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The Quest for a Baptist Bible: The Rise and Demise of the American Bible Union, 1850-1883.

The American Bible Union formed in 1850 for the purpose of producing a new English Bible translation--one that would supplant the King James Version and correctly translate the Greek word baptizo as "immerse." Although accomplished, the translation sank quickly into obscurity.

This paper examines the antecedents that formed the society, persons who contributed to and in some cases hurt the process, the resultant Bible translation, and ultimately the society's dissolution. Despite a limited shelf life, the society energized nineteenth-century Baptists, and its contributions resonate to the present day.

Precursors to a Baptist Bible

Baptist interest in Bible translation has been observable from Baptist infancy. The third initial of the famous JLJ church, the first Particular Baptist church, belonged to Henry Jessey, a man whose constant companions were the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament. He called one his "Sword and Dagger" and the other his "Shield and Buckler." (1) Jessey completed a revision of the entire King James Bible sometime before his death. Alas, the restoration of Charles II to the throne of England in 1660 resulted in Jessey's imprisonment. He languished there until a few months before his death on September 4, 1663. His translation was never published, and no manuscript has been discovered to date.

Joseph Stennett, a Seventh Day Baptist minister in London known for his numerous published hymns, produced a new translation of the Song of Solomon and Psalm 45 in 1700, with a second edition in 1709. (2) Stennett was the first Baptist to translate and publish parts of the Bible into English.

It is possible that the first Baptist to produce a full English New Testament was William Whiston, the eccentric mathematician and translator of The Works of Josephus. His connection to Baptists is tenuous. He toyed with Arianism yet stayed within the Anglican Church until late in his life when he adopted Baptist teachings. Thus, he was calling himself a Baptist around the time he offered his Primitive New Testament in 1745. (3)

If not Whiston's Testament, then certainly the first Bible produced by a Baptist is attributed to Nathaniel Scarlett, a London bookseller. Scarlett took a page from John Smyth and Roger Williams on confining one's commitment to one religious group: Scarlett was successively a Methodist turned Universalist turned Baptist. The last two groups are detectable in his 1798 The Dramatized New Testament. Scarlett became the first English translator of the New Testament to use the word "immerse" for the Greek word baptizo. (4)

Alexander Campbell turned out the first Baptist-influenced translation of the nineteenth century, The Sacred Writings, published in 1826. Campbell affiliated with Baptists from about 1813 to 1830 before breaking away to join the Restoration Movement. (5) But before he left the Baptist ranks he published his own New Testament. He sought to eliminate Calvinist interpretations found in the KJV, which he characterized as "willful mistranslations." (6) Campbell's Baptist connections continued through his membership in the American Bible Union. He would later translate Acts of the Apostles for the ABU New Testament.

From 1834 to 1838 the five-volume Comprehensive Commentary on the Holy Bible was produced, with the top of the title page containing the parenthetical heading [Baptist Edition], The text of the KJV was surrounded by comments from Thomas Scott, Matthew Henry, and Philip Doddridge. The editors were William Jenks and Joseph A. Warne. The latter, a Baptist pastor, re-edited these scholarly notes for a Baptist audience. Warne expunged words, sentences, and paragraphs, and substituted other material to suit Baptist views. (7)

David Bernard edited and published a revision of the KJV in 1842 that became known as Bernard's Bible. One reason for the revision was his belief that important words in the KJV were left untranslated, specifically baptizo. A. C. Kendrick, a Baptist scholar, was responsible for the entire New Testament portion. Kendrick would later be involved in translating the ABU New Testament.

The above attempts to translate baptizo as "immerse" set the stage for one of the most controversial debates of the nineteenth century: the quest by Baptists in America to produce their own English translation of the Bible, one that fit their theological understanding of the mode of baptism. The impetus began on the mission field, caused conflict with the American Bible Society, and resulted in rival Bible societies controlled by Baptists. Yet it ultimately produced a "Baptist" version of the Bible that few remember today.

