For Christians, the Bible is so much a part of their every day, that it’s hard to imagine life without it. But for the first three decades of the colony of New South Wales, many hard-working settlers had no access to the word of God.
It was with the vision of assisting in “distributing the word of God – the Bread of Eternal Life – to the poor perishing souls of our fellow creatures” that an auxiliary branch of the British and Foreign Bible Society in the colony of New South Wales was set up on 7 March, 1817. The creation of what has become known as the Bible Society Australia was reported on by the Sydney Gazette: “The lonely settler, who can read, or has anyone about him who can read, but is nevertheless without a Bible, will now find a means of collecting his little household about his fire side, and instead of passing away his evenings idly and without delight, listen to those lessons of instruction that will at once amuse and gratify him more than any other book, or any other manner in which he could have employed the space of unproductive leisure.”
Two hundred years ago, people knew that reading the Bible before and after the day’s labours would change the feel of the day. It was widely accepted, unlike today, that the Bible contributed to the private and public good. This is why, as the Bible Society Australia marks its bicentenary on 7 March 1817, what it really wants to celebrate is the Bible – and to advocate for it in every possible way.
Some of the ways BSA will do that next year include:
- Planning a special campaign to encourage families to share the Bible at home and to visit their local church together.
- Publishing a commemorative Bible, a spectacular book of Indigenous art, and a book on the history of the Bible in Australia.
- Inviting thousands of churches to be involved in an all-church simulcast on Sunday 5 March, 2017. This event is being organised with Hillsong Church and will include messages from the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, and Brian Houston, Senior Pastor at Hillsong.
Did you know?
- The First Fleet brought a Bible to Australia. The chaplain to the prison colony, Richard Johnson, carried with him a large leather-bound King James Version and a Book of Common Prayer. You can see these foundational documents at St Philip’s Anglican Church in York Street, Sydney. The rector of St Philip’s, Rev Justin Moffatt, considers Johnson’s KJV to be one of the nation’s greatest treasures.
- The place where Johnson preached the colony’s first sermon is not far from Bible Society’s current head office. In a square on the corner of Bligh and Hunter Streets, at the Circular Quay end of Castlereagh Street, there’s a monument recording that on this spot the first Christian church service was held in the colony of New South Wales on Sunday 3 February, 1788.
- The charter setting up the precursor to Bible Society Australia was signed on the land now occupied by the Museum of Sydney on the corner of Philip and Bridge Street, Sydney.