History of the International Society of Bible Collectors

by Jerry Bergman, Carl Johnson and William Paul

The International Society of Bible Collectors was founded by one man who had a deep passion and reverence for the Bible – Dr. Arnold D. Ehlert. It is therefore appropriate to give due credit to the person with the foresight to recognize the need for understanding the lore of Bible collecting. On May 20, 1964, Dr. Ehlert formally organized The International Society of Bible Collectors in the lounge of the Rose Memorial Library building at Biola College in La Mirada, California. The founding members present were Arnold D. Ehlert, at that time the head librarian at Biola College, Ferdinand J. Wiens, manager of the Biola Book Room, Walter Coslet, Gerald L. Gooden, reference librarian, and William Eberling, assistant professor of doctrine at Biola College (The Bible Collector, Jan/Mar, 1965:1). Walter Coslet, a charter member, drove all the way from Helena, Montana to be at this historic first meeting.

Thus began the first society designed to focus exclusively on collecting Bible translations and researching the various versions of the Bible. In January of 1965, the first issue of the society’s publication, The Bible Collector, appeared as an 8-page periodical serving as the primary mode of communication between its members. The publication enabled Bible collectors to exchange information with each other, and has served collectors, librarians, Bible scholars and book dealers, alike for decades. In the first issue, after acknowledging that theology is “the queen of sciences” and that the Bible is “the king of the book world,” Dr. Ehert lamented the fact that, although many organizations deal with Bible translation and distribution, none then existed to explore the thousands of different extant English versions of the Old and New Testament, the primary focus of the new society. When a collector obtains a new version, it is extremely helpful to learn about the version’s background, its uses, nuances, advantages, disadvantages, and its specific focus and slant, as well as its bias. A society of Bible collectors could help scholars and collectors alike to understand the importance of a specific version as well as the entire field itself.

A specific concern for all collectors is the rarity and value of a Bible translation. As Ehlert has observed, most translations are relatively rare and many exist only in typewritten form or are printed in very small editions. He notes that only 250 copies of Moore’s mimeographed New Testament were printed — and when he wrote his article, only slightly over 150 of these were then sold.

Mr. Ehlert’s undergraduate degree was from John Fletcher College in 1932. He then completed a master’s in theology in 1942 from Dallas Theological Seminary, a Master of Science in library science from the University of Southern California in 1953, and a Doctor of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary in 1945. His first love was always books and libraries, and since 1942 almost his entire career was as a librarian, usually for a theological seminary library or a Christian college library. Among his many professional honors is a listing in Who’s Who in Education and Who’s Who in Religion. He focused his career on developing college library collections, and this was the source of his interest in Bible translations. In building collections, he soon realized that many different Bibles exist which appear to be different translations which were actually only a different printing of the King James or another common translation. Recognizing the need to accurately catalog Bible translations — and to understand each one’s advantages and differences so that they can better be assessed for a college library, were part of the genesis behind a society of Bible collectors.

The society’s journal has also reviewed new translations, books on Bible translations and even Ph.D. dissertations on Bible translations. Articles have included interesting typographical errors in Bible printings such as the “Owl Bible,” and the history behind a specific translation. For example, Benjamin Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglot was featured in the April- June, 1965 issue. Although a little known translation, it has served a critical role in the history of American religion. It was in this version that Charles T. Russell, the founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses, noted that the Greek word parousia was translated as presence instead of coming. This translation was critical in sparking the theory that Christ had returned invisibly in 1874 (the date was later changed by the Watchtower to 1914) which was a critical catalyst in the development of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Without it, the sect may never have formed.

Ehlert remained active in publishing articles and editing the journal until declining vision forced his retirement. He was its editor-in-chief until the end of 1984, which was the eightieth issue and the twentieth year of the organization. Among the many articles he wrote was a bibliography of the King James Bible (No. 13), and an article on a rare multi-lingual Bible (No. 76). Even the first issue under a new editor, the January 1985 issue found Dr. Ehlert still active as the journal’s book review editor, a role which he was able to maintain until the last issue of 1986 (Vol. 2, No. 4). Health problems and poor eyesight finally forced him to give up even this limited activity and finally forced him to relinquished his position to Rev. Gerald Studer as the new book review editor. In 1998 at the age of 88 Dr. Ehlert passed away, just nine days after the death of his wife Thelma Amanda (Adolphs) Ehlert.