The American Bible Society and the Baptizo Controversy (1816-1836)

The American Bible Society (ABS) organized on May 8, 1816, and celebrates its bicentennial this year. (8) The first article of incorporation declared that its "sole object shall be, to encourage a wider circulation of the Holy Scriptures without note or comment. The only copies in the English language to be circulated by the Society, shall be of the version now in common use," that is, the KJV. The ABS became the largest Bible publisher ever. When other publishers announced their own editions, the ABS stamped "comformable to the Standard Edition of the American Bible Society" on its title pages. (9) This rigidity toward standardization led to attacks upon the ABS by groups that felt their views were being excluded.

Adoniram Judson, a Baptist missionary to Burma, had labored twenty years on a Burmese translation when he submitted it to the ABS in 1834. Parts of Judson's translation had already been published by the ABS. Judson's Bible eventually spanned four volumes and 2,400 pages. But when it was discovered that Judson translated baptizo as "immerse" into the Burmese language, it prompted the ABS Board of Managers to take notice. The ABS represented numerous denominations, many of whom considered an immersionist translation--even one in a foreign language--to be too sectarian. (10)

Soon, Baptist missionary William Yates requested that his Bengali "immersion" version (a revision of William Carey's translation) be published. (11) This prompted the ABS to make an official resolution rejecting these Baptist missionary translations. (12) The society maintained that the words "baptize," "baptism," and so forth "imposes no difficulty on any denomination of Christians, as it leaves every minister, or missionary, at liberty to explain them according to the peculiar views of his particular denomination." (13) On February 17, 1836, the ABS resolution passed 30:14.

Baptists within the ABS objected strenuously to the formal resolution, especially Spencer Cone and William Wyckoff. (14) After all, baptizo correctly understood as immersion was a doctrinal issue. Paul Gutjahr wrote, "The Baptists' larger concern in pushing for their translation of baptizo as immersion was founded upon a concern that the original text and its original meaning be given precedence over the fallible human translations of the past." (15) Peter Wosh added that from the Baptists' perspective, "previous translators had mistakenly transliterated the Greek baptizo into baptize and thus perverted the Creator's intentions." (16) Therefore, nineteenth-century Baptists charged that the ABS encouraged the propagation of error-filled texts by ignoring the original meaning. (17)

Formation of the American and Foreign Bible Society (1836-1850)

The ABS resolution resulted in the departure of many Baptists from its membership. The Baptist exodus stung the society. Both sides published articles against the other. On May 12, 1836, 120 Baptists met at Oliver Street Baptist Church in New York City, and as a result formed a rival Bible society: the American and Foreign Bible Society (AFBS). Baptists North and South were enlisted to launch the society. Some of Baptists' shining lights attended the meeting: Spencer Cone, the key individual in forming the new society, became its first president, and William Wyckoff the corresponding secretary. The vice presidents elected included southerners John L. Dagg, Richard Fuller, and R. B. C. Howell. William B. Johnson, future architect of the Southern Baptist Convention, led in prayer. (18)

The launch of a Baptist Bible society generated much support, and monies poured in. The Triennial Convention met that year and gave its blessings to the creation of the AFBS. (19) The first AFBS annual meeting in 1837 tallied 390 delegates from twenty-three states. One Baptist claimed, "It was, we believe, the largest and most intelligent assemblage of Baptist ministers and laymen, which has ever been held." (20)

The new Baptist Bible society adopted as its guiding principle "pure versions for the world." The leaders immediately set to work on foreign translations. Although the English version was exempt for the moment, it remained foremost in Cone's mind. For Cone, pure versions for the world meant "all lands," including England and America and the English language. The "sword of the Spirit," Cone proclaimed, "must be drawn out of King James' scabbard." (21) The rest of the board, however, remained content with reprinting the KJV. No English Bible translation was attempted. This became known as "The Restrictive Resolution" and eventually caused dissension and yet another schism. (22)

Cone privately made numerous emendations to the KJV. For the following ten years rumblings of Baptists versus Baptists lingered within the AFBS over the English Bible situation. Then in 1849 a coup was attempted. During the society's annual business meeting a large majority rejected another motion to rescind The Restrictive Resolution. But the following day, just one hour before the public meeting reconvened, a private meeting took place, composed of selective members of the society, that is, those who stood against the restrictive resolution. President Cone and corresponding secretary Wyckoff and others attending this meeting unsurprisingly voted to rescind the resolution.

