American Bible Society

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American Bible Society
American Bible Society logo.jpg
TypeNonprofit organization
PurposeBible distribution
HeadquartersPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania
Region served
United States of America
Robert L. Briggs Edit this at Wikidata

American Bible Society, based in the United States, publishes and distributes interconfessional translations of the Christian Bible[1] and provides study aids and other tools to help people engage with it. Founded on May 11, 1816, in New York City, it is best known for its Good News Translation of the Bible, written in the contemporary vernacular. American Bible Society also publishes the Contemporary English Version.

American Bible Society is a member of the United Bible Societies, Forum of Bible Agencies International, Every Tribe Every Nation and not affiliated with any single denomination. However, it does not consider Latter-day Saints or Jehovah's Witnesses to be Christians.[2]

American Bible Society's headquarters relocated from 1865 Broadway in New York City to Philadelphia in August 2015.[3]


19th century[edit]

The American Bible Society was founded in 1816 by prominent American Protestants. The first President was Elias Boudinot, who had been President of the Continental Congress from 1782 to 1783. John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, was named president in 1821, and a number of illustrious individuals like Frederick Theodore Frelinghuysen and Edwin Francis Hyde, a former president of the Philharmonic Society of New York, headed up the organization over the years. Francis Scott Key, the writer of the United States' National Anthem, was a Vice President of the organization from 1817 until his death in 1843. American Bible Society's first headquarters were on Nassau Street in Lower Manhattan.[4]

Large building, six stories high
The Bible House and offices of the Christian Herald, built 1853, seen here 1893, demolished 1956

The American Bible Society used the King James Bible, and indeed starting in 1858 appointed committees to be sure to avoid any textual corruption.[5] The American Bible Society provided the first Bibles in hotels and the first pocket Bibles for soldiers during the American Civil War. The first translation by the American Bible Society was in 1818 into Lenape of Delaware, a Native American language.

In an incident well publicized at the time, the ABS refused a donation offered in 1834 by the American Anti-Slavery Society. The purpose was to subsidize the distribution of Bibles to American slaves, about one-sixth of the population, as abolitionists believed that knowledge of the Bible hastened the end of slavery. (That the Bible supported slavery was maintained by a number of Southern clergymen.) While it sent Bibles to Liberia for the former slaves there, the ABS left domestic distribution in the hands of its state auxiliaries, who refused to distribute Bibles directly to slaves. The Society was widely seen as insufficiently committed to the abolition of slavery, to the point that the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society "decided to throw most of its support behind the American Missionary Society, an organization that it believed was making a 'systematic effort' to get Bibles and tracts to slaves."[6]

In 1852, while Theodore Frelinghuysen was President of American Bible Society, the Bible House was built, occupying the whole of the block bounded by Third and Fourth Avenues, Astor Place, and Ninth Street in New York City.[4][7] Suffragist and economist Virginia Penny offered an employment office for women in the Bible House, and she gave lectures on the many different types of jobs for women in New York City.[8] By 1920, it was one of the oldest office buildings in the city.[9]

The American Bible Society's mission is to make the Bible available to all people and to that end, during the 19th century, four canvasses of the United States for this purpose were undertaken. These canvasses took place in 1829, 1856, 1866, and in 1882. During the fourth canvass, in 1882, more than 6.3 million families were visited, and 473,806 families were supplied with Bibles; in addition nearly 300,000 individuals received Bibles.[9] American Bible Society sold 437,000 Scriptures and portions in 1898 in China.[10]

20th century[edit]

By 1912, American Bible Society issued Bibles for use in the United States in 83 languages besides English. Foreign circulation was rising steadily, increasing from 250,000 copies in 1876 to over 2 million copies in 1915.[9] Although American Bible Society continues to publish and print Bibles with partner printing presses, it ceased printing Bibles on printing presses owned by the organization itself in 1922.[4] American Bible Society celebrated a century of service to China in 1934. Vice President John R. Mott recalled that in 1833 American Bible Society sent $3,000 to Elijah Coleman Bridgman, first U.S. Protestant missionary to China, to print scriptures in Chinese. As of 1934 American Bible Society had spent $2,897,383 distributing nearly 70 million volumes of Scripture in China. A major supporter of the organization was the philanthropist, oilman, and rancher Joseph Sterling Bridwell of Wichita Falls, Texas.[11]

