1902 Encyclopedia > Bible Societies

Bible Societies

BIBLE SOCIETIES, associations for extending the circulation of the Holy Scriptures. For a long period this object has been pursued to a considerable extent by several religious institutions, such as the Society for the Propaga-tion of the Gospel in Wales, formed by the Bev. Thomas Gouge, one of the two thousand ministers ejected by the Act of Uniformity in 1662; the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, founded in 1698; the Society for sending Missionaries to India, established in the year 1705 by Frederick TV., King of Denmark, and which numbered among its agents the celebrated missionary, Christian Frederick Schwartz; the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, formed in Edinburgh in 1709; the Moravian Missionary Society, founded in 1732, the Book Society for Promoting Religious Knowledge among the Poor, which was formed in London in 1750, and numbered among its earliest friends Dr Doddridge and the Rev. James Hervey; and the Religious Tract Society, founded in 1779. But the first British association which had in view the single purpose of disseminating the Scriptures was the NAVAL AND MILITARY BIBLE SOCIETY, established in the year 1780, which has done immense service to the army and navy of Great Britain. The sphere of its opera-tions, however, was comparatively limited, and in 1804 the BRITISH AND FOREIGN BIBLE SOCIETY, the greatest agency ever devised for the diffusion of the Word of God, was founded. The proposal to institute this association origi-nated with the Rev. Mr Charles of Bala, whose philan-thropic labours in Wales were greatly impeded by the scarcity of the Scriptures in the principality, and it was largely fostered at the outset by members of the com-mittee of the Religious Tract Society. The exclusive object of the British and Foreign Bible Society is to pro-mote the circulation of the Scriptures, both at home and abroad, and its constitution admits the co-operation of all persons disposed to concur in its support. The committee of management consists of 36 laymen, 6 of them being foreigners resident in or near the metropolis, and of the remaining 30, one-half are members of the Church of England, and the other half members of other Christian denominations.

The proceedings of this society gave rise to several controversies, one of which related to the fundamental law of the society to circulate the Bible alone without notes or comments. On this ground it was vehemently attacked by Bishop Marsh and other divines of the Church of Eng-land, who insisted that the Prayer-Book ought to be given along with the Bible. Another controversy, in which the late Dr Andrew Thomson of Edinburgh took a prominent part, related to the circulation on the Continent, chiefly by affiliated societies, of the Apocrypha along with the canonical books of Scripture In 1826 it was resolved by the committee that the fundamental law of the society be fully and distinctly recognized as excluding the circulation of the Apocrypha. This step, however, failed to satisfy all the supporters of the society in Scotland, who pro-ceeded to form themselves into independent associations. A third serious controversy by which the society has been agitated, was occasioned by the alleged inaccuracy of some of the translations issued under its authority; and a fourth referred to the admissibility of non-Trinitarians to the privilege! of co-operation. The refusal of the society in 1831 to alter its constitution so as formally to exclude such persons, led to the formation of the Trinitarian Bible Society. This has, however, been exceedingly limited in its operations, and the original society stands unrivalled.

By a law of the British and Foreign Bible Society, no translations are adopted or circulated in the languages of the United Kingdom except the Authorized Version For other countries the best ancient or received versions are printed; and in the case of new translations, every effort is made to ascertain their strict fidelity and general literary merit. Most of the versions for countries not yet enlight-ened by Christianity are made; by resident missionaries ; and these the society prints at the instance of the missionary societies for whose use they are chiefly intended. These versions are made, wherever practicable, from the original Hebrew or Greek text. The society has bad a share, direct or indirect, in the translation, print-ing, or distribution of Scriptures in 210 languages or dialects, the number of versions thus printed being 269. Altogether the society has put into circulation nearly 74 million Bibles, Testaments, and Portions (i.e., single books of the Bible); and its expenditure for this purpose has amounted to £7,750,000.

In the course of 1874 there were issued from the society's dep6ts, at home and abroad, no fewer than 2,619,427 Bibles, Testaments, and Portions. The free income for 1874-6 amounted to £119,093, 7s. 7d.; adding the contributions for special objects, and the pro-ceeds by sale of Scriptures, a total is reached of £222,191, 5s. 6d. The payments for translating, printing, and circulating the Scrip-tures were only £691 in the first year of the society's existence; while in 1874-75 they were £217,390, 13s. Id.

Immediately after the foundation of the society an extensive cor-respondence was opened with ministers and laymen in all parts of the world.

Auxiliary and Branch Societies were graduaUy formed in every district of the United Kingdom and in the colonies. These became centres whence the Scriptures might be obtained at cost price, and in cases of special need at even less. There are at present in the United Kingdom 4496 auxiliaries and branches, besides 1208 in the British colonies. Many of these are managed by ladies. Juvenile associations have also been organized in many localities.

Agents have been appointed both at home and abroad to investi-gate local requirements, to supply information for the guidance of the committee, and to suggest the best means of carrying out the great purpose of the society.

Depôts for the sale of Scriptures have likewise been opened in almost every town of England, and in many places abroad.

Colportage is employed to some extent in England, and very largely on the Continent and in India.

