The Bible Cause's Ironic Move to Philadelphia

Inside the long conflict between the Philadelphia Bible Society and national Bible association.
The Bible Cause's Ironic Move to Philadelphia
Image: Courtesy of American Bible Society / RNS

After nearly 200 years in New York City, the American Bible Society (ABS), a ministry devoted to translating and distributing of the Bible worldwide, is moving to Philadelphia. The move will give the organization a fresh start in the wake of several years of financial struggle. This summer the ABS plans to relocate to 401 Market Street, just steps from Independence Hall.

In addition to the ABS offices, the organization will transfer its world-famous Bible collection and rich archives to Philadelphia. ABS is also planning to open a Bible Discovery Center designed to attract foot traffic in one of America’s most historic cities.

A look at the early history of the American Bible Society shows just how ironic the forthcoming move is.

When Elias Boudinot tried to form the ABS in 1815, the idea of a national Bible society struggled to gain popular approval. The Philadelphia Bible Society (PBS) led the opposition. The PBS Board of Managers, led by President William White—also the Episcopalian Bishop of Pennsylvania—did not think that a national organization could distribute Bibles any better than the many state and local societies already in existence. Other PBS members, including Benjamin Rush, a Philadelphia doctor and signer of the Declaration of Independence, agreed.

White also argued that the timing was not right for a national society. The country was in a “difficult economic state” in the wake of the recent war with England, and as a result Americans would not be willing to support to new charities. The PBS managers also worried about competition between a new national organization and those state and local Bible societies that refused to join it. Such differences would divide the Bible cause in ...

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The Bible Cause's Ironic Move to Philadelphia
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