In 1998, American Bible Society paid about $1.6 million to Sony Music Entertainment in order to distribute several Christian children's series, including Angel Wings and Kingsley's Meadow.[12] In 1999, the organization launched its first major Internet ministry,, a free church web-builder. Operations ceased in 2013 after 14 years of serving over 180,000 churches and ministries.[13]

21st century[edit]

Former headquarters in New York City, demolished in 2016

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, American Bible Society distributed more than one million Scriptures and offered downloadable portions free of charge to those affected by the tragedy. Staff members also volunteered at Ground Zero distributing Scripture Portions to rescue workers. It has also maintained its commitment to military, including producing a pocket-sized military Bible, developed jointly with the aid of Catholic and Protestant chaplains from all branches of the armed forces. Since 1817, it has distributed almost 60 million free Bible resources to America's armed forces.[14] It also provides Scriptures to victims of natural disasters.

Following the tsunami in 2004, American Bible Society worked in cooperation with the United Bible Societies and partner Bible Societies in Thailand, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka to provide a host of Bible resources to people in the affected regions. In 2005, it sent nearly a million Bibles and Scripture portions to those who survived the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. American Bible Society formed a partnership with Habitat for Humanity to give a free Bible to each of its new homeowners in the United States.

In 2007, American Bible Society partnered with The Salvation Army to promote literacy with its program Mission: Literacy.

In 2008, American Bible Society published its first polyglot Bible and presented a specially bound copy to Pope Benedict XVI. The text was printed in five languages: Hebrew, Greek, Latin, English and Spanish.[15]

In 2010, American Bible Society launched a new Bible Search tool, an ad-free web engine that searches across ten translations of the Bible and targets the "Bible curious" and Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox believers. Also in 2010, American Bible Society launched the Bible-based Trauma Healing ministry in a war zone in East Africa.

In 2013, American Bible Society and United Bible Societies launched the Digital Bible Library, a repository that houses digital copies of Bible translations and makes the texts available for repurposing across any media platform. Doug Birdsall was also appointed in 2013 as President and CEO.[16]

In 2014, American Bible Society contracted with ICANN to operate the .BIBLE TLD Registry. The availability of .BIBLE domain names will accelerate global online Bible engagement.[17] The first site to launch was American.Bible in September 2015, which makes the message of the Bible accessible to people in a way that fits their digital lives.[18] In 2014, Roy Peterson succeeded Doug Birdsall, having previously served as President of the Seed Company and Wycliffe Bible Translators.[19]

In 2015, American Bible Society announced that it had sold 1865 Broadway to AvalonBay Communities for US$300 million and was moving to a new location in Philadelphia, leasing 100,000 square feet at 401 Market Street.[3]

In December, 2017,[20] American Bible Society introduced the Affirmation of Biblical Community, an employee policy which requires staff to align around a core set of Christian beliefs and practices.[21] The organization came under criticism as the policy excludes individuals who were homosexual, stating they had to agree that marriage was between one man and one woman, or unwed heterosexuas living together, it stated they had to agree not to have sex until they were married.[22] While the organization lost 20 percent of its workforce in 2018, according to American Bible Society, that 20 percent of the organization's staff left in response to the Affirmation. Leadership of the organization attempts to explain that the 20 percent attrition in 2018 was consistent with annual totals, but could not show that in the year 2017 that they suffered a 20% loss in staff prior to the new Affirmation policy.[23]

On October 28, 2019, American Bible Society announced the retirement of President Roy Peterson. He had held the role since 2014. Robert Briggs was announced as the Interim President and CEO. On June 23, 2020, Robert L. Briggs was appointed by the Board of Directors as permanent President and CEO. [24][25]


