History of The Iranian Bible Society

The first Bible Society contact with Iran was in the person of Henry Martyn who came to Iran in 1811 to revise his translation of the New Testament that he had started in India. Martyn had been instrumental in the founding of the Calcutta auxiliary of the British and Foreign Bible Society. This Bible Society auxiliary convinced Martyn of the necessity of having his translation revised and he decided to do it in Iran. When the translation had been completed in 1812, the newly established Russian Bible Society volunteered to publish it. The publication of the Persian New Testament in 1815 provided the first printed copies of the Persian New Testament to be circulated in Iran.The next contact was through Joseph Wolff of the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews. When Wolff came through Gavilan in Azerbaijan in 1824, Bishop Yuhannan of the Assyrian Church of the East gave him a copy of the Syriac Pentateuch to be printed. When Justin Perkins came to Iran in 1834 he had copies of the Syriac Pentateuch that had been printed in London by the British and Foreign Bible Society.

In 1837 the British and Foreign Bible Society appointed an agent for Iran and neighboring countries. The first agent was Jacob Samuel, an English missionary to the Jews, who did not reside in Iran.

In 1878 both the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS) and the American Bible Society (ABS) employed colporteurs in Iran to distribute Bibles and biblical materials. The first colporteur was Benyamin Badal, an Assyrian who was based in Esfahan and served for forty-one years. By 1902 the BFBS had ten colporteurs and at one time the ABS had up to fifty colporteurs working out of four cities in Iran. In 1880 Robert Bruce, a Church Missionary Society missionary, was designated as the agent of BFBS in charge of a depot in Esfahan. At the same time ABS established an agency in Iran with William L. Whipple, a Presbyterian missionary, as its agent based in Tabriz.

In 1895 a Bible house was dedicated in Julfa and in 1914 a Bible house was opened in Tehran which eventually became the center of Bible Society work in Iran. ABS withdrew from work in Iran in 1913. In 1936 Adl Nakhosteen was appointed as the representative of the BFBS in Iran, the first Iranian to serve in this position. He consolidated the Bible Society work in Iran, supervised the construction of the new Bible House in Tehran, and served until 1966.

In 1946 the national Bible Societies formed the United Bible Societies (UBS), a global organization to coordinate the work of translation, publishing, and distribution of scriptures. The Bible Society auxiliary in Iran was made an office of UBS, and later in 1976 it became an associate member of UBS during the time that Tateos Michaelian was executive secretary. It was also during his tenure that the new translation of the New Testament, Today’s Persian Version, was completed and published.

In 1990 during the time that Rev. Sadegh Sepheri was executive secretary, the Iranian Bible Society was closed by the government. For the next 25 years the publication and distribution of Persian scriptures and the completion of the translation of the Old Testament was administered through the Asia Regional Office of the United Bible Societies. The completed translation of the Persian Bible was dedicated at a special ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2007.

A new Iranian Bible Society in Diaspora was formed in 2015 with an international board of Iranian Christians. Nahid Sepehri was appointed as the executive director.