Gideons International is an evangelical Christian organisation dedicated to distributing copies of the Bible (specifically, the King James Version as well as the New King James Version) to those who might not otherwise encounter it (such as in hotel rooms). The organization was founded in 1899 in Janesville, Wisconsin as one of the first parachurch organizations dedicated to Christian evangelism. It began the work it is chiefly remembered for, that of distributing free Bibles in 1908, when the first Bibles were placed in the rooms of the Superior Hotel in Iron Mountain, Montana .
The organisation describes its link to the story of Gideon thusly:
- "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 Gideon association 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 in Judges 7.
The unsigned preface in Gideon Bibles is not particulary marked as being separate from the original text of the Bible. According to the preface, the Bible should:
- . . . fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, and a river of pleasure. It is given you in life, will be opened at the judgment, and be remembered forever. It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the greatest labor, and will condemn all who trifle with its sacred contents.
- The deliberate imitation of the literary style (parallelism, etc.) of ancient Hebrew poetry ("It is a mine of wealth, and paradise of glory and a river of delights")
- Emphasis on a devotional reading of the text, rather than a historical-critical approach. ("Read it slowly, often, in the spirit of prayer", "will condemn those who will have mocked its sacred content")
- Implied threats for these who neglect the teaching of the organisation ("will be open on the Last Judgement day", "will condemn those who will have mocked its sacred content")
In addition to their well known hotel room Bibles, the Gideons also distribute Bibles to members of the military of various countries, to hospitals, and also to students. A typical Gideon Bible or New Testament will contain:
- the quoted preface,
- a minimal apparatus directing the reader to Bible verses they hope will be of assistance in various sorts of trouble;
- translations of John 3:16 into a variety of different languages and scripts;
- the Bible text itself, without notes, references, commentary, running headings, or any other reference matter other than chapter and verse headings.
The placement of Gideon Bibles in hotel rooms has made the Gideon Bible a frequent subject for comment in popular culture; it is alluded to among other places in the Beatles song "Rocky Raccoon ".