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25. How the Bible came to Sudan

Christian theology in a Sudanese context. God's word written down and published.

The very earliest Christians in Cush had formed “a church in every village by the 5th century A.D.” The Ethiopian eunuch, probably the finance minister from the royal court at Meroe, had a copy of Isaiah’s prophecy in Greek. He was educated enough to read it while he travelled. As a result of his reading, together with Philip’s explanations, the man became a believing, baptised Christian (Acts 8:26-40). Paintings or engravings available to be seen in Khartoum’s Sudan National Museum today, show pictures of Daniel’s three friends in a fire, shepherds coming to Joseph and Mary at a baby’s birth, Jesus’ dead body being taken from the cross - a soldier on a ladder removing the nails, and the cross of Jesus opening up the glory of heaven. In this way Bible stories and theological truths were passed on by those few who knew them, to uneducated and illiterate people.This affected at least the three states of Nobatia, Makouria, and Alodia with its capital at Soba. Greek and Coptic authors record the conversion of Nubian kings to Christianity by the sixth century. It is of interest to note in the museum how changing theology is reflected by Joseph getting smaller while Mary gets bigger in nativity scenes made about 300 years apart. These were saved from Faras church and cathedral, now under Lake Nasser, between Wadi Halfa and Aswan. I wonder if a greater availability and more practical application of Bible truth in life would have changed history, and kept ‘Christian Sudan’ from the influence of later religions? Roman Catholic missionary Father Ueberbacher translated long extracts from the Gospels and Epistles into Bari, soon after A.D. 1854. These were resources for clergy more than for lay people, as the church put restrictions on their use.

In 1854 the Smith Van Dyck, American Presbyterian missionaries, ‘Classical Arabic Bible’ was printed outside of Sudan, but distributed here from Egypt.

In 1867 a Bible Society depot was opened in Khartoum, the result of British, American and Swiss missionaries working together. A variety of New Testament books were published in local languages as soon as practically possible: ‘Luke’ in Cic Dinka 1905; ‘John’ in Shilluk 1911; ‘Mark’ in Sudanese Arabic 1927; ‘Mark’ in Moru 1928; ‘Mark’ in Heiban 1931; ‘Mark’ in Krongo 1934; ‘Mark’ in Koalib njirere 1937; ‘Mark’ in Mabaan 1947; ‘Mark’ in Lotuko 1954; ‘Luke’ in Sudanese Arabic 1955.


Anglican (Episcopal) missionaries translated the New Testament book by book into Dinka Bor during the 1920’s and 1930’s; and into Zande by 1938; Moru by 1951; and Bari by 1954.


It is interesting to see how our Sovereign God used the many troubles, including the expulsion of missionaries from Sudan, to enable this work to continue. Exiled people in neighbouring countries continued their own education and then worked in translation or publication. It has been said to me that the most recent years of displacement for Sudanese people, have been used by God to speed up Bible translation. The process has been shortened by several years as some tribes people are more easily accessible to linguists and translators, in Khartoum, Nairobi and elsewhere. God is using His power to encourage local language Bibles.


The cost of producing translations was mainly funded through overseas missionaries. Usually a language group was first provided with a Gospel and then with the rest of the New Testament. Audio cassette recordings were used as they became available. More recently, the ‘Jesus’ film has been widely seen using suitable up to date technologies. In the last 25 years a greater emphasis has been made on enabling Sudanese to take responsibility for the whole process of Bible translation in their own languages (2 Timothy 2:2). Of around 117 languages of Sudan, less than one quarter have significant parts of the Bible available.


Thinking it through.


(a). Is there a Bible in your mother-tongue? If not, what can you do to help one be translated?

(b). What attributes of God are seen by the recent speeding up of Bible translation in Sudan, thanks to the war and displacement of people?

(c). What specific responsibilities do Sudanese people have for enabling the production of the Bible in all Sudanese languages?

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