In 1985, Carl V. Johnson of Oak Creek, Wisconsin became the second editor of the society’s publication. It was at this time that the name of the journal was changed (by the request of Arnold Ehlert) to Bible Collectors’ World. Mr. Johnson stepped into his position with over 20 years of experience in the publishing and printing field, which helped serve the society well as the journal was published by him for the next nine years. One of the goals accomplished by the new editor was to improve the overall quality of the society’s journal. This was done by increasing the content and expanding the page count, usually between 20 to 32 pages, along with improving the quality of the paper and cover. Another important addition to the journal was the inclusion of advertisement from businesses that cater to the specific interests of the collector.

As time went by Mr. Johnson found himself overextended in his commitments and often struggled to keep the journal on schedule which caused many of the society’s members to be frustrated. After consulting with the executive committee, President Studer invited Mr. William E. Paul of Seattle, Washington to become the publication’s third editor.
By the end of 1987 Dr. Ehlert realized due to his declining health that it was now necessary to pass on the mantle of leadership to someone new. On January 1988, the Rev. Gerald Studer, of Lansdale, Pennsylvania and Vice-President of the society became the second president in the organizations history. Rev. Studer, pastor of Plains Mennonite Church, stepped right in without missing a beat.

A prolific writer, Rev. Studer has published numerous articles in nearly a dozen publications as well as contributing to The Bible Collector and Bible Collectors’ World in the capacity of Associate Editor and book reviewer. Among his published works are: A Theology of Servanthood (1965), Christopher Dock, Colonial Schoolmaster (1967), and After Death, What? (1976).

Rev. Studer received a B.A. degree from Goshen College in 1949 and additional degrees from Goshen Biblical Seminary (ThB, 1950; BD, 1957; MDiv, 1971). During his lengthy and distinguished ministerial career, Studer has also served as first President of the North America Mennonite Youth Fellowship (1947-1950), and was a member of the Mennonite Publication Board (1956-1959, 1965-1968, and 1993-2001). He was a member of the General Mennonite Board, which served the entire North American Mennonite Church (1971-1973). He also was a member of the Mennonite Historical and Research Committee (1960-1971).

Collecting Bibles since a teenager Rev. Studer’s collection grew to more than 5500 volumes, which was eventually donated to his alma mater, the Associated Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, after his retirement from the pastorate.
During his tenure as President of ISBC, Rev. Studer made many contributions to the society, but probably the most important of these contributions was the establishment of the society’s annual conventions. These conventions for the first time allowed fellow members and collectors to meet and interact with each other on a personal basis. In addition to members coming together, they also had the opportunity to hear world class scholars lecture on some aspect of translation work and to visit some of the most impressive Bible collections in the country. Since holding our first convention in Greenwood (Indianapolis), Indiana in 1991 the ISBC has held annual conventions all across the country since then. After serving faithfully as President for 14 years, Rev. Studer decided it was time to step down and so relinquished leadership of the ISBC at the close of 2002.

In 1992, Evangelist William E. Paul, of Seattle, Washington assumed the responsibilities of editor of the society’s journal, Bible Collectors’ World. Mr. Paul is a graduate of Midwestern School of Evangelism, Ottumwa, Iowa, B.S.L. (1955), BTh. (1977) and M.S.L (1978). He was ordained a minister by the Union Park Church of Christ, Orlando, Florida (July 2, 1967) and subsequently held located preaching ministries in Orlando, Florida (1954-1967), North Platte, Nebraska (1968-1970), Denver, Colorado (1970-1978) and Seattle, Washington (1978-2001). He has also been active in conducting revival meetings and teaching in camps, rallies and seminars in twenty-three states as well as taking short-term mission trips to the Bahamas (1957-1960) and Jamaica (2000).

Mr. Paul has served as a Bible college professor in Gering, Nebraska (1967-1970), Denver, Colorado (1970-1975) and Seattle, Washington (1978-2000). He managed Christian youth camps in Florida and Colorado, and has also served on the steering committees for youth and family camps.

