As I See It - Vol. 1, No. 10, Oct 1998

by Douglas K Kutilek

Volume 1, Number 10, October, 1998


In our age of heightened interest in English Bible translations, there is a corresponding interest in modern Bible translations in languages other than English. However, finding sources of information about the multitude of "foreign" versions is quite a challenge. Over a period of many years, I have located several sources that proved exceptionally valuable in this regard, and I hereby recommend them to you, treating them in chronological order.

1. Thomas Hartwell Horne, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE CRITICAL STUDY AND KNOWLEDGE OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES. 4 vols. in 5 parts. Baker Book House, 1970 reprint of 1839, 8th edition.

Vol. 2, part 2 of this exceedingly informative and valuable set of books has an extensive section on modern Bible versions in the languages of Europe (pp. 90-106), followed by the modern Bible versions in the languages of Asia (pp. 106-122), then of Africa (pp. 122-124), then of the Americas (pp. 124-128). Horne's listings are always well-documented and detailed. Limitations: the date of writing (1839) makes it incomplete on more recent versions. [The foreign language listings are preceded by lists and analysis of the printed editions of the OT in Hebrew, the NT in Greek, printed editions of ancient versions, and the various English versions. Highly instructive]. Because of Baker's reprinting of the set not too long ago, it is not difficult to locate, either in libraries or in the used book market.

2. James Hastings, ed., A DICTIONARY OF THE BIBLE. 5 vols. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1904.

Volume 5 of this standard Bible dictionary (easily met with used or in public and university libraries), contains an article by Ll. J. M. Bebb, "Continental Versions" (pp. 402-420, double column). It gives detailed, documented information about the translation of the Bible into French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German , Dutch, Danish (and Norwegian), Swedish, Hungarian, Bohemian, Polish, Russian, and Modern Greek (many of these languages had translations even before the invention of printing in 1453). The information is well-presented and current up to about 1900.

3. Samuel Macauley Jackson, ed., THE NEW SCHAFF- HERZOG ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE. 13 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1949 (and often) reprint of original Funk and Wagnall edition, ca. 1907.

In vol. 2, pp. 134-156 (double column) contain an extended treatment of "Modern versions" in many languages (including English), and is preceded by a lengthy analysis of "ancient versions" (pp. 115-134).

In 1955, Baker published a two-volume supplement to this easy-to-locate set, titled TWENTIETH CENTURY ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE, edited by Lefferts A. Loetscher. Vol. 1 of this supplement up-dates the information on Bible versions both ancient (pp. 137-144) and modern (pp. 144-153). In vol. 2, there is a meager article "Mission field, Bible versions for the," p. 743.

4. T. H. Darlow and H. F. Moule, HISTORICAL CATALOGUE OF THE PRINTED EDITIONS OF HOLY SCRIPTURE IN THE LIBRARY OF THE BRITISH AND FOREIGN BIBLE SOCIETY. 2 vols. in 4 parts. British and Foreign Bible Society, 1904-1911. Reprinted, 1963, 1993.

This is THE "Cadillac" of reference works on this subject. It is what the title says: a descriptive catalogue of every printed edition of the Bible in every language of which the B & FBS's library has a copy (and with descriptions of many of which they do not have copies). Vol. 1 covers the Bible in English (1,410 different editions in various versions). Vol. 2 in three parts covers all the rest of the languages. If information cannot be found in this set, it quite possibly is not available anywhere.

The original printing consisted of only about 500 sets, so they were exceedingly rare and very expensive if you could find them for sale at all (Wilbur Smith, the great Christian bibliophile, waited 20 years before he was able to buy a set- -and then gladly paid dearly for it). It is currently available in reprint, though it is not cheap. It lists for $250, but I was able to buy it through Barnes and Noble for $225. Perhaps Amazon Books can also provide it.

Of course, the early 20th century date of publication means next to nothing about 20th century versions is here.

5. J. D. Douglas, ed., NEW 20TH-CENTURY ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991. This "up-dated" successor to #2 above has an extensive article, "Bible Versions (Modern Versions)" by Paul Ellingworth, pp. 80-100. Modern Bible versions in 59 languages (those with 10 million or more speakers) are treated and, strangely enough, in the order of the number of speakers of each language (an alphabetic listing is also provided). The information is not complete (for Romanian, for example, it is very deficient), but it is more up-to-date than any other readily available source of information.

