Bible societies

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BIBLE SOCIETIES , associations intended to propagate the Christian Bible, i.e., the Old and New Testaments. The first association of this kind was founded in 1719 in Halle an der Saale, and from 1775 was called the Cansteinsche Bibelanstalt. Numerous Bible societies were founded from the beginning of the 19th century in the wake of the missionary societies established between 1792 and 1800 in England, Holland, and Germany. The British and Foreign Bible Society was founded in 1804, the Bible Society of Basle in 1804, that of Berlin in 1805, Holland in 1814, Norway in 1815, the American Bible Society in 1816, and the Société Biblique de Paris in 1818. Other important societies are the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the American and Foreign Bible Society, the Baptist Missionary Society, the Bible Translation Society, the Church Missionary Society, the National Bible Society of Scotland, the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, and the Trinitarian Bible Society. In general, these societies publish the biblical texts without commentaries, but they have also issued emended texts of existing translations and editions. They have also published the Greek and Latin editions of Nestlé (1879), Kittel's Biblia Hebraica (1905; the Bible Society of Wuerttemberg), and the Bible du Centenaire (1916–48; Société Biblique de Paris). Photographic reproductions of the British and Foreign Bible Society Hebrew Bible have been issued in various formats by some Jewish publishers. The masoretic Bible of C.D. *Ginsburg was published by the same society in 1926 in London.

Bibles published by these societies are disseminated by the mission societies or by large-scale retailing. Since the beginning of the 19th century, over a thousand million copies of biblical texts in over a thousand languages have been thus published and distributed. The British and Foreign Bible Society alone has published texts in 700 languages and dialects and distributed a total of 550,000,000 copies, 130,000,000 of which were of the Old Testament. In a single year before World War ii, this society distributed 11,000,000 copies of the Bible, the National Bible Society of Scotland 4,000,000, and the American Bible Society 7,000,000. In China, before the accession to power of the Communists, 9,000,000 copies of biblical texts were distributed annually. Owing to the low prices they charge, these societies frequently succeed in selling their Hebrew editions of the Bible, with or without translation, to Jews. The issue of equally low-priced Hebrew Bibles by Jewish authorities or institutions, with or without translations, to counteract this disguised missionary activity of the Bible societies is a relatively recent undertaking. The edition of the New Testament in Hebrew translation is more openly designed for missionary work among Jews. The first New Testament in Hebrew was published in 1817 by the London Society for Promoting Christianity among Jews (better known as the London Jews' Society). The translation of the New Testament by F. *Delitzsch appeared between 1877 and 1892 in at least 13 editions. Other translations openly intended for Jews have been published in Yiddish, Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Persian, and Ladino.


T.H. Darlow and H.F. Moule (comps.), Historical Catalogue of the Printed Editions of Holy Scripture in the Library of the British and Foreign Bible Society, 2 vols. in 4 (1903–11, repr. 1963); S. de Dietrich, Le Renouveau Biblique (19492), 89ff.; Bouyer, in: Bible et Vie Chrétienne, 13 (1956), 7–21.

[Bernhard Blumenkranz]

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Bible societies, a movement formed for the translation, printing, and dissemination of the Holy Scriptures; for much of its history it was predominantly Protestant, but there now is considerable Roman Catholic and Orthodox involvement. The Canstein Bible Society established (1710) by Baron von Canstein at Halle, Germany was an important early organization. In 1780 the Bible Society was formed in England to distribute Bibles among soldiers and sailors; the name was later changed to the Naval and Military Bible Society. A pioneer and leader is the British and Foreign Bible Society founded (1804) in London, beginning its work with Welsh Bibles for Thomas Charles. With branches throughout the world, it has distributed Bibles in hundreds of languages. In the United States the formation of Bible societies began early in the 19th cent. Delegates from these associations founded (1816) the American Bible Society, which has many affiliates. Through its work, the Bible has been translated into many languages and has been distributed widely. A 1898 meeting in Boscobel, Wis., led to the founding of the Christian Commercial Men's Association of America, more usually known as the Gideons, International. Its program of placing Bibles in hotel rooms for use by commercial travelers and others has made the organization internationally known. In 1946, delegates from 13 countries formed an international association known as the United Bible Societies, with headquarters in London and in Geneva; there are now 127 member societies.

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Bible Society. The evangelical revival's largest pan-denominational organization was formed in 1804 to promote the international distribution of the Scriptures. Based in London, with a committee of fifteen Anglicans, fifteen dissenters, and six foreigners, its fundamental principle was that only bibles authorized by public authority should be circulated, without note or comment. By 1825 it had issued 4,252,000 bibles in 140 languages and its auxiliaries flourished nation-wide. Buffeted by crises over the inclusion of the Apocrypha (1823–6) and trinitarianism as a basis of membership (1831), it maintained its interdenominational appeal and by the 1970s issued 1,000,000 bibles annually, in over 1,000 languages.

Clyde Binfield