Since the publications of the original manuscripts of the Bible, originally written in Hebrew and Greek (with a few sections in Aramaic), the holy book has gone through several translations.
As the Christian movement grew after operating underground as a cult for some time, both Old and New Testaments were translated into other languages, including Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopic, and Armenian.
Because of the Roman Empire’s influence, a Latin translation (called the Vulgate) became the most widely used version of the Bible for the next thousand years.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the radical translation of the Bible came in the fourteenth century when John Wycliffe produced the first complete English translation (translated from the Latin Vulgate, not from the original Hebrew and Greek writings).
In the seventeenth century, the King of England authorised scholars from Oxford and Cambridge to produce a new and official English translation from the original Greek and Hebrew languages, which became known as the King James Version (KJV) or Authorised Version (AV).
The King James Version remains popular among many English-speaking people. Nonetheless, a variety of English translations have appeared in recent years for several reasons.
The main reason for translations has been that the English language itself has evolved in the last four hundred years.
While the Shakespearean prose of the King James Version may feel more traditional, eloquent, and sacred, it does not represent the way people communicate today (nor in Jesus’ day).
Now there are numerous English versions today simply because different teams of scholars take different approaches to translating the texts.
These approaches are generally described on a scale of formal equivalence (word-for-word translations) to functional equivalence (thought-for-thought or meaning-for-meaning translations).
In order to be accurate and communicate well to their target audiences, translations have to mix formal and dynamic elements.
This is no easy task and is time-consuming and tedious work. For example, there are some words and expressions in Hebrew and Greek that
simply don’t have English equivalents.
Therefore, every translation team must be creative in their endeavour to convey the Bible’s meaning across cultural and linguistic distance.
It is this consideration that calls for the best scholars in the world to produce accurate and readable versions of the Bible with great
caution taken to check and recheck their translations with various experts.
In Zambia, like elsewhere, translation of the Bible from English to local languages has posed the same contextual and linguistic
Foremost among these challenges is the growth of a population that cannot understand the original vernacular translations of the Bible.
Fortunately, the Bible Society of Zambia (BSZ) is addressing these challenges by translating the Bible in understandable vernacular
The society has translated several vernacular languages in comprehensible versions which are more reader-friendly than original adaptations.
The society’s computer assistant publishing officer Reverend Gremfriday Kapakasa said currently they were translating three local languages ci-Tumbuka, ki-Kaonde and ci-Nyanja.
He said the original translation in ci-Cewa called Buuku Lopatilika –The Holy Bible done by Dr Robert Laws who was a pioneer missionary cum medical doctor at Livingstonia in Malawi in the 1920s is incomprehensible to many ci-Nyanja speakers.
‘The language in the Bible is difficult to an average ci-Nyanja speaker both in rural and urban areas thus calling for some changes to make it accessible,’ he said.
To address this problem, the Bible Society of Zambia has come up with more reader-friendly ci-Nyanja Holy Bible versions called Buuku Loyela and Cipangano cha Tsopano cha ci-Nyanja.
Reverend Kapakasa said the new Bibles are being widely used by both Ngonis and Chewas in Zambia though the original book Buuku Lopatilika is still used by some Chewa-speaking Malawians.
The clergyman said even in Malawi the Bible is becoming unpopular especially with the younger generation.
The stages of translating the Bible in understandable vernacular versions include translators making translations which are taken to congregations where a particular language is spoken for assessment.
So far the ci-Nyanja new Bible versions are being used in the Reformed Church of Zambia, Church of Central Africa Presybeterian and United Church of Zambia.
The society has done the same with translations in ki-Kaonde to enable congregants of churches where the language is spoken access it.
These include churches in North-Western province like the Evangelical Church ofZambia (ECZ) and Christian Missions in Many Lands (CMML).
In the ci-Tumbuka translation project, headways have been made to rid the linguistic challenges that the original ci-Tumbuka version Magzo agh Chiuta-Holy Bible posed.
‘The original version also translated by Dr Laws has a blend of Henga and Ngoni which poses a lot of difficulties for Tumbuka readers,’ observed Reverend Kapakasa.
The Livinstonia Mission which was a citadel of missionary work regionally contributed a lot to ecclesiastical work in Central Africa.
Newly-trained African clergymen like the first republican president Kenneth Kaunda’s father David snr pioneered church work in places like Lubwa in Chinsali-then called Mirongo.
Many white missionaries like Dr Laws doubled as linguists and were responsible for early translations of the Bible in popular local languages.
Reverend Kapakasa said translation is a tedious and pain staking work that calls for translators to be familiar with the King James version which is linked to Hebrew and Greek.
‘When translators are stuck they consult the King James version or Revised standards because they are benchmarks of Bible translations that help with user-friendly versions.’
The requirement for translators at the Bible Society of Zambia is a degree in Theology with a a clear understanding of Hebrew and Greek.
The society also conducts workshops to train translators and familiarise them with the use of the partext, a training software that makes translations easier.
So far the society has done tremendous work in translating vernacular Bibles in understandable versions considering the rapid changes languages are undergoing.
As a result many readers of vernacular Bibles can now buy reader-friendly versions from the Bible Society of Zambia shop along
Freedom Way in Lusaka.
Times of Zambia