History of the Bible Translation and Present Day Challenges

Translation in the 16th century:  From the time the printing press came to India the Church in Tamil Nadu took care to make portions of the Bible available to our people. In fact one of the first books printed in India was the Tamil New Testament. The Jesuits who followed in the wake of St. Francis Xavier set up a printing press in the south-western corner of India and in 1578 published a booklet entitled DoctrinaChristam, the first Tamil book ever printed and the forerunner of all Indian Christian literature. This containedamong other things a translation of the Lord's Prayer and a summary of the Ten Commandments. 

Translation in the 17th century:  The first person ever to take up the translation of any portion of the Bible into Tamil was Philip Baldaeus, A chaplain who travelled with the Dutch personnel to Ceylon in the seventeenth century and was appointed one of their Predikantsin 1658. Before he left the island in 1665 he had translated the Gospel of St Matthew into Tamil for the benefit of the inhabitants of north Ceylon. This translation, though never printed, was circulated in manuscript written on palmyra leaves. The work once undertaken stirred the Dutch government to further action in the same field at a later time. 

Translation in the 18th century:  In 1715 the German Luthern Missionary Zieganbalg translated into Tamil the New Testament and published it from Tranquebar. Zieganbalg himself admits that even before the printing of the Tamil New Testament there were a Catholic Tamil Gospel book and an old Tamil book containing the stories of the Old Testament published by Catholics. He had completed the translation of the New Testament within five years of his arrival in the Tamil country; it was published in 1714, and by 1719, the year of his death, he had finished the Old Testament up tothe Book of Ruth. In 1840theBible Society published its first edition of the whole Bible in Tamil: the Old Testament consisting of the translation of Fabricius and the New Testament that of Rhenius. He brought out the New Testament in parts from 1825 and finally published the entire New Testament in 1833.

Translation in the 19th century:  In 1857 the Fathers of the Parish Foreign Missions under the leadership of Bishop Bottero of Kumbakonam, published the first Catholic Tamil version of the New Testament from the Mission press Pondicherry.  A revision committee was appointed in 1923, with Dr L. P. Larsen, a great linguist and Tamil scholar, as chief reviser and Pandit G. S. Doraiswamyas assistant. For the first time Lutherans and others cooperated in the work of revision.The New Testament was issued in 1928, the Old Testament in January 1936, and the complete Bible later in the same year. 

Tremendous work of Rev. Fr.L. Legrand:  A new translation of the New Testament was found necessary. Rev. Fr.  Legrand, Maria Mudiappan and D.S. Amalorpavadass undertook a new translation of the New Testament from Greek into Modern Tamil. The draft prepared by them was accepted by the Bishopsof Tamil Nadu and entrusted to a Commission for correction. With His Grace Archbishop Arulappa of Madras-Mylapore as Chairman, this commission worked hard for several months and the complete New Testament in good chaste Tamil was released in March 1970. The first edition of 50,000 copies was sold out in a few months. A revised edition of the Old Testament and a new translation of the Psalms by Archbishop R. Arulappa were published in 1972. 

Present day challenges:
  • People are familiar with the old translation it is difficult for them to understand and to go along with new translation.
  • People could not understand the real meaning of the text because of person who takes literal meaning without understanding the text.
  • People do not know proper interpretation and explanation of the text 
  • Translator should not misplace the word because it changes the meaning context, reader may get confusion.
  • Translator should know the mind of the author, to whom he wrote the book, and culture of the people, otherwise people could not personalise the Bible.
- Bro. David Rajesh (I year Theology) Bangalore

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