Faith, Random Reflections

Bible – History of the Malay translation

Not too many people realize that long before Bible
translations in Chinese, Tamil or Tagalog became available, Matthew’s Gospel
had already been translated into Malay by a Dutch tradesman named Albert
Cornelisz Ruyl. The text was completed in 1612, only a year after the English
King James Version was released, and was printed in 1629. It is fascinating
that this Matthew’s Gospel in Malay is the very first non-European translation
of a Bible portion. An original copy of this Malay translation of Matthew’s
Gospel entitled: Iang Testamentum Baharu: Evangelium Mulkadus Bersuratnja
Kepada Mattheum
is now found at the Public Library of Stuttgard, Germany.
Ruyl continued his Malay translation with the assistance of Jan van Hasel and
Justus Heurnius and their edition of the Four Gospels and Acts was printed in
1651. This was followed a year later by the printing of the Psalms in Malay,
prepared by the latter two authors. After the translation of Genesis, printed
in 1662, the Rev. Daniel Brouwerious went on to produce the first complete
Malay translation of the New Testament in 1668; unfortunately this translation
suffers from the excessive use of Portuguese loan words.

Melchior Leijdecker, a Dutch medical doctor with theological training, gave us
the very first complete Bible in Malay in 1733. He translated the New Testament
(printed 1731) and then the whole Bible while based in Batavia (now Jakarta)
with the assistance of a review committee. The publication entitled: Elkitab,
Ija itu segala Surat Perdjandjian Lama dan Baharuw
was printed in Amsterdam
in Roman script. Twenty-five years later a five-volume Malay Bible in Jawi
script was published in 1758. Leijdecker’s Malay Bible provided an important
beginning and his work was extensively revised during the 19th century by a
series of translators who were based both in what is now called Indonesia and
Peninsular Malaysia.

Meanwhile in Indonesia, a Dutch Mennonite missionary, named Hillebrandus
Cornelius Klinkert printed the Malay Four Gospels in 1861 and the New Testament
in 1863, in the low Malay of Semarang, Central Java. He was assisted by Encik Mumin
in the Riau Islands off Sumatra. They translated the Gospel according to
Matthew in 1868, the New Testament in 1870, and then the full Malay Bible
translation in 1879. Thus, this represents the second major effort in
translating the sixty-six books of the Bible into Malay.

Between 1880 and 1929, the Singapore branch of the British and Foreign Bible
Society (BFBS) expanded major efforts in translating the Bible into Malay.

The most prominent of these was the LMS missionary William Girdlestone Shellabear
who gave us the first Malay Bible translation specifically in the Malay of what
is now called Peninsular Malaysia. In this version Jesus was rendered Isa

Shellabear is also remembered for the New Testament in Baba Malay.

In 1929, the Netherlands Bible Society, BFBS and the National Bible Society of
Scotland combined their effort in producing a Malay Bible translation that
could meet the need’s of both Indonesia and Peninsular Malaysia. This new
translation was intended to replace the previous Bible translations made by
Leijdecker (1733), Klinkert (1879) and Shellabear  (1912). For this
purpose, a German  missionary named Werner August Bode, working in
Tomohon, Minahasa, produced a Malay New Testament (1938), and several Old Testament
books such as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges,
Ruth, Psalms.

In order to meet the needs of Indonesian Christians in an independent
Indonesia, the Indonesian Bible Society, which was founded in 1954, printed the
so-called Terjemahan Lama “Old Translation” in 1958, as a stop gap
measure until a fully Indonesian Bible translation became available. This
comprised Klinkert’s Old Testament (1879) and Bode’s New Testament (1938).
Meanwhile, Fr. J. Bouma of the Roman Catholic Church in Indonesia came up with
a new Indonesian translation of the New Testament published by Arnoldus in
Ende, Flores in 1964. Dr. Cletus Groenen worked on a translation of the Old
Testament until 1968 when the Roman Catholic Church decided to stop its own
translation project and join the Bible translation programme of the Indonesian
Bible Society.      

In 1952 a team headed by Dutch Dr. J.L. Swellengrebel (1952-59) initiated the
work on a truly Indonesian Bible translation. Beginning in 1962 an Indonesian,
Dr. J.L. Abineno, headed this team until the completion of the project. The New
Testament was printed in 1971, and the full Bible was published in 1974. It
also included the Deuterocanonical edition. This version called the Terjemahan
“New Translation” (INT) was the first truly ecumenical Bible
translation in Indonesian. The translation approach taken with this and most
earlier translations was based on the ‘formal equivalence’ translation method,
which as far as possible, attempts to retain the form of the original biblical

It is helpful to point out that in October 1997, the Indonesian Bible Society
launched the newly revised New Testament of the INT called Perjanjian Baru
Terjemahan Baru edisi ke-2
“New Testament: New Translation, Second Edition”
(INT97). This was prepared by a team of biblical scholars who are experts in
biblical Greek. Furthermore, in the final stage of the revision effort,
numerous biblical scholars and heads of churches from all over Indonesia
gathered in Cipayung, West Java, to discuss the revision before the text was

Although the INT was being used in Malaysian churches, it was eventually
realized that a truly Malaysian Bible translation was needed to communicate the
Good News accurately, without confusion and misunderstanding brought about by
the subtle differences between Indonesian and Malay.

Consequently, the Bible Society of Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia (BSSBM)
printed the first Malay Common Language New Testament Perjanjian Baru:
Berita Baik Untuk Manusia Moden
“New Testament: Good News for Modern
Man” in 1974. It was mainly the labour of love of a West Malaysian pastor
of Indonesian background named Rev. Elkanah T. Suwito. The full Malay Bible
Alkitab: Berita Baik Untuk Manusia Moden “Bible: Good News for
Modern Man” (TMV) was published by BSSBM in 1987. This particular
translation was based on the new translation method called ‘Dynamic/Functional
Equivalence’ that emphasizes the transfer of the meaning and function of the
original biblical languages rather than retaining the form.

Applying this new translation method, a new Indonesian Bible version was
prepared by a team of translators. As a result, Today’s Indonesian New
was published by the Indonesian Bible Society in 1977. Thus, Alkitab
Kabar Baik Dalam Bahasa Indonesia Sehari-hari
“Good News Bible in
Indonesian Everyday Language” (TIV) was published in 1985, and the
Deuterocanonical edition was published in 1988. This Indonesian dynamic Bible
translation is also being used by some churches in Malaysia.  


6 thoughts on “Bible – History of the Malay translation

  1. bronxdaman – There are new everyday for us to learn huh? antonius_braw93 – The first edition I believe was in Indonesian Malay language. It was done by a Dutch, which is not surprising considering Indonesia was once under the Dutch’s control.

  2. Hi all,Thank you for taking your time to read this article. Glad some of you enjoyed it. Well this article was originally published in 1998 by Dr Daud Soesilo, translations coordinator for Asia Pacific region with the United Bibles Societies. But it was quoted or republished by countless other organizations and websites. Even our local Chinese newspaper, Sin Chew Jit Poh, published this back in 2008. You can also find it on websites of most of the Bible organizations such as Wycliffe.

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