If any reader knows of better or additional authoritative sources of information about Bible versions in languages other than English, I would be most grateful for a "heads up."


When I was a student in Bible college, we were assigned in a required missions class the reading of a brief and very meager biography of William Carey (1761-1834) [WILLIAM CAREY by William Bruce Davis; Moody Press, 160pp.]. This was, sad to say, my only formal introduction to William Carey and the source of almost the whole of my knowledge of the much-lauded "father of modern missions," for 25 years (I did re-read the book in 1991). No other biography of Carey came across my path (I made no formal search--I didn't even know what to look for) until April of this year when I saw a notice that the biography of Carey by his great grandson, S. Pearce Carey had been reprinted. The book service which offered it for sale had an excellent track record of offering high quality reading, and so I sent off for a copy. I took the book along with me to Romania in July and had the great joy of reading it while engaged in missionary labors.

Afternoon-by-afternoon at youth camp, as I worked my way through the 413 pages of the volume, I frequently was compelled to praise and thank God for the great things He did with and through Carey (and Marshman and Ward) in India. Sometimes I was moved to tears by the greatness of our God. The herculean size of Carey's labors and accomplishments just about took my breath away. "In labors more abundant" could easily have been his epitaph. He all but single-handedly shook awake the lethargic, spiritually asleep Baptists and ignited the missionary spirit among them. God first gripped his own heart with the lostness of the world and our great obligation to bear the Gospel to them at all costs. Then his own divinely-fired heart sent flaming embers flying in every direction, some of which found reluctant tinder in other hearts.

Carey proposed the formation of a missionary society, then put feet to his prayers and volunteered to be the first missionary sent out by the new society. Had he listened to the pessimissitic voices of the nay-sayers, he would have done nothing. 'It can't be done.' 'It need not be done.' 'We've never done this before.' But he went anyway, compelled by God.

In spite of the financial necessity of being a "tent-maker" missionary (especially his God-sent well-paying job as a college professor), Carey taught, preached, trained, and above all else, translated the word of God into the major languages of India--ALL of them. With the assistance of native speakers, Carey translated the Scriptures (from the original Greek and Hebrew, not from the KJV) in whole or in part into 35 languages [let the reader simply try to list 35 different languages]. These versions, along with others prepared by Carey's co-workers, were then printed on the press at Serampore and distributed in tens of thousands of copies to those lost in the darkness of pagan India (and China, Burma, and elsewhere). And in all this, the vast majority of the funds expended in carrying out the work in India was generated by the sacrificial labors of Carey, Marshman, and Ward.

Samuel Pearce Carey's account of the life of his great- grandfather is a warm-hearted sympathetic treatment. Carey the author ransacked libraries and family archives for every scrap of information he could unearth, including many previously unknown and unused letters written by or to the missionary. If the book had been supplied with footnotes and an extensive bibliography, it would be a perfect 10. As it is, it gets my whole-hearted recommendation. If you read only one book this year on missions (and do read at least one!), make it this one.

EXCERPTS from WILLIAM CAREY by Samuel Pearce Carey.

London: Wakefield Trust, 1993. 413 pp., hdbk. $21.95.

"I set myself to write Carey's whole story--to gather and to garner truthfully and livingly all that deserved enduring remembrance. This all-embracing purpose has claimed from me ten gladly-devoted years." (preface, p. xiv)

"It was Carey's greatest benefit to be alive when the tidal wave of spiritual awakening still swept the land. Almost to the end of Carey's English years (and for a score before his birth) the movement of the Spirit associated with George Whitefield and the Wesley brothers turned countless souls to the Lord. In that century when reason clipped fiath's wings, and religion was 'icily regular,' and when Hume was the oracle, Voltaire the idol, and 'all people of discernment had discovered Christianity to be fictitious'--Britain's soul was saved by three evangelists." (p. 7)

"Carey's zeal to evangelise heathendom was all the stronger for his having lived in the blaze of Wesley's achievement." (p. 8)

"Carey had to make the conditions in which his Society could be born. He could not merely apply the match to the tinder, for the tinder itself had to be prepared. When he woke to the missionary vision, he found to his amazement that most of his fellow Christians were fast asleep. He had to create the very desire which at length created the Mission; to provoke the demand which he himself would then supply. For ten years he resisted his contemporaries' inertia and fought their disbelief to conquer 'by the stubborn minority of one'--'going at length against every dictate of common sense, every calculation of prudence, and all but universal opinion, because in the solitary sanctuary of his brooding soul an entreaty kept sounding from destitute heathendom.' " (p. 10)

