Censorship of the Bible includes restrictions and prohibition of possessing, reading, or using the Bible in general or any particular translation of it. Violators of so-called "Bible bans" have been punished by killing, imprisonment, forced labor, and banishment, as well as by burning or confiscating the Bible or Bibles used or distributed. Censorship of the Bible occurred in historical times and is still going on today. The ''Index Librorum Prohibitorum'' of the Catholic Church included various translations of the Bible. In most cases, the bans on pious lay people possessing or using Bibles were related to vernacular Bible editions. Clerics were never forbidden to possess the Vulgate Bible translation in the Latin language. From the point of view of Protestantism, the topic mostly refers to historical provisions of the Catholic Church against reading or possessing Bibles not of the Latin Vulgate translation, or in the case of the laity, possessing any Bibles at all, including the Vulgate. From a Catholic point of view, one rarely speaks of Bible bans, because in their view the attempts by the hierarchy to prevent opposing biblical interpretations were justified. From a Catholic point of view, the censorship of the Bible was justified both by restricting Bibles from those lacking instruction and by censoring translations thought to encourage deviations from official doctrines. Ludwig Friedrich Otto Baumgarten-Crusius: ''Lehrbuch der christlichen Dogmengeschichte. Zweite Abtheilung.'' Verlage der Crökerschen Buchhandlung, Jena 1832; ''Zweiter Theil: Spezielle Dogmengeschichte. 21: Angelegenheit des Schriftgebrauchs.'' pp. 901–911


The Old Testament was written mostly in Hebrew and partly in Aramaic. The New Testament was written in Koine, a form of ancient Greek. The books were translated into several other languages, including Latin. From about A.D. 300 onward, Latin began to assert itself as the language of worship in Western Christianity. This was aided by the fact many European languages, called the Romance languages, are all descended from Latin. In contrast the earliest written Western Germanic languages date only from the 6th century. From A.D. 382-420, a new translation was made into the Latin vernacular, the Vulgate, which became the dominant translation for Western Christianity in the 7th-9th centuries. From about the 9th century it was regarded as the only valid Bible translation. In Eastern Christianity, on the other hand, Greek remained dominant.

Diocletianic persecution

During the Diocletianic Persecution, Bibles were targeted as part of a larger program intended to wipe out Christianity. On February 24, 303, Diocletian's first "Edict against the Christians" was published. Among other persecutions against Christians, Diocletian ordered the destruction of their scriptures and liturgical books across the entire Roman empire.

