Milestones in the Production of African-Language Bibles
SINCERE Bible readers from Europe and North America long recognized the need for Africans to be able to read God’s Word in their own tongues. To this noble end, many men went to Africa to learn African languages. Some gave tongues a written form and produced dictionaries. After that, they set about translating the Bible into many different African languages. This was no easy task. “A man might have to search for years before he found the right term for even the simplest and most fundamental of Christian concepts,” explains The Cambridge History of the Bible.
In 1857 the Tswana people became the first to have a complete Bible translation in one of Africa’s formerly unwritten tongues.a It was printed and bound in sections, not as one book. In time, translations of the Bible appeared in other African languages. Many of these early African translations contained God’s name, Jehovah, in both the Hebrew Scriptures, or “Old Testament,” and the Christian Greek Scriptures, or “New Testament.” However, revisions and new translations were produced by individuals who did not respect the holy name of the Author of the Bible, Jehovah. Instead, they followed the superstitious Jewish tradition of replacing the divine name with titles, such as God or Lord. Thus, a need arose for lovers of God in Africa to have a Bible translation that restores the divine name.
Since the 1980’s, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses has made a concerted effort to have the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures rendered into a number of major African languages. As a result, today hundreds of thousands of Bible lovers in Africa are able to read the New World Translation in their mother tongue. Thus far, the New World Translation, in whole or in part, is available in 17 indigenous African tongues.
Readers of these African-language Bibles are delighted to have a translation that highlights God’s glorious name, Jehovah. For example, when Jesus stood up in the synagogue in Nazareth, he announced his commission by reading a portion of the scroll of Isaiah, where his Father’s name appears. (Isaiah 61:1, 2) According to Luke’s Gospel as rendered in the New World Translation, Jesus read: “Jehovah’s spirit is upon me, because he anointed me to declare good news to the poor, he sent me forth to preach a release to the captives and a recovery of sight to the blind, to send the crushed ones away with a release, to preach Jehovah’s acceptable year.”—Luke 4:18, 19.
Another milestone in the production of African-language Bibles was reached in August 2005. During that month, over 76,000 copies of the New World Translation in languages spoken in Africa were printed and bound at the South Africa branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Included in that number were 30,000 Bibles in the Shona language. This edition was released at the “Godly Obedience” Conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Zimbabwe.
During that memorable month, visitors to the South Africa branch were thrilled to see the production of new African-language Bibles. “I was very happy and excited to have the privilege of sharing in the production of the New World Translation in Shona and other languages of Africa,” said Nhlanhla, a member of the Bethel family who works on the bindery line. Indeed, he sums up the feelings of the entire South Africa Bethel family.
New Bibles will now reach the African public more quickly and economically than when they were produced overseas and shipped from there. More important, Africans now have readily available an accurate translation that uses the holy name of the grand Author of the Bible, Jehovah God.
a By 1835 the Bible had been translated into the Malagasy language of Madagascar, and by 1840, the Amharic language of Ethiopia. These languages existed in written form long before the Bible was translated into them.
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The divine name in a Tswana Bible published in 1840
Harold Strange Library of African Studies
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Visitors from Swaziland view new Bibles being produced at the South Africa branch