Have you ever noticed that hotel rooms always seem to have a bible located somewhere in the room? Why is that? Why are there bibles in hotel rooms?
The short answer to this question is actually pretty obvious. There are bibles in hotel rooms because people take the initiative to put them there. There’s a single group largely responsible for it too, the Gideons.
Who Are the Gideons?
The Gideons came to be because two businessmen named John H. Nicholson and Samuel E. Hill met each other one night while staying in a busy hotel in Boscobel, Wisconsin.
The hotel was so full that night that the only way the two men could secure a room was by agreeing to share a double room even though they were complete strangers. While they were bunked up, they began to chat and realized that they actually had a lot of things in common. Not only were both men entrepreneurs, but both were Christian. In addition, both of the men had been trying to figure out a way to bring together Christian businessmen into a common group.
A year later, in 1899, Nicholson and Hill followed through on their plans and called a meeting in Janesville, Wisconsin under the pretense of “mutual recognition, personal evangelism and united service for the Lord.” Unfortunately, the meeting was not well-attended. The only people who made it were Nicholson, Hill and one other man named William J. Knights. That said, they still had all that they needed to get started.
It was the third man, Knight, who came up with the idea to name their fledgling organization Gideon, after a bible character from the Book of Judges who was called by an angel to lead the Israeli people to rise up against the Midianites, who were pillaging the riches from their crops. Despite being greatly outnumbered, Gideon miraculously leads his men to victory.
Why Are There Bibles in Hotel Rooms?
Over the years, the Gideons expanded into a legitimate organization. Since the group targeted businessmen, many of the men who were frequently travelling to work came to wonder how they could do more to further the Gideons’ goal of doing God’s work through the practice of faith, humility and obedience while on the road. And thus, the idea for the Gideon bible was born.
The Gideons decided that by leaving bibles in hotel rooms, they could serve a double purpose in that they could be of use to other members of the organization who wouldn’t have to carry their bibles when travelling anymore, and others using the room as well who might be interested in learning more about the gospel.
Nine years after the Gideons were first formed, the group officially left their first bible in a hotel room in the Superior Hotel in Superior, Montana in 1908. Many are surprised to learn that the Gideon bible is not actually a name of a version of the bible, but just the name of the organization that is now known for leaving bibles in hotel rooms. The Gideons use the King James version of the bible.
What Do the Gideons Look Like Today?
Today, the Gideons have come a long way from their humble beginnings. Headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, the organization boasts 270,000 members and auxiliary members worldwide.
The group concerns itself mainly with the free distribution of bibles and funds all of its activities on a donation basis. They will present bibles to a hotel owner in a lump sum when the hotel opens, and replace any bibles as needed upon request. They currently distribute bibles in over 194 countries across the globe in 94 different languages.
Anyone interested in joining the Gideons must be a businessman or retired businessman over the age of 21 in good standing with the church. Women are not permitted to join the Gideons, but wives of Gideons may join as auxiliary members.
While the Gideons are known for placing bibles in hotel rooms, the group doesn’t stop there. They also distribute the bible to military personnel, nursing homes, hospitals, prisons and schools.
In the United States, the group has faced controversy over their practice of distributing bibles during school hours, and in 2009, a St. Louis 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the practice of distributing bibles during school hours to be unconstitutional. Some British schools have banned the Gideons, but the practice largely continues there.
The Gideons celebrated the donation of their 2 billionth bible in April 2015. Their rates of distribution have increased dramatically in recent years, and it only took them less than fourteen years to go from one billion to two billion bibles given out worldwide.
According to the group, the average Gideon bible has a lifespan of six years and will be read by 25% of people who check into a room, although these numbers have never been verified by outside sources.
Not Just the Gideons
It’s also worth noting that it’s not only the Gideons that leave bibles in hotel rooms. The Marriott hotel chain, for example, leaves copies of The Book of Mormon in many of its rooms. Other hotel chains offer Buddhist, Hindu, Christian Scientist, or Scientologist books along with the original Gideon bible.
So next time you’re kicking back in your hotel bed and open the nightstand, you’ll know where that bible inside comes from.
If you liked this post, you might enjoy these others from the Sporcle Blog:
- What Is the Oldest Religion?
- Frankincense and Myrrh Defined
- What’s the Difference between a Church, Cathedral, and Basilica?
And click here to find thousands of religion trivia quizzes on Sporcle.