During the Middle Ages

There were some controversies whether the translation in Old Church Slavonic was permissible. According to St. Methodius, he was officially allowed to use it by John VIII in 880. Yet Christians were forbidden to use the Old Church Slavonic translation by John X in 920 and by the Lateran Synod of 1059, with the synod being confirmed by Nicholas II and Alexander II. In a letter to Vratislav II of Bohemia dated 2 January 1080, Pope Gregory VII revoked his predecessors' permission to use the Slavonic language. The reason he gave was that "Not without reason has it pleased Almighty God that Holy Scripture should be a secret in certain places, lost, if it were plainly apparent to all men, perchance it would be little esteemed and be subject to disrespect; or it might be falsely understood by those of mediocre learning, and lead to error." Adolf Adam (German article): ''Deutsch oder Latein?'' In: Adolf Adam: ''Erneuerte Liturgie – Eine Orientierung über den Gottesdienst heute.'' Herder-Verlag, 1972; abgedruckt in: ''KIBA – Kirchenmusik im Bistum Aachen'', August 2007, p. 16 However, the rite was under the protection of the Croatian kings and was so firmly rooted there that Pope Innocent IV in 1248 allowed the South Slavs the Latinized Slavonic Rite again. Between 1170–80, Peter Waldo commissioned a cleric from Lyon to translate the New Testament into the vernacular "Romance" (Franco-Provençal). He is credited with providing to Europe the first translation of the Bible in a 'modern tongue' outside of Latin. In the struggle against the Bible-centered mass movements of the Cathars and the Waldensians, who had made their own translations on the basis of the Vulgate, the church moved to an increased control of Bible reception. In 1199, Innocent III, writing in a letter to the bishop of Metz, banned the reading the Bible in private meetings (which he labeled as ''occultis conventiculis'', or "hidden assemblies"). However, he noted that the desire to read and study the divine scriptures, was not to blame, but rather it was a recommended disposition. Since, however, the individual by himself apart from private meetings could hardly procure Bible texts, this ban was practically equivalent to a Bible ban for lay people. Horst Robert Balz, Gerhard Krause, Gerhard Müller, Siegfried M. Schwertner, Claus-Jürgen Thornton, Matthias Glockner: ''Theologische Realenzyklopädie.'' Walter de Gruyter, 1977, , p. 66 The following year, the Pope sent some abbots to Metz to order the burning of French Bible translations. In 1202, the papal envoy, Bishop Guido of Präneste, issued a visitation to Leuven to enforce several provisions. In one of them, it was said that all books in the Latin and German languages concerning the Holy Scripture were to be delivered to the bishop. The bishop then decided which books to return. After the 1210 council held in Paris, Peter of Corbeil, Archbishop of Sens, issued a decree according to which all theological writings in Romance languages with the exception of saints' legends were to be delivered to the diocesan bishops. Since several cities or parishes had residents with differing languages and customs, it was decided at the Fourth Council of the Lateran under Innocent III that suitable people were to be sought who performed the priestly ministry according to their respective customs. After the end of the Albigensian Crusade, the Council of Toulouse tightened the provisions against the heretics in this ecclesiastical province. The Inquisition was the first to work nationwide, and the University of Toulouse was founded, to which the Catholic Institute of Toulouse is also called. At the synod a general Bible ban was pronounced for lay people of this ecclesiastical province, only Psalterium and Brevier in Latin were allowed. Realenzyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche, 2, p. 703 The Council pronounced: This quote was not repeated in 1233 at the Council held in Bréziers. Although sections of the Council Toulouse were used, this statement was omitted. In the course of a confirmation of the writings in 1215 at Fourth Council of the Lateran's condemnation of the writings of David of Dinant ordered Gregory IX. in 1231, to hand over all the theological books written in Latin to the diocesan bishops. At the Second Council of Tarragona (''Conventus Tarraconensis'') in 1234, the Spanish bishops, according to a decree of King James I of Aragon, declared that it was forbidden to anyone, to own a translation of the Bible. They had to be burned within eight days, otherwise, they were considered heretics. Carl Mirbt (Ed.): ''Quellen zur Geschichte des Papsttums und des römischen Katholizismus'', 3. Auflage, J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), Tübingen 1911, p. 155–156
Online bei Archive.org
298. 3., Synode zu Tarragona (1234): Bibelverbot; Mansi XXIII 329. – Heferle V 1037.
301. Konzil von Béziers (August 19, 1246): Verbot von Übersetzungen theologischer Bücher; Mansi XXIII 724. – Heferle V p. 1145 ff.
D. Lotsch: ''Histoire de la Bible en France'', 1910, p. 14 A renewed council in Tarragona, Spain in 1317 forbade Franciscan Third order members to have theological books in the vernacular. At the diocesan synod of Trier (''Synodus Dioecesana Trevirensis'') convened by Archbishop Theodoric II in 1231, alleged heretics called Euchites were described as having translated the scriptures into German: August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben: ''Geschichte der deutschen Kirchenliedes bis auf Luthers Zeit.'' 3. Ausgabe, Carl Rümpler, Hannover 1861, p. 52 ff.
At the synod of Béziers (''Concilium Biterrense'') in 1246 it was also decided that the laity should have no Latin and vernacular and the clergy no vernacular theological books. August Hahn: ''Lehrbuch des christlichen Glaubens. First part. 2nd Ed.'', Friedrich Christian Wilhelm Vogel, Leipzig 1857, p. 202-
(berichtet fälschlicherweise von einer Wiederholung des hier 1229 zitierten Canons auf der Synode von Béziers 1233, ebenso wie Hegelmaier; andere Teile von Toulouse kamen sehr wohl 1233 vor nur nicht dieser.)
Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor issued an edict against German interpretations of Scripture at the request of Pope Urban V 1369 in Lucca, This was in order that such interpreters would not seduce laymen and malevolent spirits to heresy or error. Martin Leutzsch (article in German): ''Bibelübersetzung als Skandal und Verbrechen''. In: Rainer Dillmann: ''Bibel-Impulse: Film − Kunst − Literatur − Musik − Theater − Theologie''. Lit Verlag, Berlin 2006, , pp. 42–57, here pp. 46–48. Nevertheless, his son started the handwritten Wenceslas Bible in 1385. In 1376, Pope Gregory XI ordered that all literature on the Bible should be placed under ecclesiastical direction. As a result, only the Vulgate and a few poor quality translations in national languages were tolerated.Das Neue Testament deutsch
Ökumenisches Heiligenlexikon
John Wycliffe (1330–1384), a theologian with pre-Reformation views, finished the first authoritative translation of the Bible from Latin into English in 1383. His teachings were rejected in 1381 by Oxford University and in 1382 by the church. For fear of a popular uprising Wycliffe was not charged. The translation of the Bible caused great unrest among the clergy, and for their sake, several defensive provincial synods were convened, such as the 3rd Council of Oxford (ended in 1408). Under the chairmanship of Archbishop Thomas Arundel, official positions against Wycliffe were written in the ''Oxford Constitution'' and ''Arundel Constitution''. The latter reads as follows: Unlike before, translations of liturgical readings and preaching texts (psalms, pericopes from the Gospels and Epistles) were now bound to an examination by church authorities. Individuals like William Butler wanted to go even further and also limit Bible translations to the Latin language alone. In 1401, Parliament passed the ''De heretico comburendo'' law in order to suppress Wycliffe's followers and censor their books, including the Bible translation. At the Council of Constance in 1415, Wycliffe was finally proclaimed a heretic and condemned as "that pestilent wretch of damnable memory, yea, the forerunner and disciple of anti-christ who, as the complement of his wickedness, invented a new translation of the Scriptures into his mother-tongue." His helpers Nicholas Hereford and John Purvey were forced to recant their teachings, and his bones, as determined by the council were finally burned in 1428. However, his translation of the Bible along with 200 manuscripts were secretly preserved and read by followers, and have survived to the present day. However, Wycliffe's Bible was not printed until 1731, when Wycliffe was historically conceived as the forefather of the English Reformation. Eberhard Zwink
Verwirrspiel um eine Bibel
Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart, 1999
The next English Bible translation was that of William Tyndale, whose Tyndale Bible had to be printed from 1525 outside England in areas of Germany sympathetic to Protestantism. Tyndale himself was sentenced to death at the stake because of his translation work. He was strangled in 1536 near Brussels and then burned.

