History & Mission of Bible Societies

At the very root of the Bible Society movement there was, and still is, the recognition of the unparalleled, irrevocable importance of the Bible for the life and mission of the Christian Church. The foundation of the first Bible Society, beginning in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars of the nineteenth century, is a tale of courageous adventure and passion in the service of such a missionary vision. At that time, Bibles were expensive and in short supply, even in countries with a long Christian tradition. The need for affordable Bibles in the British Isles, Europe and “the world” inspired a group of Christian leaders to found the British and Foreign Bible Society in London in 1804. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Bible Society work spanned much of the globe, and the Bible had been translated into 122 languages. The momentum to better organized international Bible translation and the global reach of Bible distribution emerged in the immediate aftermath of World War II. In May 1946, 13 national Bible Societies met in England to from the United Bible Societies (UBS).

Today, the UBS is a global Fellowship of 147 national Bible Societies operating in over 200 countries and territories. Collectively, the Fellowship is  the biggest translator, publisher and distributor of the Bible in the world. They work in partnership with all Christian Churches and many international non-government organizations to define local needs and develop products and programs to meet them. In the twenty-first century, Bible Societies are committed to finding new and imaginative ways to draw people into the Bible, restoring or establishing it to a central position in the material, cultural and spiritual lives of people everywhere. But each Bible Society is unique – some are large organizations delivering sophisticated Bible advocacy campaigns. Others are small offices distributing Scriptures to people living below poverty line.

All this work has to be funded. Finance comes from a variety of sources. Some Bible Societies make grants within the Fellowship as a result of fundraising individuals and churches. Others receive revenues from product sales and fundraising. But, whether the program is a ,other-tongue translation or a mother and toddler Bible group; whether it is Bible advocacy with parliamentarians or Scriptures for prison population; whether lecto divina resources for the parish or translation handbooks for academics; whether and however they operate, Bible Societies all share the mission of placing the Word of God in the hearts and minds of the people they serve.

Translating the Bible remains at the heart of what we do. There are now nearly 475 complete Bible translation ( 30 per cent of which include the Deuterocanons) and each year more are added. Currently, there are Scriptures available in 2,454 of the World’s estimated 6,500 languages. Our translation policy ensures we have translation guidelines that are acceptable to the Catholics, Protestant and Orthodox Churches. Bible Societies are dedicated to faithfully delivering new translations to Christians anywhere who have never had a Bible in their own language.