Gene Albert’s encyclopedic knowledge about rare Bibles from around the world is on full display in his work as curator of the Tennessee Bible Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
His hourlong narrated tours of the 8,000-square-foot exhibit hall seemingly freeze onlookers in amazement. But there’s nothing cold and distant about the 70-year-old’s passion for recalling Biblical heritage that spans nearly six centuries.
“People are so thankful once they hear the story of Tyndale, how he was martyred for the English Bible in 1536, when he’d given his life for that,” Gene says. “I have people coming out and saying after they hear those stories, ‘I’m going home and read my Bible a little more now.’”
And while he’s overseen the collection and preservation of ancient Bibles and an array of Christian relics and artifacts displayed in museums in three states over 40 years, there’s one date in history that Gene cherishes more than any other.
“As far as I know, I was the first student at Liberty Baptist College to receive Christ as my Savior,” Gene says. “I came to LBC lost and received Christ on Sept. 29, 1971.”
When college founder and pastor Jerry Falwell extended the invitation at the end of the Wednesday evening worship service at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia—where the college began—19-year-old Gene was ready to surrender his life to Christ.
Only a month into his freshman year—the same year the school was founded—Gene had been memorizing Bible verses in his evangelism class and attending daily chapel services at the college, now known as Liberty University. Combined with the Sunday morning and evening worship services and Wednesday night gatherings at the church, Gene had heard the Bible taught and preached more in four weeks than he had in his entire life.
As a teenager growing up in Hagerstown, Maryland, in the 1960s, Gene went to church occasionally on Sundays. Most weekends he worked at his father’s country store stocking and bagging merchandise or cleaning windshields and pumping gas for customers.
Even then, however, Gene was intrigued by Scripture. Often, he would re-read his collection of Gospel tracts given to him by customers who frequented the family’s store. After graduating from high school, Gene attended college about an hour from home. Soon, partying and smoking marijuana with his dorm buddies became a habit that he knew he had to quit. He thought, I gotta get out of here if I want to do something with my life.
And that’s when he decided to pursue his growing fascination with the Bible at the fledgling Christian college in Virginia. “These people have something I don’t have,” Gene realized shortly after arriving on campus. After professing his faith in Christ, his life suddenly had meaning and purpose.
While pursuing his college degree in Biblical studies at Liberty, Gene’s entrepreneurial spirit was also born when he started a cassette tape duplicator business called “Cassettes for Christ” to help churches and preachers distribute recordings of their sermons.
As a member of Liberty’s first four-year graduating class in 1975, Gene had enjoyed his church history classes so much that he remained at Liberty two more years to earn his master’s degree in Christian education. Then for nearly two years he helped international missionaries on furlough in the United States travel and speak at churches to raise funds so they could return to the mission field where they were serving.
In his late 20s, Gene was subscribing to a real estate development magazine. The more he read about the industry, the more his entrepreneurial aspirations inspired him to return to his hometown of Hagerstown and launch a real estate development business. His brother-in-law partnered with him in the business, which lasted 25 years, and the two became successful at transforming farmland into new-home communities.
Ironically, as Gene developed new residential subdivisions, his love and passion for collecting rare Bibles and autographs of pioneers of the Christian faith grew as well.
“We built over 600 entry-level homes,” he says. “And when I was making money, I didn’t buy stocks and bonds. I bought rare autographs of Christians and rare Bibles.”
Gene’s first two purchases—original letters signed by Charles Spurgeon and D.L. Moody— cost him about $350 each and are now on exhibit at Liberty University in the late founder’s office.
Forty years later, Gene is known at major auction houses around the world as “The Bible Guy.” He has bought and sold more than $9 million worth of rare Bibles, autographs and other Christian artifacts.
Much of his collection was on display for 15 years in the Christian Heritage Museum he founded in Hagerstown. But in the wake of the housing market crash of 2008, Gene sold nearly all of his collection and returned to his beloved Liberty University, where he served as the curator of the Rawlings Scriptorium until launching the Tennessee Bible Museum this past summer.
The new museum features seven rooms filled with first-edition Bibles in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French and German. A scroll of the Torah from the 1800s, the first Bibles read in each of the American colonies, soldiers’ wartime Bibles, a 120-pound Bible that was printed in London and a New Testament engraved on a microchip are among hundreds of exhibits available to see and touch. A full-scale replica model of a Gutenberg printing press from the 1500s is also on display.
“The Word of God is forever settled in Heaven,” Gene says. “And we need to be lifting the Word up high and lifting the Lord Jesus up high.”
Their shared love for God’s Word is why Gene and his wife, Darlean, have been financially supporting BGEA for more than a decade. “It’s just like giving to missions,” he says. “You know it’s going to be used right. It’s going to make a difference in people’s lives.” ©2022 BGEA
Photo: Courtesy of Gene Albert