Bible societies are benevolent associations formed to increase the circulation of the Bible and making special efforts to supply the Scriptures to those who from poverty or other causes are destitute of them. Printing the Bible or New Testament in suitable styles, translation into all important languages and even into the less important dialects, and some effective system of distribution in all accessible places are commonly regarded as essential features of the work of such societies. In some cases the books are given without price; but it is not usual to give away a large proportion. The test of manufacture and of distribution, however, has to be provided by voluntary contributions.
The Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, founded in London in 1698, was the first to undertake to provide the common people with the Bible. It continues this beneficent work as one branch of its publication enterprise, and has been the means of providing fairly good translations of the Scriptures in many obscure languages of Asia, Africa, and the Pacific Islands. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, founded in 1701, has also done and is still doing a good work in circulating the Scriptures in connection with its extensive missions. The Scottish Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, founded in 1709, added the work of circulating the Bible to its missionary enterprises in Scotland and in America. The first society formed for the exclusive purpose of publishing the Bible at a low price seems to have been the Canstein Bible Institute, established in 1710 at Halle in Germany by Baron Canstein (see below, II, 1).
In the last half of the eighteenth century several societies sprang up in Great Britain which had Bible distribution as part of their programme; such as the Book Society for Promoting Religious Knowledge among the Poor (1750), the Bible Society, later known as the Naval and Military Bible Society (1780), the Society for the Support and Encouragement of Sunday Schools (1785), the Association for Discountenancing Vice and Promoting the Knowledge and Practise of the Christian Religion (established in Dublin, 1792), the French Bible Society (established in London for printing the Bible in France, 1792), and the Religious Tract Society (London, 1799; see TRACT SOCIETIES).
These enterprises, however, did not supply the need. The Rev. Thomas Charles of Bala in Wales became much impressed with the need of the common folk about him, who could not obtain the Bible except by persevering effort and much self-denial; the Bible was not only scarce but costly. Mr. Charles finally devoted himself to finding some effective means of supplying his people with the Scriptures. At a meeting of the Religious Tract Society in London in 1802, he aroused great interest by his vigorous presentation of the need of the people of Wales. The Rev. Joseph Hughes, secretary of the Religious Tract Society, exclaimed, "Surely a society might be formed to provide Bibles for Wales; and if for Wales, why not for the world?" This remark contained the germ from which grew the British and Foreign Bible Society.
The idea of a Bible Society for the world led to discussion and to study of the destitution of the people. The Rev. C. F. A. Steinkopf, pastor of the German Lutheran Church in London, gave effective information of the situation in European countries. Members of the Religious Tract Society,
At this meeting a hastily drawn up set of by-laws was adopted. An executive committee of thirty-six laymen was chosen, fifteen from the Church of England, fifteen from the Dissenting bodies, and six foreigners residing in London. The Rev. Joseph Hughes (Baptist) and the Rev. Josiah Pratt (Church of England) were elected secretaries. Seven hundred pounds were subscribed for the work of the society, and the Bishop of London, Dr. Porteus, was elected President.
The constitution of the society was soon afterward prepared; the Rev. John Owen, of the Church of England, was added to the staff of the society as a third secretary, and on nomination of Lord Teignmouth, a former governor-general in India, the Rev. C. F. A. Steinkopf was appointed secretary for foreign lands. Besides the Bishop of London, the Bishops of Durham, Exeter, and St. Davids, and many other influential persons, among whom were William Wilberforce and Granville Sharp, long known as antislavery leaders, joined this movement.
As at present organized, the business of the society is directed by a committee made up as indicated above. Every subscriber of five guineas annually is a governor, and every subscriber of one guinea annually is a member of the society. Every governor, and every minister who is a member, has the privilege of attending and voting at all meetings of the committee. The president, the vice-presidents (numbering more than a hundred), and the treasurer are considered ex officio members of the committee. There are two secretaries and three superintendents charged with different departments of the work besides several assistant secretaries. To excite wider interest and to facilitate the distribution of the Bible, auxiliary and branch societies are formed, which pay their collections into a common fund and receive back a certain proportion of the sum collected in Bibles for distribution. There were in 1906 more than 5,800 of the auxiliary and branch societies and associations in England and Wales alone.
The society began its career by first meeting the wants of Wales. Twenty thousand Welsh Bibles and five thousand Testaments were printed. Providentially but a short time before this, the art of stereotyping had been invented. When in 1806 the first wagon-load of Bibles came into Wales, it was received like the ark of the covenant; and the people with shouts of joy dragged it into the city. The society also distributed the Bible in an improved Gaelic translation in the Highlands of Scotland, and turned its attention to the Irish; in short, it undertook to supply Great Britain and Ireland with Bibles.