"At such a time, God raised up a humble yet wonderfully dedicated soul to seize and speed its converging forces. Had not God's MAN been ready, the times would have yielded scant result." (p. 11)

"With little teaching, he became learned; poor himself, he made millions rich; by birth obscure, he rose to unsought eminence; and seeking only to follow the Lord's leading, he led forward the Lord's host." (p. 12, quoting A. T. Pierson)

"The favorite game of the village boys [in Carey's youth] was 'stagastagaroney,' in which one chased the many, till, with the help of each captive, he chased and captured all. It was the perfect came for Carey, and he played it in later life in deadly earnest." (p. 18) [Is this not a perfect description of what true Biblical evangelism and missions is?]

"Carey himself said years later to his nephew Eustace, disclaiming all other talents, 'I can plod and persevere. This is my only genius. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.' " (p. 20) [May we all be such devoted plodders!]

After Carey's proposal for world evangelism was rebuked and dismissed by John Ryland, nevertheless, "it was not dismissed from [Carey's] own mind. For four years already it had burned in his bones. He felt the world's darkness. Nightly he kept adding to to his own world map. from ethnographer Guthrie and others--the map which surprised Fuller on the wall of his workshop. He amassed his data and accumulated arguments in support of the proposition-- that God uses means in the salvation of the lost, and that His servants must preach to all nations." (p. 47)

"One of Thomas Gotch's sons never forgot a question cropping up at a ministers' gathering held in his father's home, about a small East Indian isle. 'Neither Hall nor Ryland, Sutcliff nor Fuller, could supply the needed. Presently, from a back corner, with much reticence, Carey reported its location, length, breadth, and nature, and the number and religious character of its people, to the amazement of the rest, who as good as said, "How do you know?" ' " (pp. 47-8)

"He had schooled himself to detailed research in order that he might make an accurate survey of the church's task, and present his Lord's pressing commission. His globe was his other Bible, as with Robert Arthington later--a voice of loud appeal. His pupils saw sometimes a strange sight, when their master would be moved to tears over a geography lesson. As he pointed to continents, islands, and peoples, he would cry, 'And these are pagans, pagans!' " (p. 48)

"He read the lives of John Eliot and David Brainerd. He learned how the one toiled with a scholar's patience and an apostle's grace for nearly sixty years amongst America's Indians, and had been the first to translate the whole Bible into a pagan tongue. The other, in three seraphic years, had burned himself out for those Indians and the Lord. These two, with Paul, were henceforward his heroes and models." (p. 48)

"The Bible was now throbbing with new meaning. He saw it as the progressive unfolding of God's world-missionary purpose. The Old Testament, especially the later portion of Isaiah, shone to his renewed sight with misisonary prophecy, as the New shone with missionary exploits and achievements." (p. 48)

"Meanwhile, he did not fail to be an evangelist near home. Subsequent pastors of Moulton [in England] repeatedly encountered the fruit of his service in surrounding villages. So busy this district preaching kept him, that a friend expostulated with him for neglecting his business, his shoemaking. He replied, 'Neglecting my business! My business, sir, is to extend the kingdom of Christ. I only make and mend shoes to help pay expenses.' " (p. 49)

"Outwardly, Carey had nothing in his favour as a preacher. He was short [only 5'4"], impoverished, and lacked a college education. His hands were seamed and stained by leather stitching. His appearance and manner were those of a peasant, and his wig was 'odious and stiff'. Yet the people [in his Leicester, England pastorate] gathered as to one whose lips had been touched by a hot coal from the altar. Not that he coaxed them with easy themes. For more than a year he cut his mid-weekly way through the forest of the Apocalypse, thrusting himself on this task for his own mental discipline.

Nor was he content to preach seven times a fortnight [i.e., two weeks] in Harvey Lane. As few other pastors of the period, save for General Baptists and Methodists, he went out to the villages and laid the foundations of churches in Thurmaston, Syston, Sileby, Blaby, and Desford. In Thurmaston there were many conversions. More than a hundred folk would gather there for his services. His first Indian letter to Harvey Lane is full of concern for these villages." (p. 59)

"Papists brave all peril. Moravians have not turned back from Abyssinia's heat nor Greenland's cold, from difficult tongues nor savage manners. British traders press into the East Indies and Persia, into China and Greenland. Cursed slave-raiders dare deep into Africa. Should we Christians be less resolved and adventurous than these?" (p. 66; Cary's own words from his 1792 pamphlet, An Inquiry into the Obligation of Christians to us Means for the Conversion of the Heathens).