From the printing press until the Reformation

Around 1440–1450 Johannes Gutenberg invented a printing press with movable type, with which he produced the Gutenberg Bible. His invention quickly spread throughout Europe. In 1466 the Mentelin Bible was the first vernacular language Bible to be printed. It was a word-for-word translation from the Latin Vulgate. Friedrich Kapp: ''Geschichte des Deutschen Buchhandels Volume 1 (Geschichte des Deutschen Buchhandels bis in das siebzehnte Jahrhundert)'', Published by Börsenvereins der Deutschen Buchhändler, Leipzig 1886; Kapitel 9: Die Büchercensur und die Preßverfolgungen, pp. 527–535 Pope Paul II (pontificate 1464–1471) confirmed the decree of James I of Aragon on the prohibition of Bibles in vernacular languages. Herbert Marsh; Johann Christoph Schreiter (Übers.): ''Vergleichende Darstellung der protestantisch-englischen und römisch-katholischen Kirche, oder, Prüfung des Protestantismus und Katholicismus: nach dem gegenseitigen Gewicht der Grundsätze und Lehren dieser beyden Systeme'', J.E. Seidel, Sulzbach im Regenkreis Baierns 1821, p. 319 (Google-OCR: p. 519)
Under Isabella I of Castile and her husband Ferdinand II of Aragon, the printing of vernacular Bibles was prohibited in Spanish state law. The Spanish Inquisition which they instituted ordered the destruction of all Hebrew books and all vernacular Bibles in 1497. This was five years after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. In 1498, the Inquisition stated that it was impossible to translate the Bible into a modern language without making mistakes that would plunge unskilled and especially new converts into doubts about faith. Gebrüder Reichenbach (Ed.): ''Allgemeines deutsches Conversations-Lexicon für die Gebildeten eines jeden Standes. Volume 2. Begl-Eiv. 2. Ausgabe'', Gebrüder Reichenbach, Leipzig 1840, p. 124 „Bibelverbot“
The complete translation of the Bible into a Romance language, a transfer of the Vulgate into Valencian, was made by the Carthusian order general Bonifaci Ferrer (1355-1417) and was printed in 1478. A successor appeared again in 1790. By letter of March 17, 1479, Sixtus IV authorized the rector and dean of the University of Cologne to intervene with ecclesiastical censors against printers, buyers and readers of heretical books. This authorization was approved by Pope Alexander VI. In several theological and non-theological books from this period a printing patent is included in the publications. From this time also printing patents of the Patriarch of Venice can be found. With the censorship of January 4, 1486 and an executive order of January 10, the Elector-Archbishop Berthold von Henneberg of Mainz can be considered a pioneer in censorship regulation in the German-speaking countries for Mainz, Erfurt, and Frankfurt. His censorship decisions did not concern secular topics, but instead targeted specific religious texts, especially translations from Latin and Greek into the German. Berthold was of the opinion that the German language was too poor to reproduce the precise and well-formulated Latin and Greek texts. Up to this time, no heretical writings had appeared printed in German, but since 1466 about ten relatively identical German Bible translations were completed. He commented: For every book translated into German, a license from certain university professors had to be obtained before distribution. Otherwise, one would be excommunicated, the books would be confiscated and one would have to pay a fine of 100 gold florins to the Elector-Archbishop. Due to a bull of Innocent VIII from the year 1486 there was also a censorship authority set up involving the university in Cologne and operated by an official of the archbishop. Alexander VI declared a preventive censorship with his bull of 1 June 1501. This extended to all the writings of the three religious electors Cologne, Mainz and Trier and the Archdiocese of Magdeburg, in which so many heretical books and treatises were printed. Pope Leo X determined during the Fifth Council of the Lateran on May 3, 1515, in the bull ''Inter Sollicitudines'', that in all dioceses all books or writings to be printed had to be carefully examined and approved by the inquisitor, bishop, or a bishop commissioned by the bishop. In case of contravention, punishment would be the loss of the books by public burning, a fine of a hundred ducats payable to the protonotary apostolic in Rome, threatened with no hope of estate, deprivation of permission to write for a year, ex-communication, and potentially the confiscation of one's estate upon death. Recidivism ("if he is persistent") could be dealt with by the offender's bishop by all legal means as deterrence to others. In 1490 a number of Hebrew Bibles and other Jewish books were burned in Andalucía at the behest of the Spanish Inquisition.

16th century

From 1516 to 1535, Erasmus of Rotterdam published several editions of his ''Novum Instrumentum omne''. It was a double edition with both a new Latin version as well as the first print of the Greek text, which was reconstructed in a few places by back-translating Latin into Greek. In 1517 Luther published his ''Ninety-five Theses''. In 1521 he was excommunicated with the bull ''Decet Romanum Pontificem'', declared a heretic, and issued the Edict of Worms. In 1522, the first translation of Luther's New Testament was published. It was translated on the basis of the Greek text of Erasmus. In 1534 the entire Holy Scripture was printed, completing the ''Luther Bible''. At the Council of Trent, both Luther's and Erasmus's writings were put on the ''Index Librorum Prohibitorum''. Later printed copies of the index explicitly banned their Bibles as well as any prior editions and in general all similar Bible editions.Testaments Index Librorum Prohibitorum – NOV. TEST.
The use of Erasmus's translation resulted in the abandonment of the Vulgate as a source for most future translations. Later, Erasmus was classified in a milder index class, and as a result later Catholic Bible translations were able to be based on Erasmus's Greek New Testament. The Edict of Worms against Luther was not enforced throughout the empire. In 1523, at the Reichstag in Nuremberg the papal nuncio Francesco Chieregati asked for the Holy Roman Empire to enforce the clause of the Lateran Council against printing any book without the permission of the local bishop or his representative. He also wanted the Edict of Worms to be enforced. Instead, on March 6, 1523, it was decreed that until the demanded church council could be held, local rulers themselves should ensure that no new writings were printed or sold in their territories unless they had been approved by reasonable men. Other writings, especially those of an insulting nature, were to be banned under severe punishment. Likewise, the Nuremberg Diet of 1524 determined that the imperial estates should "obey as much as possible" the Edict of Worms, and otherwise repeated the order of 1523. Pope Clement VII complained to the emperor and to the kings of England and France concerning the decision of 1523. In a letter dated July 15, 1524, Charles V insisted that the Edict of Worms was to be enforced. But he dropped this demand at the 1526 Diet of Speyer. Instead, it was decided on August 27 that, until the planned council, every imperial state in relation to the edict of Worms should "live, govern and behave for itself, such as it hopes and trusts before God and the Emperor." The 1529 Diet of Speyer limited its decrees essentially to repeating the resolutions of 1523 Diet of Augsburg. On May 13, 1530, the papal nuncio gave the Emperor a memorandum which recommended that the Edict of Worms and the bull of Leo X was to be implemented by imperial decree and on pain of punishment. Following the Protestation at Speyer at the conclusion of the Reichstag on November 19, 1530, it was decided that nothing should be printed without specifying the printer and the printing location. The nuncio's request had failed. As part of the 1541 Diet of Regensburg which set the terms of the Regensburg Interim, the rule against publishing insults was repeated.


