The Bible is to be translated into sign language to make the text accessible to the deaf. File photo: Ben Curtis

Durban - The Roman Catholic Church has the mammoth task of getting other Christians to buy into the idea of a new version of the Zulu Bible which is being translated from the biblical languages like Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin.

At least 20 people, including translators, theologians, cultural experts, linguists and even a novelist, are involved in the project. The initiative is being co-ordinated from St Joseph Cathedral in Mariannhill.

The group started with the New Testament, which was predominantly composed in Greek, and they are now ready to tackle a Hebrew version of the Old Testament.

The project co-ordinator, Father Alexis Madela, said the existing version posed language problems because some words had not been translated from the Xhosa which was used as the basis for the current Zulu Bible.

“The new version will attempt to capture the culture and the context in which the original version was written. Also there are more than 90 versions of the English Bible, so it’s only right that Zulu speakers have the same right to choose,” he said.

Madela is one of four Catholic church leaders who went to Rome to study biblical languages at the Biblical Institute in Rome.

They enrolled for a four-year programme to attain fluency in the languages in preparation for the translation project.


“Another challenge that we’ve had to deal with is the issue of dialects because Zulu has so many of them,” said Madela.

University of KZN theology expert Dr Herbert Moyo said having more than one version of the Zulu Bible would enrich both the language and Christianity.

“Some denominations might reject it because they are used to the current version, but one can only grow by knowing a different way of saying the same thing. For example, I use the English Bible when teaching Biblical Studies, but I often refer to the other English and even the Hebrew/Greek versions for clarity,” he said.

Bishop Mlungisi Dlungwane of St Joseph Cathedral, who is one of the church leaders spearheading the project which started in 2006, said the bishops had been concerned that the current version of Bible had been translated from Xhosa and the New Testament that Catholics used was from Latin.

“We need a Zulu version that’s not translated from a translation,” he said.

Other denominations had expressed interest in being involved, he said, but were yet to send their representatives to review the work that had been done.

“The Bible will not just be for Catholics, so it’s important for other denominations to get involved as it will be for their use as well,” he said.

The project received a donation of R500 000 at the weekend from President Jacob Zuma’s foundation.

Zuma commended the Catholics for their work.


The translation is being funded through donations, but, four years ago, a lack of funds halted the project for eight months.

The Mercury