How were the members of the Bible Lesson Committee selected?
Sometimes the Library receives questions about the early members of the Bible Lesson Committee for The First Church of Christ, Scientist. This committee is responsible for composing the Lesson-Sermons that Christian Scientists study each week, and which are also read at Sunday church services. They are made up of passages from the Holy Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy.
The December 1889 issue of The Christian Science Journal included a notice for “Christian Science Bible Lessons … commencing January 1890.” It also stated that these lessons would be prepared by “a number of Christian Science workers.”1
In his 1932 reminiscence, Irving Tomlinson wrote about Mary Baker Eddy’s intentions surrounding the committee:
When our Leader resolved upon the publication of Bible Lessons for the use of Christian Scientists, she appointed a committee to go over the International Series and from the text therein given prepare appropriate Bible Lessons. The first Christian Science Bible Lessons planned on this basis appeared in January 1890 and consisted of lessons for that month. This was followed on the two succeeding months by a separate booklet for each month containing lessons for the month of issue. Beginning with April 1890 the Christian Science Bible Lessons were issued quarterly under the designation “Christian Science Quarterly.”2
Eddy appointed the first members of the Bible Lesson Committee herself. In a June 17, 1893, letter to Septimus and Camilla Hanna, she expressed disappointment with the “Introductory” in issues of the Christian Science Quarterly.3 She stated:
I have taken the liberty to express the desire in writing that Judge and Mrs. Hanna, Rev. Mr. Easton, Dr Eddy, Mr. Armstrong, shall take charge of the “Introductory” in the C. S. Quarterly
While the looking up of quotations from the Bible and Science and Health be attended to by six other students of mine
W. B. Johnson
Ira O. Knapp4
On December 22, 1894, Eddy wrote to the Christian Science Board of Directors, also recommending a number of prominent early workers in the Christian Science movement as members for the Bible Lesson Committee:
I recommend that the following individuals be appointed a committee for looking up the quotations from “Science And Health with Key to the Scriptures” which shall interpret scientifically the Scriptural texts and references in your Quarterly.
S. J. Hanna I. O. Knapp Camilla Hanna W. B. Johnson E. J. Foster Eddy Mary W. Munroe E. P. Bates.
If this committee is too numerous those who wish to may withdraw their names from the list. The committee must not be cumbersom[sic] and its members must be in unity of spirit.5
Eddy also wrote to Julia Bartlett on February 4, 1895, requesting that she join the Bible Lesson Committee:
I saw that you had gained by being on the Com. for S.S. Lessons6 I also saw that others who had not been [on the Committee] needed the discipline. Hence I put others on, and to prevent making too many members named dropping yours your name for awhile only because you I know would be relieved of a task and could bear to be let off, and others could be benefitted by your so doing Now please read this letter or enclose it to Mr Johnson Also let your name remain by all means on the Com….7
Eddy elaborated on the members of the Bible Lesson Committee in a February 5, 1897, letter from to William B. Johnson (an original member of The Mother Church who was then on the Christian Science Board of Directors), as she was preparing to publish the Mother Church By-Law “The Christian Science Pastor.” She said this:
I was forcibly reminded of what has for some weeks presented itself as a duty to put into shape for a by law for the Mother Church I will tell you what it is then you can form it properly as a by-law and have it adopted when the one you forward is voted upon The Com on Bible & Science and Health S.S. Lessons consists now of 5 members. It should have six members and this would give each one ample time to search my book thoroughly for the proper sentence of paragraph which elucidates the spiritual import of the Scripture. So much wisdom and understanding of C.S. is required to select from my writings and so much of the prosperity of our cause depends on the Sunday Lesson …. 8
Additionally she stated:
1st The Com shall consist of six students 2nd There shall be a Com. chosen by this Com. to examine the students’ compilation of quotations from S. & H. and decide on the adaptation of them to the Scripture under consideration. Judge Hanna & Prof. McKenzie are two that I request to be chosen on this Com.9
Eddy continued to be involved in the selection of members to sit on the Bible Lesson Committee until her passing in December 1910. She wrote this in a letter to the Board of Directors on February 23, 1901:
Please meet and appoint Mr. John B. Willis a member of the Com. on Bible Lessons. He is a good Biblical scholar and such a one is needed Attend to this immediately.10
In a follow-up letter dated March 12, Calvin Frye wrote to William McKenzie:
In reply to your letters of recent date Mother requests me to say, at the time she sent in the name of Mr. Willis for a member of Bible Lesson Com. she did not remmbr[sic] that said Com. elected by Trustees You will please now consider the application for his election as sent to the Trustees and take action accordingly.1112
Since 1898 members of the Bible Lesson Committee have been selected by the Board of Trustees of The Christian Science Publishing Society. The names of committee members are not published.
- “Editor’s Notebook,” The Christian Science Journal, December 1889, 461.
- Irving Tomlinson, “Mary Baker Eddy: The Woman and the Revelator,” 1932, Reminiscence, 203a.
- “Introductory” refers to the way the Lessons were initially constructed. In 1898, Eddy introduced 26 permanent topics for the Bible Lessons.
- Mary Baker Eddy to Septimus and Camilla Hanna, 17 June 1893, L04968.
- Eddy to the Christian Science Board of Directors, n.d., L00079.
- Sometimes in this early period they were referred to as “Sunday School Lessons.”
- Eddy to Julia Bartlett, 4 February 1895, L07736.
- Eddy to William B. Johnson, 5 February 1897, L09492.
- Eddy to Johnson, 5 February 1897, L09492.
- Eddy to Board of Directors, 23 February 1901, L00273.
- Calvin Frye to William McKenzie, 12 March 1901, L07228.
- This letter references a change in procedure that had taken place when in the Deed of Trust organizing The Christian Science Publishing Society, dated January 25, 1898, Eddy stated in its seventh provision that the Society’s Trustees would select members of the Bible Lesson Committee.