Western Impregnation of Bible Translations in Kiikamba and other African Languages

by Canon Professor Dr John Mbiti

Date added: 09/02/2017

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Western Impregnation of Bible Translations in Kiikamba and other African Languages

Lecture at the Mission Theology in the Anglican Communion Seminars at Lambeth Palace and Durham University, England, February 2017


© By Professor Dr. John Mbiti, CH Burgdorf, January 2017



Glossary, Introduction, Orthography, The Lord’s Prayer(Matthew 6: 9-13, cf. Luke 11:2-4), John 2:1-12, Revelation 19:15, Romans 11:28, Concluding remarks.


Akamba people, 5 million in Kenya, East Africa, overseas; 90% Christian, Muukamba one person; Kiikamba language; Ukambani Akambaland in central Kenya, 38,350 sq. km.


I am grateful to the Rt. Revd. Dr. Graham Kings and the Red. Dr. Harvey Kwiyani, for inviting me to England to give a series of lectures at different locations. Bishop Kings is the Mission Theologian in the Anglican Communion at Lambeth Palace Library, London, and Honorary Fellow of Durham University. The Revd. Dr. Harvey Kwiyani, Ph.D. is Executive Director and Advisor of Missio Africanus and teaching at the Church Missionary Society (CMS) at Oxford. I feel honoured to speak at Durham University, widely renown for its high standing in academia.

The title of my lecture presentation is: Western Impregnation of Bible Translations in Kiikamba and other African Languages. Because it contains many words in other languages, we supply copies to the audience. I shall be grateful if you please do not use it in any publication or duplication, without my knowledge and permission. I intend eventually to have it published. Thank you for your understanding.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Western missionaries started to work in different parts of Africa, immediately preceding or following European colonial occupations. Initially it was the Protestant Church tradition that made the translation of the Bible a primacy of missionary work. To my knowledge, prior to this missionary initiative, there were translations into only two African languages, namely Coptic and Ethiopic. But of course Bible translation in Africa started with the Hebrew Bible in Koine Greek, the Septuagint (LXX) in the third century BCE, which was the Bible of the early Church.

By 1900 there were Bible translations (in full, New Testament, and Portions) into 113 African languages. International and later national Bible Societies, including the United Bible Societies, Wycliffe Global Alliance, International Bible Society, and Biblica Africa, became the main promoters and sponsors of Bible translation in the twentieth century. There ensued an explosion of translations, and the work is continuing at top speed. Wycliffe Global Alliance gives the figure of 936 African languages in October 2015 that had the Bible. That figure is almost one third (31.9 %) of world translations {cf. Americas 553, Asia 733, Europe 168, and Pacific 542, http://www.wycliffe.net/statistics}. That is a tremendous achievement within one century, for which the Bible Societies and any other translation agencies deserve many thanks and deep appreciation.

Africa loves to read and hear the Bible read in many versions of both indigenous and European languages. Thus, through its translation into one thousand languages (in 2017) the Bible is very present in Africa. In some ways, we find our traditional life reflected in it. In that respect, the Bible is not only in Africa but Africa is in the Bible. It is wielding a tremendous impact on the Church and beyond. Bible research and written Theology have surged since the last quarter of the 20th century. It is generating Biblical Christianity and invigorating Oral African Theology.

Consequently, it is appropriate to ask: What kind of Bible is it in these one thousand African languages? To what extent are these translations faithful to the “original” Bible in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek?

These are not idle questions, nor are they meant to censure or depreciate the great work and enormous resources put into producing the Bible in one thousand African languages. This is no mean achievement. We give credit to the Bible Societies that are (largely) responsible for these translations, publications, and distributions of the Holy Scriptures over the whole continent and globally.

I translated[1] the Greek New Testament[2] into Kiikamba (Kenya), on my own initiative and without any sponsor. In course of the translation, I noticed a considerable discrepancy between the Greek text and existing Kiikamba Bible translations (NT 1920 and 2002, Bible 1956 and 2011). I noticed the same in two other African languages, Gikuyu and Kiswahili. I also detected that these were translations of translations. Bible societies recruit and engage African translators, whom they train according to Western translation principles and supervise to do or assist in the translations. They use Western Bibles as source languages, and back up the translations with Western financial patronage for the translations (very generously), publications, and distributions.

I take (at random) and examine four verses, to see what transpires in translating them from the Greek as the source language, into Kiikamba (an African language) as the receptor language, by an indigenous (African) scholar and native speaker of that language, and without using Western translation principles.


The issue of the orthography struck me from the beginning, and became fundamental to my Bible translation. With a remarkable vision, Western Missionaries introduced literacy in Africa where it existed only in Egypt and Ethiopia. Subsequently, missionaries founded schools and established forms of education. Besides proclaiming the Gospel, these two items (literacy and schools) are the most praiseworthy and enduring achievement of the missionary movement. All these three items have brought about a radical revolution over the entire continent, from which other changes began to follow.

To introduce literacy the missionaries had first to reduce the languages concerned into writing. They instituted the use of the Western Alphabet, with variations to address the sounds that were ‘foreign’ to that Alphabet. This turned out in some (most?) cases to follow the sounds they sensed in and through their foreign ears, from to them entirely foreign languages. Inevitably, insome (many) cases these were distorted and did not match exactly the native Akamba sounds. The missionaries did the best they could, to give Kiikamba a phonetically working orthography. Their actual spelling of indigenous words became the permanent (standard) orthography. The schools perpetuated the writing of Kiikamba according to that spelling. The translations and revisions of the Kiikamba Bible (1920, 1956, 2002, 2011), and all other Kiikamba publications followed and disseminated this foreignised writing.