This move caused regular AFBS members to call an emergency meeting to respond to what happened behind their backs, followed by a series of called meetings of both sides. After prolonged and discordant debates, a final meeting occurred on May 22, 1850. The AFBS maintained its original stance: foreign editions can translate the words for "immerse" into their language. But concerning the circulation of the English Scriptures, it would "be restricted to the KJV without note or comment." The dissident members within the AFBS dubbed this new resolution "The Permanent Restriction." (23) It was the last straw. President Cone stood up and tendered his resignation immediately. He said, "I cannot serve you any longer. I am crushed." (24)

The Rise of the American Bible Union (1850-1883)

Cone and Wyckoff resigned the very society they had created. Five days later they were among the twenty-four Baptists who met in William Colgate's parlor to form yet another rival society, the American Bible Union (ABU). This society was formed with the purpose of publishing a brand new immersionist version of the Scriptures in the English language. (25)

The ABU officially came into existence on June 10, 1850. Officers included president Cone, corresponding secretary Wyckoff, and treasurer Colgate. Together they formed a triumvirate of passion, ingenuity, and finances. Members passed resolutions and also pledged $6,000 in subscriptions. (26) One resolution stated: "Resolved, That, it is our duty to form a voluntary association for the purpose of procuring and circulating the most faithful versions of the Sacred Scriptures in all languages." The goal of the ABU was clear. According to John Wright, its purpose was to "promote the translation and printing of a Baptist version of the Bible." (27)

Yet Alexander Campbell was an invited speaker. He delivered a forty-page address confirming the need for a new translation utilizing "immersion" for the word baptizo. (28) From its inception, therefore, the society was not merely a Baptist society producing a Baptist Bible. ABU members were drawn from the Church of England, Presbyterians, Disciples of Christ, Episcopalians, and the German Reformed Church, alongside Seventh Day Baptists, Regular Baptists, Northern Baptists, and Southern Baptists. (29) The society was off and running. Monies flowed in. Interest skyrocketed. Work began in earnest.

1850 New Testament

The society's first published effort was a revision of the KJV, hastily produced in 1850, and was essentially Cone's personal work of making hundreds of corrections to the KJV. (30) This initial ABU version served until a satisfactory revision could be provided. Yet it took fourteen years to finish the New Testament and thirty-four years for the Old Testament, after ABU had passed from the scene.

1862-1864 New Testament

The ABU made not only a thorough revision of the 1850 edition, but also a brand new translation prepared from the Greek text. Numerous Baptist scholars were enlisted for the translation enterprise. This edition was issued in parts, with individual books published from 1852-1860. (31) The Gospels arrived in 1862, Acts through Second Corinthians was completed in 1863, and a volume containing the complete New Testament first appeared in 1864. (32)

1865 New Testament

A second revision of the New Testament came out in 1865. Several hundred more emendations were made, but most were minor such as changing "saith" to "says." The preliminary note to this edition read: "No expense has been spared to obtain the oldest translations of the Bible, copies of the ancient manuscripts, and other facilities to make the revision as perfect as possible." (33) There were more printings of this edition than any other ABU version.

Old Testament

Once the New Testament was completed, emphasis turned to work on the Old Testament. Independent books were published in intervals from 1856 to 1884. Thomas J. Conant finished the Book of Job in 1856, but it took twelve years more before he finished Genesis. Although Horatio Hackett and Howard Osgood were among the Old Testament revisers, Conant became the main contributor. (34)

Foreign Languages

ABU's work progressed not only in English but also in other languages. This revealed a genuine effort by ABU's leaders to distance themselves from the rival ABS and their Baptist rival ABFS. The ABU financed translations in German, Spanish, Chinese, Italian, Thai, Karen, and Burmese, among others.

