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Chapter 24

The Trinitarian Bible Society


The British and Foreign Bible Society created controversy almost from its outset. On December 7, 1802, the formation of a society for the dispersion of Scripture throughout the world was first mooted. On March 7, 1804, a public meeting was convened to inaugurate the British and Foreign Bible Society.

From the beginning the society was conceived as a worldwide venture, to bring the Bible to every person in their own language. Andrew J. Brown, The Word of God Among All Nations, 7

The source of the first major controversy in the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS) was a seemingly innocuous resolution passed in June 1813. It stated

that the manner of printing the Holy Scriptures by Foreign Societies [i.e. societies in convention with the BFBS] be left to their discretion, provided they be printed without note or comment. W. Canton, A History of the British and Foreign Bible Society (1904), 335

The true purpose of this resolution was concealed from the rank-and-file members until 1821 when Robert Haldane, a Scottish patron of the Society, discovered that the resolution had been adopted so that the Apocrypha could be included in Bibles distributed in predominantly Catholic nations. This realization caused a furor in the Society. In 1824, a new resolution was adopted which satisfied many of those who did not wish uninspired materials associated with the Word of God. It was resolved

that no pecuniary grants be made by the Committee of this Society for the purpose of aiding the printing or publishing of any edition of the Bible, in which the Apocrypha shall be mixed and interspersed with the Canonical Books of Holy Scriptures. Ibid, 337

The Scottish members still were not satisfied, believing the new resolution too lax, for it did not prevent the provision of grants for the printing of the Apocrypha separately. On the other hand, a group at Cambridge University objected to the resolution and preferred the one of 1813. In March 1825 they presented the "Cambridge protest."

Alexander Haldane, a nephew of Robert, sat on the Society Committee and strongly objected to the printing of the Apocrypha. His cry for biblical purity did not meet the minds of the more liberal elements on the committee. It was decided to vote Alexander Haldane off the committee in a meeting from which his chief supporters were absent. Providentially, just as the motion of expulsion was about to be put, in walked Henry Drummond, Edward Irving, and Hugh McNeile, three of Haldane’s ardent supporters.

No sooner did they understand it than Edward Irving sprung to his feet with flashing eyes, burst into one of his flights of oratory, delivered an eulogium on the conduct of his assaulted friend, shook his staff in the heat of his indignation at the unworthy conspiracy, and so completely turned the fortune of the hour that a counter Resolution was carried. The Record (Newspaper), July 28, 1828

In 1827 a further new resolution on the matter of the Apocrypha still did not meet the minds of the Scottish delegates. All Scottish bodies withdrew and followed an independent course. In 1861 they united to form the National Bible Society of Scotland. That the secession of the Scots had been proper was apparent when it was later discovered that the BFBS was sending grants for the production of the unbound Bibles with the intention that later these Bibles should be bound with the Apocrypha for distribution in Europe.

Thus the leadership of the BFBS early demonstrated itself to be unprepared to take a decided stand against Roman Catholic wishes in biblical translations. This lack of direction is demonstrated today as the BFBS unites with Catholics in the preparation of new translations of Scripture. An instance is the input of the BFBS into the preparation of the 1989 Revised English Bible, which was carried out in conjunction with Protestants and Roman Catholics. This Bible carries a number of false translations, favorable to Catholic doctrine.

A second major schism shortly developed. A number of supporters of the BFBS were Unitarians, especially on the European continent. Since these members did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, they favored the use of manuscripts minimizing the divinity of Christ. The problem became entwined with the matter of opening Society meetings with prayer. Unitarians and those supporting them opposed the procedure of commencement of meetings with prayer, lest God be addressed through Jesus Christ.

One of the vice-presidents of the BFBS, Viscount Mandeville, refused to chair any meeting which was not opened with prayer. The viscount was not alone. The matter reached a climax at the 1831 Annual Meeting held in May. The meeting was chaired by Lord Bexley. His Lordship was most decidedly opposed to the calls for the expulsion of the Unitarians. The meeting erupted in disorder when Captain J.E. Gordon spoke, supporting the expulsion of those who did not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. Some clapped and cheered. While applause was thunderous and lasted minutes, others interrupted Gordon. Finally, general uproar ensued.

Amid scenes of wild disorder, one speaker after another failed to make themselves heard. Andrew J. Brown, The Word of God Among All Nations, 16

When Gordon’s motion was finally put, it was rejected by a six-to-one majority. This decision engendered a second breakaway movement. Captain Fredrick Harcourt, the son of the Anglican Archbishop of York, chaired a meeting two days later on May 20, 1831. A decision was taken to form a provisional committee to set up a new Bible Society whose membership would be confined to Protestants who acknowledged the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Two nobles, General Viscount Lorton and Viscount Mandeville, later to succeed his father as the sixth duke of Manchester, were the two vice-presidents.