"If we Christians loved men as merchants love money, no fierceness of peoples would keep us from their midst." (p. 69)

"Traders learn the language: so can we. A year, or at most two, should enable us 'even with no very extraordinary talents to communicate with any foreign people.' " (p. 69)

"Whereas in any land there are only two obstacles to God's work--the sinfulness of man's heart, and the lack of the Scriptures--this latter God has here begun to remove; for the New Testament is now translated into Bengali. Its treasures will be greater than diamonds." (p. 167; Carey reporting to Fuller in 1797, just 4 years after arrving in India)

"Staying at home is become sinful for many, and will be more so." (p. 168)

"Thank you, Moravians. If ever I am a missionary worth a straw, I shall owe it, under God, to you." (Joshua Marshman, Carey's co-laborer; p. 170)

"Unto me, who am less than the least of all our saints, may this grace be given, that I should print for the Gentiles, the unsearchable riches of Christ. To give a New Testament to men who never saw one before, who have been reading fictions as God's Word, this is our privilege. Few will know its value immediately; but some time, to many, a leaf, even a verse, will be more precious than a load of hay." (William Ward, Carey's co-laborer and printer; p. 187)

The first convert, Krishna, was made in late 1800, seven years after Carey's arrival in India, and more than twice that for John Thomas, who, though little-known, actually preceded Carey as a missionary to India: "Thomas was delirious with wonder. He had waited fifteen years for this joy. Carey himself had almost abandoned its hope" (p. 194)

"Blest almost as Krishna's baptism day was Thursday, 5 March, 1801, when they placed on the communion table the bound Bengali New Testament. It was the first people's book ever printed in Bengali, the fruit of seven and a half years of Carey's toil. He was now close on forty. The last page was printed on 7 February. Through the nine months of its printing Ward had not known an hour's sickness [an exceedingly rare thing!] ." (p. 197).

"This first Bengali New Testament has been described as 'the first stroke of the axe levelled at the banyan-tree of India's superstitions.' " (p. 199).

"Carey did not disdain to be what Johnson with so much feeling called 'the drudge and slave of science'. He produced six grammars (being often the first ground- breaker), of Bengali, Sanskrit (1,000 pages), Marathi, Punjabi, Telugu, Kanarese, not to mention a Bhutia grammar, worked up jointly with Marshman from the notes of misionary Schroeter--as well as a Bhutia vocabulary. The Bengali dictionary, with its eighty thousand words in three volumes, resulted from the toil of thirty years, and was for long the standard work." (p. 214) And this besides all of Carey's teaching, preaching, and translating!!

Carey to Fuller in 1803: "If we are given another fifteen years, we hope to translate and print the Bible in all the chief languages of Hindustan. We have fixed our eyes on this goal. The zeal of the Lord of hosts shall perform this." (p. 232). That is indeed attempting great things for God.

"Soon Carey decided that the surest path to his multilingual goal lay in translating the Scriptures straight into Sanskrit, the ancient and sacred langue of Hindus, and parent of so many tongues, as Latin is of many European languages. To do this faithfully would be half-way to translating them into its Indian and Asian daughter tongues. All his pundits [native Indian scholars who assisted Carey] knew Sanskrit. If he could put a Sanskrit Bible into their hands, they could from this make first-draft translations into their own languages. By this approach he would catch many birds in one net. Moreover, this, as nothing else, would secure for the Bible an entrance into India's cultured circles, and people of rank." (p. 233)

An outline of Carey's typical day began : "Read a chapter of Hebrew Bible" and ended "Read a Greek Testament chapter." (pp. 234, 235)

"Ward had in 1801 chanced to leave Carey's Bengali New Testament in Ram Krishnapur (in what is now Howrah). A certain Krishna Das read it, and kept rereading it to his neighbours, till the village was transformed. After three years they sent three men to seek and thank the publishers." (p. 241)