But the society did not forget that it is a foreign as well as a British Bible Society. When it began operations Europe was convulsed with war and not so much was done as would otherwise have been accomplished in the way of supplying the destitute in European countries. Mr. Steinkopf and Robert Pinkerton made extensive tours through Germany, Switzerland, and Russia, and everywhere local Bible societies sprang into existence in their wake. Many of these societies, formed in 1812 and later, have done good work, being aided with funds and with grants of Bibles by the British Society. About the time of the formation of the British Society two Scotchmen, John Paterson and Ebenezer Henderson, went to Copenhagen, intending to go out as missionaries to India under the Danish-Halle mission at Tranquebar. Their plan fell through, but they met an Icelander, Thorkelin, in Copenhagen, who told them of the destitution of his countrymen. There were said to be only fifty Bibles in Iceland for a population of fifty thousand. The two Scotchmen laid the matter before the British and Foreign Bible Society, which promised to pay half of the expense of printing five thousand Testaments in Icelandic. The printing was stopped by the outbreak of war. But in 1812 Mr. Henderson received permission to remain in Copenhagen to complete the printing of the whole Bible in Icelandic, and, notwithstanding the war, to correspond with the Bible society in England regarding this work. The confidence thus shown in the motives of the society was certainly remarkable at that epoch; and it had much to do with the founding of the Danish Bible Society in 1814.
The British Society extended its work gradually to the British colonies, where it works through auxiliary societies. In Canada, the Canadian Bible Society, which has united a large number of local auxiliaries in one, is a society auxiliary to the British Society, and has a secretary appointed by the parent society in London. In Australia the society has fifty-two auxiliaries with nearly 500 branches. In India, with the exception of Burma, the society carries on its work through six strong auxiliary societies. In Cape Colony the South-African auxiliary has for its field the whole territory south of the Orange River. The whole number of auxiliaries and branch societies affiliated with the British Society outside of the United Kingdom exceeds 2,200. The whole number of these local societies, in Great Britain and abroad, which the British and Foreign Society aids and from which it receives donations, is over 8,160. Besides these auxiliary societies the parent society makes use of agencies, each in charge of a special agent, devoted to the increase of the circulation of the Bible in his own field. These agencies cover the continent of Europe, and Turkey, Siberia, China, Korea, and Japan in Asia. In the three last-named countries
This wide-spread work has not been brought to its present extension without hindrances and difficulties. The High-church party in the Church of England has at times opposed the Bible Society, preferring to work through the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, which takes care to have the Bible supplemented by the Book of Common Prayer. Others have insisted that the Bible is a dangerous book to put in the hands of ignorant men without note or comment, and for this reason have opposed the Bible Society. In 1825 dissension arose within the Bible Society, which continued during two years, over the question of the Apocrypha. It was formally resolved in 1827 that the fundamental law of the society forbids its circulating the Apocrypha, and that therefore no persons or societies that circulate the Apocrypha can receive aid from the society. This decision led to the separation of a considerable number of European societies from the British society which had founded them. The discussion also resulted in the secession of the Scottish societies which originated the agitation against the publication of the Apocrypha (see below, 3). In 1831 another agitation was raised against the presence of Unitarians on the Board of Managers. The society having refused to alter its constitution so as to exclude non-Trinitarians, a separate society called the Trinitarian Bible Society was formed (see below, 5). With the growth of foreign missions, a question as to translation of the words relating to baptism became acute; and the controversy finally led to the formation of the Bible Translation Society, which was supported by Baptists who preferred to translate "immerse" rather than to transfer the Greek word baptizein (see below, 6).
But there has been a continuous and remarkable growth of the society in spite of all obstacles and opposition. In 1904 the centenary of the society was celebrated in almost all countries of the Christian and non-Christian world. "Bible Day" in Mar., 1904, will long be remembered not only as a day of an immense popular declaration of faith in the Bible as the revelation of God's will to men, but as a time for expressing the warmest love and sympathy, and gratitude withal, to the society which then completed a hundred years of self-sacrificing service of the nations. Not only were special gifts sent into the treasury for the general work of the society, but a special centenary fund of $1,256,000 was raised in that and the following year to be used as a reserve for more firmly planting the outposts of the society. The total issues of the British and Foreign Bible Society, in the year ending Mar. 31, 1908, amounted to 5,416,569 copies of the Bible or its parts. The total issues of the society from its organization to Mar. 31, 1907, amount to 203,931,768 copies, of which more than 80,000,000 copies were in the English language. The president of the British and Foreign Bible Society is the Marquis of Northampton. Its headquarters are at 146 Queen Victoria St., London, E. C.; its periodicals are The Bible in the World and The Bible Society Gleanings.
