The New York Bible Society (now known as Biblica) has distributed more than 650 million Bibles and biblical resources since its founding in 1809, including to immigrants at Ellis Island.
Amid Its Struggle to Reach Young Bible Readers, a Group Agrees to Fund a New, Contemporary Translation
When New York Bible Society representatives Youngve Kindberg and Morris Townsend attended a meeting about the start of a new Bible translation in August 1966, it didn’t take them long to realize that they might have found a solution to their organization’s problem.
The society did not have a Bible in the language of one of its target audiences — people who speak contemporary English. Young people in particular were not connecting with the older King James Version that the society was distributing.
The Committee on Bible Translation was facing its own problem. A year earlier, it had been commissioned by the broader evangelical community to produce an accurate and understandable version of the Bible in contemporary English. Planning was under way, but the project needed funding and was looking for supporters.
“We ought to do this,” Townsend told Kindberg after listening to the CBT’s translation plans.
Founded in 1809 to print and distribute Bibles in America’s largest city, the New York Bible Society (now Biblica) promoted the tenet that everyone should have access to the Bible in their native language. From its earliest days, the society helped fund translation work — beginning in 1810 with a gift of $1,000 toward William Carey’s translation of the Bible into Bengali — while remaining focused on distributing the Scriptures.
The society gave Bibles to the military beginning with the War of 1812, to inmates, to seamen passing through the city’s busy ports, and to immigrants arriving at Ellis Island. Hospitals, hotels, colleges, taxis, and even the subway and Long Island beaches had also been distribution points over the years. By the 1960s, the society had given away tens of millions of Bibles.
After the August 1966 meeting, Kindberg couldn’t get the idea of a new translation out of his mind or his prayers. On the surface, such a financial commitment didn’t make sense. The society’s resources were limited. It had just increased programming and staffing.
But the need was too great to ignore. He and Townsend went to the society’s board of directors, who agreed to keep the idea on the table and continue in prayer. Proceeding cautiously, the society began discussions about planning and budgeting with the CBT.
In January 1968, the New York Bible Society formally agreed to fund the efforts to produce a new version of the Bible in contemporary English, beginning with a budget of $100,000 for the first year. The society would hold the copyright but would not be able to touch the text, which would be under the jurisdiction of the CBT.
Ten years later, through much financial hardship, the complete New International Version of the Bible was published. The society, by then called the New York International Bible Society, and later the International Bible Society, received the modern-day translation it so desperately needed.
Today, Biblica continues to translate and publish Bibles throughout the world, including millions of copies of the NIV, and provides ongoing financial support for the work of the Committee on Bible Translation.