One major task in my translation was to Kiikambacise the inherited missionary orthography. I made the spelling and writing of our language reproduce the way we speak it, thus making it easier and faster to read Kiikamba texts. For example, the Western orthography introduced the tilde on the letters Ii and Uu, thus: Ĩĩ and Ũũ. Missionaries who learnt Kiikamba, needed these Ĩĩ and Ũũ to aid them in pronouncing, reading, and writing Kiikamba words. So, every line, every sentence, every verse, every paragraph, every page, and every book of the Kiikamba Bibles is peppered with these tildes (which I call worms). There are thousands upon thousands of them in the whole Bible. They make the pages look aesthetically ugly, unappetising to read, and are a stumbling block for Akamba readers. Furthermore, these “worms” slow down the pace of writing and reading Kiikamba texts.

However, Akamba people do not need any such aid (of the tildes Ĩĩ and Ũũ), since the sounds are ingrained in our language and heads. In practice today, (most) people do not need or use them in writing. So, my translation completely eliminated and disregarded them.

In addition, there are thousands of words written according to the Western (foreign) orthography, which I ignored, refined, and rewrote according to Akamba speakers. For example:

Word in Western Orthography          Kiikamba Word in Mbiti Orthography

Amen            Ameni                                      Aameni

Child             kana                             kaana

Christ             Klĩsto                           Kilisto

Goodness      ũseo                             useyo

John              Yoana                          Yowana

Language      Kĩkamba                      Kiikamba

Lord              Mwĩai                          Mwiyai                                   

Morning        kĩoko                           kyooko

Rain              mbua                           mbuwa

In the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6: 9-13; cf. Luke 11:2-4) we find the petition: ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ (missing in Luke, but given in the criticus apparatus). Western languages render this as: “but deliver us from evil” (mostly), “but deliver us from the evil one”, “but keep us safe from the evil one”.

Western languages (theologians) explain “evil” here in terms of moral or ethical evil (wickedness). They identify “the evil one” with the Devil and Satan, and remit the same explanation to African Christianity. The two words, Devil and Satan are ingrained in the religious tradition of the West, in its culture, and languages. They ring a bell in the West, even if not everyone who uses them knows much (anything) about either the devil or Satan. Translating this petition from Western languages into African languages reproduces both terms evil and evil one.

In the Kiikamba translations, only one rendering is used. Thus 1956 Bible: “Ĩndĩ ũtũtangĩĩye kwa ũla mũthũkũ (But save us from the evil one.” In the 2011 version: “Ĩndĩ ũtũvonokye kuma kwa Ũla Mũthũku. But effect our getaway (escape) from the Evil One.” Gikuyu NT 1958: “No kũhonokia ũtũhonokagie ũũruinĩ. (?) But concerning saving, save us always from being in evil state.” In 2007: “No ũtũhonokagie kuuma ũũruinĩ. But be saving us always from evil.” Kiswahili Bible 1952: “Lakini utuokoe na yule mwovu. But save us from that evil one”; Swahili (Union Version SUV) (1997: “Bali utuokoe kutokana na yule mwovu. On the contrary, save us out of being with (or from the grasp of) that evil one.”

I translated this petition ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ into Kiikamba: “Indi tuvonokye kuma kwa ula (m) uthuku, But rescue (enable us escape, save) us from the combination of the evil one (muthuku concrete) and evil (uthuku abstract).” I put the letter (m) to unite and separate the two words-in-one, the concrete and the abstract. I felt textually, theologically, and culturally comfortable with that solution.

Churches in Africa, use mainly evil[3]. This is particularlyin their (Western) liturgies, Church services, Catechisms, hymnbooks, schools, prayer sessions, and conferences. They use Western languages in city (town) and school congregations and services.

The word evil is abstract. Traditional Akamba (African) thought is concrete and substantial. The literal translation of evil into Kiikamba is uthuku. The word (noun and adjective -thuku) means: “badness, evil, fierce, malicious, not good, rotten, unsuitable, and wicked.” However, the people do not conceive uthuku in its own abstract form, or in ethical terms. It is concretised and used adjectively. In the Akamba context, uthuku (evil, in the sense of ‘badness’, etc.) refers to concrete or definite features, characteristics, acts by or found in people, like: abusive words, anger, antagonism, disrespect (towards women and elderly persons), fighting, hostility, provocation, quarrel, robbery, rudeness, theft, and witchcraft. Theft, for example, is abstract and neutral on its own. But when a person steals money or sheep from another person, then the one who puts theft into concrete practice becomes “bad” (muthuku) and his or her act is also “bad” (-thuku). The concrete and the abstract combine, to make theft a bad (evil) act, which is unacceptable by society. But you cannot punish (beat, hit) theft {abstract}, and instead you beat and punish the thief {concrete}.

And that is where the rendering “the evil one” seems more appropriate in the Akamba (African) context. However, the Akamba would not think of the Devil or Satan, unless missionaries and preachers teach them or insist on this interpretation. These two “beings”, or their equivalents, did not exist in Akamba tradition and religious thought. It was Western teaching that imported and introduced them to Ukambani (Africa), and the people use the Western terms, as they are not in indigenous languages.