In 1809 the Edinburgh Bible Society was formed, in 1812 the Glasgow Bible Society, and in 1821 the Glasgow Auxiliary Bible Society. As mentioned above, these societies seceded from the British and Foreign Bible Society in consequence of the controversy about circulating editions of the Bible containing the Apocrypha. In 1859 the National Bible Society was formed, and in 1861 all these Scottish societies combined to form a new organization which was incorporated as the National Bible Society of Scotland. The fields of this society are in Europe and Asia. One-fifth of its issues in 1906-1907 were in Roman Catholic countries and about one-half in China. Its issues in the year ending Mar., 1907, amounted to 1,671,900 copies.
This society was organized in 1806 as an auxiliary to the British and Foreign Bible Society. It is now independent, and devotes its attention mainly to the needs of Ireland. In the year ending Mar., 1907, it circulated 37,258 copies, which were purchased by the society. The headquarters are in Dublin.
Formed in 1831 as a protest against Unitarianism, this society issued in the year ending Dec. 31, 1907, 89,214 copies of the Bible or its parts. The headquarters of the society are at 7 Bury St., London, W. C.
The Netherlands Bible Society was formed in 1814. Its issues in the year 1904 amounted to 93,977 copies, of which 57,573 copies were sent abroad to the Dutch East Indies, Dutch Guiana, and South Africa. The headquarters of the society are at Heerengracht 366, Amsterdam.
The Danish Bible Society was organized in 1814. Its circulation in 1906 amounted to 45,289 copies. The Norwegian Bible Society was formed in 1816 under the influence of the British and Foreign Bible Society. Its issues in 1904 were 63,300 copies, of which 751 copies were sent to Denmark, and 11,041 copies to the United States of America. Its total issues in eighty-eight years ending Dec. 31, 1904, were 1,153,260 copies. The headquarters of the society are at Christiania. The Swedish Bible Society was organized in 1814. Its circulation in 1906 was 12,414 copies and its total circulation from the beginning, 1,242,515 copies, of which 666 were in the Lapp language.
The Russian Bible Society with Imperial Sanction was formed in 1863. It circulates the Bible in Russian and other languages under the supervision of the Holy Synod. Its reports show the contributions of the czar and czarina and the grand dukes, but do not specify clearly the circulation. It makes use of colporteurs and seems to do serious work. A Russian Bible Society formed in 1812 did an important work in Bible translation, but was suppressed by imperial ukase in 1826. The Russian Evangelical Bible Society was organized in 1831 for the purpose of circulating the Bible among Lutherans and in the German language. Its circulation in 1904 was 22,219 copies. The Finnish Bible Society was formed in 1812 and its issues in 1903 were about 30,000 copies.
HENRY OTIS DWIGHT.
The Revolutionary War produced a great scarcity of Bibles in the United States. One year after the Declaration of Independence Congress was memorialized to authorize the printing of an edition of the Bible. This memorial was referred to a committee, who found the difficulties, especially, of procuring proper material, type, and paper, to be so great that Congress ordered the importation at its own expense of 20,000 English Bibles from Holland, England, or elsewhere. The scarcity still continuing, in 1782 Congress recommended to the people of the United States an edition of the Bible printed by Thomas Aitken, of Philadelphia, "being satisfied of the care and accuracy
The idea of uniting these societies is one organization was a natural one and was much discussed. The missionary travels of the Rev. Samuel J. Mills in the West and South, reported in religious periodicals, increased the desire for a national organization, which he strongly advocated. On Jan. 1, 1816, Elias Boudinot, the president of the New Jersey Bible Society, made a public communication on the subject, and on Jan. 17 he issued a circular letter appointing Wednesday, May 8, 1816, as the time for holding a convention for, this purpose in New York. Sixty delegates representing twenty-eight Bible societies (besides several other persons admitted to seats in the convention) met on the day named in the Garden Street Collegiate Reformed Dutch Church, representing the Presbyterian, Congregational, Methodist, Episcopal, Dutch Reformed, and Baptist Churches, and the Society of Friends. The convention was in session for two days, adopted a constitution and in accordance therewith elected managers, who met in the City Hall, May 11, and elected officers, Elias Boudinot being made president.