Grants to Societies are made on various conditions. When applied for by missionary societies and philanthropic institutions, copies of the Scriptures are supplied very freely ; while grants of money and paper are made to other societies in aid of the translation and printing of the Scriptures, when good reasons are seen for the ex-penditure.

It may be added that the society does not encourage the gratuitous distribution of Bibles and Testaments, except under peculiar cir-cumstances.

The first English New Testament printed by the society was issued in September 1805. Stereotype printing had just been intro-duced ; and this invention, coupled with the society'8 plan of sell-ing the Scriptures at a very low price, brought about a speedy and general reduction in the price of English Bibles. Besides this indirect benefit which has thus been secured to English readers, the investigations and exertions of the society first revealed, and then relieved, the great scarcity of Bibles which had previously existed. To show what the deficiency was, it may be mentioned that in 1812 inquiry was made into the case of 17,000 families in the metropolis, when it was discovered that half of them did not possess a Bible at all.

The efforts of the society in India are organized upon a scale and with a completeness scarcely rivalled elsewhere. Bible circulation in India owes its origin mainly to the zeal of the Serampore mis-sionaries, especially of Carey, Marshman, and Ward, whose labours had begun shortly before the Bible Society was formed. It was stimulated by the exertions of Dr Claudius Buchanan, and by the establishment of the college at Fort William. Gradually auxiliary societies were formed at important centres—such as Calcutta, Bom-bay, Madras, Allahabad, &c. One of these auxiliaries alone—that at Madras—circulated in 1874-75 over 120,000 copies, and employed 55 native colporteurs. The assistance afforded by the society to India and Ceylon in grants of money, paper, and books—including £27,230 supplied to Dr Carey and his associates—amounts to no less a sum than £361,193.

When the society began to inquire into the state of the Continent, the dearth of Scriptures was found to be greater, if possible, than at home. Thus, in Lithuania, among 18,000 Germans, 7800 Polish, and 7000 Lithuanian families, not a Bible was to be found. One half of the population of Holland appeared to be without the Scrip-tures. In Poland a Bible could hardly be obtained at any price. In the district of Dorpat (Esthonia), containing 106,000 inhabitants, not 200 Testaments were to be found, and there were Christian pastors who did not possess the Scriptures in the dialect in which they preached. Into Iceland, with a population of 50,000, of whom almost all could read, not above 40 or 50 copies bad penetrated ; while in Sweden a single auxiliary found 13,900 families totally unprovided.

Such was the state of things abroad when the society was estab-lished. Correspondence was at once opened with well-known men like Oberlin, Knapp, and Herzog; the society's foreign secre-tary and agents personally visited the districts, and various sub-sidiary societies were formed. The highest patronage was often obtained for these, the emperor of Russia, the kings of Prussia, Bavaria, Sweden, and Wiirtemberg, and many others, entering heartily into the work. Some of the societies thus formed were, however, suppressed through the influence of Rome. More than 15,000,000 copies have been printed by them up to the present time.

Of all the foreign Bible societies, by far the most remarkable was that established in Russia, in the year 1812, under the presidency of Prince Galitzin, and with the direct approval and support of the Emperor Alexander I. An imperial ukase was issued, giving formal sanction to the project; all communities joined to speed it on its way ; 289 auxiliaries were rapidly formed ; the Scriptures were printed in nearly 30 languages, including Modem Russ; 861,000 copies were circulated ; and at the time of its suspension in 1826 it had been aided by the British and Foreign Bible Society to the extent of £16,833.

Besides thus encouraging Bible circulation through friendly counsel and pecuniary aid, the British and Foreign Bible Society has done and is doing a direct work on the Continent, some frustration of which may be gathered from the following particulars :—

The first French Bible printed by the society was prepared for the prisoners of war in 1805. After the peace was concluded, measures were taken to form centres of Bible circulation through the country. As a result of these movements, various Bible societies sprang up. Depots have also been opened in Paris and many other large towns; and special provision has been made for the provincials of the west, by the preparation of Basque and Breton versions. There have been printed by the society, in the French tongue, upwards of seven and a half million copies of the Scriptures.

In 1835, when Mr W. P. Tiddy went out as agent for the society in Belgium, hardly a Bible was to be found in the country, and evangelistic efforts were rare, through the vehement opposition which they encountered. A staff of colporteurs was appointed, and through their efforts a large supply of Scriptures was distributed. This led to the formation of several Protestant communities.

The Society's agent in Germany superintends the movements of between 60 and 70 colporteurs, and reports a yearly circulation of about 300,000 copies. The services rendered during the Franco-Prussian war were so signal as to call forth not only the grateful appreciation of the Germans, but a written acknowledgment from the emperor, who is himself an annual subscriber to the society.