Eventually the Trinitarian Bible Society (TBS) was formed at a public meeting, with over 2,000 in attendance, on December 7, 1831. Among the original members of this TBS were some fascinating men. These men had been caught up in the worldwide Advent movement which studied the prophecies, especially those of the books of Daniel and Revelation. Much emphasis was placed upon the passage in Daniel 8:14 which refers to a 2,300-day period at the conclusion of which the sanctuary would be cleansed. Believing that a symbolic day represented a literal year, these believers pinpointed the 1840s as the time of the conclusion of this prophetic period. From the information found in Daniel 9:25, they concluded that the 2,300-year prophetic period commenced at the time of the proclamation of the decree of Artaxerxes, king of Medo-Persia, to restore and rebuild Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity of the Jews. It was determined from archeological records that this decree was issued in 457 B.C.

There was a belief, popular worldwide among sincere Christians in the 1820s and 1830s, based on the mistaken impression that the sanctuary mentioned in Daniel 8:14 represents the earth and that its cleansing represents the Second Coming of Christ. It was only after the failure of the prediction of Christ’s return that some believers recognized that the sanctuary to which the scriptural passage referred is the heavenly sanctuary.1

In the 1830s, over 700 ministers of the Church of England were preaching the return of Jesus in the 1840s. Among these were some of the founders of the Trinitarian Bible Society. Included among these ministers were Hugh McNeile and G.W. Philips. Prominent lay figures accepting the Advent teaching and involved in the TBS formation were Henry Drummond, Edward Irving, himself an outstanding preacher, Alexander Haldane, Viscount Mandeville, Captain Gambier, James Hatley Frere, Spencer Percival, M.P., and the Honorable J.J. Strutt. Drummond organized the famous Prophetic Conferences at his residence in Albury, Surrey, from 1826. The renowned converted Austrian Jew, Joseph Wolfe, attended some of these conferences. He later preached his Advent message before a joint sitting of the American Congress.

This group proved to be a great strength, but later a weakness, to the fledgling Society. Some of the members disagreed with Irving’s view

That the human nature of Christ was subject to sinful tendencies. Andrew J. Brown, op. cit., 29

However, it was Irving’s subsequent claim to mediate divine healing and his encouragement of glossolalia (speaking in tongues) which greatly diminished his influence.

The TBS survived this crisis and gradually developed in the nineteenth century. Today it follows a most commendable policy in respect of the Scriptures. Its present Law and Regulation No. III states:

This Society shall circulate the HOLY SCRIPTURES, as comprised in the Canonical books of the Old and New Testaments, WITHOUT NOTE OR COMMENT to the exclusion of the Apocrypha; the copies in the English language shall be those of the Authorized Version (King James Bible). In promoting and editing new translations, and selecting versions in foreign languages, the competency of the translators employed, and the faithfulness and Christian character of the versions, shall be ascertained by the Committee, before the publication or circulation of such versions is in any way aided by this Society.

Members must be Protestants and must acknowledge the Holy Trinity. The aims of the TBS are fivefold:

To publish and distribute the Holy Scriptures throughout the world.

To promote Bible translations which are accurate and trustworthy.

To bring light and life, through the Gospel of Christ, to those who are lost in sin and in the darkness of false religion and unbelief.

To uphold the doctrines of reformed Christianity, bearing witness to the equal and eternal deity of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, three Persons in one God.

To uphold the Bible as the inspired, inerrant Word of God.

In 1990 the Presbyterian Church of Queensland withdrew from the Queens-land branch of the Bible Society of Australia, from which it had arisen. The reasons for making this decision were cited:

One of these concerns is the increasing incidence of translation work being undertaken by groups of scholars from widely differing backgrounds and widely differing approaches to the absolute reliability of the Bible. The Assembly did not agree with the Bible Society’s view that translation work is a "neutral" activity.

A second concern was the openly professed purpose of the United Bible Society as a vehicle of "common witness" and one of the most important advancements in the modern ecumenical movement. It was reported to the Assembly that 70% of UBS projects are "interconfessional" projects, that is, that they are joint ventures of Protestant Churches and the Roman Catholic Church. This involvement was officially acknowledged last year when at its Annual General meeting, the Queensland Branch of the Bible Society resolved to add the Roman Catholic Church and the Seventh Day Adventist Church [sic] to its list of constituent members. Australian Beacon, South Australia, quoted in The Sentinel, the periodical of the Orange Lodge, vol. 43 No. 1, Summer 1990

The Assembly commended the Trinitarian Society . . . to the prayerful support of the church. Ibid.

The TBS head office is at 217 Kingston Road, London SW 19 3NN. In Canada headquarters are at 39 Caldwell Crescent, Brampton, Ontario L6W 1A2. Australian headquarters may be located through P.O.Box 97, Yamba, New South Wales 2464.

It is long overdue that the Trinitarian Bible Society should be supported by Bible-believing Protestants who are concerned about the growing Roman Catholic influence in modern versions. The majority of contemporary Bible Societies have long since compromised the desire of their founders to present the pure Word of God to the peoples of the world. The Trinitarian Bible Society has eschewed such compromise.

1 For a more detailed study of this subject see Standish, C.D. and R.R., The Sacrificial Priest, Hartland Publications, Box 1, Rapidan Virginia 22733 U.S.A. <BACK>

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