Now What? American Bible Union

By David A. Fryxell Premium

Q. What can you tell me about the American Bible Union? I found a certificate in our family Bible stating that an ancestor, James Hitching, donated a dime to this group Nov. 24, 1867.

A. The American Bible Union was a Baptist organization founded in New York City June 10, 1850, to promote the translation and printing of a revised version of the Bible. It was a splinter group from the American Bible Society (ABS), founded in 1816 by a group of New York philanthropists whose goal was “the dissemination of the Scriptures in the received versions where they exist, and in the most faithful where they may be required.”

In 1827, Thomas J. Conant of Rochester Theological Seminary proposed a thorough revision of the Bible in which the Greek word for baptism would instead be translated as “immersion.” The ABS rejected Conant’s ideas — along with a translation by Adoniram Judson, a Baptist missionary in Burma, incorporating them — leading to a split. The American and Foreign Bible Society (AFBS) was formed to promote and distribute Bibles containing the “immersion” translation.

In 1838, AFBS president Spencer Cone proposed a more sweeping revision of the Scriptures. After more than a decade of heated argument, Cone’s proposal was rejected and he resigned as president, spearheading a new schism. He joined 23 other “revisionists” to found the American Bible Union, which began issuing its own Bible one book at a time, beginning with the Book of Job in 1856. That 165-page version displayed side by side the King James Version, the Hebrew text and a new translation by Thomas Conant. The Union’s completed Bible was published in 1863 and claimed to correct “24,000 errors” in the King James Version. It made little dent in the dominance of the King James Bible, but did help pave the way for the Revised Standard Version published in the mid-20th century.

Based on your ancestor’s donation, you might try looking for him in records of his local Baptist church.

From the July 2011 issue of Family Tree Magazine

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