Baptists and Bible Translations

By Durso, Pamela R. | Baptist History and Heritage, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Baptists and Bible Translations


Durso, Pamela R., Baptist History and Heritage


In 1914, Kentucky Baptist pastor J. W. Porter wrote, "Baptists have, in spite of their poverty and persecution, led all others in their efforts for translating and circulating the Scriptures." (1)

Clearly, Porter overstated his case, but his words do remind us that Baptists, especially early Baptist missionaries, have contributed much to the important task of translating the Bible.

William Carey (1761-1834), the first Baptist missionary, arrived in India in 1793 to begin a long, productive ministry. Self-taught but with an exceptional gift for language, Carey quickly recognized that India was populated by numerous linguistic groups and that each of these groups would need to have the scriptures translated into their own language. He set out to learn Bengali and then Sanskrit.

Colleagues Joshua Marshman and William Ward arrived in India in 1799, and over the course of the next thirty years, the three missionaries produced six complete translations of the Bible and twenty-three translations of the New Testament. Carey himself did the translation work in Bengali, Hindi, Oriya, Marathia, and Sanskrit. (2) He was also instrumental in the translation work in Punjabi, Pashto, Kashmiri, Telegu and Konkani. (3) P. Sam Daniel, in "William Carey's Contribution to Indian Languages," estimated that Carey "worked or influenced heavily the translation of the Bible into as many as thirty-five languages." Daniel further suggested that "Carey was breaking new grounds and laying the path for the development of these languages as vehicles of education." (4)

Ellen Howard Cushing (1840-1915) was another Baptist missionary translator. In 1866, she met and married Josiah Nelson Cushing. That same year, the couple sailed to Burma to serve as missionaries. The Cushings established a new station in northeast Burma in order to work with the seven million Shans living in that area. Together they translated the gospels into Shan and produced the first English-Shan dictionary and a Shan grammar book. Following several illnesses, the birth of a son, and periodic separation from her husband who was serving several villages simultaneously, an exhausted Ellen and her son returned to the United States in 1880. …

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