So, the Kiikamba language uses the same English words: Ndevili and Satani. Even then, people think primarily according to the traditions of our culture and values. In that case, the “evil one” who makes sense is: the abuser, accuser, attacker, blamer, boaster, disobedient child (person), maker of false alarm, greedy person, hater of people, jealous person, land grabber, liar, person who beats wife or husband, person with the “bad, harmful” tongue (mundu wi kyeni, having a tongue loaded with “harm or detriment”, that through word, ‘causes, sends’ harm to other people or their possessions), poisoner, political rival, quarrelsome person, one who rapes, robber, rude person, slanderer, spoiler, thief, threatener (one who threatens), witch, and wizard. (Occasionally) people speak of, mention, or blame Satan (or plural Satans, masatani), to refer to mental disturbances or to blame (excuse) for committing a blunder or crime. People occasionally also mention Satan in connection with spirit possession and spirits, as though it (Satan) were one of them. Akamba have very vague notions about Satan, and say practically nothing about the devil. These are more abstract than concrete and tangible realities in our religious world, having been imported from outside of Ukambani (Akambaland) than being home grown.

John 2:1-12 narrates what happened at the wedding feast in Kana of Galilee. When the wine runs out, Maria informs her son Jesus about it: “Οἶνον οὐκ ἔχουσιν. They do not have any more wine left.” Jesus responds: “Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, γύναι;”

Western languages (and culture) translate the answer of Jesus, variously, like this: “Vrou, wat het Ek met u te doen?” (Afrikaans, “Woman, what have I to do with you?”); “Que me veux-tu, femme?” (French, TOB Traduction Oecuménique de la Bible, “Woman, what have I to do with you?” / “What do you want from (of, with) me, woman?”); “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” (English, King James Version); “Weib, was habe ich mit dir zu schaffen?” (Luther, German, “Woman, what have I to do with thee / you?”); “Your concern, mother, is not mine” (The New English Bible); “You must not tell me what to do” (English Good News Bible); “Was ich zu tun habe, ist meine Sache, nicht deine” (German Gute Nachricht Bibel, “What I have to do, is my affair (business), not yours”); „Was haben wir miteinander zu tun, Frau?“ (German, Bibel in gerechter Sprache, “What have we to do with each other, woman?”).

Translations into African languages done from the Bibles in Western languages reproduce the same wording. Thus, in Gikuyu Bible (Kenya, 2009): “Mũtumia, wĩna ũhoro ũrĩkũ na niĩ? = Woman, what kind of affair do you have (to transact) with me?”; (1958) “Mũtumia ũyũ, ũhoro nĩ ũrĩkũ witũ nawe? = You this woman (here), what kind of affair is it for you and me?; Kiikamba Bible (Kenya, 1956): “Nĩ ũndũ naku wa kĩ, kĩveti?” = What business (affair, problem) have I with you, woman?”; (2011) “Mwaitũ wĩnthĩnĩsya kĩ ũndũnĩ ũũ?” = My mother, why do you trouble (bother) me with this affair?”; Kiswahili (East Africa, 1952): “Mama, tuna nini mimi nawe? = Mother (woman), what have we (to do with each other), you and I?”).

The texts from Western languages may seem harmless concerning the relationships between parents and children, where evidently the West seems to accommodate a degree of (mutual) rudeness and disrespect. However, in Akamba (African?) culture, ears, and language, the Western renderings are terribly coarse, discourteous, distant, embarrassing, ill-mannered, reprimanding, reproaching, rude, and scolding towards Maria, the mother of Jesus. They distort Christology and make Jesus sound very disengaged and distant from His mother and vice-versa. In Akamba eyes and ears they paint an unhealthy and avoidable family relationship. They are contrary to ancient Jewish culture, whose one of the Ten Commandments instils on everyone to: “Honour your father and mother.”

We Akamba have a proverb that also calls for high respect towards one’s parents: “Asyai maku nimo Mulungu waku = Your parents are (like) your God”. That underscores utmost courtesy, honour, respect, and even awe, to be shown towards one’s parents. If ever anyone is disrespectful to the parents, the elders (women and men) in the community would tell them off, ridicule, despise, and severely warn such a person. They would oblige the offender to produce and slaughter a goat or sheep, for the parents, as an act (and symbol) of asking for pardon from them.

But now these Western translations of the Bible descend upon us, with shattering terms like: “Woman, Weib (Wife, Woman), Trouble me, Business, Affair”, etc. Such expressions do not belong to Akamba culture, etiquette, and values. They alienate Jesus from His mother and from Akamba (Africans). They paint a false picture of Jesus, as if Maria would not be His Mother.

If this were an Akamba traditional wedding setting, mother and son would privately sit down, consult each other, and reflect together. Maria would inform Jesus about the wine, and wait on Jesus to say something like this: “(My) Mother, if that is the case, what do you suggest that we (you and I) do to salvage the situation? What options can we explore? Can we, for example, send someone to buy more wine from Capernaum, Nazareth, or Sepphoris?” To which Mary might boldly suggest, “Can you my son, instead do something to produce wine? Would you feel ready with your first sign (miracle), and supply wine enough for the wedding feast to last the remainder of the seven days?” Jesus: “Mother, that is a good idea – if you really believe that I can perform such a sign before the public.” Mary: “I have absolute confidence in you, my son!”

Such a dialogue and shared reflection give a positive Christological impression about Mother Mary and Son Jesus. The two would fit beautifully into Akamba society, and the people would happily identify with them.