Henry VIII of England changed his opinion about Bible translations multiple times. In a proclamation of 1530, he said that the prelates, etc., believed there was no need to translate the Bible into English and put it into the hands of the ordinary people. The reading of Bible translations must be made dependent on the permission of the superiors. All printed English books concerning the Bible were banned and were to be delivered to the bishop within 14 days. New English books concerning Holy Scripture should not be printed without the permission of the bishop and the author. Yet after the danger of spreading heretical writings passes, the Bible ought to be translated. In the meantime, however, all English, French and Low German (including Dutch Low Saxon) versions must be delivered to the bishop, with the exception of any books corrected by the king and the bishops. The Tyndale translation, the only one so far printed, continued to be banned on the basis of translation errors, annotations, and extensive prologue. In 1534, the Canterbury Convocation requested that the king commission a new translation of the Bible by suitable persons and authorize the reading of the new translation. Although the king did not designate translators, new translations appeared from 1535 and afterwards. In 1536 and 1538 Thomas Cromwell prescribed that Coverdale's translation of the Bible was to be placed in every church. These Bibles were to be printed in a large size and chained to prevent theft. This translation came to be called the "Great Bible" or "Chained Bible." In contrast, Henry VIII complained in 1539 that people were abusing their permission to read the Bible. Regulations of 1538 and 1539 provided that no one should sell English books without the King's permission and that no one should print or import English Bibles with comments and prefaces unless they have been verified by authorized agencies. In 1540, Thomas Cromwell was executed for heresy and treason. In 1542 the Convocation negotiated about the shortcomings of existing Bible translations and started a new translation. In 1543, the king again forbade the Tyndale Bible and ordered all annotations removed from all the Bibles and New Testaments. It was also determined that without the King's permission, the lower classes would no longer be allowed to read the even non-forbidden translations. The basis for this was that if allowed to read the Bible, they would end up abusing their privilege. In 1546, the last year of Henry VIII's reign, it was again decreed that no foreign-language English books concerning Christianity should be printed without express permission.

During reign of Mary I

In England, the provisions of the bull ''Inter Solicitudines'' (1515) under the reign of the Roman Catholic Queen Mary I in the "Reformation Decrees" of the papal legate Cardinal Reginald Pole in 1556 were published. As various books of heresy, rebellion, and treachery were brought in from abroad and secretly printed in the land, in 1558 Mary I determined that owners of such books should be regarded as rebels and punished under the martial law.

Council of Trent

At the Council of Trent, the Vulgate was declared ''authentic'' and ''alone applicable''. It was also decided that in the future, books dealing with religious subjects could not be printed, sold, or even kept without the name of the author and the approval of a bishop. The imprimatur notice must be printed at the beginning of the book. Bishops may not charge fees for providing the services of examining and approving books. During the negotiations in March and April of 1546 it was also discussed whether it was not appropriate to ban Bible translations into the vernacular. Pierre Van Der Worst, bishop of Acqui thought that if the untrained were to read the Bible, it could easily give rise to misunderstandings and errors. He thought it would be enough for the women and ordinary people to become acquainted with the doctrines of Scripture through sermons at church. Cardinal Pedro Pacheco de Villena believed that all Spanish and French and most Italian bishops were against vernacular Bible translations. He referred to Spain's longstanding ban on translations, to the ban in France and to the fact that the University of Paris, which had 150 doctors, had not only spoken out against Bible translations, but also explained that the authors of such translations are like heretics because translations are a source of many heresies. In Germany, a part of the population had been brought to apostasy through vernacular translations. On the other hand, Cardinal Cristoforo Madruzzo of Trent replied that it was not the German translations of the Bible but the professors of the Greek and Hebrew languages who were to blame for the confusion. A ban would make the worst impression in Germany. In the end, no decision was reached on March 17th. Pacheco requested on April 1 to reject all ancient translations except the Vulgate, including the Septuagint and all Bible translations by heretics. Pietro Bertani, Bishop of Fano replied that the Church has always tolerated various translations and that even the heretical translations are not necessarily to be rejected, just as the early church did not reject the translations of Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion. Bartolomé Carranza reported that many bishops and theologians spoke out in favor of allowing Bible translations. His argument in favor of vernacular translations came from the common practice in Spain and other countries to publicly read and preach from Gospels and epistles in the vernacular during patronal festivals. As this had occurred without danger, why not also translate additional parts of the Bible? Yet still, it would be best not to translate the whole Bible. The majority of the members of the Council agreed with him. Similarly, the Paris Faculty of Theology expressed a similar opinion in 1526. As a result, Pacheco's claim was judged to be incorrect.

''Index Librorum Prohibitorum''

Around this time, the papal ''Index Librorum Prohibitorum'' began to be developed. At the 1548 Diet of Augsburg, which pronounced the terms of the Augsburg Interim, the ordinance against insults was repeated and the previous provisions were extended to include the name of the author or poet. In addition, books were to be checked before printing by the "ordinary authority of every place." There was a sentiment against that which was "rebellious and ignominious or unruly or obnoxious to the Catholic Doctrine of the Holy Christian Church." The already printed books of Luther were to be suppressed. The Holy Roman Imperial Fiscal official was to intervene against the offending authorities. After the 1555 Peace of Augsburg ended the Augsburg Interim and increased religious freedom by declaring ''cuius regio, eius religio'', the papal ''Index Librorum Prohibitorum'' was only observed as law in Catholic territories.

