The Bible in America

History From its founding in 1816, the American Bible Society has grappled with the task of making the Word of God available to Christians and churches in America. From its earliest days, it has worked to provide scriptures to the men, and later women of the military, to local and international bible societies, and to translate the Holy Bible to other languages used by peoples in the United States so that they could not only possess scripture, but could understand its importance in their own lives.

Leaders Starting with a leader of the American Revolution, Elias Boudinot, John Jay, first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, and going right down to the most recent president Lamar Vest, The American Bible Society has always been led by “true believers” in the Bible cause.


Wikipedia ABS Entry
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James Lenox

President of the American Bible Society, 1864-1871

Church Affiliation: Presbyterian

Photo of James Lenox at the time of the founding of the Lenox Library

James Lenox was born August 19, 1800 to Rachel (Carmer) and Robert Lenox, for whom the Lenox Hill neighborhood in Manhattan is named. He graduated from Columbia and was admitted to the bar in 1822 but never practiced law, instead becoming a partner in his father''s real estate firm.

A bibliophile in the true sense of the word, he assembled one of the best collections of Bibles in the nation, including the first Guttenburg Bible in the US. He established the Lenox Library to house his collection of books and arts (the Lenox Library later became part of the New York City Library - the Frick Collection now stands at the Lenox Library's former location on Fifth Avenue.

Famous for his philanthropy, he donated the land for and established the Presbyterian Hospital of New York City, which he demanded “be open to all, without regard to race, creed, or color,” and the Presbyterian Home for Aged Women. He gave more than $12 million to various charities during his lifetime.

Portait of James Lenox by Daniel Huntington

He wrote books on the topics of books: Shakespeare's Plays in Folio (1861) and The Early Editions of the King James Bible in Folio (1861). He died February 17, 1880 and is buried in New York City.

James Lenox was nominated to be president of the American Bible Society in 1862 but withdrew his name from consideration. He was again nominated in February, 1864 and was elected in April. He submitted his resignation in March of 1871, and his resignation was accepted in November of the same year.

During this period, ABS was not only active in distributing bibles to men under arms on both sides of the action - directly to the Army and Navy of the United States (north) and through the Christian Commission to the Army and Navy of the Confederate States (south), but at the same time was active in the continued work of translating the Bible into other languages as well, as these extracts from the President's address will affirm (from the Bible Society Record, 1864):

“The American Bible Society approaches very nearly to its semi-centinnial Anniversary, and the years of its existence have been generally marked by an advance in its work, and in the means which have been placed in its possession to prosecute that work: - during the very period when a civil war has raged within our borders, and uncertainty and derangement have sometimes characterized our national affairs, a condition now, I trust, passed, or rapidly passing away, the Society has again and again been called upon to express devout gratitude to God, for the increasing opportunities of extending its beneficent agency both at home and abroad.

“At this moment we can announce an enlargement of our resources beyond those of the preceeding year - far beyond those of any other year - and a distribution of the Scriptures unexampled in our previous experience. No application for these from any source has been denied, but has been met with cheerfulness and liberality. At home our Army and Navy have drawn largely upon our depository, and we have every reason to believe, they have found support, consolation and instructions, such as no other book but the Bible can afford. The same association to which reference has been made on former occasions, I mean the Christian Commission, has continued its labours, until the volumes presented gratuitously to it by this Society for distribution since the commencement of the war, exceed 700,000 copies.

“The historian of the Roman empire has remarked that a public hospital for the sick was unknown in that large portion of the world, until Christianity had diffused its leaven within its boundaries: our times are indeed marked by a far more extensive prevalence of scriptural truth; but coudl we have reasonably looked at this moment for the display of voluntary, self-denying and personal ministrations which this association has manifested? An unpaid agency of more than one thousand individuals in such a work, is I believe unprecedented; and this, it must be remembered, is exhibited in one division only of the many benevolent efforts, which war has called forth among us.

“Nor has the American Bible Society forgotten the claims of other countries, amidst the pressing demands which our own land has made upone us in frequency and interest, almost cacluated to render our care dull to calls from abroud. Our report will show that we have been able to devote a larger sum than we have before granted for the purpose of ciculating the Bible in foreign lands. With the many opporunities afforded by commerce, and thos which the providence of God has opened before us from war and conqeust, (though the people engaged in these meant not so,) we are encouraged to assist in preparing and distributing His word in the many tongues of the earth. The whole Bible, or portions of it, have now been translated into more than 250 of the different languages and dialects of the world. Can we estimate the amount of mental labour that has been expended in this work - a labour of love, looking for its reward to the hope of benefits to be conferred on others, and to the desire of evincing its gratitude for the one “unspeakable gift” received! In the results which may be comprehended in the year now ended, we may refer to the complete revision of the version of the whole Bible to be scattered among the millions of China, to the translation already commeced in Japanese, and to the Pashtoo New Testament for the tribes of Afganistan. I mention these portions particularly because they have been carried on by our own countrymen...”

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