My translation into Kiikamba says: “Inya (Mwaitu), nye naku twiika ata? = My (affectionate) Mother, what shall we do together”? There would follow an open quick brainstorming, a serious but supportive dialogue between mother and son. Ensuing from their private consultation, Jesus accomplishes the miracle of changing water into wine. That depicts the relationship between Mary and Jesus prominently and positively. Further, the event in Cana opens up the people for the public ministry of Jesus, which was to follow, as John tells us in 2:11 “This is the beginning of the signs (miracles) that Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee, and thereby displayed (demonstrated) His glory (grandeur). Subsequently, his disciples believed in him.”

The people at that wedding festival were never to forget Jesus “turning water into wine”. Akamba read that incident, as being historically real: Wedding, water, wine, Mary, Jesus, servants, and guests. Something real and astonishing happened that real day.

John tells us that afterwards Mary, Jesus, his brothers and sisters, with the disciples moved to Capernaum, a fishing town on the shores of the Lake (Sea) of Galilee. Surely this would not have happened, if Jesus had been disrespectful to his mother, or had failed in His first sign.

Revelation 19:15, Out of this verse, we take up one phrase: καὶ αὐτὸς ποιμανεῖ αὐτοὺς ἐν ῥάβδῳ σιδηρᾷ ... Western languages translate it variously: “And he will rule them with an iron sceptre” (New International Version); “And he will rule them with a rod of iron” (English Standard Version); “And he will shepherd them with a rod of iron” (Aramaic Bible in Plain English); „und er wird sie regieren mit der eisernen Rute“ (German, Luther 1545, “And he will rule over them with the iron rod”); „Er wird sie mit eisernem Zepter regieren und sie zertreten,“ (German Die Gute Nachricht, Stuttgart 1982, “He will rule over them and crush them underfoot”); „Und er wird se hirte mit emne ysige Stäcke,“ Ds Nöie Teschtamänt Bärndütsch“ (Bern 1984, “And he will shepherd them with an iron staff”); “Il les mènera paitre avec une verge de fer” (TOB Traduction Öecuménique de la Bibel 1977, “He will lead them to pasture with an iron rod”); “Y él los regirá con vara de hierro (Spanish Biblia Jubileo 2000, “And he shall rule over them with a rod of iron”); etc.

 About half and half of these versions, render ποιμανεῖ with rule (and strike down, smash), shepherd, pasture, or lead. Translations from Western into African languages naturally follow these different renderings accordingly. Thus: Kiikamba 1956 Na akaisumbĩka na ndata ya kĩaa (And he will rule over them with an iron rod); 2011 Akamasumbĩka na ũtonyi (He will rule over them with authority (power, force); Kiswahili 1952, “Naye atawachunga kwa fimbo ya chuma, And He will shepherd them with an iron stick (rod)”; Mbiti Kiikamba 2014, “Na akasyiithasya akwete ndata ya kiyaa, And He will be shepherding (or will always shepherd) them, carrying (holding) an iron stick (rod).”

 The concept of kings, queens, noble persons, popes, presidents, democratic systems, etc. ruling, ruling over (crushing), are rooted in Western history and society, with its almost endless wars and conflicts. That is known more or less by everybody. The use of an iron rod is common in Western rule, as rulers used it to govern {symbol of authority} and punish offenders or strike enemies with it (spear, arrows, canons, bombs, guns, etc.). Only a small group of persons do shepherding, and most people in the West have no personal experience about it.

Formal and centralized rule was absent among the Akamba, until the British imposed colonial rule at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The history of that colonial rule was not a particularly happy one for us, and it ended with our fierce struggle for independence and freedom, achieved in Kenya in 1963. So, if in this verse Western languages make reference to the Lord as ruling the nations, for Akamba readers and hearers, it provokes negative memories about the British ruling over us. They really ruled over us with iron rods and hippopotamus leather stripes known as “ivoko” in Kiikamba and “viboko” in Kiswahili. With these, they beat us, fettered us, and tortured us (even with hot iron), to punish us in schools, prisons, or workers in domestic houses, farms, and factories, and to punish criminals.

To the Akamba the notion and practice of central rulers (kings, queens, or chiefs) came with the British, and our language borrowed English words: Kingi (King), Lumandi (Remand), Kivu or Sivu (Chief), Ngavana (Governor), Yiela (Jail), Vaini (Fine), Volisi (Police), and Vulesitendi (President). Akamba traditional political authority, power, and its exercise, were vested in elders (women and men) in the community. Everyone became an elder by virtue of age, being circumcised, being an adult, married, and having a homestead. There was (and is) also the clan system, which exercised its own authority over and rendered assistance to members of the clan.

The Akamba were and have been keen traditional keepers and lovers of cattle, sheep, and goats. Every family owned them and everyone participated in looking after the animals: taking them to pasture ground, to the water sources (rivers, ponds, small lakes, or wells that people dug on river beds for the animals), and protecting them against attack by wild animals and human cattle raiders (rustlers). For that the males carried bows, arrows and /or {also females} shepherd’s stick (rod). So, the translation of ποιμανεῖ as to shepherd fits very well with Akamba society and life.

It is also a beautiful Christological image. It harmonises well with the New Testament Christology, which images Jesus as the Good Shepherd (John 10),and the Great Shepherd of the sheep (Hebrews 13:20); with the ministers of the Church as “shepherds”. The rod or stick is for leading the animals to pastures, water, and back home and for defending them from attack. Being of iron symbolises the strength and might, with which the Shepherd leads and defends the herd and flock. Western references to the destruction of the nations, are out of place in Akamba society, who never waged wars or destroyed other peoples. Occasionally men from bordering ethnic communities raided each other’s areas, to capture cattle and women. Raids were not wars, and involved only a limited number of male participants at a time, in the concerned area. Neither is it Christologically appropriate here, whereas in the New Testament Jesus comes to bless, to comfort, to feed, to free, to give life in fullness, to heal, to invite into the Kingdom of God, to safeguard, to save, to side with and raise the dignity of the weak and the demeaned, and to shepherd. He did NOT speak of destroying, ruling, or smashing people. Is the Western rendering an unconscious manifestation of its histroy, culture, and perpetual preparedness for war and armed defence?

