The Bible of the Revolution

William FedererBy William Federer8 Minutes

The two Chaplains of Congress in 1782 were: Rev. George Duffield, pastor of the Third Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, who helped form the Presbyterian Church in the United States; and Rev. William White, rector of Christ Church, who helped organize the Protestant Episcopal Church in America and was the first president of the Bible Society of Philadelphia — the first Bible Society in the United States.

Chaplains William White and George Duffield reported to Congress, September 10, 1782:

“REPORT OF THE CONGRESSIONAL CHAPLAINS Reverend Doct. White and Revd. Mr. Duffield, Chaplains of the United States in Congress assembled. Report.

Gentlemen, AGREEABLY to your desire we have paid attention to Mr. Robert Aitken’s impression of the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament.

Having selected and examined a variety of passages throughout the work, we are of opinion that it is executed with great accuracy as to the sense, and with as few grammatical and typographical errors as could be expected in an undertaking of such magnitude.

Being ourselves witnesses of the demand of this invaluable book, we rejoice in this present prospect of a supply; hoping that it will prove as advantageous as it is honorable to the Gentleman, who has exerted himself to furnish it, at the evident risque of private fortune.

We are,


Your very respectful and humble servants,

(Sign’d) William White, George Duffield.

Philadelphia, September 10th, 1782.”

On September 12, 1782, Congress approved of Robert Aitken’s printing of the Bible. Called “The Bible of the Revolution” it was the first English-language Bible printed in America and the only Bible ever authorized by an act of Congress:


Honble James Duane, Esq. Chairman, and the other Honble Gentlemen of the Committee of Congress on Mr. Aitken’s Memorial.

… Whereupon, RESOLVED, THAT the United States in Congress assembled highly approve the pious and laudable undertaking of Mr. Aitken, as subservient to the interest of religion, as well as an influence of the progress of arts in this country, and being satisfied from the above report of his care and accuracy in the execution of the work, they recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States, and hereby authorize him to publish this Recommendation in the manner he shall think Proper.

CHA. THOMSON, Sec’ry.”

Robert Aitkens’ “Bible of the Revolution” is one of the rarest books. In 1940, the Rev. Edwin A.R. Rumball-Petre located 28 copies of the “Bible of the Revolution” in institutions in America and abroad, and 22 in private collections.

Copies of “The Bible of the Revolution” are in the possession of the

  • American Bible Society’s Museum of Biblical Art in New York;
  • Houston Baptist University’s Dunham Bible Museum; and
  • Hobby Lobby’s Green Family, who established the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. to display The Green Collection — the world’s largest private collection of rare biblical texts and artifacts.

Congress’ endorsement of Robert Aitken’s Bible was signed by the Secretary of Congress Charles Thomson, who had also signed the Declaration of Independence with John Hancock on July 4, 1776. Charles Thomson, with William Barton, designed the Great Seal of the United States.

When Charles Thomson retired from Congress, he spent 19 years researching and writing his “Thomson Bible,” a four-volume work containing the first American translation of the Greek Septuagint. Charles Thomson’s Bible was printed in 1808 by Jane Aitken, the daughter of Robert Aitken, who had taken over her father’s printing business when he died on JULY 15, 1802. This made America’s Jane Aitken the first woman ever to print the Bible.

In 1810, the first French New Testament in America was printed in Boston, a de Sacy version based on the Catholic Latin Vulgate.

In 1811, the first Protestant French New Testament (Ostervald’s version) was printed in America at Boston, followed by the first complete French Bible published in 1815 by the New York Bible Society.

In 1819, the first Spanish New Testament was printed in the Western Hemisphere by the American Bible Society. It was from Padre Scio de San Miguel’s 1793 & 1797 Spanish translations printed in Madrid, based on the Latin Vulgate.

In 1824, the American Bible Society published America’s first complete Spanish Bible; and

In 1839, America’s first Portuguese Protestant and Catholic New Testaments.

In 1828, the first Hawaiian-language Gospel of Matthew was printed in Rochester, NY, 1828), and the first Hawaiian New Testament in Honolulu in 1835.

America’s first Hebrew Bible, based on Van der Hoog’s 1705 Amsterdam edition, was published by William Fry and Thomas Dobson in Philadelphia in 1814.

In 1845, Isaac Leeser published the first Hebrew-English edition of the Torah in the United States.

In 1848, with the help of an Episcopalian minister, Leeser published America’s first Masoretic Hebrew Tanakh, The Biblia Hebraica; and in 1853, published America’s first English translation of the entire Tanakh, referred to as The Leeser Bible.

In 1984, the American Political Review published an article titled “The Relative Influence of European Writers on Late 18th-Century American Political Thought,” written by Donald S. Lutz of the University of Houston, and Charles S. Hyneman. After reviewing nearly 15,000 items written between 1760 and 1805, Lutz and Hyneman discovered that the writers of the Constitution quoted from the Bible more than any other source.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated October 6, 1935:

“We cannot read the history of our rise and development as a Nation, without reckoning with the place the Bible has occupied in shaping the advances of the Republic … Its teaching … is ploughed into the very heart of the race. Where we have been truest and most consistent in obeying its precepts we have attained the greatest measure of contentment and prosperity; where it has been to us as the words of a book that is sealed, we have faltered in our way, lost our range finders and found our progress checked.”