It is my understanding that in many countries of the world, it is illegal to print or own a copy of the Bible. Is there any compilation of which countries have banned the Bible?

As an aside, if you know of any other widely banned books, I'd be interested to know what they are.

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    Wiki has a list of books banned by governments - it is interesting how many of those are banned in defence of Christianity. Indeed, historically, Christianity infamously persecuted people for the crime of having a Bible in their own language... Commented Aug 28, 2012 at 7:28
  • @marc just goes to show how incorrect worship is just as bad as none. when we Christians do stuff like that, we're being big time hypocrites :( Commented Aug 29, 2012 at 19:37
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    I think there's a strong case that the Bible is the world's most read book, but I couldn't evidence beyond the link that Marc shared that the Bible is the most banned. Can you point me to something that substantiates that claim? Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 7:00
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    @Narnian ah, if only the world could reach an agreement on which group is the True Christians™ Commented Aug 28, 2013 at 20:40
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    Actually, most lists I've seen have put Salaman Rushdie's 'The Satanic Verses' as being the most banned book, with some countries making printing and possession of the book punishable by death, and Jihadists putting a death warrant out for Rushdie, even while he lived in America. I've Googled "banned bible" and "most banned book," and I couldn't find statistics that support your claim. However! The Bible is the most widely read book of all time! So there is good news there! Also, James T's response was pretty accurate.
    – user5932
    Commented Sep 27, 2013 at 21:20

1 Answer 1


Regrettably, there are many countries with legal or customary restrictions on the Bible. While a total ban is comparatively rare (e.g., North Korea punishes any possession of religious literature by death or imprisonment), it is more common for ownership or distribution to be limited:

  • To certain government-approved groups only. For example, China allows distribution of Bibles for churches or seminaries that are part of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement / China Christian Council, and they are sold in some bookshops, but cannot generally be mail-ordered by individuals or unregistered churches. Several other nations require government approval before religious books (or any books) can be printed.
  • To foreigners only. Maldives says citizens must be Muslim, and foreigners are allowed to practice their religion in private; Bibles can be imported for personal use.
  • In certain languages only. Morocco allows Bibles in French, English, and Spanish, but not Arabic.
  • Can't publish, but can import. Turkmenistan does not allow publication of Bibles. They can be imported, in limited numbers and with permission, by registered churches.

Restrictions on attempts to convert members of other religions may also result in de facto bans on Bibles. Similarly, government actions in the name of "public order" may have the same effect, even if there is no law specifically banning Bible publication or ownership. In several cases, effective bans on religious freedom take place despite supposed constitutional guarantees to the contrary. Experiences may vary in different parts of the same country, or at different times.

So "illegal" is perhaps the wrong word, and we should instead be thinking of "Can anyone easily obtain a Bible in this country without attracting official difficulties?". Any such list will have fuzzy edges, of course. One indicator might be the ease with which Bible societies are able to do their work. They are organized groups with a missionary element and so the bar is higher for them than for private individuals.

The Gideons have a list of countries where they are not allowed to operate:

Afghanistan, Algeria, China (People's Republic), Comoros, Djibouti, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Maldives, Mauritania, Morocco, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Yemen

However, for some of these countries, other groups exist: there are United Bible Societies chapters for Algeria, Iraq, Morocco, and China, and some presence in Comoros, Djibouti, Mauritania and Somalia. The Catholic Bible Federation also operates in Iran. Not all of these efforts may be entirely government-approved.

For more detailed information, the US State Department issues annual reports on religious freedom with detailed assessments of the conditions on the ground in each country. In particular, they distinguish between what the country's law says, how the government acts, and how the wider society responds.

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    I'm not too happy with my answer because I think it is hiding a lot of complexity. I've tried to give some indication of the nuances. The point is not to run away and say "(this many) countries ban the Bible", but to show that one has to look in detail at the circumstances in each country to see what is legal/illegal, easy/hard, reliable/risky, etc.
    – James T
    Commented Aug 28, 2012 at 15:54
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    Actually, I think the answer exposes the sort of complexity a comprehensive answer would need to deal with. The nuances of each and every country would make answering the actual question virtually impossible and only temporary. This answer will likely be true in general for many years to come even if the details change. Thank you for the fine answer. Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 7:05
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    I've just rejected a suggested edit of this answer, because I think the facts that the editor claims in his summary would be better to incorporate into this answer rather than used to simply remove material from the answer. Could you check into the claims and use that research to improve this answer? Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 19:26

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