The Netherlands

In the Netherlands up until 1550, Charles V issued a series of decrees intent on enforcing the 1521 Edict of Worms. He issued them by virtue of his sovereign power and did not refer to the decrees of the councils and popes. In contrast to his strictly secular method censorship, the Inquisition derived its ability to censor from papal authority. In addition to bans against individual authors and specific works, there was a language-related book ban against the translation of German, Flemish, and French heresies into Dutch issued in 1526. Some general works of heretics were allowed to appear if the name was not mentioned. Additionally, individuals were allowed to possess Luther's writings in order to refute them. During the reign of Philip II of Spain (son of Charles V), the laws were not significantly expanded, although they were confirmed and honed. During his time the possession or reading of forbidden books was sufficient evidence that one was a heretic. Such heretics were usually allowed to save themselves by abjuration if it was a first offense. Punishments could include consequences to "body or goods, according to circumstances" (1524), exile (1526), and the death penalty (1529, 1531). The prescribed method of execution differed by sex. Men had their heads placed on stakes following their beheading, while women were to be buried alive. Burning was only for recidivists. The list of banned books grew over time. Relatively short untitled lists were produced in 1526, 1529 and 1540. There are also historical references to a condemnation catalog issued by the University of Leuven faculty in 1546 and 1550. Parts of these earlier lists of banned books were later incorporated into Spanish banned book catalogs and in the Roman index. It was suggested that in dangerous times, the heretical books in the lists were better not to be read and should not be given to the common people and young people. One consideration was the risk of these lists inadvertently advertising which books were subversive. A list in the Netherlands omitted books not found in the Netherlands so as not to draw attention to them. In addition, there was also a directory of books that could be used at schools. As for the Bibles, it was noted in the catalog of 1546 that in some, especially in French and German translations, the meaning was corrupted by misinterpretation or by additions or omissions. Some theological writings from this period were faulted for only pretending to follow the Vulgate while actually adding things in from the Greek. With respect to other writings, it was asserted that although the translation was good, the printers had added bad prefaces, notes, and so on. At times, summaries of the individual chapters and marginal notes were asserted to have errors in them. The prohibited books catalog of 1546 contains 25 Latin Bibles and three Latin New Testaments, of German Bibles mostly the Antwerp editions, and two French Bibles as well as four French New Testaments from Antwerp. After a decree of April 29, 1550, lay people were forbidden to argue over the Scriptures. To preach concerning the Holy Scripture was only be granted to those authorized by the University or by the bishops. On September 25, an additional ordinance followed, saying that this prohibition would not apply to those who simply talked about Scripture according to the understanding of the church.


In Spain, the inquisitors were forbidden in 1549 to grant permission to own or read forbidden books. The inquisitors themselves were not to read the forbidden books in their possession. Pope Julius III issued a bull in 1550 which abolished all previously granted authorizations to read banned books. This bull was also published in Spain. The Spanish catalog of 1551, which was inspired by the Leuven catalog ordered by Charles V, included among other things a general prohibition on all Bibles translated into the Spanish or other vernacular languages.


In France, bans on certain books were published by the king or parliaments at the request of bishops or state-appointed inquisitors. Appraisals took over especially the Sorbonne. On March 18, 1521, at the request of the University of Paris, Francis I decreed that Parisian booksellers should not print new Latin or French books on the Christian faith before they had been examined by a theological faculty or deputies. On May 2, 1542, Parliament amended this regulation by stating that nothing should be printed without the approval of the Rector and the Dean, and that the Rector should appoint two members from each faculty to examine the writings concerned. In 1569, Bibles and religious books were subject to approval by four doctors. Containers of imported books were only to be opened under official supervision. Beginning in 1551 with the Edict of Châteaubriant, the import of religious books from Geneva or other places notoriously for heresy was forbidden. On August 26, 1525, the Sorbonne, at Parliament's request, declared that a Bible translation used for the Horae Beatae Virginis Mariae of Mere sotte would not receive a printing permit. In accordance with earlier decisions of the faculty, it was decided on February 5, 1526 that it would be dangerous at all to publish translations of the Bible or biblical books and those already published should be better suppressed than tolerated. A rare exception was the Sorbonne's permission for a Pauline-related gospel work in 1530, which was translated from Latin into French. From 1543 to 1556 there was a catalog of banned books at the Sorbonne. Later on, every bookstore was required to have a copy of this catalog available. There was also a general remark in the catalog: How dangerous it was to allow Bible translations in the vernacular to be read even by uneducated people and those who did not read them with a pious and humble spirit, as there were many now Waldenses, Albigensians, etc. Therefore, considering the malice of the people in the present, the translation of the Bible into the vernacular should be regarded as dangerous and perishable. The later Roman index was never used in France and an intended French index dating from 1562 was ultimately not published due to the''Edict of Beaulieu'' of Henry III. In 1577 the provisions were changed in favor of the Protestants: "No books may be sold without permission of our local officials or, as far as the so-called Reformed religion books are concerned, without the approval of the Chambers which we hold in the parliaments for the affairs of the form so-called Reformed. Forbidden is the printing and distribution of defamatory libels." From the 16th through 18th centuries, a Bible smuggler's path led from Passau to the Slovenian border and Arnoldstein in Austria. Cattle drivers and dealers, merchants, and carters brought Bibles and hymnals into Austria, where they were used by Crypto-Protestants.

General Rules in the ''Roman Index''