So, the presentation of Jesus Christ in Revelation 19:15 as destroying the nations is for us/me perverted theology, polluted by Western traditions. It is malevolent. It destroys African admiration and love of Jesus.

Romans 11:28 and imposed Anti-Semitism. In this verse, κατὰ μὲν τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἐχθροὶ δι' ὑμᾶς ... (katá mén tó evangélion echthroí di' ymás ...) with reference to the Jews, Western Bibles (languages) render the word ἐχθροὶ as: “enemies” or “enemies of God” (in most cases). This is what I have found in all the Western languages I have examined (Afrikaans, Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Latin, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, etc.[4] :This rendering appeared already in the first English and German translations of the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. Thus: John Wycliffe Bible 1382 “After the gospel they be enemies for you...; Tyndale Bible 1525 As cocernynge the gospell they are enemies for youre sakes”; Luther Bibel 1545 „Nach dem Evangelium sind sie zwar Feinde ...“

Rendering ἐχθροὶ as “enemy” spread all over the West in subsequent centuries up to the twenty-first. All Western Bibles use the same wording about the Jews calling, them enemies, and enemies of God. Thus: Afrikaans: Wat die goeie boodskap betref, is hulle vyande ..., As far as the Good News is concerned, they are enemies... Danish: Efter Evangeliet er de vel Fjender Subsequent to the gospel, they are enemies; French Louis Segond: En ce qui concerne l`Évangile, ils sont ennemis à cause de vous; King James Version (1611): As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes; Portuguese: … são inimigos por causa de vós; Bibel in gerechter Sprache: …sind sie feindlich gesinnt... they are hostile (enemies)Revised Standard Version: As regards the gospel they are enemies of God, for your sake...; Russian: они враги... they are enemies ...; Spanish (1917): enemigos por causa … they are enemies ...”

Westernized translations into Kiikamba and other African languages, have transferred the same wordings to the receptor languages. Thus, for example: Kiikamba Bible 1956: “…matwĩkĩte amaitha kwondũ wenyu… … they have become enemies for your sake…”; New Testament 2002, “… Ayuti matwĩkĩte amaitha ma Ngai, ... the Jews have become God’s enemies, …”; so also Kiikamba Bible 2011; Gikuyu New Testament 1958, “… andũ acio nĩo maatuĩkĩte thũ … those people have become enemies …”; Gikuyu Bible 2007 (Ĩbuku rĩa Ũhoro ũrĩa Mwega: The Book (Bible) of the Good News): “… Ayahudi … ũthũ na Ngai … The Jews … enmity with God”; Kiswahili Bible (1952): “…wamekuwa adui …they have become enemies”.

Here, in the context of this passage (11:25-32), whatever the Jews are, they are neither enemies, nor enemies of God. Paul makes reference to the Gospel, to say that they have declined, opposed, refused, or rejected it. This was largely the case in his life, and he mentions it only as a general historical truth. He was very disappointed about it, but they did not reject God, and this verse 28 does not refer to God. It talks about {some} Jews and their apparent response to the Gospel. Paul was a Jew, he preached and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Jew. The Jews had produced the Scriptures that they used that time and which continue to be used all over the world. Paul would never, never, never call the fellow Jews “enemies” or “enemies God”. Only Western Anti-Semitism would use that designation in the Bible, and disperse it throughout the world via Bible translations and attitudes and behaviour.

To twist this passage and call the Jews “enemies” or “enemies of God”, is very strange indeed. The word ἐχθροὶ (plural of ἐχθρός) can be used to cover various meanings according to the context, such as adversaries, antagonists, competitors, enemies, foes, or opponents. In this verse, the context does not mention or accommodate the use of “enemies”. That is blatant European Anti-Semitism that led to the persecutions and expulsions of Jews in and from the countries of Europe, by the Romans, other nations, and Christians, since the first century {as did the Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians earlier in Antiquity}. Anti-Semitism seems to be in Western blood. It is anti-Semitism that blinded the translators of the Bible since Tyndale and Luther, to call the Jews “enemies” or “enemies of God” in Romans 11:28. By word, images, and deeds, Martin Luther was a great oppressor and persecutor of the Jews, calling for their destruction and expulsion from Eisleben and Germany.[5]

Keeping this Anti-Semitism in the Bible has facilitated the perpetuation of Anti-Semitism in the West, and spreading it throughout the world. It is said that Hitler and the Nazis were inspired by Luther’s attacks and call for the expulsion and persecution of Jews. Their Holocaust (Shoah) is said to have started in 1933 and developed gradually, breaking out deliberately with the Kristallnacht (Crystal Night) on 09-10 November 1938, the eve of Luther’s birthday. The genocide continued until 8 May 1945, by which time the Nazis had killed six million Jews, among other human beings, and devastated their communities, possessions, property, and synagogues. However, Anti-Semitism did not stop there and then. It is still going on today.[6]

