English Bible for the Deaf – Introduction
Why an English Bible for the Deaf?
God gave his Word to all people, hearing and Deaf, but most Deaf people who use Sign Language do not understand the words in other Bible translations. It would have been wonderful if all Deaf people could have a Sign Language Bible that they could see and understand, but Sign Languages and dialects are not the same and we would need more than 130 different Sign Language Bibles just for Africa. There is not one completed Sign Language Bible in the world, even more than 30 years after the first Sign Language Bible project in America began. There are also not enough Deaf people in Africa who have computers or DVD players (or smart phones) to watch a Sign Language Bible. That is why the Deaf people in Africa have asked for an English Bible for the Deaf using easy words and explaining the difficult ones. Our team of Deaf translators has helped us in doing this, and we pray that God will use this Bible to help Deaf people understand his Word and to believe it and glorify his Name. The Afrikaans Bible for the Deaf was the first Bible in the world that was translated by a Bible Society especially for Deaf readers, and this is the second Bible for the Deaf.
Which manuscripts were translated?
The Bible Society of South Africa asked a team to translate the Bible for the Deaf from the oldest manuscripts (very old books that people wrote with their hands) of the Old_Testament and New_Testament. They used the Biblia Hebraica based text, Stuttgartensia (edited by A. Alt, O. Eissfeldt, P. Kahle and R. Kittel, 1997) for the Old_Testament, and The Greek New_Testament, Fourth Edition of the United Bible Societies (edited by: K. Aland, J. Karavidopoulos, C. Martini and B. Metzger, 1993) to translate the New_Testament for the Afrikaans Bible for the Deaf. The EBD team has also used these to translate the English Bible for the Deaf so that the Deaf in Africa can read God’s Word from the most authentic manuscripts.
We do not have the original letters or manuscripts of the Bible writers. Those manuscripts were copied by hand, and copied again and again. In some of these copied manuscripts, people wrote extra words and verses into the manuscript and today we have manuscripts that are different in some places. The Bible Societies always look for the best and the oldest texts, which most of the Christian churches accept as the best, and these are the texts and manuscripts that have been used in this translation.
How did the team translate the Bible?
When the Bible Society of South Africa translated the Afrikaans Bible for the Deaf, they used a full team of professors as source language (Hebrew and Greek) experts to formulate the text that was written for hearing readers, and changed it so that Deaf readers could understand it. Their target group was readers who were born deaf or became deaf at a very early age and had to communicate in Sign Language, people belonging to the Deaf (with a capital D) culture. The English Bible for the Deaf translation project used some of those professors and translators but chose more than 20 Deaf readers, adults, students and learners from schools for the Deaf, to join the translation team.
The source language experts made sure that the Bible books were translated accurately and that this translation gives the same message as the Hebrew and Greek texts. The UBS Translators Handbook to the Bible was used on most translational issues as it contains the latest research in Bible translation. The text was then sent to three groups of Deaf readers who indicated which words they did not understand and where the team had to simplify the text even more or explain the meaning of a word in a footnote, using only words that most Deaf readers recognise. Lastly, two English linguists corrected the text to ensure that it is formulated in a good form and correct English.
The translators did not paraphrase the message of the Bible by giving extra information that is not necessary for Deaf readers to understand the words, and they did not translate literally by just using the same meanings of words found in a dictionary. They translated in a way that Deaf people can understand best and had to use unique translation principles to help Deaf readers understand the same message as the first readers of those Bible books would have done. The team was limited to a small vocabulary and could use only a small percentage of English words and linguistic styles, even when they had to explain difficult words in the footnotes.
It is not possible to translate the Bible so that all Deaf readers can understand it. The team wants to help most of the Deaf readers in Africa and tried to use Written English for the Deaf, the English used by most Deaf people when they can not sign but have to text, fax, e-mail or write.
The team could not use the same level of English as that which is found in other Bibles, but had to simplify the text. That is why the English used is not always the most used or distinguished form of English, but they did not use incorrect or bad English. There are some exceptions to English grammar to help Deaf readers. They could, for example, not say: ‘the enemy’ for an army of soldiers, because some Deaf readers could understand that as a single person, meaning only one soldier. For a full explanation of these and other unique principles of the language that were used, readers can visit the website for this Bible at: www.englishbibleforthedeaf.co.za.