Faith & Liberty Discovery Center[edit]

The Faith & Liberty Discovery Center is an under-construction new museum on Independence Mall.[26][3][27]

The project was originally slated to begin construction in Spring of 2017[28] and open in the Fall of 2018. The Faith & Liberty Discovery Center held a delayed ground-breaking event in December 2018. The Center now hopes to open in 2021 and will sell tickets for $10 for adults and $8 for children ages 7-17.[29]

While media coverage cites quotes from American Bible Society leadership that the FLDC will “ an exciting experience for people of all faiths and backgrounds,"[30] American Bible Society's own website indicates they are seeking to convert visitors and hope the museum will, "spark a curiosity in every visitor to ask themselves, 'What difference can the Bible make in my life today?'"[31]

Over the weekend of March 1, 2019, in the dead of night, White Water, a 40-foot-long, 16-foot high masterpiece of geometric stainless steel sculpture of 1978 by Robinson Fredenthal was moved from American Bible Society's headquarters at 401 Market Street. The piece was commissioned for its location at 401 Market Street by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority's Percent for Art Program, which mandated a certain percentage of construction costs for a development involving city-owned property to go toward public art.[32] Despite shipping White Water off to another location, the site will not be devoid of public art. Plans for the Faith & Liberty Discovery Center include a 2-story iconic sculpture of three intertwined surfaces. The surfaces represent the three documents essential to the founding of the United States – the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bible. The core values from these documents are carved into the sculpture's edges, symbolizing the inseparable relationship.[33]

Museum of Biblical Art[edit]

The Museum of Biblical Art, was an independent but affiliated organization and was housed in American Bible Society's building at 1865 Broadway, in New York. It has closed.[34]

Rare Scripture Collection[edit]

Israel MK Effie Eitam reviewing a 16th-century Hebrew Bible at American Bible Society's Bible Library with Dr. Liana Lupas.

