CINCINNATI -- In the 1450s in Mainz, Germany, Johannes Gutenberg kicked off a revolution by printing the first major book using mass-produced, movable metal type: a Bible, written in Latin.
Since 1973, in Milford, Bearing Precious Seed has continued to make the scriptures available to the masses. It has printed about 165 million volumes in that time -- whole Bibles, New Testaments or combination Gospel of John/Paul’s Letter to the Romans.
The demand is so great that the operation can’t keep up with it, said Assistant Director Sam Caudill.
There’s a six-month backlog of Bibles to print, and one of about three months for the smaller volumes, said Phil Taylor, director of the nonprofit’s Seedline ministry. A few weeks ago, Bearing Precious Seed added a fourth tower and splicing units to its main press, increasing print capacity from 90 pages at a time to 128, Taylor said.
“Most people know, if they are looking for Bibles for missionaries, to call Bearing Precious Seed,” Taylor said. The ministry gets calls on a daily basis from people who need a Bible printed in a particular language, he said.
The print shop and warehouse are enormous, bigger than those of some small newspaper chains. In addition to the large main printer, there are several smaller ones and other large machines for binding books. The shelves are piled high with pallets full of Bibles in all sorts of languages, ready for shipment.
They’re sent, free of charge, to independent Baptist missionaries throughout the world, who give them to people who don’t have access to the Christian scriptures.
Some pallets hold pages for Bibles that haven’t been completed. These are destined for shipment to one of about 280 churches in the Seedline ministry. Under supervision of Bearing Precious Seed staffers, volunteers at those churches will complete the finishing work and often send them back to Milford for distribution.
Bearing Precious Seed has about 15 full-time employees, Taylor said, and it also has hundreds of volunteers who do everything from boxing up Bibles for shipment to feeding pages into the bindery line.
According to its most recent annual filing with the Internal Revenue Service, at the end of 2015, the ministry had total assets of $3 million, and only $27,000 in liabilities.
Its office and production facilities are located on the campus of First Baptist Church of Milford on Woodville Pike, an independent Baptist church not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, the world’s largest Baptist denomination. About 700 attend Sunday morning worship every week, said its pastor, William Duttry.
The campus is also home to the nonprofit Master Ministries Inc., which supplies materials for children’s ministries in 46 states; Milford Christian Academy, a Christian school; and the Biblical School of World Evangelism & Bible Institute, a college for training missionaries.
Bearing Precious Seed, whose formal name is First Baptist Church Scripture Publishing Ministry, is a standalone nonprofit, but its board is the same as that of the church, Taylor said. It’s the only print shop associated with a church that he knows of in the Tri-State.
Caudill said it began more than 43 years ago, when First Baptist’s then-pastor, Charles Keen, heeded a call to print Bibles and help “preserve the Word of God.” It started with a donated press that was set up in the basement of the church, which was then on Center Street, in a building that now houses the Milford Police Department.
Representatives of the ministry recruited other churches to support it, Caudill said, which helped it grow.
According to its most recent IRS filing, Bearing Precious Seed funds itself almost entirely through contributions and other public support, which amounted to $3.2 million in 2014 and $2.3 million in 2015.
The nonprofit gets its translations from like-minded organizations and missionaries, Taylor said. One missionary spent 17 years to produce a translation for a language spoken in one part of New Guinea that wasn’t written down, he said.
Bearing Precious Seed honors requests to print Bibles in all languages, but it won't print one in any version other than the King James Version. That’s the version authorized by King James I of England, translated from the original Greek and Hebrew and completed in 1611.
The King James uses forms of speech that were becoming archaic even when it was written, such as “thee” and “thou” for “you.” But the leaders of Bearing Precious Seed believe it reflects the originals more faithfully than modern translations, Taylor said.
Because Bibles are so accessible in the U.S., Americans sometimes think that’s the case everywhere in the world, Taylor said, but it’s not. He’s been to places, such as Sierra Leone in Africa, where even if someone could afford a Bible, it couldn’t be found in that person’s language.
It’s not cost-effective for a large publishing house to print Bibles in a language only a few thousand people might speak, Taylor said, and that’s the niche Bearing Precious Seed fills.
“Our ministry is built on the idea that it’s the responsibility of God’s people to get the word of God out to the world,” he said.