Pius IV (pontificate 1559–1565) also added general rules to the ''Index Romanus''. In the first printed and published version of 1559, there are 30 Latin editions of Scripture, 10 New Testament editions, and two short general rules for Bibles in foreign languages. At the 18th meeting of the Council of Trent on 26 February 1562, it was decided to work out general indexing rules. On December 3rd or 4th, 1563, the Council decided to submit its proposal, the ''Decretum de indice librorum'', to the Pope for final adaptation. With the bull ''Dominici gregis custodiae'' the ''Index tridentinus'' was published on March 24, 1564 by the Pope. In it all the writings of all heresiarchs (all Reformers) were included on the index, regardless of whether they contained theology, religious words, or descriptions of nature. Especially on Bibles, Rules 3 and 4 came into play: The rules were reprinted in each version until the reform in 1758. Believers were forbidden to make, read, own, buy, sell or give away these books on the basis of excommunication. Hubert Wolf: ''Index: der Vatikan und die verbotenen Bücher'', C.H.Beck, 2007, , p. 27–34, 218 pages At the Diet of Speyer in 1570, it was decreed that every printer should be sworn in on the Reichstag regulations. A similar provision can be found in the Reich Police Order (Reichspolizei-Ordnung) of 1577, however, "nothing unruly and obscenely should be printed," according to the Christian general doctrine and the religious peace called for at Augsburg. Sixtus V (pontificate 1585–1590) replaced the general rules of the ''Index Romanus''. In its seventh rule it stated: Clement VIII confirmed in a bull of October 17, 1595, in principle, the old general rules, but made the fourth rule more restrictive by adding to it. This restored the provision of Paul IV that dispensation could only be granted on behalf of the Pope or the Roman Inquisition: With this addition, the rule remained valid until 1758. How it was dealt with in each country was different. In a Catholic country like Bavaria, it was state law. In particular, booksellers had their licenses revoked for violating it. In contrast, in Württemberg, a refuge of Protestantism, the index functioned more like a blacklist. But it also found application in elite Catholic schools in secularized France until the 20th century. In general, secularized France almost never used the ''Roman Index''. Franz Heinrich Reusch: ''Der Index der verbotenen Bücher. Ein Beitrag zur Kirchen und Literaturgeschichte. Volume 1.'', Max Cohen & Sohn, Bonn 1883,

p. 17, 43, 44, Von Beginn der Buchdruckerkunst bis zur Beginn der Reformation: 53-65, Deutsches Reich: 80-87, England: 87-98, Niederlande: 98-128, Spanien: 131-140, Frankreich 1521–1551: 140-153, Trient 1546: 195-200, Regeln des Index 1564: 330-341, Translated from Alexander VI. 1501: p. 54
Hubert Wolf
Archäologie im Vatikan – Die katholische Buchzensur (1)
(RTF; 39 kB), Sendung: Sonntag, February 10th, 2008, 8.30 Uhr, SWR 2; SWR2 AULA – Manuskriptdienst

17th–18th centuries

The period during and following the Thirty Years War, which was fought largely between opposing Catholic and Protestant sides, saw continued censorship against the Bible. In a bull dated December 30, 1622, Pope Gregory XV forbade the laity to read vernacular Bible translations. Alexander VII (pontificate 1655-1667) insisted on the fourth rule in his 1664 index and added all Bible translations - in whatever language - to the index. However, according to another interpretation, he only confirmed the fourth rule.


In 1713 Clement XI issued the bull ''Unigenitus dei filius'' in order to fight against Jansenism. The bull condemned 101 excerpts from the work ''Réflexions morales'' by Pasquier Quesnel, including the following propositions: Philip Schaff:
Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical notes. Volume I. The History of Creeds.
', 1919

This bull was controversial among the French clergy for various reasons. Among the reasons it was controversial was that it condemned various sentences from the Bible and the Fathers of the Church. But the 1719 bull ''Pastoralis officii'' threatened excommunication on all who did not submit to ''Unigenitus dei filius''. At the Lateran Council confirmed Benedict XIII. in 1725 the bull ''Unigenitus dei filius''.

Developments in the ''Index''

Later all paraphrases, summaries, and "biblical stories" were banned in the vernacular languages. In the eighteenth century, attempts were made to move away from individual dispensations; now, any Bible translation approved by a competent ecclesiastical authority should generally be considered as lawful for all laymen. This broad interpretation of the fourth index rule was followed in 1757 by Benedict XIV. (This lasted until 1836.) A later regulation of the Roman book censorship of 1757 permitted only translations with explanatory notes taken from the Fathers of the Church and with papal approval.

Punishments against violators

As part of a program of persecution against the Salzburg Protestants, in 1731, Leopold Anton von FirmianArchbishop of Salzburg as well as its temporal ruler as Count, ordered the wholesale seizure and burning of all Protestant books and Bibles. On May 27, 1747 Jakob Schmidlin ("Sulzijoggi") was hanged as the leading head of a Bible movement in the canton of Lucerne in Galgenwäldli on the Emme. His corpse was burned along with a Luther Bible. He is considered the last Protestant martyr of Switzerland. Where his farm stood, a pillar was erected. Of over 100 co-defendants of this movement (from Ruswil, Wolhusen, Werthenstein, Menznau, Malters, Kriens, and Udligenswil), 82 of them were also punished, mostly with perpetual banishment. Since the Bible was at the center of this movement and violations of censorship rules against the use and possession of Bibles was one of the offenses committed by the convicted, after the trial the authorities issued a decree that included a general prohibition on laymen having Bibles: Only after 1833 were Bibles were regularly and openly sold in Lucerne.

Italian and Spanish translations

Pope Clement XIII allowed for the use of Italian translations of the Bible during his pontificate, which spanned 1758-1769. The second Spanish Bible translation appeared in 1790.

