The Jehovah’s Witnesses organization has published the first ever complete Bible in the American Sign Language, a feat described as likely the first in the world and human history.
This is as it also released and distributed free of charge the New World Translation in Bislama, a language spoken by about 10,000 people on the remote island of Vanuatu, some 1,100 miles north of Australia where a copy of Bible costs N13, 500.
Seventy years after releasing its first translation of the Bible, the organisation’s New World Translation has been published in 195 languages, 33 of which were accomplished in 2020 alone.
Speaking earlier in that year at the Witnesses’ release event in Florida, United States, Geoffrey Jackson, a member of the Witnesses’ Governing Body, said, “As far as we know, Jehovah’s Witnesses are the first organization or group of persons to release the complete Bible in ASL. And probably that means it’s the first complete Bible in sign language in the world (and) in the history of mankind.”
According to a Jehovah’s Witnesses Spokesperson, Olusegun Eroyemi, the religious organisation has been producing and distributing Bibles since the early 20th century.
Over time, they acquired printing rights to the King James and the American Standard versions of the Scriptures, among others.
In the 1940s, however, the Witnesses began working on a translation into modern English to restore the name of God—Jehovah—to the more than 7,000 places in the Bible where other translators have substituted it with titles such as “Lord.”
Regarding their version of the New Testament, British Bible critic, Alexander Thomson, wrote in 1952: “The translation is evidently the work of skilled and clever scholars, who have sought to bring out as much of the true sense of the Greek text as the English language is capable of expressing.” He concluded: “We should like to see all our readers in possession of the New World version. It will be a valuable addition to your library.”
After reviewing the subsequent release of a portion of the Old Testament, Thomson stated: “I would recommend it as an honest and straightforward effort to render Holy Writ into modern English. No attempt appears to be made to press any special doctrines or theories.”
Decades later the New World translation continued to receive critical acclaim.
In 2003, professor of religious studies, noted in his book, Truth in Translation: “The NW [New World Translation] emerges as the most accurate of the [nine] translations compared.”
He went on to note: “Most of the differences are due to the greater accuracy of the NW as a literal, conservative translation of the original expressions of the New Testament writers.”
By 2010, the entire New World Translation was available in 52 languages, and portions of it in another 86.
In 2013, the Witnesses released a revised version of the New World Translation which, among other things, uses updated language for enhanced readability. The simplified language also facilitated translation efforts.
Their translation work is carried out by teams of volunteer translators who work in the areas where the target languages are spoken. The translation, publishing, and printing works of the Witnesses are all supported by voluntary donations. This allows the Witnesses to make the New World Translation available worldwide free of charge.