A Bible society is a non-profit organization, usually ecumenical in makeup, devoted to translating, publishing, distributing the Bible at affordable costs and advocating its credibility and trustworthiness in contemporary cultural life. Traditionally Bible Society editions contain Scripture, without any notes or commentary; but in recent decades this principle has been relaxed somewhat, and such editions typically have what is generally accepted to be non-sectarian notes on alternate translations of words, or variations in the different available manuscripts.
History of Bible production
The production and distribution of bibles are issues that have engaged the attention of Christian leaders for centuries. In an extant letter, dated 331, Emperor Constantine requested Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, to provide him with fifty copies of the Old and New Testaments for use in the principal churches in Constantinople. In 797, Charlemagne commissioned Alcuin to prepare an emended text of the Vulgate; multiple copies of this text were created, not always accurately, in the famous writing schools at Tours.
The first book printed in Europe was the Latin Bible, and Copinger estimates that 124 editions of the Vulgate had been issued by the end of the 15th century. The Italian Bible was printed a dozen times before 1500, and eighteen editions of the German Bible had already been published before Martin Luther's version appeared. From medieval time and then again accompanying the Protestant Reformation, there was a marked increase in interest in the scriptures. Notwithstanding the oppositional attitude adopted by the Roman Catholic Church at and after the Council of Trent (1545-1563), the translation and circulation of the Bible were undertaken with greater zeal, and in a more systematic fashion.
The first organisation called The Bible Society was formed in 1779 to distribute Bibles to soldiers and seamen. The modern Bible Society movement dates back to the foundation of the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1804 when a group of Christians sought to address the problem of a lack of affordable Bibles in Welsh for Welsh-speaking Christians. Although perceived as Protestant, from the early days the British and Foreign Bible Society was officially ecumenical, and allowed inclusion of the Apocrypha. As a reaction to the occasional inclusion of these books and other issues, the Trinitarian Bible Society was founded in 1831. Pope Gregory XVI in his 1844 encyclical Inter Praecipuas condemned both bible societies and "the publication, dissemination, reading, and possession of vernacular translations of sacred Scriptures", and subsequently Catholics did not officially participate in the Society.
The British and Foreign Bible Society extended its work to England, India, Europe and beyond. Auxiliary branches were set up all over the world which later became Bible Societies in their own right. Today the United Bible Societies co-ordinates the work of these separate Bible Societies. Each Bible Society is a non-denominational Christian network which works to translate, revise, print, and distribute affordable Bibles in their own land, according to the demands of all the churches in that land. Nowadays Bible Societies print Bibles according to the canons of the countries they are in e.g. Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox, and inter-confessional versions. Bible Societies work with other Christian agencies and Bible translations are done on an ecumenical basis, through the Forum of Bible Agencies International.
In the United States, Bible societies flourished in the first half of the 19th century. In addition to the American Bible Society and the International Bible Society (now "Biblica"), a number of state and regional Bible Societies were established prior to the Civil War and remain active to this day distributing Bibles and other literature to prisons, hospitals and shelters. Most of these regional societies are affiliated with the National Association of State and Regional Bible Societies The oldest Bible Society in the United States is the Pennsylvania Bible Society, founded in 1808. The Bible society movement spread west as far as Chicago where the Chicago Bible Society was founded in 1840, making it only five years younger than the city itself.
United Bible Societies
The United Bible Societies (UBS) is a worldwide association of Bible societies. As of January 2011 the UBS has 147 member societies, working in more than 200 countries and territories. They include:
- British and Foreign Bible Society (1804)
- National Bible Society of Ireland (1806)
- Bible Society of Northern Ireland (1807)
- Scottish Bible Society (1809)
- Bible Society of India (1811)
- Finnish Bible Society (1812)
- Russian Bible Society (1813/1990)
- Icelandic Bible Society (1815)
- Swedish Bible Society (1815)
- American Bible Society (1816)
- Norwegian Bible Society (1816)
- Bible Society In Australia (1817)
- Hellenic Bible Society (1819)
- Bible Society of South Africa (1820)
- Colombian Bible Society (1825)
- Bible Society New Zealand (1846)
- Philippine Bible Society (1900)
- Alliance Biblique Française (1901)
- Canadian Bible Society (1906)
- Japanese Bible Society (1937)
- Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft (German Bible Society) (1948)
- Sociedade Bíblica do Brasil (Brazilian Bible Society) (1948)
- Hungarian Bible Society (1949)
- Slovak Bible Society (1990)
- Ukrainian Bible Society (1991)
- Slovenian Bible Society (1993)
Non-UBS Bible societies
- International Bible Society (1809)
- Trinitarian Bible Society (1831)
- Pennsylvania Bible Society (1808)
- Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania (1884)
- Valera Bible Society (2001)
- King James Bible Society
Other translation groups
- Howsam, Leslie; McLaren, Scott (2015). "Chapter 2: Producing the text: production and distribution of popular editions of the Bible". In Riches, John. The New Cambridge History of the Bible. 4. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 49–82. ISBN 978-0-521-85823-6. LCCN 2012002200.
- Please see Leslie Howsam, Cheap Bibles for an accurate account.
- UBS 2011 Annual Review
- Hellenic Bible Society website
- Bible Society of South Africa website
- Colombian Bible Society website
- Alliance Biblique Franciase website
- Canadian Bible Society website
- Hungarian Bible Society\ website
- Slovak Bible Society\ website
- Slovenian Bible Society website
- Trinitarian Bible Society website
- Valera Bible Society website
- King James Bible Society website
- Gideons do not translate but distribute existing translations of the Bible.
- The Amity Printing Company, partly helped by the United Bible Societies, does not translate, but is the largest printing shop of the Bible in China.
- The article Bible Societies in the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition contains a comprehensive review of the recent history and then-current statistics of bible societies in Europe and America.
- Gillis, James M. "Bible Societies" in the Catholic Encyclopedia (1907)
- McCauley, J. C. Truth Versus Dogma Chicago:Moody Press, 1946.
- Woodley, E. C. The Bible in Canada. Toronto: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1953. viii, 320 p., ill. N.B.: "The purpose ... is to tell the story of the British and Foreign Bible Society in Canada [afterwards known as the Canadian Bible Society]"—p. 3.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Bible Societies.|
- United Bible Societies website
- The Scottish Bible Society
- BFBS Machine Assisted Translation
- The Bible Society in England and Wales
- The Pennsylvania Bible Society
- The Philippine Bible Society
- The American Bible Society in the US
- The Massachusetts Bible Society
- The International Bible Society
- The Chicago Bible Society
- The Bible Society in New Zealand
- Bible Society NSW (Australia)
- Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft
- The Hungarian Bible Society
- The Slovak Bible Society
- The Brazilian Bible Society
- The Valera Bible Society
- Faithcomesbyhearing.com - Bible translations - Audio Bibles Partnership with UBS in over 85 countries, focused on bringing Audio Bible programs to churches and villages.
- International Biblical Association Original works: The Online Pinyin Chinese Bible and Portuguese Audio Bible
- Jesus' Disciples Improving the accuracy of the Christian Bible. Distributing free pdf Bibles in all countries.