The British & Foreign Bible Society’s Strange History
May 13, 2020
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
For Love of the Bible
The following is excerpted from For Love of the Bible: The Battle for the Authorized Version and the Received Text from 1800 to Present, available from Way of Life Literature.


The Bible societies have been leavened with apostasy from their very inception in the early 19th century. The destructive seeds of false doctrine and ecumenism were present from the earliest days.

The first Bible Society was formed in 1804 in England and named the British & Foreign Bible Society (BFBS). It was established on March 7, 1804, at London Tavern (
The History of Christianity, Lion Publishing, 1977, p. 558). The BFBS, which was a founding member of the United Bible Societies in 1946, was deeply leavened with heresy from the beginning.

Consider a few documented facts regarding this organization’s early history:

The British Bible Society Worked with Roman Catholic Priests

“Roman Catholics also enjoyed the support of the BFBS. Soon after its founding, the BFBS sent funds to Bishop Michael Wittmann [Roman Catholic] of Regensburg. When the Bavarian priest, Johannes Gossner prepared a German translation of the New Testament, he too was supported by the BFBS. The main Catholic agent of the BFBS was, however, Leander van Ess, a priest and professor of [Catholic] theology at Marburg” (The History of Christianity, p. 558).

“The policy of the United Bible Societies regarding the Apocrypha and interconfessional co-operation with Roman Catholic scholars on Bible translations was outlined in a booklet published by the American Bible Society in 1970 ... Referring to the interdenominational character of the Bible societies, [the booklet] states that Roman Catholics participated in the founding of some Bible societies in Europe, and that ‘the British and Foreign Bible Society from the beginning co-operated with Roman Catholic groups.’ It is also acknowledged that Roman Catholic churchmen were invited to participate in the founding of the American Bible Society in 1816” (“The Bible Societies,”
Trinitarian Bible Society Quarterly Record, Jan.-Mar., 1979, pp. 13-14).

The British Bible Society Invited Unitarian Participation

Most of the readers of this study will know that Unitarians, while claiming to be Christian, have no right to be called such. They deny the very Triune God of the Scriptures, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. They scoff at Christ’s Deity, vehemently denying that our Lord was very God and very Man. How, then, can they possibly be considered Christians? And yet, the British & Foreign Bible Society brought these heretics into its membership upon its founding at the turn of the 19th century. The shameful history is given briefly from firsthand accounts and historical documents quoted from the files of the Trinitarian Bible Society in London.

“When the constitution of the British and Foreign Bible Society was first formulated, it was understandably not foreseen that the question of Unitarianism would have much relevance to the society’s work. Before long, however, UNITARIANS GAINED SUBSTANTIAL INFLUENCE UPON THE AFFAIRS OF THE BIBLE SOCIETY, PARTICULARLY IN EUROPE, WHERE SOME AUXILIARY SOCIETIES WERE RUN ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY BY PERSONS OF UNITARIAN BELIEFS” (Andrew Brown, The Word of God Among All Nations, p. 12).

It was the failure to secure a provision in the society’s constitution to remove the Unitarian heretics which led to the formation of a separate organization in 1831, the Trinitarian Bible Society.

“The Trinitarian Bible Society was founded in 1831 after a period of controversy among supporters of the British and Foreign Bible Society regarding the constitution and policy of that Society. Deep concern was expressed over the lack of a Scriptural doctrinal basis sufficiently explicit to ensure that ‘Unitarians’ denying the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ could not be admitted to membership or hold office in the Society. A motion recommending the adoption of such a basis was the subject of a prolonged and heated debate in Exeter Hall in the Strand, London, at the Annual Meeting. THE MOTION WAS REJECTED BY A LARGE MAJORITY, but those who were deeply convinced that the decision was wrong from ‘Provisional Committee’ ... When it became clear that there was no prospect of bringing this about [the changing of the BFBS’s unscriptural policies], the ‘Provisional Committee’ convened a meeting to establish a Bible Society on Scriptural principles” (Trinitarian Bible Society Quarterly Record, No. 475, April-June, 1981, p. 3).

One would certainly think that a Bible Society should be founded on “Scriptural principles”! As we have seen, though, such was not the case with the British and Foreign Bible Society, and such has not been the case with the other societies which have banded together to form the United Bible Societies. They translate and distribute the Bible, but they do not obey it.

The British Bible Society Blatantly Denied the Infallibility of Scripture

In 1820s, the British and Foreign Bible Society was distributing Bibles with a preface denying the infallible inspiration of Scripture.

“The preface, by a French theologian, Dr. Haffner, treated inspiration in the way that had so disgusted Haldane in Geneva: Ezekiel, for instance was said to have possessed ‘a very lively imagination’” (D.W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, p. 88).

(Bebbington is referring to Robert Haldane, who defended the infallible inspiration of Scripture in his 1816 book The Evidence and Authority of Divine Revelation.)

The British Bible Society Did Not Allow Public Prayer or Bible Quotations In Its Meetings!

The history of the British and Foreign Bible Society becomes even stranger. One compromise leads to another, as the Bible so solemnly warns. Let’s take a closer look at the British and Foreign Bible Society around 1830, keeping in mind that the Unitarians were a strong presence by this time.

