American Bible Society

American Bible Society
Abbreviation ABS
Formation 1816
Purpose Bible distribution
Headquarters 101 North Independence Mall East FL8
Region served
Dr. Roy L. Peterson
Main organ
Leadership Team

The American Bible Society (ABS) is an interconfessional, non-denominational, nonprofit organization, founded on May 11, 1816 in New York City, which publishes, distributes and translates the Bible and provides study aids and other tools to help people engage with the Bible. It is probably best known for its Good News Translation of the Bible, with its contemporary vernacular. They also publish the Contemporary English Version. The American Bible Society is also a member of the Forum of Bible Agencies International.

ABS's headquarters relocated from New York City to Philadelphia in August 2015.[1]


The government of the Society is entrusted to a board of managers, one-fourth of whom retire from office each year, but are eligible for reelection. The number of Trustees is determined from time to time by resolution of the Board, but shall not be less than 18 nor more than 24, including the President. There are currently 20 members of the Board of Trustees. Laymen who were constituted directors for life before 1 June 1877, and ministers who are life members are authorized to attend the meetings of the board, with power to speak and vote.[2]


19th century

The American Bible Society was founded in 1816 by people who were committed to the word of God and to the end of slavery. 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 U.S. Supreme Court, was named President in 1821 and a number of illustrious individuals like Frederick Theodore Frelinghuysen, Johns Hopkins University President Daniel Coit Gilman 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. The Society's first headquarters were on Nassau Street in Lower Manhattan.[3]

The American Bible Society used the King James Bible, and indeed starting in 1858 appointed committees to be sure to avoid any textual corruption.[4] 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 Bible Society was in 1818 into Lenape of Delaware, a Native American language.

In 1852, while Theodore Frelinghuysen was President of the Society, the Bible House was built, occupying the whole of the ground bounded by Third and Fourth Avenues, Astor Place and Ninth Street in New York City.[3] By 1920, it was one of the oldest office buildings in the city.[2] One goal of the Bible Society is to reach the destitute of all classes and conditions. During the 19th century, four canvasses of the United States for this purpose were undertaken. These canvasses were begun in 1829, 1856, 1866 and in 1882. During the fourth canvass, begun in 1882, more than 6,300,000 families were visited, and 473,806 families were supplied with Bibles; in addition nearly 300,000 individuals received Bibles.[2] American Bible Society sold 437,000 Scriptures and portions in 1898 in China.[5]

20th century

By 1912, the 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 2,000,000 copies in 1915.[2] Although the Society continues to publish Bibles, it ceased printing them in 1922.[3] The American Bible Society celebrated a century of service to China in 1934. Vice President John R. Mott recalled that in 1833 the Society sent $3,000 to Dr. Elijah Coleman Bridgman, first U. S. Protestant missionary to China, to print scriptures in Chinese. As of 1934 the Society had spent $2,897,383 distributing nearly 70,000,000 volumes of Scripture in China. A major supporter of the society was the philanthropist, oilman, and rancher Joseph Sterling Bridwell of Wichita Falls, Texas.[6]

In 1999, ABS 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.[7]

21st century

Headquarters in New York City

In recent years, the Society has struggled.[8] From 2002 to 2011, the Society overspent its budget by US$250 million and from 2005 until 2014, it has had five different presidents.[8] Some of the problems began when Paul Irwin was hired as president in 2005 despite questions about his financial management while he ran that Humane Society of the United States.[8] In 2012, Ministry Watch raised questions of the Society's fundraising practices when it found the Society spent 30% of its budget on fundraising expenses, “an amazing five times the average fundraising cost ratio of ministries covered in the database.”[8] Staff salaries – in 2011 totaling $29 million for 220 employees, an average of $130,000 per employee, with at least 10 senior staffers making more than $200,000 – also raised questions for the New York City-based organization.[8] In 2014, the Society hired Roy Peterson as president following the firing of Doug Birdsall, whom it hired just a few months previously in October 2013.[9]

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, ABS distributed more than one million Scriptures and offered downloadable portions free of charge to those affected by the tragedy. 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. It has also provided Scriptures to victims of natural disasters.

Following the tsunami in 2004, ABS 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. ABS has formed a partnership with Habitat for Humanity to give a free Bible to each of its new homeowners in the United States.

In 2010, ABS 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.

In 2014, ABS contracted with ICANN to operate the .BIBLE TLD Registry. The availability of .BIBLE domain names will accelerate global online Bible engagement.[10] 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.[11]

In 2015, the Society announced that it had sold 1865 Broadway for US$300 million and was moving to a new location in Philadelphia, leasing 100,000 square feet at 401 Market Street.[1] This comes at a time when the Society has been trying to reinvent itself after a decade of turmoil.[9]

They have proposed creating a Bible Discovery Center on the first floor of their new location in 2016, with easy access to Independence Mall, where Independence Hall is located, the site of the signing of both the American Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.[1]

The Museum of Biblical Art, an independent but affiliated organization which had been housed within the building at 1865 Broadway, will remain in New York City.[12]


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

Housed at ABS’s main headquarters is a library that houses the largest collection of Bibles in the Western Hemisphere and a number of interesting and valuable editions of ancient and historic bibles dating back as far as the Gutenberg edition, of which ABS 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. ABS often finds and protects found scriptures, sometimes even buying them at auction. The Museum is open to the public.

