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published: 9/6/13

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Gideons International

What is Gideons International?

Gideons International is an evangelical Christian organization founded 1899 in Janesville, Wisconsin. The Gideons' primary activity is distributing copies of the Bible free of charge. This Bible distribution is a global enterprise taking place in over 195 countries and in over 90 languages, with the organization being particularly well known for the copies to be found in hotel and motel rooms. The organization takes its name from the biblical figure Gideon depicted in Judges 6.

The Gideons International has a strong international presence. Its members distribute Scriptures in many countries to people who cannot afford to purchase Scriptures on their own.

Gideons began distributing free Bibles, the endeavour for which they are chiefly known, in 1908, when the first Bibles were placed in the rooms of the Superior Hotel in Superior, Montana.

Members of The Gideons International placed and distributed over 84.6 million Gideon Scriptures in 2012. More than 1.8 billion have been distributed since 1908. On average, more than two copies of the Bible are distributed per second through Gideons International. It is anticipated that the two billionth Scripture will be placed in 2015.


The organization, an early American organization dedicated to Christian evangelism, was founded in 1899 at the YMCA in Janesville, Wisconsin by two traveling businessmen who met by chance when they shared a hotel room at the Central House Hotel in Boscobel, Wisconsin and refined their idea in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.

It began distributing free Bibles, the work it is chiefly known for, in 1908, when the first Bibles were placed in the rooms of the Superior Hotel in Superior, Montana. The local railway station at the time was named Iron Mountain, causing confusion as to the name of the town.

The organization describes its link to the story of Gideon: Gideon was a man who was willing to do exactly what God wanted him to do, regardless of his own judgment as to the plans or results. Humility, faith, and obedience were his great elements of character. This is the standard that The Gideons International is trying to establish in all its members, each man to be ready to do God's will at any time, at any place, and in any way that the Holy Spirit leads.

In keeping with this symbolism, the symbol of the Gideons is a two-handled pitcher and torch, recalling Gideon's victory over the Midianites as described in Judges, Chapter 7.

In addition to their well-known hotel-room Bibles, members of The Gideons International also distribute Bibles to members of the military of various countries, to hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, MPs and students. A typical Bible or New Testament from The Gideons International contains:

  • a short preface
  • a pamphlet suggesting Bible verses that may be of assistance in various sorts of trouble
  • translations of John 3:16 into a variety of languages and scripts
  • the Bible text itself, without notes, references, or any other reference matter other than chapter and verse headings — this can either be the full Bible (typical of the copies placed in hotel rooms), or just the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs (typical of the copies handed out as gifts to individuals)
  • a short description of the evangelical understanding of salvation, with biblical quotations, and a place for the reader to sign and date their confession of Jesus as their savior (this is especially common in the shorter editions the New Testament and Psalms)

Colors of Testaments distributed

The covers of the New Testaments distributed by Gideons are color-coded based on which groups they're meant for:

  • Orange: for sidewalk distribution to middle/high school students
  • Green: for college/university students
  • Red: for in-school distribution to Middle/High school students
  • Digital Camouflage/Desert Camouflage: for the military
  • Dark blue: for law enforcement personnel, firefighters, and EMTs
  • White: for medical professionals
  • Light blue: for distribution by the Auxiliary only
  • Brown: personal worker's testaments (for individual witnessing by Gideons)
  • Periwinkle: personal worker's testaments (for individual witnessing by the Auxiliary)
  • Note: During World War II there were Military Issued New Testaments, brown for Army and blue for Navy distributed by the Gideons. In addition to the Desert Camouflage and the Digital Camouflage, there are also Woodland Camouflage editions for the Military.


The Gideons International draw its volunteer members from many Christian denominations. Membership is limited to current or retired businessmen and professional men age 21 and older who are members in good standing of an evangelical or Protestant church, congregation or assembly. Wives of Gideons may join the Gideons International Auxiliary.

Distribution of Bibles during school hours

The Gideons International continues to seek the lost youth in America through The Life Book, coordinating with churches and their youth to saturate high schools with copies of the Bible.

For several years, the South Iron R-1 School District in Missouri allowed Gideons International to distribute Bibles to fifth-grade students during class time. Americans United for Separation of Church and State brought suit against the school district, resulting in an end to the practice.

In 2009, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis upheld a lower court ruling that found the South Iron district's distribution of Bibles to the schoolchildren in their classrooms was unconstitutional. But the court, in a unanimous decision, ruled that the district can enact a new policy permitting "any printed material" approved by the superintendent to be distributed outside classroom time.

The tradition of Gideons handing out small New Testaments continues in many British secondary schools. While there has been no legal action, some schools have banned Gideons. The Upland Unified School District allows Gideons to distribute Bibles outside of its school premises after school.


"Gideons International" Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (with minor edits), under GFDL.