After 39 years, a translation of the Bible in American Sign Language has been completed. A breakthrough for disabled Christians.
The final books needed, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, were completed this fall. According to Christianity Today, work on translating the Bible into ASL started in 1981 with Duane King, a minister in the Independent Christian Church. King, who is hearing, had learned to sign after meeting a deaf Christian couple in 1970. The couple told King they avoided going to church because they did not understand what was going on. King said he felt he needed to help the deaf community. King and his wife, Peggy, then started a church and a mission for the deaf in Iowa. In 1981, King started work on an ASL Bible.
“Most hearing people don’t understand how difficult it is to learn to read what you cannot hear,” King said in 2019. “Deaf people rely so much on their eyesight that they want everything to be tangible—they want to be able to see everything.” Translation to sign language begins with the adaptation of the English words to a “front translation,” a version that uses a word order and vocabulary that corresponds to sign language.
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Harold Noe, a Hebrew and Greek scholar who worked with Deaf Missions, said in an interview in 2004 that the translation can be difficult because ASL has a different syntax than English.
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“The same sign used for `resurrection’ is the sign for `stand up,'” Noe said. “I recall working with some children at the Iowa School for the Deaf. When I signed that sign for resurrection, the kids would stand up. I kept saying, `No, it’s not time to go yet.'”
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