Historic Bible collection
History of the Bible collection at The Mary Baker Eddy Library
The First Church of Christ, Scientist originally opened its Bible collection to the public during the 1991 celebration of National Bible Week. We now share a selection of volumes from the Library’s Historic Bible Collection, as well as other historic books in this collection, through this online catalogue. The unique attributes, craftsmanship, and artistry of each volume are exhibited in high-quality scans of the covers, title pages, and selected text pages.
The Historic Bible Collection began to take form in the 1930s when William Pitfield, a Christian Scientist in England, donated a number of rare Bibles to the Church. In a letter offering a reprint of Wyclif’s Bible Pitfield wrote of “the need of awakening the minds of young people particularly to the value of the Scriptures.” He felt it “imperative at this time … when tireless efforts are being made in some quarters to turn thought away from the inspired Word.” [Pitfield to the Christian Science Board of Directors, 6 January 1936, organizational archives of the Board of Directors]
Pitfield soon brought to the attention of the Christian Science Board of Directors other volumes that they could acquire, which he thought would be of value to the growing collection. A letter from the Directors to Pitfield gives their original criteria for adding to the Bible collection: “… our interest lies in editions which indicate steps in the history of mankind or which have been of great benefit or value to a large number of people—volumes which, perhaps, represent turning points in history—rather than unusual or rare versions of the Bible.” [Board of Directors to Pitfield, 25 June 1936, organizational archives]
Several Bibles in the collection do mark “firsts” in the thousand-year evolution of the modern Bible, including a first edition King James Bible from 1611. It was donated by Edgar Isaac Newgass, another Christian Scientist in England, who was also a poet and Bible collector. He gave Bibles including first editions of the Coverdale and Matthew’s, in addition to the King James Version.
Donations of other important volumes have been made to the Church by students of Christian Science. The collection has grown to more than 460 volumes, including other important historic Bibles, and historic Bible reference, devotional, and related books.
Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science, loved and studied the Bible throughout her life. She quotes the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures hundreds of times in her writings. And she ordained the Bible, along with her work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, as Pastor of the Church of Christ, Scientist. The First Tenet of Christian Science states: “As adherents of Truth, we take the inspired Word of the Bible as our sufficient guide to eternal Life” (Science and Health, 497).