More Information
ISBN: 9781839732522
Imprint: HippoBooks
Format: Paperback
Dimensions (mm): 229 x 152 x 10
Publication Date: 30/09/2023
Pages: 190
Language: English

Vernacular Bibles in Africa through European Eyes

Case Studies in Nineteenth-Century Translation


The translation of Scripture into non-European languages has been an essential undertaking of the modern missionary movement. However, when translators cling to the ideal of scholarly objectivity or fail to interrogate the lenses through which they view Scripture and the world, they risk perpetuating a belief in the West’s political, cultural and epistemological superiority, with dangerous consequences for the good news of the gospel.

This study provides detailed historical accounts of the origins of two of Africa’s most revered vernacular Bibles: the Efik Bible of modern-day Nigeria and the Nyanja Bible of Southern Africa. It illustrates the nature and challenges of early missionary translation work, highlighting the impact of particular translation theories and tracing the development of modern approaches. Evaluating Hugh Goldie’s and Robert Law’s translation practices against the interwoven backdrop of imperialism, the modern missionary movement and the Enlightenment’s belief in objectivity, Dr. Misheck Nyirenda demonstrates how the missionaries’ presuppositions often dominated their projects at the expense of African agency and epistemology. Issuing a powerful warning for those involved in the vast ongoing task of translating Scripture into the world’s vernacular languages, Nyirenda reminds us that we must first reckon with our social, cultural and historical embeddedness when seeking to communicate gospel truth across linguistic or cultural barriers.

Author Bios


In reflecting with insight on the convergence of ontological, epistemological and socio-historical forces in two sub-Saharan African Bible translations of the missionary era, Dr. Nyirenda highlights challenges inherent to the integrity of the translation process when superiority is assumed and when constructs that were relevant in their own context, such as the Enlightenment and the evangelistic impetus of the Great Awakening, are uncritically transferred to another context and to other agendas. In so doing he makes a valuable cautionary contribution to the Bible translation conversation also in the current post-missionary paradigm.

Dirk Gevers
Secretary General,
United Bible Societies

This is a first rate and impressive piece of original research and writing by an expert in the field. The Rev. Dr. Misheck Nyirenda has worked for many years as a biblical and linguistic consultant in the field of Bible translation and has overseen many translations in African languages under the auspices of the United Bible Societies. Books such as this one, by African scholars, are indeed rare. This is undoubtedly a most welcome text. It will help to fill the gap as well as meet the need for information and update this important subject. Readers of this book will no doubt be indebted to Dr. Nyirenda for taking on this urgent and most needed task.

Aloo Osotsi Mojola, PhD
Professor of Philosophy and Translation Studies,
St Paul’s University, Kenya
Formerly Translation Consultant and Africa Translation Coordinator,
United Bible Societies

Misheck Nyirenda has put together a most fascinating book: history, perspective, ideology and contemporary scholarship – all blended together. I have reread several chapters out of pleasure due to the way his frank and incisive approach has made a book on the history, theory, practice and politics of Bible translation come alive. Vernacular Bibles in Africa through European Eyes inspires a rethink of Bible translation in terms of hegemony, agency, the place of orality and what he calls “polarity versus holism.”

Margaret Jepkirui Muthwii, PhD
Vice Chancellor and Professor of Languages and Linguistics,
Pan Africa Christian University, Kenya

In this innovative and very important volume on the history of two Bible translations in Africa – one in West Africa and one in East Africa – Misheck Nyirenda examines the epistemology at play in the Bible translation process and thereby provides much-needed knowledge for a lacune in the history oftranslation studies and the theory of Bible translation. Invaluable lessons can be learned which will have huge impact on future Bible translations.

Cynthia L. Miller-Naudé, PhD, and Jacobus A. Naudé, PhD
Senior Professors of Hebrew,
University of Free State, South Africa

Table of Contents

  1. List of Abbreviations
  2. Introduction
  3. Part I: Background to Translation in the Nineteenth Century
  4. 1 An Overview of Bible Translation Theories from the Nineteenth Century to the Present
  5. 2 The Enlightenment, Mission and Imperialism
  6. Part II: The Efik New Testament Bible Translation
  7. 3 The Historical Forces behind the Old Calabar Mission
  8. 4 Origins and History: Old Calabar Mission
  9. 5 Language and Translation Work
  10. 6 Translation and Translators
  11. 7 The Immediate Impact of the Translation on the Calabarese
  12. Part III: The ChiChewa Bible Translation Project
  13. 8 Background to the Livingstonia and Blantyre Missions
  14. 9 Origins and History: Livingstonia and Blantyre Missions
  15. 10 Language and Translation Work
  16. 11 Evaluative Commentary on Laws’ Translation of Mark 1:1–8
  17. 12 Laws’ Translation of Mark 1:1–8 in the Light of Scott’s and the Union Nyanja Translations
  18. Part IV: Going Forward
  19. 13 Consequences of Developments Since the Twentieth Century
  20. Appendix I: The New American Standard and Greek New Testament texts of Mark 1:1–8
  21. Appendix II: Sample text of Laws’ working translation of the Gospel of Mark, 1885
  22. Appendix III: A copy of the letter of Robert Laws to the Rev. D. Knight, NBSS, 1928
  23. Bibliography

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