200th Anniversary, American Bible Society Still Focused on the Future, at Home and Around the Word

On May 11, American Bible Society will celebrate a milestone few organizations ever reach: its bicentennial anniversary. During the following week, the organization will welcome more than 450 Bible ministry leaders from around the world, not to glory in the past but to look ahead to the future.

“American Bible Society has spent 200 years increasing access to the Bible in the United States and around the world helping people in every generation engage with God’s Word,” said Roy Peterson, the ministry’s president and CEO. “Across two centuries, American Bible Society has led translation efforts in many languages, including six of the world’s most spoken; distributed some six billion Bibles, including more than a million Scripture portions at ground zero following the Sept. 11, 2011, attacks; and assisted hundreds of millions of people in discovering the hope and encouragement of God’s Word.”

American Bible Society’s roots are closely entwined with those of the nation itself. Some of American Bible Society’s founders were integral to the founding of the United States, such as Elias Boudinot, president of the Continental Congress and American Bible Society’s first president. John Jay, the first chief justice of the Supreme Court and a delegate to the first Continental Congress served as the ministry’s second president. Francis Scott Key, who wrote the lyrics to the national anthem, became vice president of the ministry a year after its conception until his death. The sixth U.S. President John Quincy Adams also served as an American Bible Society vice president for more than two decades.

Another hallmark of the ministry has always been its deep commitment to the entire Christian community. American Bible Society has a long history of reaching across denominational lines to focus on what unites all Christians: the Bible. Currently, the board of American Bible Society includes Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians.

Since its genesis in 1816, American Bible Society has seen many changes in culture and technology, and has continued to innovate Scripture delivery and engagement.

“Whether it was providing the first Bibles for the blind, sending Bibles out to the Wild West with Pony Express riders, or creating a Bible translation in everyday English, American Bible Society has always looked for new avenues to help people engage with God’s Word,” said Peterson.

In recent years, the ministry has leveraged technology to help in that endeavor. As the host of one of Facebook’s most followed pages, American Bible Society has used social media to help people encounter Scripture throughout their day. By lending support to the development of a Bible-based online game for teens and owning the top-level domain .Bible, American Bible Society continues to leverage technology to innovate ways to deliver God’s Word. Today, American Bible Society works to develop a virtual reality program to transport readers inside Scripture stories; and in 2018, it will open a technology-rich, interactive discovery center on Philadelphia’s historic Independence Mall.

“I like to say that American Bible Society is a 200-year-old startup,” said Peterson.“We’re constantly looking for new ways to help people engage God’s everlasting message of hope. Technology has revolutionized the way people can engage the Bible and has greatly reduced the length of time required for translation projects. New technology is a priority but, of equal importance, are our strategies to bring people together around God’s Word. Whether that is through our Bible-based trauma healing ministry, resources for military chaplains or an initiative to bring racial reconciliation to American cities; we know that when people come together around God’s Word, lives and communities are changed. While we don’t know what the technology of next 200 years will be like, we do know God’s Word will remain relevant and we will remain focused on helping people access the Bible’s life-changing message.”

Ministry methods have undoubtedly changed over the last 200 years but the mission of American Bible Society is still very much what it has always been. Throughout its existence, American Bible Society has focused on the joint goals of increasing Bible access and engagement.

“One of my most powerful experiences since coming to American Bible Society was during a trip to Egypt. Some of the leaders there thanked me for an investment American Bible Society made in their church 150 years ago to create an Arabic Bible,” said Peterson. “Then when I got back to the office I saw updates about the Gospel message going forth to millions through social media and the .Bible domain. It was profound and incredibly humbling for me to know that I’m working with an organization with life-changing impact reaching back over two centuries, and is still looking ahead.”

As remarkable as its past has been, American Bible Society is far from finished. In the next decade, the ministry will work toward what it has dubbed its “100/100 Vision:” having 100 million Americans regularly engaged with God’s Word and 100 percent of the world’s languages open for Bible translation.

“With nearly a billion people in our world who still lack access to the full Bible in their own language, and with the increasing need to help Americans take the Bible off the shelf, there is still much more that God is calling us to do. Over 200 years, our mission has remained the same because human beings have essentially remained the same—as has the ability of the Bible to speak into life’s biggest issues,” said Peterson. “The Bible doesn’t have an expiration date. I truly believe American Bible Society’s future will be as bright as its past.”

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