a Bible there is enough to be arrested or killed. An American was arrested and detained for five months, simply for leaving a Bible in a restaurant in the hopes a North Korean might find and read it.
  • It is not illegal for a foreigner to have a single Bible in the Maldives in their own language, but there is not a complete translation of a Bible in the native language.
  • In Malaysia, Bibles are allowed, but it’s not allowed to refer to God as “Allah” in Christian publications.
  • In China, Bibles are allowed, but have been coming under increased scrutiny and regulation.
  • In Saudi Arabia, it’s fine to bring in a Bible if you’re a foreigner—but if you do something like read it in public, or it’s suspected you have any intention with speaking publicly about your faith, that could mean prison.
  • And in many places it’s permissible for traditional Christians and foreigners to worship in private or in their own ethnic groups, but if someone converts from Islam or is found with a Bible in their own language, it can lead to significant punishment.

Open Doors’ research team, World Watch Research, includes questions about the Bible during the creation of each year’s World Watch List. They ask country experts how hard it is for Christians and churches to get access to and own the Bible and other Christian materials. The data they’ve collected makes it clear that the Bible is banned in very few places—but that it is challenged, by governments and societies, in countries around the world where it can be hard to follow Jesus.

As you might expect, many countries on the top 10 of the 2021 World Watch List heavily restrict access to God’s Word and other Christian materials. North Korea and Afghanistan—ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, on the 2021 World Watch List (WWL)—both have the highest possible intensity of restriction on Bibles. Yemen, also in the top 10 at No. 7, also has this highest number. This means, in practice, that most, if not all Christians, are prevented from publicly owning, reading or distributing Bibles—and in private, the options are not much better.

Other places may be surprising. For instance, Brunei, though ranked No. 39 on the 2021 WWL, has the highest possible intensity of restriction on the private ownership of Christian materials. That means, for believers in Brunei, even having a copy of God’s Word in their own home can invite persecution. Bibles are banned from being imported, and Christians who access electronic versions of Scripture must be very careful to avoid any accusations of spreading Christianity. It’s another instance of a place where the Bible is not forbidden but is so heavily monitored that it’s difficult for God’s people to gain access to His Word.

Click here to download the 2021 World Watch List

In other places, like Sudan, Iran and the Maldives, in the last year, churches have had Bibles and religious literature confiscated and/or have been punished for possessing Bibles and other Christian materials. Again, each of these countries (along with North Korea, Afghanistan and Yemen) scored very high on this point.

For instance, in Iran, a believer from a Christian ethnic group—Assyrians, for instance—may easily have a Bible in Assyrian for home use. But if a Christian who converted from Islam is found to have a Bible in Persian, the national language, they could risk imprisonment and torture. It’s proof that even when God’s Word is technically “legal,” it can still be taken at any time, and the owners arrested. It just depends on who has the Bible and why.

God’s Word is life for His people

The Bible is clearly under attack throughout the world. Even as formal “bans” are very rare, in practice it can still be difficult to buy, read and share God’s Word in places where it’s hard to follow Jesus. In many countries on the 2021 World Watch List, trying to gain access to the Bible can invite danger, difficulty and pain.

And yet, the desire remains. For Christians all of the world, the Bible remains one of the most important parts of deepening their relationship with Jesus. Bibles are often how God reaches into the darkness of even the most impossible situations. Bibles are what Christians living in the hardest places say they want the most.

Technology has changed what a Bible might look like, but it hasn’t changed how God works through them. God’s Word is a treasured possession, a typewritten book, a smuggled item buried in a yard, a data file on a SIM card, a pirate radio broadcast listened to in the dark, a legacy smeared with the blood of a murdered parent. The Bible looks different in different places, but God speaks through it across every time and culture.

And so: whenever and wherever people ask for Bibles, we will provide them, no matter what. We will bring Bibles to God’s people—along with the training to grow in faith and read His Word more deeply—regardless of the challenges.

After all, it’s in the DNA of Open Doors. We started in 1955, as Open Doors’ founder, Brother Andrew, smuggled Bibles across the Iron Curtain, and we will continue to deliver God’s Word as long as it’s needed by His people. In God’s Smuggler, Brother Andrew writes: “I knew from personal experiences how powerful a tool the Bible could be in the hands of the Holy Spirit. Hadn’t I myself been converted simply by reading this book?”

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