Bible translations (Japanese)

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Japanese Bible translation began when Catholic missionaries (Kirishitan) entered Japan in 1549, and Jesuits published the full New Testament in Kyoto, in 1613. Shortly afterwards, however, Christianity was banned and all the missionaries were exiled. That translation of the Bible is now lost[][].

Work on translation started outside of Japan in the 19th century by Protestant missionaries interested in Japan. Karl Gutzlaff of the London Missionary Society translated the Gospel of John in Macau in 1837. He referred to the Chinese version 神天聖書. Bernard Jean Bettelheim, who had been a missionary in the Ryūkyū Kingdom (Okinawa) and who had been exiled, translated the Bible to Ryūkyūan and published the Gospel of Luke and John, Acts of the Apostles and the Epistle to the Romans in Hong Kong in 1855[].

Japan re-opened in 1858, and many missionaries came into the country. They found that intellectuals could read Chinese texts easily, so they used Chinese Bibles at first. However, the proportion of intellectuals was not so high (about 2%) and there was a multitude to be enlightened. They needed a Japanese Bible.

The most famous early translation was done by James Curtis Hepburn, of the Presbyterian Mission, and Samuel Robbins Brown, of the Reformed Church of America. It is presumed that Japanese intellectual assistants helped translate Bridgman and Culbertson's Chinese Bible (1861) into Japanese, and Hepburn and Brown adjusted the phrases. The Gospels of Mark, Matthew and John were published in 1872[].

Hepburn's project was taken over by a Missionary Committee, sponsored by the American Bible Society, British and Foreign Bible Society and the Scottish Bible Society in Tokyo. Their New Testament and Old Testament, called the "Meiji version (明治元訳)," was published in 1880 and 1887 respectively. They translated from a Greek text as well as the King James version[][].

A revision of the New Testament, the Taisho Revised Version (大正改訳) appeared in 1917. This version was widely read even outside of Christian society. Its phrases are pre-modern style, but became popular in Japan. This was based on the Nestle-Aland Greek Text and the English Revised Version (RV)[][][].

After World War II, the Japanese Bible Society translated a colloquial version of the Bible, the New Testament being ready in 1954, and the Old Testament in 1955. It was adopted by certain Protestant churches but never became really popular, perhaps because of its poor literary style. This translation was based on the Revised Standard Version (RSV)[][].

In the Catholic Church, Emile Raguet of the MEP translated the New Testament from the Vulgate Latin version and published it in 1910. It was treated as the standard text by Japanese Catholics[]. Federico Barbaro colloquialized it (published in 1957). He went on to translate the Old Testament in 1964[].

The Franciscans completed a translation of the whole Bible, based on the Greek and Hebrew text, in 1978. This project was inspired by the Jerusalem Bible[].

In the Orthodox Church, Nicholas and Tsugumaro Nakai translated the New Testament as an official text in 1901[].

The Second Vatican Council decided to promote ecumenism and emphasized a respect for the Bible. Consortia between the Catholic and the Protestant churches were organized and translation projects started in many countries, including Japan. The collaboration committee published the Interconfessional Translation Bible (Shinkyodoyaku Seisho) of the New Testament in 1978, but it was not widely supported by both congregations, Catholic and Protestant[]. The committee went back started over and published a revised version, the New Interconfessional Translation Bible, in which the Old Testament was included, in 1987.[][] It has been distributed well, but most Evangical churches refused it and continued to use Protestant revised Bible[][], the New Japanese Bible (Shinkaiyaku Seisho, 1970) from Biblia Hebraica and Nestle-Aland[].

There are many other Japanese translations of the Bible by various organizations and individuals.


Translation John 1 (verses vary)
Gutzlaff (1837) John 1:1-2
ハジマリニ カシコイモノゴザル、コノカシコイモノ ゴクラクトトモニゴザル、コノカシコイモノワゴクラク。ハジマリニ コノカシコイモノ ゴクラクトトモニゴザル。
Betterlheim (1855) John 1:1-2
はじめに かしこいものあり かしこいものハ 神と ともにいます かしこいものハすなわち神
Hepburn (1872) John 1:1-4
元始(はじめ)に言霊(ことだま)あり 言霊は神とともにあり 言霊ハ神なり。この言霊ハはじめに神とともにあり。よろづのものこれにてなれり なりしものハこれにあらでひとつとしてなりしものハなし。これに生(いのち)ありし いのちは人のひかりなりし。
Meiji version (1880) John 1:3
Taisho Revised Version (1917) John 1:1-3
Colloquial version (1954) John 1:1-3
Barbaro (1957) John 1:1-3
Shinkaiyaku Seisho (1973) John 1:1-3
Franciscan (1978) John 1:1-3
The New Interconfessional Translation (1987) John 1:1-3


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