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
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
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
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
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.