These Western languages are mostly the source languages for translating the Bible into African (and other) languages. Thereby they import and introduce anti-Semitism in Africa. However, outside of this Bible text, I have not found or heard of any active anti-Semitism in Christian Africa. To the contrary, African Christians show great attachment and admiration to the Jews. Many African communities, individuals, and Christians identify themselves with the Jews. There are “Jews of Africa” in many countries including Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe, etc. Some call themselves (one of) ‘the lost tribes of Israel’; others Israelites; some institute Churches to which they give Jewish names; some establish and organise communities which they identify as Jewish, calling themselves Jews or of Jewish origin, and practising Judaism. The search for, and identity of (some of) the lost tribes, has been going on for over two millennia and in every continent. Individuals of African descent in the West, especially America, convert to and practise Judaism. There are (and were) Ethiopian Jews (Beta Israel) in Ethiopia-Eritrea who for millennia, retained their identity and scriptures as Jews, observing Jewish traditions. Thousands of these Jews immigrated or were brought to Israel, in waves starting in 1934, then 1961, 1975, and 1990. There is an exhaustive literature on “Jews of Africa”.[7]

We African peoples, especially the Christians, have friendly and welcoming attitude and feelings towards the Jews. We are absolutely or largely free from Anti-Semitism. I never knew of it, until I went to study in America and England. When I was growing up, Akamba Christians talked about our being one of the ‘lost tribes of Israel’. We boys wanted to marry Jewish girls. It is therefore highly inacceptable, to read in the Western impregnated Bible translations, that Jews are “enemies of God.” That is offensive and a blow to our African sentiments and dignity. It is even a greater pity, that Western Bibles themselves retain this accusation and allegation of the Jews, since the fourteenth century. They export them word for word, to the rest of the world through westernised Bible translations, up to the twenty first century. Churches, institutions, scholars, and Christian organisations, should apologise to the Jews everywhere. Throughout the world the Anti-Semitic assertion in Romans 11:28 should be erased from Bibles and not be inserted in new versions and translations. This insertion of Anti-Semitism in Bibles is a blatant blunder, dishonour, disgrace, embarrassment, indignity, infamy, scandal, and shame. It severely tarnishes Christianity.

And all that has been in spite of the great biblical scholarship in the West, the long history of Christianity in the West, the great art, music, liturgies, the great theological works of the West, the West accomplishing the global missionary work, the West translating the Bible into thousands of world languages, … and much more. How and when will the world be freed from its Anti-Semitism and Racism, if the West with all its rich potentials does not lead the way? When will the West translate Romans 11:28 to reflect genuinely and simply what Paul said, that some Jews had declined the Gospel? So have millions of people throughout the world done the same, and are not enemies of God. Only one third of the world population is Christian. It is high time Christians erased Anti-Semitism and Racism in real life and from Romans 11:28.

Concluding remarks:

1. A highly remarkable number of Bible translations has emerged in Africa, to the tune of one thousand languages in 2016. The Bible has found a home in Africa, and Africa has become a Biblical continent. Statistically the Bible has become very much an African book. Many African readers and hearers of the Bible spontaneously identify themselves with the Bible through its content of (ancient) Jewish culture, family traditions, farming, history, pastoral (livestock) life, persecutions, suffering, death rituals, and religiosity centred on the same God, Whom African peoples have known since time immemorial.

2. Most of these translations are made from Western source languages. There is a growing call by African laypersons[8] and scholars[9], to have the Bible translated directly from biblical languages, as the source languages into African receptor languages. That is easily said, but it is very hard to put it into action. And when any such translations are ready, Africa does not currently have the resources to publish them. Can Bible societies be persuaded, to look into and sponsor (dreamt of) such translations and revisions? With African scholars and translators, they may need to revise their translation principles, re-formulate, or make additions. The translation principles formulated from outside, carry the danger and fear of being foreign, patronising and imposed.

3. Existing translations cannot and need not be destroyed. At another level, African scholars may or could revise them, basing their revisions on the Biblical languages directly meeting African languages. A growing number of African scholars know biblical languages well enough to engage in this kind of revision. Naturally, they would also need to be sufficiently conversant in their indigenous languages. The “refurbished revisions” would take less time and cost less.

4. There is the vast field of digital publications, resources, and libraries, which can be exploited to provide people with cheap (or free) Bibles in their mother tongue, through the Internet, computers, cell phones, iPads, etc. Who can follow this up?

5. The seemingly dominant Western impregnation of African translations may need to be curtailed (eliminated??) in order to place the Bible more into the cultural, linguistic, religious, and social traditions of African peoples, as long as these may still impact on contemporary life. A few languages are reported to be “dying out”, though at the same time there is a revival of some African traditions (especially among Africans living overseas).

6. The financial problem of publishing these “ideal” Bible translations is a blockage that would cripple such endeavours. How on earth would these translations be published and distributed? My approach to several dozens of Bible Societies and Church-Christian institutions in Africa, America, Europe, and Austral-Asia, for financial support brought no or negative responses, except three. One refused, saying that I had not used the word Jehovah for God in my translation. The dilemma is that Africa is very hungry for the Bible and will consume it in whatever state. The challenge is to make that state as appetizing and nourishing as possible.

7. I had to address many issues that cropped up in doing the translation into Kiikamba as the receptor language. These included:

(i) Using literary features from oral into written languages. (ii) Making the length of sentences conform to the fact that Akamba hear the Bible more than reading it. Some cannot read (at all, properly, or fluently), and many have no Bibles. Pedagogically, long sentences make it difficult to listen, concentrate, grasp the content, and remember it.