Some practices and tools that were used in this translation
To help Deaf readers understand the text better, the translation team has used the following language rules:
• Capital letters for the pronoun of God
The name of a person is always written with a capital letter. When we talk about God or Jesus and use the pronoun (He and Him) the translators also used capital letters to help Deaf readers understand better when it refers to the Lord. This does not apply to the possessive pronoun (his and theirs) which Deaf people normally sign with a closed fist, like having something in the hand.
The team has followed the English rules for spelling, not the American or computer rules, where z is used in various words, for example. Spelling of certain words and the usage of some punctuation marks are adapted to make it easier for Deaf readers to recognise some words and names. No exclamation marks were used because it is often read as an ‘l’ or ‘1’.
When readers find a difficult word that is written with a capital letter, it is normally the name of a person or place.
The spelling of names of people and places differs from older to newer Bible translations. This translation follows the most recent tendency of spelling, as is found in the 2011 edition of the New International Version of the Bible.
Numbers written in letters bring about longer words and greater uncertainty. Deaf readers prefer numbers written in digits, like 7 000 and not seven thousand. The only lettered number is one, and first, but following first are 2nd, 3rd, etc.
There are many difficult words in the Bible that some Deaf readers do not understand. The translators could not simplify or change words like righteous, purify, Pharisees, anoint, atonement and many more. For these words, Deaf readers asked them to use the correct, but difficult word, and explain it at the bottom of the page in a footnote. There is a small letter (a, b, c) next to the difficult words in the text and at the bottom of the page readers can look for the corresponding letter to see what that word means. If there is an *asterisk next to a difficult word, readers can look at the back of the Bible in the Word List to see what that word means.
Every footnote in this Bible has been requested by our Deaf readers. Some of them have asked for many more footnotes and explanations but the translators could not provide more footnotes for a printed Bible. Therefore 23 of the difficult words that we find a lot in the text are marked with an * asterisk and are explained in the Foreword and in the Word List. Readers should learn their meanings.
There are some footnotes for which small letters are placed at the back of a word or sentence. Those footnotes do not explain the meaning of the word, but inform readers of other places in the Bible where the same things are said.
• Numbers in the Bible
The translators have kept all the original numbers in the Hebrew and Greek texts and have explained the value of the money or measurements so that readers will be able to understand how much or what that value is today. It was important for the translators to keep the exact number as in the Hebrew or Greek texts because often there is a symbolic meaning to a number in the Bible, meaning that the number itself is part of the message (like the number 3 often indicates something referring to God, and 4 to people or the world). The translators helped the readers by calculating all the money and values so that the readers don’t have to work out how much something was, e.g. 29 talents weighed more than 991 kilograms.
• Linked words
Some of the words with footnotes are underlined and linked to indicate that those words belong together when being explained. These are words like false_prophet, Good_Shepherd and holy_crown.
In all the footnotes that refer to a map, there is a number of the map in the footnote and readers can see where that land or town is. The numbered maps (and drawings) are at the back of the Bible.
We were asked to explain the words ‘land’ and ‘province’, and in most cases these footnotes refer to Map 1 or drawing 180 to show the readers what a land or province looks like. The specific land that is mentioned in the text will not necessarily be found in Map 1 but can normally be found in one of the other maps.
Some of the difficult words are illustrated by a drawing. There are 180 drawings to help readers understand what those objects look like. Readers can get the number of the drawing in the footnote and look for that illustration at the back of the Bible. The drawing does not always illustrate exactly the same object as the one described in the text, but should help readers to understand what the word means.
• Introductions to Bible books
At the start of each Bible book the translators have helped the readers by telling them a little bit more about that book: Who wrote it and when? Who were the first readers of that book? What was his important message and how should readers understand his words?
The people who wrote the Bible did not write any headings. Bible translations use headings to help readers understand what that chapter or part of it is about. This translation does the same.
Unique ways of translating for Deaf readers
In the process of helping Deaf readers understand the same message of the Bible as hearing readers, the translators had to formulate the text in a different way. Here are a few examples of different formulations:
• Mark 4:23
New International Version: If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.
EBD: If you understand what I say, then you must do what I say.