19th–20th centuries

Pius VII forbade in two breves to the Archbishop of Gniezno and Primate of all Poland (June 29, 1816) and to the Archbishop of Mohilev (September 3) the use of the Polish Bible, which had been published in 1599 in Krakow with the permission of Clement VIII. It says: The ''Epistola encyclica'' of May 3, 1824 by Leo XII also did not exhibit any liberal attitudes. In 1836, Gregory XVI eliminated the relief made back in 1757. His encyclical letter ''Inter praecipuas'' of 1844 spoke out against vernacular Bibles of the Bible societies. Since the dawn of Christianity, the trick of heretics has been to falsify the wording of Scripture and distort it by interpretation. "Therefore, there is a deep wisdom in the previous Catholic practice to forbid the independent reading of the Bible in the vernacular to laymen, or only to allow it with considerable caution, because they ultimately threaten to undermine the teaching authority of the Church." Hans-Josef Klauck: ''Religion und Gesellschaft im frühen Christentum. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 152'', Mohr Siebeck, 2003, , p. 361 Pius IX spoke in 1846 his entry-level encyclical ''Qui pluribus''. He warned against "the most impudent Bible societies, which renewed the ancient artifice of the heretics and translated the books of the Divine Scriptures, contrary to the most sacrosanct rules of the Church, into all national languages and often provided twisted explanations." William Herman Theodore Dau:
Luther Examined and Reexamined: A Review of Catholic Criticism and a Plea for Revaluation
', St. Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House: 1917, page 68
The situation in Nice was very different from the situation in the Duchy of Tuscany. The duchy had a reputation for being liberal during the rule of Leopold II, even prior to 1849. There were three Protestant churches within the duchy: one English, one Scottish and one French. The French Protestant church held fairs in the Italian language. After the brief period during the republic the subsequent counter-revolution, the liberal climate changed to conservative. On May 18, 1849, 3,000 copies of a Catholic Italian translation of the Bible were confiscated and burned under the orders of Antonio Martini, the Archbishop of Florence, even though they had been printed with permission. Persecution of Protestants increased. In 1851, services in Italian were outlawed. The possession of a Protestant Italian Bible alone was considered sufficient evidence for conviction. The most prominent prisoner was Count Piero Guicciardini, who was arrested with six others. They had met on May 7, 1851, the day before his voluntary departure for religious exile, and read the Scriptures together. He was therefore sentenced to six months imprisonment for blasphemy, which was then converted into exile. Samuel Waldegrave: ''Italien (Aus einer Rede des Herrn Sam. Waldegrave, zu Bedford 9. Juni 1851 gehalten)'', in: ''Monatliche Auszüge aus dem Briefwechsel und den Berichten der britischen und ausländischen Bibelgesellschaft'', Nr. August 8, 1851, S. 58 d. Jg. 1851
''Verfolgungen in Toskana'' in: Marriott (Ed.): ''Der wahre Protestant. Volume 5.'', Bahnmaier’s Buchhandlung (C. Detloff), Basel 1856, p. 442 ff.
Vom Beginn der Brüdergemeinden in Italien
(PDF; 73 kB), Erstveröffentlichung in: ''Die Botschaft'' 130 (1989), Book 3, p. 20; Book 4, p. 19f.; Book 5, p. 10.
In the Austrian Empire, the Patent of Toleration was published on October 13, 1781. In addition, on June 22, 1782, and October 12, 1782, Joseph II issued court decrees explicitly authorizing the import and printing of Protestant books and stipulating that previously confiscated publications should be returned as long as they were not abusive towards the Catholic Church. Karl Kuzmány (Ed.): ''Urkundenbuch zum österreichisch-evangelischen Kirchenrecht'' in ''Praktische Theologie der evangelischen Kirche augsb. und helvet. Confession. Volume 1: Lehrbuch des Kirchenrechtes. Zweite Abtheilung: Urkundenbuch'', Wilhelm Braumüller, Wien 1856, p. 96–98
These decrees were usually followed, but the reforms were not always followed everywhere throughout the empire. In 1854 in Buda the police seized 121 Bibles found in a Protestant congregation and reduced 120 of them to pulp in a paper mill. In return the congregation was given 21 kreuzers due to the value of the books as pulp as well as the one remaining Bible, "which is enough for the pastor." August Nathanael Böhner (Mitglied der Schweizerischen Naturforschenden Gesellschaft): ''Naturforschung und Kulturleben. In ihren neuesten Ergebnissen zur Beleuchtung der grossen Frage der Gegenwart über Christenthum und Materialismus, Geist und Stoff.'' Carl Rümpler, Hannover 1859, p. 144
Meanwhile, in Germany there was a relatively relaxed situation with respect to vernacular Bibles and Protestant writings during this period. On December 7, 1859, in front of the Archbishop's Palace in Santa Fe de Bogotá in the then Granadine Confederation a great bible burning took place.Wie die Päpste von der Bibel denken
erstveröffentlicht in: ''Gartenlaube'', Dezember 1873
Hermann Rafetseder: ''Bücherverbrennungen: die öffentliche Hinrichtung von Schriften im historischen Wandel'', Böhlau, 1988, , p. 264 On January 25, 1896 Leo XIII issued new rules for the ''Roman Index'' with the Apostolic constitution ''Officiorum ac Munerum'. It was published on January 25, 1897. It generally contained some relief and no longer automatically included all the books of the Protestants. Albert Sleumer: ''Index Romanus: Verzeichnis sämtlicher auf dem römischen Index stehenden deutschen Bücher desgleichen aller fremdsprachlichen Bücher seit dem Jahre 1870'', 2. Ed., G. Pillmeyer’s Buchhandlung, Osnabrück 1906, Imprimatur: August 26, 1906, Hubertus
p. 24–34
'' The biblical imprints of Leander van Ess broke the requirement of Chapter II, even though the text contained an old approbation, due to the fact the translation was printed without notes. The first issue with annotations from 1820 was added to the Index of Prohibited Books. Another example of an author who violated ''Officiorum ac Munerum'' is Franz Stephan Griese, who in 1919 printed without permission ''The Letters of St. Paul'' (which contained his translation of the letters) in Paderborn, Germany. Although he was banned from publishing following this transgression, in 1923 without his knowledge, his Pauline letters were published by someone else, complete with ecclesiastical permission of the Archdiocese of Cologne!


The first New Testament translation into Breton was published in 1827 by Protestants after the Catholic Church refused its publication. The translation was placed on the ''Index''. However, the Old Testament was completed by the Catholic diocesan publisher and printed in 1866.

United States

In 1827 in New York, 116 pages of ''The Book of Mormon'', had been lost under peculiar circumstances and are presumed to be destroyed. Joseph Smith intended the book to be a companion to the King James Version of the Bible. On July 20, 1833, a mob destroyed a printing press owned by a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, partly thought to be in retaliation for its use in printing portions of the ''Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible'' for a Church paper. The text had extensive additions that had never been seen before. In 1842, a Jesuit Priest named Telman was responsible for the burning of a number of "Protestant" Bibles in Champlain, New York.