(iii) Many Christians memorise by heart Bible verses, passages, and stories, which they recite and retell. So, I made the flow and rhythm of the translation to facilitate this use of the Bible. (iv) Knowing that the Akamba are very fond of music, where appropriate, I had to harmonise the sound of the words with alliteration, rhyme, synonyms and antonyms, to give verses a musical resonance.

(v) I brought out in Kiikamba the poetical features and elements of the New Testament. This becomes evident and handy, when the texts are read aloud. I gave particular attention to this aspect, as I have written and published poems in Kiikamba and English. (vi) From the roots of Kiikamba words, I created new words to translate “foreign” concepts, such as atonement, justification, and righteousness. This was possible through the flexibility of the Kiikamba language. In other cases I used some Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek words that have already become indigenized in course of the 20th century, such as amen, angel (muulaika), baptize (vaatisya), demon (ndaimoni), Pentecost (Vendekosito), and Satan.

(vii) I accommodated dialectical and regional variations in Kiikamba, since Ukambani is quite sizeable. I inserted in brackets variant words. This also enables readers and hearers to widen their vocabulary.

(viii) As the translation proceeded, I made a lot of testing it on the ground, where people are, from among all generations: listening, reading out aloud, memorizing verses, retelling happenings, parables, passages and stories. That way, the Akamba were involved, and participated in the translation process, discussing and commenting on the clarity, rhythm of the sentences (texts), vocabulary, readability, and communicability of the translation. They showed a lot of interest and excitement, feeling that they were part of the Bible translation process. They felt that it was going to be their Bible, rooted in Ukambani soil and sounding truly Kiikamba.

(ix) I included some thirty photographs that I had taken, of the New Testament places and message. Kiikamba (African) translations from Western Bibles have illustrations some of which depict Jews and (supposed-to-be) Jesus like Westerners (Europeans). Women are rarely included. That impregnation creates a kind of brainwashed image of Christianity as Western (European) in origin and content.

8. At a deeper level, the translation from Biblical languages into local languages encourages creativity and the proliferation of oral theology. This has already been happening (in the field) spontaneously among the Christians, the laity and clergy, young and old, women and men, through their composition and use of local hymns, songs, and music, instead of, or in addition to imported Western hymns translated in Kiikamba. They sing everywhere with or mainly without instruments – in the fields, in buses, walking, fetching water, herding, at school, in Churches and market places. They say or give spontaneous prayers (at home and Church services), sermons or meditations, religious education (in schools, Sunday School and their homes), all produced in one’s mother tongue. Many times I discussed my translated texts and passages with the people, in which they were very interested and enthusiastic, and to which they brought out further issues for discussion, or posed questions for clarification.

That seemed to hold the potential for an indigenous method of “Group Bible Study”, in an African language: (i) If possible, involve the people in the translation process from a Biblical source language into an African receptor language. (ii) Reading and / or listening to the text (passage). (iii) Explaining / discussing the passage, raising questions on it. (iv) Using the passage (text) to compose a hymn, song, prayer, sermon, or meditation. (v) If appropriate, act (drama) the passage. (vi) Publicise or share the end “product” among the wider public. (vii) Perhaps recommend or use the method with other groups or parishes.

9. There are some unknown issues that pose questions to the idea of translating from Biblical to African languages. One is the cost involved, as already mentioned. Another is that some African languages are said to be “dying out”. A third is that Western languages are used in different countries as the main (in practice national) languages in education, commerce, media, religions, international communication, etc. A fourth factor is that some countries do not use indigenous languages in schools, let alone universities. But there are some that encourage or require their use in education, media, and cultural activities. However, educated Africans use more Western languages and less their indigenous languages. However, more and more Africans living overseas are getting interested in their indigenous languages and cultures. Does a Bible translation make any impact upon them?

10. There is the challenge of balancing between “neutral” translation and (polemical) interpretation of words or verses. Translation is also a theological expression.

11. My ultimate aim was to make the translation beautiful (to read and hear), faithful (to the Greek New Testament), the Kiikamba NT to speak face to face with the Greek NT, and communicate with each other. I cannot judge how far I succeeded. But I feel really at home reading this translation, because of the end product of the exercise, the labour, and the meticulous attention I paid to each word in the source and receptor languages. I thank the Lord for granting me the life to perform this self-imposed assignment.

12. I reaped a lifelong reward through the translation. I came to feel very close to Jesus Christ as my friend, shepherd, and life. Following Him in the New Testament from prior to birth, birth, public ministry, painful death, resurrection, and ascension, word for word, chapter for chapter, and book for book, was like a rebirth in my spiritual pilgrimage. For this new vision of Jesus Christ, I feel humbled and elevated. Let Glory be to God, through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. I pray that my Kiikamba New Testament, be a blessing to its readers and hearers.

**  **  **

© John Mbiti, Max Buri Str. 12, CH 3400 Burgdorf, Switzerland, 20 January 2017

mbiti.john@gmail.com, john.mbiti@gmx.ch, +41344226420, +41788353111

[1]. I was more or less forced into the Bible translation task. When I saw the Kiikamba New Testament of the Bible Society of Kenya, Nairobi 2002, I compared it with the Greek New Testament. I noticed many divergences between them, which made me feel very uncomfortable with that translation. Spontaneously I tried out, to see what it means to translate the Scriptures. I did not plan to do that beforehand, and I had no training in Bible translation.

However, I could use my life-long experience, from school days when I translated and interpreted for missionaries in English and Kiikamba, and from my translations (in English and German) of texts for my university teaching in Switzerland and the United States. Additionally, in my academic and professional journey I constantly used the New Testament: Ph.D. at Cambridge University, University teaching, writing, and parish work. I have done research into Kiikamba my mother tongue in Kenya, written, and published books in it. So, I felt confident to undertake this challenging task, of which I am told, I am the first African to do a Bible translation single-handedly from Biblical source languages into an African receptor language. But I did not know that, while I was at it, day and night.