Under this constitution "the sole object shall be to encourage a wider circulation of the Holy Scriptures without note or comment" (art. i). The board of managers is composed of thirty-six laymen, one-fourth of whom go out of office every year, but are eligible for re-election. Every clergyman who is a life member may meet and vote with the board of managers, provided he receives no salary or compensation for services from the society. The managers meet regularly every month, consider and act on all matters presented by ten standing committees besides other matters originating in the board itself and report all their proceedings to the annual meeting of the members of the society held on the second Thursday of May and usually in New York.
The society was incorporated in 1841. The societies which already existed became for the most part auxiliary to the national organization and in addition many other auxiliary societies were organized under its direction, the number at one time reaching 2,200. Many of these, however, have ceased to exist, the number now being 541. The "Bible House," Astor Place, N. Y., the society's headquarters, was erected in 1852 and was paid for by funds contributed for the special purpose and not from current receipts for benevolent work.
The ninety-first annual report of the board of managers was presented May 9, 1907. The total cash receipts were $575,820.94. The total issues of that year were 1,910,853, of which 1,010,777 were issued from the Bible House in New York, and 900,076 from the society's agencies abroad, being printed on mission presses in China, Japan, Siam, Syria, and Turkey. The total issues of the society in Bibles, Testaments, and portions amount to 80,420,382 copies, distributed se follows: Bibles 20,293,636 Testaments and portions 58,215,889.
The efforts of the society were at first directed mainly to meeting the needs of the people of the United States, but from the very first it was in spirit and intention a foreign as well as a home mission society. Bibles at the very beginning were supplied to the North-American Indians. The third annual report shows that steps were already taken for sending Spanish Bibles to Buenos Ayres and the next year the society was reaching out to West Africa. In 1836 the first foreign agency was instituted in Constantinople, and in 1864 the agency for the La Plata region in South America. During the past thirty years this work has largely increased and regular agencies have been established in Japan, China, Brazil, Mexico, Korea, Cuba, Siam and Laos, Central America, Porto Rico and the Philippines, besides Venezuela and Colombia, where the agencies have been temporarily discontinued. These agencies have distributed a total of 9,453,918 Bibles, Testaments, and portions in China alone. Besides this the society has continually cooperated with missions and missionaries in countries in all quarters of the globe. It has stimulated Bible translation, initiating it in some cases, cooperating with others more frequently and securing needed revisions under its patronage and partly or wholly at its expense. It has been thus interested in about 100 translations and revisions in all.
The labors of the society have been broken twice by serious differences among its friends and supporters. In 1835 missionaries in Burma published at the expense of the society a translation of the New Testament which rendered the Greek word baptizein and its cognate terms by the English "immerse " or an equivalent. After much discussion the managers resolved that they felt at liberty "to encourage only such versions as conform in the principle of their translation to the common English Version--at least so far as that all the religious denominations represented in this society can consistently use and circulate such versions in their several schools and communities," and missionary boards were requested in asking aid to state that the versions they proposed to circulate were in accordance with this resolution. The Baptists took offense and a controversy ensued, the consequence of which was the formation of the American and Foreign Bible Society (see below, 2).
In 1847 the committee on versions was instructed to undertake a careful collation of different editions of the English Bible with a view to perfecting its text in minutiæ. Their final report, made May 1, 1851, stated that in collating five standard copies of English and American imprint with the original edition of 1611 nearly 24,000 variations were found solely in the text and punctuation, not one of which marred the integrity of the text or affected any doctrine or precept of the Bible. A standard then
Resolved, that this society's present standard English Bible be referred to the standing committee on versions for examination; and in all cases where the same differs in the text or its accessories from the Bibles previously published by the society, the committee are directed to correct the same by conforming it to previous editions printed by this society, or by the authorized British presses, reference being also had to the original edition of the translators printed in 1611; and to report such corrections to this board, to the end that a new edition, thus perfected, may be adopted as the standard edition of the society.
The committee reported in 1859 and 1860; and from this "standard edition" all the society's English Bibles are now printed.
The constitution of the society originally restricted it to circulating only "the version now in common use," in the English language. In 1904 at the annual meeting of the society on the recommendation of the board of managers the constitution was amended so as to permit the publication of the Revised Version of the English Bible, either in its British or American form, and under this permission some editions of the American Standard Revised Version are now published by the society under an arrangement with the publishers.
