Freedom for The Word

Do you know about Elias Boudinot? Having lived in Cincinnati for more than 15 years, I know Boudinot Avenue, where you can find the original LaRosa’s pizzeria. The street is named for Boudinot who owned land on the west side of the city, though I don’t think he ever lived there. Boudinot was an attorney from New Jersey who was deeply involved in the revolution, serving as a colonel in Washington’s army as the commissary general who oversaw the care of British prisoners and the supplies of American prisoners held by the British. He also supported the work of American spies during the British occupation of New York City.

Boudinot also served in the Second Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War, for a year as president of the congress. At that time, July 1777, there was a shortage of Bibles, since it was not possible to import Bibles from Britain; so a group of ministers in Philadelphia petitioned the congress to determine whether Bibles could be printed in this country. In their letter, they noted:

Unless timely care be used to prevent it we shall not have bibles for our Schools, & families, & for the publick [sic] Worship of God in our Churches…. We therefore think it our Duty to our Country & to the Churches of Christ to lay this design before this honourable [sic] house, humbly requesting that under your care, & by your encouragement, a Copy of the holy Bible may be printed, so as to be sold nearly as cheap as the Common Bibles, formerly imported from Britain & Ireland, were sold.

A committee in congress sent a letter to several printers who told them that there was no press or supplies available in this country to print our own Bibles; they would have to be imported from other countries. So the committee recommended importing 20,000 Bibles from Holland, Scotland, and other countries.

Unfortunately, the action was not completed. The Bibles were not imported, and there was no American printed Bible until 1782. Still, the fact remains, the ministers, leaders, and people of this country, in a time of crisis, recognized the need for the Bible. It was this need that prompted Elias Boudinot, John Quincy Adams, Francis Scott Key, and others to form the American Bible Society (ABS) in 1816. Boudinot, who became the first president of the ABS, once wrote, “Were you to ask me to recommend the most valuable book in the world, I should fix on the Bible as the most instructive, both to the wise and ignorant.” John Quincy Adams wrote that the Bible “is of all books in the world that which contributes most to make men good, wise, and happy.” John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court and another president of ABS, wrote, “Let us therefore persevere steadfastly in distributing the Scriptures far and near, and without note or comment. We are assured that they ‘are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16).”

Jay’s reference to Paul’s letter to Timothy underscores the enduring value and need not only to possess the Bible but to read it, study it, memorize it, and live it out. Paul wrote specifically, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17, NIV 1984). The Bible is not only foundational to our faith but to the principles upon which our country was established.

Our history shows us that our country’s leaders thought the Bible was important enough to try to print or import more, during war. Shouldn’t we, within the church, value the Bible at least that much, if not more? As we celebrate our country’s freedom, rather than merely pointing out our country’s historic faith, let’s model it by reading, studying, and living out our biblical faith.