"Early in 1803 a Jessore peasant named Sita Ram heard of the Mission at Serampore, tramped seventy miles to get there, and was welcomed, instructed, converted and baptised. On his return he spoke so continuously of the Gospel that in two years, though he could neither read nor write, he led into the faith, and either brought or sent to Serampore for baptism, a whole group fo people, including a Moslem, a Hindu of the writers' caste, this Hindu's nephew, a Hindu widow, a field-labourer, his own sister, and others." (p. 242)

Carey, the master-linguist, gives superb advice to one of his sons, a missionary learning a foreign language: "Let the Burmese language [the modern missionary can substitute whatever tongue he is learning] occupy your most precious time, and you most anxious solicitude. Do not be content with its superficial acquiring. Make it yours, root and branch. Listen with prying curiosity to the forms of speech, the construction and accent of the people. All your imitative powers will be wanted, and, unless you frequently use what you acquire, it will profit you little. As soon as you feel your feet, compose a grammar, and some simple Christian instruction. Begin your translations with the Gospel of Mark. Be very careful that your construction and idiom are Burman, not English." (p. 266) To this may be added the advice given by Carey to another son: "Labour incessantly to become a perfect master of the Malay. With this in view, associate with the native people, walk with them, ask the name of everything you see, visit them when they are sick. Every night arrange your new words in alphabetical order, and use them as soon as you can." (p. 300)

"We are only scholars [that is, students]. It rests with the Great Teacher to decide which lesson shall come next--a hard one or an easy one." (Ward; p. 280)

"If true godliness prosper in your soul, duty will be easy. If personal religion is low, your work will be a burden. Personal religion is the life-blood of all your usefulness and happiness. . . .If duty leads us to any place, however unhealthy, we may safely trust God to take care of us. . . . If God gives us work to do, fits us for it, and strengthens us in it, that is enough." (p. 303; Carey's advice to his preacher son)

"The greatest trial of a missionary is often another missionary" (p. 334, quoting Forbes Jackson) [And every missionary says, "Amen!"]

"He was often asked how he had contrived to acquire so many tongues, and would answer that 'none knew what they could do, till they tried.' He would also remark that having once thoroughly mastered Bengali, Hindi, Sanskrit, Marathim Persian, Punjabi, and Dravidian Telugu [as though this were not a massive undertaking!!!!!], all else was comparatively simple. The back of his task was broken once these seven languages were his, especially considering that his knowledge of Sanskirt, the basis of so many others, was so thorough. Thereafter, it was 'as easy,' he said, 'to learn ten other cognates as one quite independent tongue.' " (p. 390; and we complain when we have to learn just one!!!)


The more familiar I am with the writings of Adam Clarke (1762-1832), perhaps the greatest Biblical scholar produced by the Methodists, the more impressed I am with the breadth and depth of his learning. In his comments on I Timothy 4:13, he wrote:

"At present the truth of God is not only to be proclaimed, but defended; and many customs or manners, and forms of speech, which are to us obsolete, must be explained from the writings of the ancients, and particularly from the works of those who lived about the same times, or nearest to them, and in the same or contiguous countries. This will require the knowledge of those languages in which those works have been composed, the chief of which are Hebrew and Greek, the languages in which the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments have been originally written.

Latin is certainly of the next consequence; a language in which some of the most early comments have been written; and it is worth the trouble of being learned, were it only for the sake of the works of St. Jerome, who translated and wrote a commentary on the whole of the Scriptures; though in many respects it is both erroneous and superficial.

Arabic and Syriac may be added with great advantage: the latter being in effect the language in which Christ and his apostles spoke and preached in Judea; and the former being radically the same with Hebrew, and preserving many of the roots of that language, the derivatives of which often occur in the Hebrew Bible, but the roots never.

The works of the various scholars prove how much consequence even the writings of heathen authors, chiefly those of Greece and Italy, are to the illustration of the sacred writings. And he who is best acquainted with the sacred records will avail himself of such helps, with gratitude both to God and man. Though so many languages and so much reading are not absolutely necessary to form a minister of the Gospel, (for there are many eminent ministers who have not such advantages,) yet they are helps of the the first magnitude to those who have them and know how to use them." (Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible, with a Commentary and Critical Notes. Nashville: Abingdon Press, vol. 6, p. 604).

[In the above, I would suggest merely the substitution of Ugaritic and Phoenecian for the Arabic, since they are much closer to Biblical Hebrew in date, geography, lexicography and grammar, and are besides much easier to learn than Arabic. DK]