His literary work began in 1955, when he founded and edited the religious periodical News and Truths. This was published continuously, changing its name to Impact for Christ in 1970, until 1981. Besides writing articles for numerous periodicals, Mr. Paul has authored twenty-three books and booklets, including a New Testament version titled, An Understandable Version (1995) and English Language Bible Translators (2003).

Having begun collecting Bibles in 1947, Mr. Paul became a member of the International Society of Bible Collectors in 1968. He has written and lectured on English Bible translations and conducted public Bible displays in several states, as well as writing numerous articles for the society’s journal.

During his tenure as chief editor many improvements have been incorporated into the journal. One of the first noticeable changes made was the use of photos of translators with accompanying feature articles. And probably the most popular change Mr. Paul made was the introduction of a feature called “Bible Info-Lines,” which consists of brief, miscellaneous items of interest about Bible editions and versions. This feature became so popular that it has now been published as a 96-page paperback book, reproducing the 440 "Bible Info-Lines" items that appeared in the journal from 1992 until 2002.
Two other major changes began with the 2000 issue. First, and probably the most important, was the change of the journal’s name. With the January-March 2000 issue the new name became, Bible Editions & Versions, which the editor believes better reflects the interests of those who acquire copies of various editions and versions of the Bible. Mr. Paul stated that “in the course of interaction with our members over the years, one significant factor has repeatedly surfaced. And that is that there are many persons who own collections of several dozens of Bibles who do not consider themselves to be ‘collectors,’ as such. To these, the acquisition of Bibles of various kinds and for a variety of purposes is somehow denigrated by the use of the term ‘collector.’ In the minds of some, that designation places the sacred writings in the same category as stamps, baseball cards, or other ‘collectibles.’ In fact, just the opposite is true. The membership of the ISBC consists of scholars, translators, librarians, theologians, and curators as well as many ministers, Bible students and avid Bible readers. These people hold the Bible in the very highest regard and make every effort to elevate its status and importance among all people. However, because of a misconception fostered by the term ‘collector’ many who would benefit from membership in our Society and from receiving its journal, are ‘turned off’ and are disinclined to join. We consider this to be regrettable and feel the need to correct that misconception.” And so the name was changed to reflect a broader spectrum of those who treasure the Bible.

Second, the journal took a major leap forward with its overall quality. The journal is now printed on glossy stock that not only improves its appearance but also the quality of the product, both of which will enhance its appeal to the reader.
In 2001 the International Society of Bible Collectors entered into the technology age when Mr. Kevin Krall, an ISBC member for many years, volunteered to develop a web-site for our organization. The web-site www.biblecollectors.org became a place where people could go and get basic information about the organization along with current information about upcoming conventions. This was a big step for our society and has helped to get the word to the general public about the organization.

At the September 13-14, 2002 annual convention in Atlanta, Georgia, Rev. Gerald Studer formally announced his resignation as President during the business portion of the meeting. Mr. Michael Morgan became the new President. But due to unforeseen circumstances, and subsequent deliberation by the ISBC executive committee, the committee accepted the tendered resignation of Michael Morgan as President on the last day of the convention. Rev. Gerald Studer agreed to serve as interim President until a replacement could be found.

On November 2002, Carl V. Johnson, a member of ISBC since 1981, was appointed to the position of President, becoming its third President. He has been a life long student of the Bible and has collected Bibles for study and comparison since a teenager. Mr. Johnson has been active in a variety of ministries over the years and is currently the Assistant Pastor at Twin City Fellowship, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Mr. Johnson also has served in ministries pertaining to Israel since 1988.

As President, Mr. Johnson has focused on several important ways that will help further the growth and progress of the society. First, the society’s web-site has under gone major changes that will allow individuals to access larger amounts of information which our organization has accumulated. Second, Mr. Johnson, with the valuable help of Executive Committee members, has pushed forward the need to become a non-profit organization. With this new status, monetary contributions as well as contributions of Bible collections, research papers, and miscellaneous Bible items to the society will help strengthen its future. And lastly, he has committed himself to the growth of the society, this he believes can be accomplished by the newly revised web-site, promotional mailings, and advertising our organization in specific focused publications.

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