The trial translation exercise of John 1:1-5 captivated me to the degree that, before long I was deep in actual translation of the whole Greek New Testament. So, I put my energies, time, and scholarly know-how into the translation. Finally, after 8 months of hard, challenging, and fascinating work (4-14 hours a day), during a period of 2 years, I completed the first draft. I waited a year and revised it up to seven times over several years.

But no publisher in Kenya, Europe, America, and elsewhere would touch it, on ‘account of high costs’. Finally, friends mainly in Switzerland and a few in the United States of America, gave financial support to publish and distribute it as a gift to Primary Schools in Ukambani, Kenya. Thanks to them, the Kenya Literature Bureau, the biggest indigenous publisher in (East) Africa, produced and published the first print run of 3,000 copies in December 2014, and distributed them to 70 (out of 3,000) schools in Ukambani in 2015. I am in the difficult process of raising more funds to print and distribute further copies to the remaining schools.

[2]. For example, versions of the Greek New Testament by Nestle and the United Bible Societies (UBS). The latest of the UBS came out in 2014, while my Kiikamba New Testament was already in the press. However, I have consulted it in preparing the Second Edition of my translation.

[3]. E.g.: Anglican, Presbyterian, and Orthodox liturgies. The “Modern Version” of The Church Service Book of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, Nairobi 1975, p. 158, uses “the evil one”, side by side with the older version that uses “evil”.

[4]. I found only one case (exception), which does not call Jews “enemies”. That is: Hans and Ruth Bietenhard, Ds Nöie Teschtamänt bärndütsch, Bern 1984. (... Bietenhard, The New Testament in the Bernise German Dialect). It reads: „Si sy Gägner vo der guete Botschaft, und das chunt öich zguet... They are opponents of the Good News, and that is to your benefit.”

[5]. See e.g., Martin Luther, Von den Juden und Ihren Lügen (On the Jews and Their Lies) Wittenberg 1543; elsewhere he equated the Jews with the Devil and pigs.

[6]. See the long and painful list of Jewish expulsions, killings, and persecutions, from Antiquity to 15 July 2016: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_antisemitism#Antiquity

[7]. See, for example: Bruder, Edith, The Black Jews of Africa, History, Religion, Identity, Oxford 2008; Halperin, Jean and Ucko, Hans, Worlds of Memory and Wisdom, Encounters of Jews and African Christians, WCC, Geneva 2005; Le Roux, Magdel, The Lemba. A Lost Tribe of Israel in Southern Africa?, Unisa Press, Pretoria, 2003; Lis, Daniel, Jewish Identity among the Igbo of Nigeria, “Israel’s Lost Tribe”, and the Question of Belonging in the Jewish State, Africa World Press, Trenton, Cape Town, et al 2014; Slageren, Jaap van, Influences juives en Afrique, Paris 2009; William, Alenyo George William, The Luo. The Black Jews of Africa. The History of the Descendants of Jews in the Nile Valley who Became Known as the Luo, Nairobi and Kampala 2009. This William’s book claims that the once U.S.A. President Barack Obama was a Jewish descendant through his father from the Luo people in Kenya, whom he calls ‘The Black Jews of Africa’.

See further on the Jews of Africa, with photographs and maps: https://www.google.ch/search?q=Jews+of+africa&biw=1199&bih=786&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjXxoe9n6DOAhVDNxQKHdv6AnIQsAQIKA

I detest today’s use of the term “Black” with reference to African (or other) peoples and their descendants. It is racially charged, divisive, ideological, motivated, racist, and may lead to more {not less} segregation and racism. The word has become burdensome for use in our modern world. What about other humans who are not included under “black”? Facial, ideological, racial, religious, and skin “barriers” (mirages) are breaking down fast. This is happening through modern physical and electronic communication, international sports, shared tragedies of nature like earthquakes, droughts, tsunamis, and climatic extremes, among other factors. Does an email know, or care about one’s race, or political party? Can genuine love be punctured by these disfigured attributes?

[8]. See, for example, the call that the current President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, made (on 4 January 2015) to the Church to translate the Bible directly from Biblical languages into iziZulu language, and his donation of $50,000 for that work. This was reported in The Inquistr on 04 January 2015. http://www.inquisitr.com/1727971/south-african-president-zuma-to-sponsor-bible-translation/#mOpElBBHiD2v3tUK.99; image:http://cdn.inquisitr.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/President-Jacob-Zuma 665x385.jpg.;<imgwidth= “665”height= “385”src= “http://cdn.inquisitr.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/President-Jacob-Zuma-665x385.jpg”data-attID=“1728026”class=“single-leaderwp-post-image“alt=”Joint Venture With Roman Catholic Church”/>

[9]. For example: Jesse Mugambi (Kenya) through lectures and university teaching; other scholars like Ernst M. Ezeogu (Nigeria), Elelwani B. Farisani (South Africa), and Lovemore Togarasei (Botswana), who speak of „colonial“ and „colonised Bibles“, in their essay / article contributions in: Musa W. Dube, Andrew M. Mbuvi, and Dora Mbuwayesango, eds., Postcolonial Perspectives in African Biblical Interpretations, Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta 2012, pp. 157-217.

Canon Professor Dr John Mbiti

Canon Professor Dr John Mbiti



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