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.

LeadersStarting 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.


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John Jay

President of the American Bible Society, 1821-1828

Portrait of John Jay

Co-author of the Federalist Papers, Governor of NY and first chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Jay served as second president of the Bible Society, extending its vision for ministry to Latin America and China. At home, he began providing Bibles in immigrant languages. He continued, and even strengthened the Society's role as a neutral player not aligned with any of the denominations. “all the sects concur in opinion respecting the Bible, and the propriety of extensively distributing it without note or comment.”

John Jay was born on December 12, 1745 in New York City, he was educated by tutors and graduated from King's College (Columbia) in 1764. He was described, as a student, as “a man of strong reasoning powers, comprehensive views, indefatigable application and uncommon firmness of mind.”

He was admitted to the bar in 1768 and began to practice law in New York City. In 1774 he married Sarah Livingston, the daughter of the war-time governor of New Jersey, and served on the royal commission to resolve a border dispute between New York and New Jersey (which was settled by arbitration).

Over the next few years, John Jay was an elected member of the Continental Congress, and various New York State organizations supportive of independence. He was sent as a diplomat to Spain in 1779 and while he could not convince the Spanish government to openly support the revolutionaries, he did win a loan of $170,000 for the fledgling US government.

He went on to France, and together with Benjamin Franklin negotiated the end of the war. On his return in 1783 he became the Secretary for Foreign Affairs (1784-1789). He supported Hamilton and Madison in the Federalist Papers, convinced of the irreparable weakness of the Articles of Confederation.

John Jay was the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (1789-1795) and then served as governor of New York from 1795-1801.

John Jay - portrait detail

Joh Jay served as vice president of the American Bible Society from its inception in 1816 until his election as president in 1821, on the death of Dr. Boudinot. In accepting this position, he wrote, “They who regard these [bible] Societies as deriving their origin and success from the author and Giver of the Gospel, cannot forbear concluding it to be the duty of Christians, to promote the purposes for which they have been established; and that is particularly incument on ther officers to be diligent in the business committed to them.”

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