In ABS’s Bible repository in South America, there are hundreds of thousands of random versions and editions of Bibles that it has collected over the years.

Financial status

In its 2010 tax filing, American Bible Society lists its total revenue as $67 million (2009 $42 million) and its net assets as $436 million (2009 $384 million).

In 2014, before the US$300 million sale of its New York City headquarters building, the Society had total assets of $528 million, total revenue of $51 million and operating expenses of $83 million.[1]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Hrywna, Mark - (February 3, 2015). "American Bible Society Moving With $300 Million In The Bank". The NonProfit Times. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  2. 1 2 3 4  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "American Bible Society, The". Encyclopedia Americana.
  3. 1 2 3 Dunlap, David W. (21 October 2015). "New York Says Farewell to American Bible Society, and Its Building". New York Times. Retrieved 23 October 2015.
  4. Gutjahr, Paul C. (1999). An American Bible: A History of the Good Book in the United States, 1777–1880. Stanford University Press. p. 89ff.
  5. The Chinese recorder and missionary journal, Volume 30. VOLUME XXX. Shanghai: American Presbyterian Mission Press. 1899. p. 371. Retrieved March 21, 2012. 20th century, which will begin its course in eighteen months from the present time. There is no sign of abatement in missionary enthusiasm. It will increase greatly during the next century, and the prospect is favourable in a very high degree. The victory which we anticipate for Christianity is the victory of the Word of God. Let me just refer to the results of Bible circulation during the last year. The British and Foreign Agency sold 728,000 portions of the Scriptures, and among these 32,000 New Testaments. The portions were a gain of 20%t over the numbers in 1897 and the New Testaments were nearly two-thirds more than in that year. Whole Bibles and Old Testaments were one-fifth more than in the previous year. If we compare the circulation of the Scriptures now with what it was ten years ago it is fully five times as great. What cau the conservative party do when they are struggling to resist the progress of the Word of God? Let us break their bauds asunder, they say. Let us cast away their cords from ns. Bnt the Lord will have them in derision. He will break them in pieces as a potter's vessel. The American Bible Society also aided to a very gratifying extent the amount of Bible circulation. They number 437,000 Scriptures and portions sold during the past year. In all 1,165,000 is the amount of circulation for 1898, and a million for 1897. The Chinese have spent about §25,000 in buying the Scriptures and §22,500 iu buying the books of the Diffusion Society and of the Chinese Tract Society. The Mission Press, Shanghai, printed fortyfive million pages during last year. The missionary Conferences of the past year have been productive of much increase in spiritual devotedness on the part of those who have taken part in them. The visit of Mr. Iuwood, the representative from Keswick, was very much enjoyed. A great susceptibility was shown by the Chinese, especially in southern cities. The impression on Mr. Inwood's mind was very favourable. He saw signs of the presence of the Spirit of God attending the ministration of the Word of God. His words, translated for him into the local dialect, found their way to the hearts of the people. They felt the presence of the power of God. The revival spirit followed him to each new mission station, and the native Christians, with their pastors and the missionaries who superintend their churches they have founded, rejoiced in the time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, which came to them as to others like a gracious rain of influence from above Such things make this year memorable in the history of the Missions. It reminds me of the visit of William Burns for a few short years in China. He was in heart and in zeal a revivalist. He had taken part in powerful revivals in Scotland and in Ireland. He came to China in 1847, and a few years later heOriginal from Harvard University Digitized Aug 20, 2007
  6. "Jack O. Loftin, "Joseph Sterling Bridwell"". Texas State Historical Association online. Retrieved April 30, 2013.
  7. "Home – ForMinistry". Archived from the original on October 20, 2013. Retrieved 2016-04-28.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 Smith, Warren Cole (December 20, 2013). "Going public". World Magazine. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  9. 1 2 LANGDON, LYNDE (March 25, 2014). "Manhattan's 'Bible House' going up for sale". World. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  10. "Press Releases | American Bible Society News". Retrieved 2016-04-28.
  11. "Domain ".Bible" Joins .Com and .Org – DeMoss – Thinking | PR". DeMoss. 2015-09-22. Retrieved 2016-04-28.
  12. "Priced out of New York, American Bible Society decamps to Philadelphia". The Presbyterian Outlook. Religious News Service. January 28, 2015. Retrieved 28 February 2015.

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