The Gideons International

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The Gideons International
FoundedJuly 1, 1899 (1899-07-01)
FounderSamuel E. Hill
John H. Nicholson
William J. Knights
  • P.O. Box 140800, Nashville, TN 37214-0800
Area served
200 countries and territories
269,500 Gideons and auxiliary members (wives of Gideons)
Key people
Dan Heighway (Executive Director)

Gideons International is an Evangelical Christian association for men founded in 1899 in Janesville, Wisconsin. The Gideons' primary activity, along with their wives in the Auxiliary, is "encouraging each other to do the work of the Lord, focusing on who they are before God, and strengthening the power of their personal testimony for the Lord Jesus Christ". They are most recognized for distributing copies of scripture free of charge, paid for by freewill offerings from local churches and from members themselves. This Bible distribution is a worldwide enterprise taking place in around 200 countries, territories and possessions. The association's members focus on distributing complete Bibles, New Testaments, or portions thereof. These copies are printed in over 108 languages. The association is most widely known for its Bibles placed in lodging rooms. The Gideons also distribute to hospitals and other medical offices, schools (usually in first year) and colleges, military bases, as well as jails and prisons. The association was named after the Biblical figure Gideon depicted in the Book of Judges (chapters 6–8).

In 1908, the Gideons began distributing free Bibles. The first Bibles were placed in rooms of the Superior Hotel in Superior, Montana. Members of The Gideons International currently average distribution of over 70 million Bibles annually. On average, more than two copies of the Bible are distributed per second through Gideons International.[1] As of April 2015, Gideons International has distributed over 2.5 billion Bibles.

The headquarters of Gideons International is in Nashville, Tennessee.


The interior of Room 19, Central House Hotel, Boscobel, Wisconsin, kept in the style it was in 1898 when the founders of the Gideons met there

The organization began in the fall of 1898, when two traveling salesmen, John H. Nicholson of Janesville, Wisconsin, and Samuel E. Hill of Beloit, Wisconsin, met in a hotel room they shared at the Central House Hotel in Boscobel, Wisconsin, and discussed the formation of an association.[2][3] In May 1899, the two met again in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, where they decided the goal of their association would be to unite traveling salesmen for evangelism.[3] In July 1899, Nicholson, Hill, and Will J. Knights met at the YMCA in Janesville.[4][3] Two of them continued with the distribution of the Bibles.[5] Gideons began distributing free Bibles, the work they are most known for, in 1908, when the first Bibles were placed in the rooms of the Superior Hotel in Superior, Montana.[6]

The organization describes its connection 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."[7]

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 7.


As of 2022, The Gideons reported having 269,500 members in 200 countries and territories.[8]

Membership in The Gideons International generally consists of current or retired business or professional men (except clergy) aged 21 or older who are members in good standing of an evangelical or Protestant church, and adhere to the core spiritual beliefs of the organization.[9] Wives of Gideons may similarly join the Auxiliary of The Gideons International.


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.[10]

Testaments distributed[edit]

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 featuring the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs).

Colors of Testaments distributed[edit]

A Gideon member placing a Bible in a motel room
Gideon's Bible beside a Book of Mormon in a JW Marriott Hotel found in Las Vegas, Nevada
New Testament with an orange cover handed out to the general public by the Gideons International

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

  • Orange: given in sidewalk distribution[11]
  • Green: for college/university students
  • Red: for in-school distribution to middle/high school students
  • Digital camouflage/desert camouflage: for the military[11]
  • Dark blue: printed in a language other than English, some also went to county jails[11]
  • White: for medical professionals
  • Light blue: for distribution by the Auxiliary only[11]
  • Brown: for jail and prison facilities
  • Burgundy: personal worker's testaments (for individual witnessing by Gideons)[11][failed verification]
  • Periwinkle: personal worker's testaments (for individual witnessing by the Auxiliary)

During World War II there were military-issued New Testaments, brown for Army and blue for Navy, distributed by the Gideons. In addition to desert camouflage and digital camouflage, there are also woodland camouflage editions for the military.[12]

Distribution of Bibles on public school grounds[edit]

The distribution of Bibles on public school grounds has been an issue because of the U.S. Supreme Court's interpretation of the Establishment Clause in the Constitution. Five Supreme Court cases discuss this issue: Everson, McCollum, Zorach, Engel, and Schempp.[13]

In 2008, Americans United for Separation of Church and State brought suit against the South Iron R-1 School District in Missouri for allowing the Gideons to distribute Bibles during class time.[14] 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. An "attorney representing the South Iron School District in Annapolis, Mo., said the decision allows a new policy to finally be implemented, one that allows any group to hand out literature at the rural district, including information on how children can obtain Bibles."[15][16]

