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History of Bible Translation


History of Bible Translation

Following is a brief summary of the process by which the Christian Bible became available in the Korean language. Source: "Korea: A Historical and Cultural Dictionary" by Keith Pratt and Richard Rutt (Curzon 1999)

In 1872. Rev. Dr. John Ross (1842-1915) who had studied at the United Presbyterian Hall in Edinburgh from 1865-69, began serving his church in Manchuria.  Becoming a distinguished missionary, cultural historian and linguist in Manchuria, Ross also persuaded Korean visitors to teach him their language. Yi Ung-chan, an educated merchant of herbal medicines, instructed him in his native tongue. Under the direction of John Ross, he and others produced the first Korean translation of the New Testament. Separate books appeared in 1882 with the complete New Testament being published five years later in 1887. Using the Korean alphabet, Ross and his team enabled the New Testament to be read and used by a wide indigenous audience. By the time that missionaries arrived in the Korean peninsula in 1885, there were already established Christian communities in Seoul and elsewhere. Their presence confirmed two of Ross's leading missiological principles - first, local people made the most effective church leaders because of their understanding of cultural context, and, second, the Bible was sufficient in itself to enable people to resolve upon the most decisive issues in their lives.

In Japan Yi Su Jung published the Gospel of Mark from Ross's version revised with the help of the Chinese Bible in 1883. Two years later when first missionaries Horace G. Underwood and Henry G. Appenzeller came to Korea they took Yi's Version with them. Arriving in Korea, Underwood and Appenzeller published their own version of Mark in Seoul in 1887 and established a permanent translation committee.

In 1893 the British and Foreign Bible Society established its Seoul Bible House and the existing translation committee was reorganized as their Board of Official Translators, with the addition of Gale, Scranton and (the future Anglican bishop) Trollope. By 1900 all the gospels and Acts had been published by them in Korean. This version was revised in a modernized spelling system that was published in 1902, revised again in 1905. After ten years of work, the complete (Protestant) bible was first published in 1910, later revised in 1937. All these versions were printed entirely in the Korean alphabet, Hangeul.

1925 saw the publication of a new Korean translation of the Bible prepared by James Scarth Gale and two Koreans, also using Hangeul but this was never officially recognized or widely used. In 1926, Cheong Tae-yong published a version, probably inspired by Japanese models, where all words of Chinese origin (about 50% of the Korean vocabulary) were printed using the Chinese characters that only people who had received an education could read.

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