Nazi Germany

In late August 1933, authorities used 25 trucks to transport about 70 tonnes of Watch Tower literature and Bibles to the city's outskirts and publicly burned them as part of a larger program of Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Nazi Germany. Later on, in July 1935, state governments were instructed in July 1935 to confiscate all Watch Tower Society publications, including Bibles. On November 9 and 10, 1938, thousands of Hebrew Bibles were burned in multiple communities in Germany as part of a program of persecution against Jews.


In 1955, police seized Bibles and other literature when raiding a house while Jehovah's Witnesses were worshiping there. The Jehovah's Witnesses successfully sued in response.


When the economic reforms implemented by Deng Xiaoping created greater openness to the West, Christians of various affiliations began smuggling Bibles and Christian literature into China. The CCP viewed the recipients of those Bibles as engaging in illegal activity in violation of the principle of not accepting aid from Western sources.


For two years in the 1950s, churches were banned from using Chinese Bibles written with Latin letters instead of Chinese characters. The ban was lifted with an encouragement to use Chinese characters. A 1973 Taiwanese translation of the New Testament was the product of cooperation between Protestants and Catholics. It was confiscated in 1975, also for using Latin letters.

Russia, Estonia and Latvia

In Russia, the activities of the Bible Society in Russia were greatly limited after Czar Nicholas I placed the society under the control of Orthodox church authorities. Following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, no Bibles were published until 1956, and even then the circulation was limited until the 1990s. Aldis Purs, wrote that in Estonia as well as Latvia, some evangelical Christian clergy attempted to resist the Soviet policy of state atheism by engaging in anti-regime activities such as Bible smuggling.

21st century

Islamic states

In some, mostly Muslim states, censorship of the Bible exists today, such as in Saudi Arabia where the distribution of non-Muslim religious materials such as Bibles is illegal, although non-Muslims are permitted to own their own Bibles. For example, Sadeq Mallallah was accused of smuggling a Bible by a judge prior to his beheading.


The Prime Minister clarified in April 2005 that there was no ban on Bibles translated into Malay, although they are required to be stamped with a disclaimer "Not for Muslims" The word translated in English as "God" is translated as "Allah" in some Malay Bibles, which is illegal as non-Muslims are prohibited from using the term "Allah." In March 2010, the Malaysian Home Ministry seized 30,000 Malay language bibles from a port in Kuching, Sarawak. A lawsuit was filed by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur against the Government of Malaysia at the High Court of Malaya to seek a declaratory relief that the word "Allah" should not exclusive to Islam. However, in 2014 the Federal Court of Malaysia ruled that non-Muslims could not use the term "Allah," and 321 Bibles were subsequently seized. The Iban Bible named ''Bup Kudus'' was also banned for using the term "Allah Taala" for God. Eventually, it was explained to the government that there was no other comparable term in Iban. As such, the ban was not enforced further, although neither was it officially repealed. However, following the 2014 court ruling 16 Iban language Bibles were seized on the basis they illegally contained the term "Allah Taala."


The government of Uzbekistan may confiscate and in some cases destroy illegally imported religious literature. In July 2006 the Customs Service detained a shipment of 500 Russian-language Bibles and other literature that had been shipped to the Jehovah's Witnesses congregation in Chirchik, and charged them for storing it. Following a raid on an unregistered Baptist church in Karshi on August 27, 2006, a court ordered the burning of seized Christian literature, including a Bible, hymnbooks, and multiple copies of the Old Testament Book of Proverbs in Uzbek.

U.S. military

In 2009 the U.S. military burned Bibles in the Pashto and Dari languages, which were seemingly intended for distribution among the locals, which is in breach of regulations which forbid "proselytizing of any religion, faith or practice".

U.S. schools

Likewise, when the use of the Bible by staff in U.S. public schools was restricted (along with teacher-led prayers), this prohibition was also commonly referred to as a "Bible ban".

Bible smugglers

Censorship of the Bible has met with resistance from groups such as Open Doors, Voice of the Martyrs, and World Help, which supply Bibles for smuggling or directly smuggle the Bibles themselves into lands where the Bibles or their distribution are prohibited. Individual Bible smugglers include Andrew van der Bijl, David Hathaway, and John White.

Canon 825 of the Catholic Church

Today Canon 825 governs Catholic Bible translations:


In 2015, Russia banned importation of the Jehovah's Witnesses' ''New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures''. On May 5, 2015, customs authorities in Russia seized a shipment of religious literature containing Ossetian-language Bibles published by Jehovah's Witnesses. Russian customs officials in the city of Vyborg held up a shipment of 2,013 Russian-language copies of Bibles on July 13, 2015. Customs authorities confiscated three of the Bibles, sent them to an "expert" to study the Bibles to determine whether they contained "extremist" language, and impounded the rest of the shipment.


The state-owned ''Amity Press'' is the only publisher allowed to print Bibles in China that are not for export. The quantity printed is restricted, and the sale or distribution of Bibles is limited to officially sanctioned churches, with online sales having been recently cracked down upon. The Associated Press reported in September 2018 that the current suppression program in China includes the burning of Bibles.


Singapore has banned Bibles and other literature published by the publishing arms of the Jehovah's Witnesses. A person in possession of banned literature can be fined up to S$2,000 (US$1,333) and jailed up to 12 months for a first conviction. In February 1995, Singapore police seized Bibles during a raid and arrested 69 Jehovah's Witnesses, many of whom went to jail. In March 1995, 74-year-old Yu Nguk Ding was arrested for carrying two "undesirable publications"—one of them a Bible printed by the Watch Tower Society.


Due to persecution by the government against the Montagnard ethnic minority in Vietnam today, death is a possible consequence of getting caught with a Bible.

Pinterest website

In 2019, Project Veritas and the National Catholic Register reported that Pinterest had blacklisted the phrase "bible verses" as "brand unsafe" and censored it from showing up in autocomplete search results.



{{Authority control Category:Bible Category:Book censorship Category:Christianity-related controversies