The ABU version was not simply a "Baptist Bible." Time, all usages of baptizo and cognates were retranslated into "immerse," "immersion," "immerser," and so forth. But the use of multiple translators and editors, the best available Greek texts, and leaving behind the Textus Receptas, all combined to make this Bible version the first committee-produced English Bible since the KJV. Why, then, was this effort lost to the vestigial footnotes of history?

The Demise of the American Bible Union

Demise is a strong word. Perhaps the words merge or subsume would be acceptable to describe the fate of the American Bible Union. Several of the following eight factors overlap.

Leadership Demise

The triumvirate of Cone, Wyckoff, and Colgate launched the ABU. Cone, ABU's founding father and most eloquent voice, passed away in 1855 and then Colgate in 1857. Archibald Maclay became Cone's successor, but lasted only six months as the next president, and died in 1860. Finally, when Wyckoff died in 1877, the leadership momentum of the society passed away with him.

Divided Loyalities

Baptists experienced divided loyalties in at least three ways. First, many Baptists did not want a new English Bible version, content to remain with the KJV, despite its flaws. Baptists who were members of the ABS and AFBS serve as examples.

Second, Baptists in the South were never on board with the ABU project. From the inception of the ABU in 1850 a concerted effort was made to include Southern Baptists. Although intended as an avenue for reconnection, the fledgling five-year-old Southern Baptist Convention surely viewed the ABU project as another Northern Baptist enterprise. Southern Baptists were courted for support by the ABS and two Baptist Bible societies. They decided instead to expend their energy into a short-lived Bible Board (1851-1863). (35)

Third, although some Baptists were open to a new translation, they did not appreciate the inclusion of non-Baptists in the project while Baptists were providing the necessary funds in response to appeals made in speaking tours and in letters. After Alexander Campbell joined the ABU several Campbellite churches also donated. Many Baptists balked at supporting a project that included Campbellites, their arch-competitors of the frontier. (36)

Lack of Scholarship

While the ABU project recruited excellent scholars, the scholarly quality was uneven for most translators. Campbell, Hackett, Kendrick, Osgood, and Conant bore the highest scholarly credentials. Numerous people were willing to work on the project, but their qualifications were questionable.

Wyckoff Controversy

Archibald Maclay resigned after six months as president, claiming mismanagement of funds and the overstepping of authority by secretary Wyckoff. Maclay called for a committee to investigate the reason why after almost six years, and an influx and distribution of funds, only the Book of Job was completed. (37) A committee of five was formed, but Wyckoff's backroom maneuvers stalled the work of the committee. Maclay became convinced nothing would change, so resigned on May 13, 1856.

Hundreds of letters poured in, inquiring why the respected Maclay resigned. Maclay wrote to a friend who in turn, published Maclay's reasons in the New York Daily Times. In the letter Maclay concluded that Wyckoff was a controlling power who squandered ABU's finances. (38)

Wyckoff generated a spirited thirty-page defense. He attempted to distance himself from Maclay and pilloried Orrin Judd instead. Judd had worked on the Gospel of Matthew for the ABU version, but was dismissed for his inability to get along with Wyckoff--or from Wyckoff's perspective, for incompetence. Wyckoff claimed that Judd "is believed to be the real author of this pamphlet, and of all the difficulties in the Bible Union." (39)

Judd fired back. He published his own eighty-four-page pamphlet defending himself and Maclay while offering the same complaints against Wyckoff. (40) Judd later sued supporters of Wyckoff for libel, and the jury awarded Judd $2,000 in damages. (41)

The war of pamphlets and the libel suit damaged the reputation of Wyckoff and the ABU. Yet ABU's translation project continued. Wyckoff weathered the controversy and remained secretary until his death.