The Gideons International continues to contact youth in America through The Life Book, coordinating with churches and their youth to distribute copies of the Bible in high schools.[17] The Alliance Defending Freedom, as of 2013, maintains that there are "constitutionally permissible ways in which Gideons Bibles may be distributed," and attorneys Rory Gray and Jeremy Tedesco write that the Alliance Defending Freedom sent letters to 174 school districts in Kentucky stating: "Federal caselaw overwhelmingly supports the decision to grant religious and non-religious community groups an equal opportunity to provide literature to willing students."[18] In early 2014, the "Gideons International again distributed Bibles at a public elementary school in Kentucky."[18]

Cultural references[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Worldwide Impact". Archived from the original on July 13, 2016. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
  2. ^ Edward E. Hindson, Daniel R. Mitchell. The Popular Encyclopedia of Church History: The People, Places, and Events That Shaped Christianity. Harvest House Publishers, 2013, p. 156.
  3. ^ a b c The Gideons International. About Us Archived August 5, 2017, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ George Thomas Kurian, Mark A. Lamport, Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States, Volume 5, Rowman & Littlefield, USA, 2016, p. 962
  5. ^ Cornerstone of Religious Freedom in America
  6. ^ "Christianity in the News". Archived from the original on October 4, 2020. Retrieved November 10, 2011.
  7. ^ "History". Gideons International. Archived from the original on December 6, 1998.
  8. ^ Gideons International, ABOUT US,, USA, retrieved January 29, 2022.
  9. ^ Gideons International. Frequently Asked Questions Archived February 12, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Gideons International, ABOUT US Archived May 14, 2022, at the Wayback Machine,, USA, retrieved January 29, 2022
  11. ^ a b c d e Hersh, Iris (March 19, 2009). "Gideons celebrate a century of evangelism". Chambersburg Public Opinion. Archived from the original on June 22, 2014. Retrieved June 22, 2014. The deep blue cover means it was printed in a language other than English; brown testaments are given to someone personally; orange testaments are given to a stranger on the sidewalk; testaments with camouflage or dark green covers are intended for the military; and the auxiliary gives out light blue testaments.
  12. ^ "The Gideons International". The Churchman. 155. Churchman Company. 1941. Archived from the original on October 21, 2023. Retrieved November 2, 2016. Distribution to the United States Army and Navy of a million copies of a vest-pocket size New Testament and Psalms, in a service edition, is planned for this year by Gideon's International. The book, which is published by the National Bible Press, Philadelphia, includes the Lord's prayer, a selection of national anthems and hymns, and sixteen pages of special help. It is bound with "Fabrikoid" pyroxylin-coated fabric in brown for army use, in blue for the navy, and in white for Hawaiian forces.
  13. ^ The five cases are Everson v. Board of Education Ewing Township, 330 U.S. 1 (1947); Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education 330 U.S. 203 (1948); Zorach v. Clauson 343 U.S. 306 (1952); Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962); and Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963). Kevin M. Schultz, "Favoritism Cannot Be Tolerated": Challenging Protestantism in America's Public Schools and Promoting the Neutral State" Archived June 10, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, American Quarterly, vol. 59, no. 3, (Sep 2007), pp. 565-591.
  14. ^ "Missouri Public School Must Stop Distribution of Bibles To Fifth-Graders, AU Tells Court". Archived September 5, 2008, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on September 5, 2008.
  15. ^ Jim Salter (July 17, 2009). "State News: Injunction upheld in Iron County Bibles case; both sides claim victory". Southeast Missourian. The Associated Press. Archived from the original on August 29, 2009. Retrieved November 10, 2011.
  16. ^ McKee, Duncan O. (1954). "The Public Schools and the Bible". Duke Bar Journal. 4 (2): 127–131. doi:10.2307/1370845. JSTOR 1370845.
  17. ^ Beth Patch, "No High School Student Left Behind - 'The Life Book' Movement" Archived February 14, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, Christian Broadcasting Network. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
  18. ^ a b Weber, Katherine (May 14, 2014). "ACLU Says School District's Bible Distribution Steps Onto 'Shaky Constitutional Ground'". The Christian Post. Archived from the original on May 18, 2014. Retrieved June 22, 2014. In response, the Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom sent its own letter to the school districts, disagreeing with the ACLU's claims that the Bible distribution was unconstitutional. "We write to correct several misrepresentations made in the ACLU's letter and to inform you that allowing religious community groups, like the Gideons, to distribute literature at tables in the school hallways or by the entrances and exits on an equal basis with their secular counterparts fully complies with the Establishment Clause," the letter read. "Indeed, banning only religious community groups from distributing literature at public schools is clearly forbidden by the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment." The Gideons International again distributed Bibles at a public elementary school in Kentucky earlier this year.

External links[edit]