American Bible Society has a Scripture collection over 45,000 volume holdings, one of the largest collection of Bibles in the world including a number of interesting and valuable editions of ancient and historic Bibles dating back as far as the Gutenberg edition, of which American Bible Society has several pages under protection. The collection contains editions of scripture in every language, from many countries and regions and spanning nearly six centuries and is the second largest collection of religious books, with the Vatican the largest. American Bible Society often finds and protects found Scriptures, sometimes even buying them at auction.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "On Apocrypha". Phil Barber.
  2. ^ "State of the Bible 2019" (PDF). American Bible Society.
  3. ^ a b c Hrywna, Mark - (February 3, 2015). "American Bible Society Moving With $300 Million In The Bank". The NonProfit Times. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  4. ^ a b c Dunlap, David W. (21 October 2015). "New York Says Farewell to American Bible Society, and Its Building". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 October 2015.
  5. ^ Gutjahr, Paul C. (1999). An American Bible: A History of the Good Book in the United States, 1777–1880. Stanford University Press. p. 89ff. ISBN 9780804734257.
  6. ^ Fea, John (2016). "A Bible House Divided". The Bible Cause : A History of the American Bible Society. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 72–83. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190253066.003.0008. ISBN 9780190253066.
  7. ^ "The Bible House NYC | Ephemeral New York". Retrieved 2017-02-04.
  8. ^ Gensemer, Susan H. (2000). "Virginia Penny". In Dimand, Robert W.; Dimand, Mary Ann; Forget, Evelyn L. (eds.). A Biographical Dictionary of Women Economists. Edward Elgar Pub. p. 333. ISBN 1-85278-964-6.
  9. ^ a b c This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainRines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "American Bible Society, The" . Encyclopedia Americana.
  10. ^ The Chinese recorder and missionary journal, Volume 30. VOLUME XXX. Shanghai: American Presbyterian Mission Press. 1899. p. 371. Retrieved March 21, 2012. |volume= has extra text (help)Original from Harvard University Digitized Aug 20, 2007
  11. ^ "Jack O. Loftin, "Joseph Sterling Bridwell"". Texas State Historical Association online. Retrieved April 30, 2013.
  12. ^ Kellner, Tomas (December 9, 2002). "Say a Prayer: American Bible Society is a terrific example of how a non-profit shouldn't operate". Forbes. 170 (12): 182–184. Retrieved January 8, 2018.
  13. ^ "Home – ForMinistry". Archived from the original on October 20, 2013. Retrieved 2016-04-28.
  14. ^ "Armed Services Ministry | American Bible Society". Retrieved 2020-01-28.
  15. ^ "American Bible Society Give Pope Benedict XVI Polyglot Edition of Sacred Scripture". Retrieved 2020-01-28.
  16. ^ "American Bible, New CEO Part Ways". The NonProfit Times. Retrieved 2020-01-28.
  17. ^ "Press Releases | American Bible Society News". Retrieved 2016-04-28.
  18. ^ "Domain ".Bible" Joins .Com and .Org – DeMoss – Thinking | PR". DeMoss. 2015-09-22. Archived from the original on 2016-04-29. Retrieved 2016-04-28.
  19. ^ McLean, Mickey. "American Bible Society names new president". Retrieved 2020-01-28.
  20. ^ Religion News Service, January 23, 2019, Yonat Shimron ; ; "The new policy was introduced by the society's board in December 2017, giving employees 13 months to decide whether to sign."
  21. ^ "Affirmation of Biblical Community". American Bible Society. Retrieved 2019-01-23.
  22. ^ "With new 'affirmation' policy, American Bible Society loses LGBT and non-LGBT staffers alike as it forced them to agree a narrow view of religion". Religion News Service. 23 January 2019. Retrieved 2019-01-23.
  23. ^ "American Bible Society Targets LGBT Employees with New "Affirmation of Biblical Community" Policy". World Religion News. 2019-01-26. Retrieved 2019-10-29.
  24. ^ "AMERICAN BIBLE SOCIETY NAMES ROBERT L. BRIGGS AS PRESIDENT AND CEO | Blog | News | American Bible Society". American Bible Society News. Retrieved 2020-07-01.
  26. ^ MsQuade, Dan (12 January 2017). "Bible "Discovery Center" to Open on Independence Mall Next Year". Philadelphia Magazine. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
  27. ^ Haas, Kimberly (5 December 2019). "American Bible Society Brings Tours and Trepidation to Old City". Hidden City Philadelphia. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  28. ^ "PRAYER REQUEST: FAITH & LIBERTY DISCOVERY CENTER". American Bible Society. Retrieved 2019-10-29.
  29. ^ Crimmins, Peter (14 December 2018). "Bible Museum breaks ground at Independence Mall". WHYY. Retrieved 29 October 2019.
  30. ^ Mondon, Marielle (7 December 2018). "American Bible Society to open $60 million religious center on Independence Mall in 2020". Philly Voice. Retrieved 29 October 2019.
  31. ^ "THANKS FOR PRAYING! FAITH AND LIBERTY DISCOVERY CENTER BREAKS GROUND". American Bible Society. Retrieved 2019-10-29.
  32. ^ "How a massive Robinson Fredenthal sculpture moved to Chestnut Hill in the dead of night". WHYY. Retrieved 2019-10-29.
  33. ^ "CONSTRUCTION BEGINS ON THE FAITH AND LIBERTY DISCOVERY CENTER". Faith and Liberty Discovery Center. Retrieved 2019-10-29.
  34. ^ "Priced out of New York, American Bible Society decamps to Philadelphia". The Presbyterian Outlook. Religious News Service. January 28, 2015. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  35. ^ Delp, Barbara. "America's Earliest Bibles | Articles | News | American Bible Society". American Bible Society News. Retrieved 2020-01-28.

Further reading[edit]

  • John Fea, The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.
  • Peter Wosh, Spreading the Word: The Bible Business in Nineteenth-Century America. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 39°57′03″N 75°08′53″W / 39.95077°N 75.14801°W / 39.95077; -75.14801