Tamil Bible Translations

History of Translations
The first Bible to be Translated in India


Beginning of Bible translation: The history of Bible translation into Tamil begins with the arrival of Bartholomew Ziegenbalg (German missionary) at the Danish settlement of Tranquebar in 1706. He had a remarkable gift for languages and he was tireless in diligence and made rapid progress. He had completed the translation of the New Testament within five years of his arrival in the Tamil area; it was published in 1714, and by 1719, the year of his death, he had finished the Old Testament up to the Book of Ruth. The remaining work was completed by another German missionary, Benjamin Schultze, and published in Tranquebar in 1728. Philip Fabricius, also a German, spent twenty four years on the translation of the Bible which was published in 1777.

The British and Foreign Bible Society was established in the 19th century. The translation of scripture in several Indian languages in association with William Carey began to emerge. Even in the Tamil area Dr. Buchanan reported in
his memorable journey in 1806 that there was a 'great cry for Bibles'. People followed him crying

'We don't want bread or money from you, but we want the Word of God.'

The first project of the Bible Society in Tamil was given to C.T. Rhenius (born 1790), a German, who had come to work under the Church Missionary Society in Tinnevelly. He brought out the New Testament in 1833. In 1840 the Bible 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 Rehnius. The Jaffna translation called the Tentative Version was brought out in 1850. Since the Jaffna version had failed to gain general acceptance another version was called for; and after prolonged negotiations, a revision committee representative of several missions working in South India, with Dr. H. Bower as chief translator, was appointed in 1857. The New Testament was published in 1863 and the Old Testament in 1868; but the renderings of the Bower Committee aroused grave dissatisfaction in north Ceylon and a conference of delegates from both sides was called. A mutually accepted version of the whole Bible called the Union Version, because of the representative character of those who had produced it, was published in 1871. In efect it displaced all previous versions and won its way into the affection of all Churches in India and Ceylon. The Lutheran continued to use the Fabricius version.

Present state and / or future of Bible translation in the language:

The Tamil Bible is undergoing first-ever re-editing with archaic renderings are being replaced with more meaningful terms. The work is almost complete and computer keying-in of the text will be taken up shortly. A fresh Common Language translation of the Tamil Bible was brought out in the year 1995. The same has been in circulation now though not widely distributed. This text is undergoing revision for setting right all inconsistencies including typographical errors.

Total Population: 72,138,958 (2011)
Literacy Rate: 62.66%


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