Slow Production

Maclay's complaint on the mishandling of funds was revealing. After six years of work and $200,000 distributed and only the book of Job completed, many supporters lost confidence over the Bible translation enterprise.

Edward Starr wrote, "The delay and resultant discredit may be laid largely at the door of Conant, who although a prominent scholar in the field, does not seem to have been able to keep his agreements with his employers." (42)

Conant was the best Hebrew linguist nineteenth-century Baptists produced. In 1850 ABU agreed to pay Conant a $4,000 annual stipend to translate the Old Testament, which he was contracted to complete in twelve years. But Conant was a professor at Rochester Theological Seminary, and duties there prevented his full attention to Bible translation. A few months after the Wcykoff controversy Conant resigned his post at Rochester and devoted more time to the ABU Old Testament. Conant continued to receive a stipend for twenty-two years, for a total of $72,000. (43)

The payment to Conant does not sound exorbitant except that a wage of $10 per week or $500 per year was normal for the year 1850. Inflation average puts Conant's $4,000 yearly stipend at $121,000 today. Over the period that Conant drew ABU funding, the original total of $72,000 would be equal to $1.4 million today. (44) By any measuring tool that is good money for a part-time job for a Baptist seminary professor.

Civil War

All Baptist entities and agencies suffered during the American Civil War. The war paralyzed the ABU too. In 1861 its annual income dropped 75 percent, from $42,000 to $16,000. Strikingly, the determination of ABU came to the forefront and the New Testament was completed while the war ravaged America. (45)

Money Woes

Of all the factors, lack of money killed the ABU. When Baptists attempted to underwrite two competing Bible distribution societies beginning in 1850, the rails on the slippery slope of financial ruin were greased. Robert Torbet observed, "Thereafter, neither society made out well financially." (46)

In spite of halving the Baptist support for Bible distribution, the ABU launched well. The apparent mismanagement by Wyckoff and overpayment for uncompleted work by Conant hurt. By 1878 the ABU was $79,809 in debt. The diminished receipts after the Civil War never rebounded. The society was much embarrassed by the debt. (47) Work and revision stalemated.

Immersionist Controversy Passed

The catalyst that produced this version (like so many controversies before and after) died down with the passage of time. Baptism by immersion helped to distinguish Baptists from competing groups in the nineteenth century. By the 1880s the war over immersionist translation faded. Thomas Armitage represented many when he wrote "the time had come for Baptists in America to heal their positions on the Bible question, to reunite their efforts in Bible work, and to leave each man in the denomination at liberty to use what English version he chose." (48)

The American Bible Union and American Baptist Publication Society (1883-1912)

An effort at reunion between the AFBS and ABU suggests that both societies recognized they were near the end of their tenures. In 1874 both Baptist societies took measures to reconsolidate their groups. A new name was proposed: the American and Foreign Bible Union. Concerning the English translation--the spur that originated the 1850 split--the plan was to circulate the Bible in both the KJV and ABU versions. Alas, the reunion failed. Another attempt was made a few years later, this time successful. On May 5, 1881 the AFBS and ABU reunited. (49) Their reunion, however, was short-lived. Neither group had funds to accomplish further work.

The final nail in ABU's coffin came at the Bible Convention held in Saratoga, New York, on May 22-23, 1883, with 451 delegates attending. The convention voted to fold ABU-AFBS into the American Baptist Publication Society (ABPS), and handed all materials for foreign distribution of the Bible over to the American Baptist Missionary Union (ABMU) and gave all the English Bible revision to ABPS. The ABU officially ceased to exist. The organization's Bible, however, was revised and published twice under the auspices of the ABPS.

1891 New Testament

The ABPS completed revision and publication of the New Testament by 1891, the third revision of the ABU version. Three seminary presidents served as revisers: Alvah Hovey of Newton Theological Seminary, John Broadus of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Henry Weston of Crozer Theological Seminary. (50) For proof that the baptizo war was over, the ABPS issued the New Testament in two editions: one with baptizo translated as "immerse" and one with the translation of "baptize."