Efforts were made by Dr Pinkerton in 1816 to establish a National Bible Society for Austria ; but through the influence of the Pope the emperor was induced to reject the proposal. A new beginning was made in 1850, when in less than two years 41,659 copies of the Scriptures, in German, Bohemian, and Hungarian, were put into circulation. Fresh opposition was, however, soon awakened, and the authorities ordered the whole stock on hand to be withdrawn from the country. In compliance with this order, Mr E. Millard, the society's agent, retired to Prussia, where he laboured for several years with marked success. After a while he was permitted to return to Vienna, and to open depots at such centres as Pesth, Trieste, Klausenburg, and Prague. By these means, and through a large staff of colporteurs, he has issued during the past ten years 1,250,000 copies.

Very little direct work was done in Italy until the Revolution of 1848. Then the society gladly hailed the opportunity of entering the country; but soon the door was again closed. The Pope issued an encyclical in 1849, in which the condemnation of Bible societies was emphatically repeated. As a consequence, 3000 New Testa-ments, just printed at Florence, were seized, presses were confiscated, paper and type carried off, and the society's agent compelled to retire. All this is now altered. The headquarters of the society's Italian agency are at Rome, and the Scriptures are distributed from dep&ts and by colporteurs in all parts of the peninsula.

Little could be done in Spain prior to the Revolution of 1868, which threw open the country and established religious liberty. All available means were then adopted for printing and circulating the Spanish Bible. The issues from the Madrid depSt have ex-ceeded half a million copies, but during the recent civil troubles the movements of the colporteurs have been much restricted.

Between 300,000 and 400,000 copies of the Scriptures have been printed in the Portuguese tongue.

Mr Paterson paid a visit to Sweden in 1809 on behalf of the society, and found the poor almost entirely without the Scriptures. Thus in one diocese 10,000 families were discovered without a Bible in their possession. An agency was established in 1831. Special grants have been made to the army and navy, and for the students in the universities. The total issues since 1832 have been over 2,000,000, and that in a population of less than 4,000,000.

To give even an outline of the work done by the British and Foreign Bible Society in the more remote parts of the world would be to write a volume. All the great missionary societies are its debtors. Its undenominational character has secured what could hardly otherwise have been attained—the use of the same version by missionaries of different churches ; and it has often proved a healer and a peace-maker abroad, while it has been a bond of union at home. To the linguist and to the comparative philologist its operations are of intense interest ; and the boon conferred on the thought and language of many nations through its versions of the Scriptures is well-nigh inestimable.

EDINBURGH BIBLE SOCIETY originated in the con-troversy respecting the circulation of the Apocrypha, and was composed of Protestants professing their belief in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and disposed to co-operate in promoting the dissemination of the Scriptures.

SCOTTISH BIBLE SOCIETY was instituted upwards of forty years ago. At the time of its establishment, the other Bible societies in Scotland employed their funds chiefly in circulating the Scriptures in foreign countries. This association was intended exclusively for the distribu-tion of the Bible at home, and its funds were at first derived from collections made in the parish churches within the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale.

The Scotch Bible societies were amalgamated in 1861, and took the name of the
NATIONAL BIBLE SOCIETY OF SCOTLAND. During the year 1874 the society issued 340,908 Bibles, Testaments, and " Portions," its receipts, including the proceeds of sales, amounting to £26,840.

The first Bible society in America is believed to have been established by a few Baptists in New York in 1804; its object was to purchase and lend Bibles for a month at a time. The
PHILADELPHIA BIBLE SOCIETY, which was instituted December 12, 1808, was for some years the only association in the country for the gratuitous distribution of the sacred Scriptures. The AMERICAN BIBLE SOCIETY was formed at New York, May 8, 1817. It has numerous auxiliaries throughout the several states of the Union. In 1875 its income amounted to $577,569. Its issues during that year were 926,900 Bibles and Testaments, and since its formation 31,893,332.

Among other societies may be mentioned the
BIBLE TRANSLATION SOCIETY, whose versions embody the views of the Baptists, and the PORTEUSIAN BIBLE SOCIETY (named from Bishop Porteus), for the circulation of Bibles marked so as to show the practical bearing of each chapter.

It is believed that there are altogether about 70 Bible societies in the world. The issues of the 7 leading societies may be summarized as follows :—

The British and Foreign Bible Society 73,750,538
The American Bible Society 81,893,332
The National Bible Society of Scotland 4,563,669
The Prussian Bible Society at Berlin. 4,083,413
The Hibernian Bible Society ... 8,962,581
The Würtemberg Bible Society 1,279,966
The Netherlands Bible Society 1,258,643
Total 120,792,142

The monopoly of the right to print the Bible in England is still possessed by the Universities of Oxford and Cam-bridge, and her Majesty's printer for England. But after a controversy, which was carried on for some time with great warmth (1840-41), the prices of the common Bibles and Testaments were greatly reduced, and they have gradually attained their present remarkable cheapness.

In Scotland, on the expiry of the monopoly in 1839, Parliament refused to renew the patent, and appointed a Bible Board for Scotland, with power to grant licences to print the Authorized Version of the Scriptures. This step produced a great reduction in the price of the sacred volume, and its circulation was considerably increased.

See Owen's History of the First Ten Tears of the British and Foreign Bible Society; Bible Triumphs, a Jubilee Memorial for the British and Foreign Bible Society; Brown's History of the Bible Society, 1859. (R. B. O.)

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