• 2 Samuel 12:19
NIV: David noticed that his attendants were whispering among themselves,
EBD: David saw that his servants talked behind their hands
• Romans 10:9
NIV: If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’
EBD: If you say with your mouth or hands that you believe ‘Jesus is Lord,’
• Psalm 140:3
NIV: They make their tongues as sharp as a serpent’s; the poison of vipers is on their lips.
EBD: They say things that hurt other people. Their words are dangerous like the poison of snakes.
• Proverbs 20:12
NIV: Ears that hear and eyes that see – the Lord has made them both.
EBD: The Lord has given some people ears to hear and eyes to see. They must use them to listen and look.
• Psalm 55:1
NIV: Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea.
EBD: Oh God, please listen to my prayer. Don’t look away when I am begging You for help.
• Acts 11:1
NIV: The apostles heard about this
EBD: They told the apostles about this
Necessary to translate understandably
The process of speech reading which Deaf people have to use every day in communicating with hearing people forces them to make an intelligent guess as to what speakers could have said for all the letters that can not be read accurately from the lips of speakers (which can be as high as 70%). This method of guessing is often used by Deaf readers and applied to words that they read but do not understand. Therefore the translators had to formulate the text in a way that would be understandable for most Deaf readers, even in texts where other translations sometimes admit that the source text is not fully comprehensible.
The translators of the EBD had to go further, and with the help of commentators and theologians, had to make a choice for the most probable explanation or formulation of those texts, rather than to leave it to Deaf readers to try and make something of the text on their own. The translators had to use this principle also in texts that could seem to be contradictory, or that do not make sense to the Deaf, because this could make them believe that they have misunderstood something that they have read and could result in their doubting something in the text that they did understand correctly. Here are some examples of how texts were formulated:
• John 13:23
NIV: One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved,
Problem: It seems as if he was the only one that Jesus loved.
EBD: The disciple that Jesus loved very much
• John 12:7
New Revised Standard Version: She bought the oil so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.
Problem: She did not keep it to the day of his burial. She opened it that evening.
EBD: She kept this perfume to anoint Me now for the day that they will bury Me.
• John 19:31
NIV: They asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.
Problem: They would not have died if only their legs had been broken.
EBD: They asked Pilate to tell his soldiers to break their bones (footnote: killing them by breaking the skull).
• Mark 12:25
NIV: When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage;
Problem: This does not answer the question of the people. This answer says they will not get married in heaven, but the question in the story was about the people who were married on earth before they died.
EBD: When people rise and live again, they will not be married and they will not marry.
How the words ‘Selah’ and ‘Higgajon’ were translated
The word ‘Selah’ appears 75 times in the Hebrew text and ‘Higgajon’ once. We do not know what these words mean, but we are sure that they do not say something more about the things that the writer wanted to say about God or about the faith of the writer or the way that he worshipped. Most exegetes think that these words say something about how and when the next words in the psalm had to be read. But because ‘Selah’ and ‘Higgajon’ are in the Hebrew text, we didn’t want to delete them and that is why we placed them in a footnote with an explanation of what we think they mean.
The role of women
In the time when the Bible was written, women were not important in public. When people were counted, they counted only the men, and women were not allowed to sign contracts or even to inherit land from their parents. Some of the letters in the New_Testament were addressed to the ‘brothers’ in the congregation. But we know that the apostles also included women when they wrote to the congregations. They just didn’t always mention them. To try and give the same meaning today as the writers intended, the translators changed the recipients of the letters to ‘believers’ or ‘friends’ and in some places where only men are mentioned, the EBD text added ‘women’. However, when the translators explained some of the difficult words, they couldn’t always say ‘him and her’ when talking about a person, so they sometimes used only ‘him’.
There could be other readers who find this Bible translation suitable for themselves. The translators would be delighted if this translation could help them understand the Word of God better. They ask all readers to remember why this translation was prepared and to appreciate the difficulty that Deaf readers have in learning and reading language of hearing people. They also invite all readers to enjoy the special way that Deaf readers understand language and express themselves in an honest and simple way.
The purpose of the Gospel and this Bible
John said in his Gospel (John 20:31) that he had written this book so that his readers would believe that Jesus is the Son of God who came to take away all their sins and to give them eternal life with God. The translators pray that everyone who reads this Bible will understand and believe God’s love, worship Him and live like God wants us to live.