1912 Holy Bible

Revision on the Old Testament began in 1889, with work assigned to Barnard Taylor, John Sampey, William Harper, and Ira Price. Under direction of the ABPS the entire Bible was finally completed in 1912, the fourth revision of the New Testament. (51) The full Bible was called "An Improved Edition." (52) Ironically, this final edition compromised by incorporating the stylistic device of translating baptizo as "baptize (immerse)" throughout the New Testament. (53) These two final revisions were completed after ABU exited the scene, and received little fanfare but much criticism. (54) These versions passed quickly into history alongside the society that originally birthed them.

Conclusion: The Contributions of the American Bible Union

The story of the ABU and its Bible version are now a part of Baptist history. Nevertheless, the influence of this society and its version continues into the twenty-first century. Here are three contributions.

The ABU version hastened the era of modern Bible translations. ABU's effort actually created the impetus for the Revised Version (1881-1885), which most scholars agree launched the modern era. In 1856 a motion presented to the House of Commons urged the Crown to appoint a Royal Commission to undertake a major revision of the KJV, reasoning that "in the United States a society had been formed to revise the Bible, the American Bible Union." (55) Although voted down at that time, England's scholars kept tabs on the ABU version's success. By 1870 they conceded that "the American movement necessitated the need of prompt action on the part of the Church of England." (56) C. C. Bitting claimed, "The Canterbury revision [Revised Version] was largely approved and hastened by the exertions of this Society [ABU]...." (57)

The New Testament of England's Revised Version was published in 1881, the Old Testament in 1885. The American committee produced the American Standard Version in 1901. Subsequent revisions include the Revised Standard Version (1952), New American Standard Bible (1971), New Revised Standard Version (1989), and English Standard Version (2001). Thus, the ABU version prepared the way for the influx of modern translations.

The ABU made efforts to reunite Northern and Southern Baptists. The quest for a Baptist Bible was primarily a Northern Baptist effort. Yet Baptists from the South were invited to take part when the AFBS was created in 1835 and again when the ABU branched off in 1850. Representatives from the SBC were invited to the Saratoga Convention in 1883 "for the purpose of issuing a united call to the Denomination in the several States and Canada, asking for the appointment of Messengers to a General Meeting, to consider and advise as to the best methods of conducting the Denomination's Bible Work." (58) Alas, only individual Southern Baptists ever joined the society. However, the "Bible Work"--translation and distribution--should remain the concern of all people who called themselves Baptist. It continues as a possible option for Baptist inclusiveness.

The ABU's immersionist Bible gave Baptists a stronger identity in nineteenth-century America. Several individuals produced immersionist translations. ABU's version, however, became the most determined and collaborative effort to secure an immersionist Bible. It energized many Baptists. The production of their own Bible translation aided the Baptist pursuit for respect and distinctiveness. Leon McBeth wrote that Landmarkism, despite its problems, nevertheless built identity and loyalty. Landmarkism "put iron into the Baptist bloodstream." (59) Perhaps the ABU's efforts to produce a Baptist Bible added a few extra droplets to Baptist identity and loyalty in the nineteenth century.


(1) Edward Whiston, The Life and Death of Mr. Henry Jessey (London, 1671), dedicated several pages to Jessey's translation effort. See Jason G. Duesing, ed., Counted Worthy: The Life and Work of Henry Jessey (Mountain Home, AR: BorderStone Press, 2012), 33-47, 189-190.

(2) William J. Chamberlin, Catalogue of English Bible Translations (New York: Greenwood Press, 1991), 407.

(3) William Paul, English Language Bible Translators (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2003), 247-249.

(4) A. S. Herbert, Historical Catalogue of Printed Editions of the English Bible, 1525-1961 (London: British and Foreign Bible Society, 1968), 319. See Paul, English Language, 203-204.