“There arose a question over the desirability of offering up prayer to God at meetings of the society, concerning which there was no provision in the society’s constitution. Lack of such provision would perhaps not have led to serious disagreement were it not for the simultaneous problem about Unitarians. There was a feeling that public prayer to God, offered in the name of Christ, was being avoided for fear of giving offence to Unitarian members. ...

“The committee was urged to call a special meeting of the society to settle the matter, but it refused to do so. Since the society’s rules did not provide for the requisitioning of special meetings by the members, there was no option but to raise the matter at the next Anniversary Meeting, in May 1831. ... It was to be expected that, with these emotive issues occupying the minds of many people, the Anniversary Meeting would run into stormy weather. The meeting took place on Wednesday, May 4th, 1831, at the newly built Exeter Hall in the Strand. ...

“On this occasion the annual report included a recommendation that oral prayer should not be introduced at meetings of the society, but made no explicit reference to the problem about Unitarians. ... At the conclusion of the seconder’s speech, a degree of excitement seemed to pervade the Meeting ... J.E. Gordon immediately advanced from the northern end of the platform, and took his place on the right of the chair, amidst loud and continued applause. Several minutes passed before order was restored, and then Gordon spoke:

“‘If, instead of thus clapping your hands, you would lift up your hands to the throne of grace, I must take the liberty of saying, you would perform an act more becoming a Christian Society. ... The first portion which I seek to establish is, that the British and Foreign Bible Society is preeminently a religious and Christian Institution, and that no person rejecting the doctrine of the triune Jehovah. ...’ —interrupted by thunders of applause, which lasted several minutes, BUT WHICH WERE IMMEDIATELY REPLIED TO BY MOST DETERMINED HISSING FROM VARIOUS PARTS OF THE MEETING.

“When order was restored, Gordon resumed his speech: ‘...That no person rejecting the doctrine of the triune Jehovah can be considered a member of a Christian institution. Thirdly, that in conformity with this principle, the expression ‘denominations of Christians’ in the Ninth General Law of the Society, by distinctly understood to include such denominations of Christians only as profess their belief in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.’

“He went on to say that he would not at present raise the question of opening meetings with prayer, as this would be an utter waste of time if the proposition about non-Trinitarians was not at first accepted. When he sought to justify his arguments by quoting from Scripture, HE WAS MET BY REPEATED INTERRUPTIONS AND HECKLING FROM PART OF THE AUDIENCE. THE CHAIRMAN, LORD BEXLEY, SIDED WITH THE INTERRUPTERS AND RESTRAINED GORDON FROM CITING SCRIPTURE, ON THE GROUNDS THAT TO COMMENT ON THE SCRIPTURE WAS “TO GO AGAINST THE PRINCIPLE OF THE INSTITUTION.

“A general uproar ensued which the Rev. William Howels vainly tried to calm ... Gordon was seconded by the Rev. George Washington Philips ... Amid scenes of wild disorder, one speaker after another failed to make themselves heard. ... AT THE END OF THE MEETING, WHICH LASTED FIVE AND A HALF HOURS, GORDON’S PROPOSALS WERE VOTED ON BY A SHOW OF HANDS, AND REJECTED BY A MAJORITY ESTIMATED AT 6 TO 1” (Andrew Brown,
The Word of God Among All Nations, pp. 12-16, quoting The Record, May 5th, 1831).

Could anything be stranger than this true history of the British Bible Society? What a shameful, sad account! Here we have professing Christians hissing at and heckling a man of God who had made a simple proposition that those who deny the Triune God should have no part in that God’s business! Do not forget that these were supposed Christian leaders and men involved in Bible translation and distribution. Here we have a Bible Society refusing to allow the Bible to be quoted, saying such is against their principles! Here we have a Bible Society having to fight a great battle just to have public prayer allowed in their meetings! And here we have a Bible Society, within 30 years of its founding, voting 6 to 1 against separating from Bible- and Christ-denying Unitarians!

If any of our readers are confused at this, please understand that those causing the trouble at the meeting discussed above were not true Christians in any sense. The Bible warns that there will be many who claim to be Christians, but who will be false Christians. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself warned of this many times: “And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many” (Matt. 24:11). “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matt. 7:15). Those who were in control of the Bible Society in Britain in the 1830s were the wolves in sheep’s clothing Jesus warned of. What could be more clever than for the Devil to take over the very production and distribution of the Bible! He has done exactly this during the past century and a half. Praise God that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the true churches (Matthew 16:18), and even in this day of awful apostasy (turning away) from the truth there are many churches and organizations continuing to translate and distribute the pure Word of God and who not only distribute the Bible but OBEY the Bible! The Word of God is not lost, and God’s work is not confounded. At the same time, it is true that much of the work of Bible production has been taken over by heretics.

The Apostles added their voices to Christ’s warning about false teachers. Paul foretold that conditions among professing Christians will grow increasingly corrupt:

“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men ... [will have] a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. ... Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of truth. ... Evil men and seducers SHALL WAX WORSE AND WORSE, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:1, 5, 7, 13).

What a perfect description of today’s Bible Society “scholars,” who are swept from one new theory of inspiration and textual criticism to another!

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