American Bible Society

The American Bible Society (ABS) is a United States–based Bible society which publishes and distributes translations of the Protestant Christian version of the Bible [2] and provides study aids and other tools to help people engage with it. Founded on May 11, 1816, in New York City, it is probably best known for its Good News Translation of the Bible, with its contemporary vernacular. They also publish the Contemporary English Version.

American Bible Society
TypeInternational nongovernmental organization
PurposeBible distribution
HeadquartersPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania
Region served
Robert L. (Bob) Briggs

The American Bible Society is a member of the Forum of Bible Agencies International and not affiliated with any single denomination. However, it does not consider Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses to be Christians.[3]

ABS's headquarters relocated from 1865 Broadway in New York City to Philadelphia in August 2015.[1]


19th century

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, 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.[4]

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 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.[4][6] 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.[7] By 1920, it was one of the oldest office buildings in the city.[8]

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.[8] American Bible Society sold 437,000 Scriptures and portions in 1898 in China.[9]

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.[8] Although the society continues to publish Bibles, it ceased printing them in 1922.[4] 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 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.[10]

In 1998, the 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.[11] 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.[12]

21st century

In recent years, the society has struggled financially and has gone through multiple leadership shifts.[13] From 2002 to 2011, the society overspent its budget by US$250 million and from 2005 until 2019, it has had five different presidents, along with three interim presidents.[13] 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.[13] 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."[13] 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.[13] 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.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16]

In 2015, the 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.[1] This comes at a time when the society has been trying to reinvent itself after a decade of turmoil.[14]

In January 2019, American Bible Society introduced the Affirmation of Biblical Community, an employee policy which excludes individuals in homosexual or unwed heterosexual relationships, among others from employment at the organization. [17] [18] According to company spokespeople at least 36 staff members, 20 percent of the organization's employees, left the organization in response to the affirmation. Leadership of the organization claimed the 20 percent attrition was consistent with annual totals prior to the new Affirmation policy.[19]

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. [20]


Faith & Liberty Discovery Center

The Faith & Liberty Discovery Center is an under-construction new museum on Independence Mall.[21][1]

The project was originally slated to begin construction in Spring of 2017[22] and open in the Fall of 2018. The Faith & Liberty Discovery Center held a delayed ground-breaking event in December of 2018. The Center now hopes to open in 2020 and will sell tickets for $10 for adults and $7 for children.[23]

While media coverage cites quotes from American Bible Society leadership that the FLDC will “ an exciting experience for people of all faiths and backgrounds,"[24] 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?'"[25]

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.[26] 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.[27]

Museum of Biblical Art

The Museum of Biblical Art, an independent but affiliated organization housed in the society's building at 1865 Broadway, in New York, has closed.[28]


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. Hrywna, Mark - (February 3, 2015). "American Bible Society Moving With $300 Million In The Bank". The NonProfit Times. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  2. Missing or empty |title= (help); External link in |website= (help); Missing or empty |url= (help)
  3. "State of the Bible 2019". American Bible Society. External link in |website= (help); Missing or empty |url= (help)
  4. 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.
  6. "The Bible House NYC | Ephemeral New York". Retrieved 2017-02-04.
  7. Gensemer, Susan H. "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.
  8.  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.
  9. The Chinese recorder and missionary journal, Volume 30. VOLUME XXX. Shanghai: American Presbyterian Mission Press. 1899. p. 371. Retrieved March 21, 2012.Original from Harvard University Digitized Aug 20, 2007
  10. "Jack O. Loftin, "Joseph Sterling Bridwell"". Texas State Historical Association online. Retrieved April 30, 2013.
  11. 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.
  12. "Home – ForMinistry". Archived from the original on October 20, 2013. Retrieved 2016-04-28.
  13. Smith, Warren Cole (December 20, 2013). "Going public". World Magazine. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  14. Langdon, Lynde (March 25, 2014). "Manhattan's 'Bible House' going up for sale". World. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  15. "Press Releases | American Bible Society News". Retrieved 2016-04-28.
  16. "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.
  17. "Affirmation of Biblical Community". American Bible Society. Retrieved 2019-01-23.
  18. "With new 'affirmation' policy, American Bible Society loses LGBT staffers". Religion News Service. Retrieved 2019-01-23.
  19. "American Bible Society Targets LGBT Employees with New "Affirmation of Biblical Community" Policy". World Religion News. 2019-01-26. Retrieved 2019-10-29.
  21. MsQuade, Dan (12 January 2017). "Bible "Discovery Center" to Open on Independence Mall Next Year". Philadelphia Magazine. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
  22. "PRAYER REQUEST: FAITH & LIBERTY DISCOVERY CENTER". American Bible Society. Retrieved 2019-10-29.
  23. Crimmins, Peter (14 December 2018). "Bible Museum breaks ground at Independence Mall". WHYY. Retrieved 29 October 2019.
  24. 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.
  26. "How a massive Robinson Fredenthal sculpture moved to Chestnut Hill in the dead of night". WHYY. Retrieved 2019-10-29.
  27. "CONSTRUCTION BEGINS ON THE FAITH AND LIBERTY DISCOVERY CENTER". Faith and Liberty Discovery Center. Retrieved 2019-10-29.
  28. "Priced out of New York, American Bible Society decamps to Philadelphia". The Presbyterian Outlook. Religious News Service. January 28, 2015. Retrieved 28 February 2015.

Further reading

  • 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.

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