Bible societies

Bible societies
   Bible societies are devoted to distributing Bibles as widely as possible, and to that end, support their translation into more and more languages.
   From its beginning, Protestantism has supported publication of the Bible in the languages of its believers, starting with Martin Luther's translation and the publication of the German-language Bible and continuing with new Bible translations into most European languages. In the American British colonies, efforts to translate the Bible into the various Native American tongues began in the 17th century.
   The 18th-century Evangelical Awakening in England gave birth to the word missions movement and concomitantly to a new type of organization, the Bible society, whose only work was the translation, publication, and distribution of Bibles. The pioneer Naval and Military Bible Society, founded in 1779, was later superseded by the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS), founded in 1804. This type of work generated widespread approval among Protestants of all denominations, and the BFBS eventually won support from both the Church of England and the several Dissenting churches.
   The BFBS worked to reprint English Bibles (King James Version) and to produce biblical texts in other languages with a demonstrated need. The society acted as publisher and distributor, relying upon others to do the actual translations. Bibles were often distributed free or at less than cost. Supporters organized into local auxiliaries to raise funds and to distribute the society's publications.
   Overseas, the BFBS consigned Bibles to missionaries and interested lay people (colporteurs) who would distribute them for a small fee or free will offering. In some areas, such as South America, where Protestant missionaries and ministers were not allowed, Bible distributors were able to roam with relative freedom, distribute Bibles and other Christian literature, and seed what would later become Protestant churches.
   In other countries with active Protestant populations, societies similar to the BFBS soon began to form. In the British colonies, these new societies served as BFBS auxiliaries. The Hivernian Bible Society in Ireland (1806) and the American Bible Society (1816) were among the independent organizations. The Scottish auxiliaries broke with the BFBS in 1826 over the publication of the Apocrypha, and in 1861 created a national organization now known as the Scottish Bible Society. The continental societies also broke with the BFBS over the Apocrypha; thereafter the British society employed its own agents to continue its work throughout Europe. A century after its founding, the BFBS had some 2,000 affiliated Bible societies throughout the empire with approximately 5,000 local auxiliaries in England and Wales.
   The formation of many more national Bible societies in the early 20th century led in 1946 to the formation of a coordinating agency, the United Bible Societies. As of 1993, the UBS had 137 affiliated societies/offices working in more than 200 countries and territories.
   Further reading:
   ■ William Canton, A History of the British and Foreign Bible Society, 5 vols. (London: John Murray, 1904-10)
   ■ Creighton B. Lacy, The Word Carrying Giant: The Growth of the American Bible Society, 1816-1966 (Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, 1977)
   ■ James Moulton Rice, A History of the British and Foreign Bible Society, 1905-1954 (London: British and Foreign Bible Society, 1965)
   ■ Ethel Emily Wallis and Mary Angela Bennett, Two Thousand Tongues to Go: The Story of the Wycliffe Bible Translators (New York: Harper & Row, 1964).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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