The American and Foreign Bible Society was organized at Philadelphia in April, 1836, by Baptists who felt aggrieved at the action of the American Bible Society concerning the translation of the Greek baptizein, referred to above (see III, 1, § 5). Rev. S. H. Cone was made president. The society was declared to be "founded upon the principle that the originals in the Hebrew and Greek are the only authentic standards of the Sacred Scriptures, and that aid for the translating, printing, or distributing of them in foreign languages should be afforded to such versions only as are conformed as nearly as possible to the original text; it being understood that no words are to be transferred which are susceptible of being literally translated." The constitution adopted declared (art. ii) "that in the distribution of the Scriptures in the English language, the commonly received version shall be used until otherwise directed by the society." Dissatisfaction with this policy led to the secession of certain members and the formation in 1850 of the American Bible Union, which demanded that the principle of circulating "such versions only as are conformed as nearly as possible to the original text" should be applied to the English version, and avowed as its object "to procure and circulate the most faithful versions of the Sacred Scriptures in all languages throughout the world." The Union secured the services of a number of Baptist and other Biblical scholars, especially the Rev. Drs. H. B. Hackett, A. C. Kendrick, and T. J. Conant. The entire New Testament and portions of the Old were revised and published. Italian, Spanish, Chinese (Ningpo colloquial), Siamese, and SgauKaren New Testaments were also prepared. The Union ultimately reunited with the American and Foreign Bible Society, and in 1882 the latter passed over its work and good-will to the American Baptist Publication Society (Philadelphia), which since then has performed the duties of the Bible Society, and is carrying on the work of revision inaugurated by the earlier societies. The revision has now (1907) reached the Book of Ezra, and will be completed, it is hoped, by the end of 1908.
The Bible Association of Friends in America was organized in 1830. It has been, in the main, a distributing agency, circulating the Scriptures printed by others, but in 1905-06 printed an edition of 2,925 Testaments and Psalms. In 1906 it reported total receipts of $3,930.59 and payments of $2,412.06. Its distribution in that year was 6,534 volumes, of which 2,030 were Bibles. The headquarters are at 207 Walnut Place, Philadelphia, Pa.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: On the general question consult: Abriss der Geschichte des Ursprungs und Wachsthums der Bibelgesellschaften, Barmen, 1870; Summary Notice concerning Bible Societies in General and Those of France in Particular, from the Fr., Northampton, 1827; W. H. Wyckoff, A Sketch of the Origin, History . . . of Bible Societies, New York 1848.
On the BFBS consult: W. Canton, Hist. of the BFBS, 2 vols., London, 1904; idem, Story of the Bible Society, ib. 1904; J. Owen, Hist. of the Origin and First Ten Years of the BFBS, 2 vols., ib. 1816; Papers Occasioned by the Attempts to Form Auxiliary Bible Societies in Various Parts of the Kingdom, ib. 1812; Jubilee Memorial of the BFBS, ib. 1854; G. Browne, Hist. of the BFBS, 2 vols., ib. 1859; La Société biblique britannique et étrangère, 1804-89. Notice au point de vue historique, philosophique, et religieux, Nantes, 1889; H. Morris, Founders and Presidents of the Bible Society, London, 1895; Bible House Papers, ib. 1899 sqq. (in progress); Behold a Sower. Popular . . . Report of BFBS for 1900-01, ib. 1902; T. H. Darlow and H. F. Moule, Catalogue of the Printed Editions of Holy Scripture in the Library of the BFBS, 2 vols., ib. 1904; T. H. Darlow, There is a River, ib. 1906; Bible Association Reports. By Helen Plumptre, Worksop, 1843.
The organs of the society are the Monthly Reporter of the BFBS, London, 1858-88, succeeded by the Bible Society Monthly Reporter, 1889 sqq. The other British Societies issue various publications, such as Annual Reports, Quarterly Records, and Occasional Papers, in which their history may be traced.
For the foreign societies there are also available their reports, besides which the following may be consulted: C. F. Hezekiel, Geschichte der Cansteinschen Bibel Anstalt, ed. A. H. Niemeyer, Halle, 1827; O. Bertram, Geschichte der Cansteinschen Bibelanstalt, ib. 1863; W. Thilo, Geschichte der preussischen Haupt-Bibelgesellschaft, 1814-64, Berlin 1864; E. Brecst, Die Entwickelung der preussischen Haupt-Bibelgesellschaft, 1864-91, ib. 1891.
For the American Bible Society consult: The American Bible Society's Manual, containing a Brief Sketch of the Society, New York 1865, revised ed., 1887; W. P, Strickland, Hist. of the American Bible Society, ib. 1849; American Bible Society's Reports, 1816-71, 4 vols., ib. n.d. (a reprint); American Bible Society. Report of the Transference of the Library of the Society to the New York Public Library, ib. 1897. The organ is the Bible Society Record (a monthly).
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