(5) Most Baptist histories mention Campbell's Baptist connection, but more is related by Robert G. Torbet, A History of Baptists, 3rd ed. (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1973), 270-276.

(6) Michael Marlowe, "Campbell's New Testament," See Roger Bullard, "From Scotland to Philadelphia, 1739-1912: The Lineage of the 'Baptist Bible,'" in I Must Speak to You Plainly: Essays in Honor of Robert G. Bratcher, ed. Roger L. Omanson (London: Paternoster, 2000), 100-101.

(7) A short bio on Warne is found in William Cathcart, ed., Baptist Encyclopaedia (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1881), 2:1211-1212.

(8) A definitive history of the ABS is found in John Fea, The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).

(9) David Daniell, The Bible in English (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 637.

(10) Bullard, "From Scotland to Philadelphia," 101.

(11) Yates received translational help from William Pearce. See John Brown Myers, ed., The Centenary Volume of the Baptist Missionary Society, 1792-1892, 2nd ed. (London: Baptist Missionary Society, 1892), 297.

(12) Yates attempted publication through the British and Foreign Bible Society, but the society's leaders refused on the grounds of sectarianism. ABS simply followed their lead. See Edward W. Cone and Spencer W. Cone, The Life of Spencer H. Cone (New York: Sheldon, Blakeman, and Co., 1857), 316-317.

(13) Edward C. Starr, "A Sectarian Bible," The Chronicle 17:1 (January 1954): 34. See Charles Carroll Bitting, Bible Societies and the Baptists: Compiled from Published Documents (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1883), 41-48.

(14) Not all Baptists within the ABS protested the resolution. In fact, Francis Wayland was the president of the ABS, and the person responsible for suggesting the resolution. See Starr, "A Sectarian Bible," 35.

(15) Paul C. Gutjahr, An American Bible: A History of the Good Book in the United States, 1777-1880 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999), 106.

(16) Peter J. Wosh, Spreading the Word: The Bible Business in Nineteenth-Century America (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994), 142.

(17) Ibid. This complaint by Baptists was not new. The proper mode of baptism and its correct textual translation had occupied Baptists since William Kiffin in the 1640s. Thomas Armitage wrote that the ABS resolution in effect made ABS "a Pedobaptist or sectarian institution." See History of the Baptists (New York: Bryan, Thylor, and Co., 1887), 896.

(18) Cone and Cone, Spencer H. Cone, 328, 348-350. Many Baptists, however, opposed a separation from ABS. In addition to the president, Francis Wayland, William Brantley and William R. Williams believed that Cone was usurping authority.

(19) Armitage, History of the Baptists, 896.

(20) Bitting, Bible Societies, 64.

(21) Cone and Cone, Spencer H. Cone, 358, 367.

(22) Starr, "A Sectarian Bible," 36.

(23) Cone and Cone, Spencer H. Cone, 369-370. See Starr 37-38.

(24) Ibid., 378.

(25) Gutjahr, An American Bible, 108.

(26) Starr, "A Sectarian Bible," 39; Cone and Cone, Spencer H. Cone, 386-388.

(27) John Wright, Early Bibles of America. (New York: Thomas Whitaker, 1894), 266.

(28) Alexander Campbell, "Address to the American Bible Union," in Popular Lectures and Addresses (St. Louis: Christian Publishing Co., 1861), 626. Taken from Bullard, "From Scotland to Philadelphia," 102.

(29) Armitage, History of the Baptists, 909.

(30) The full title was The Commonly Received Version of the New Tkstament ... With Several Hundred Emendations (New Orleans: Duncan, Hurlbutt, 1850). See Margaret Hills, ed., The English Bible in America (New York: American Bible Society, 1962), 212. For title page images of several ABU versions, see "The Internet Bible Catalog," a website managed by Stephen Ricketts at Ricketts undoubtedly owns the largest collection of ABU materials of any private collector, numbering more than seventy pieces.

