The American Bible Society began asking this question in the 1990s. Their answer was to move away from a distribution model that defined success in terms of “tonnage” and toward a “scripture engagement” model that taught people how to use the Bible as a source of spiritual growth. In the process, the organization became much more evangelical in orientation. As many of you know, I have written a great deal about this transition.
Today the American Bible Society is the second largest religious non-profit organization in the world. Ruth Graham introduces the American Bible Society to her Slate audience in a piece titled “The End is Nigh.”
American Bible Society was founded in Manhattan, New York, in 1816 with the “sole object” of encouraging wider circulation of the Bible throughout the world. It was a project whose obstacles soon became clear, as John Jay, the founding father and first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court who served as the society’s second president, put it in 1822. “The languages of the heathen nations in general being different from the Christian nations, neither their Bibles could be read, nor their missionaries be understood by the former,” he said. “To obviate and lessen these difficulties, numerous individuals have been induced to learn those languages; and the Bible has already been translated into many of them.”
Translating the Bible into every language has long been seen by many Christians as a divine command: In what is known as the “Great Commission,” Jesus ordered his disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations.” It’s hard to make disciples if you don’t speak the nation’s language. As the 14th-century theologian John Wycliffe, who ruffled feathers by translating the book into common English, put it, “It helpeth Christian men to study the Gospel in that tongue in which they know best Christ’s sentence.” Today, many translation organizations refer to the state of not having access to a Bible in one’s own language as “Bible poverty.”
Read the rest here.