(31) Individual books were published from 1852-1860. See the title pages of individual books at Ricketts,

(32) The full title was The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Common English Version, Corrected by the Final Committee of the American Bible Union (New York: American Bible Union, 1864).

(33) The full title was The New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Common English Version, Corrected by the Final Committee of the American Bible Union, Second Revision (New York: American Bible Union, 1865). Michael Marlowe, abu.html, has reproduced several articles on the ABU version.

(34) Hills, The English Bible, 260-261.

(35) Robert A. Baker, The Southern Baptist Convention and Its People, 1607-1972 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1974), 203, 206-207, 230-231. The Bible Board was the precursor to the Baptist Sunday School Board, now Lifeway Resources. The ABU was able to enlist support from individual Southern Baptists, but not the denomination as a whole.

(36) Jack P. Lewis, "Bible, Versions and Translations of," in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. Douglas A. Foster and Anthony L. Dunnavant (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 88.

(37) The New Testament was well underway. Second Peter, Jude, the Epistles of John, and Matthew 1-13 had been individually published by 1855 (see Ricketts, Maclay, therefore, aimed at the slowness of the Old Testament contributors.

(38) The pamphlet can be downloaded at Marlowe,

(39) William H. Wyckoff and Charles A. Buckbee, eds., Documentary History of the American Bible Union (New York: American Bible Union, 1866), 466.

(40) Orrin B. Judd, A Review of the American Bible Union (New York: E. H. TFipp, 1857), accessed at

(41) Starr, "A Sectarian Bible," 44-45. On the libel trial, sec

(42) Ibid., 45.

(43) Ibid.

(44) The rates on inflation are taken from

(45) Thousands of Gospels were distributed to soldiers during the Civil War in "convenient size and shape for a side-pocket." ABU also attempted to distribute these smaller versions to immigrants, and after 1865 to freed slaves. See Hills, The English Bible, 261.

(46) Torbet, A History of Baptists, 279.

(47) Armitage, History of the Baptists, 912.

(48) Ibid. The parallels to the Holman Christian Standard Bible--the modern Baptist Bible--are numerous. The catalyst to complete the HCSB was the gender-inclusive language found in the New International Version. For many Baptists, gender-inclusive translation was a doctrinal issue. Baptists left the International Bible Society (publishers of the NIV). The SBC generated resolutions requesting that Lifeway bookstores no longer sell the NIV and that pastors inform their congregations of its "translation errors." Like the ABU version, strong personalities were involved and strong language used. Nevertheless, like its predecessor Baptist Bible, the passage of time may soften those issues.

(49) Bitting, Bible Societies, 102-106.

(50) The full title was The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, American Bible Union Version. Improved Edition (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1891). See Hills, The English Bible, 315.

(51) Ricketts shows that both a fourth edition and the improved edition of the New Testament were separately published. See Ricketts, http://bibles.wikidot.eom/abufirst#toc34.

(52) The full title was The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments, An Improved Edition (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1912). See Hills, The English Bible, 315, 351.

(53) This edition also translated almah in Isaiah 7:14 as "young woman" instead of "virgin." The footnote explained that "The Hebrew word means 'a young woman of marriageable age'; it implies nothing one way or the other as to virginity." This reading was adopted by other early twentieth-century versions, but it would ignite the next controversy in English Bible history when the Revised Standard Version (1952) also adopted the reading. The reaction to the RSV controversy eventually spawned the New American Standard Bible (1971) and NIV (1978), among other translations.

(54) See the contemporary reviews in Bullard, "From Scotland to Philadelphia," 107-109.

(55) Daniell, The Bible in English, 685.

(56) Armitage, History of the Baptists, 910.

(57) Bitting, Bible Societies, 72.

(58) Ibid., 119.

(59) Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1987), 461.

Michael Kuykendall is professor of New Testament Studies at Gateway Seminary.
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Author:Kuykendall, Michael
Publication:Baptist History and Heritage
Geographic Code:1U2PA
Date:Jun 22, 2016
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