After nearly 40 years, the American Sign Language Version (ASLV) Bible project, led by Deaf Missions, has been completed.
“I can’t overstate how impactful this milestone is for Deaf Christians,” said Chad Entinger, CEO of Deaf Missions. “It means Deaf children, with English as their second language, can more fully understand and richly engage with the Bible in their most natural language. It means Deaf scholars can study the Scriptures in a new and deeper way. This translation will pave the way for other sign languages to create translations of their own; it’s the beginning of a new era for Deaf Christians around the world.”
The translation project began in 1982 when Duane King, a Christian minister, realized that English was not the heart language of Deaf people in America—ASL was.
It took 22 years for translators to complete the ASLV New Testament. But in 2017, Deaf Missions was able to accelerate the translation process through improved technology and increased support from partners like American Bible Society, Deaf Bible, Door International, Wycliffe Bible Translators and several other organizations. Just three years later, the ASVL Old Testament was completed, giving Deaf Americans access to the entire Bible in their own language for the first time in history.
“As a Deaf translator and a Christian, this work has been an important project for me,” said Renca Dunn, a Bible translator with Deaf Missions. “What I wish more people understood is that for many Deaf people in the U.S., English is our second language. It can be a challenge for Deaf individuals to connect with printed text. It’s hard to wrap your head around the fact that, for thousands of years, Deaf people have faced communication barriers and lack of access to fully understanding one of the oldest and most cherished texts of all time—the Bible.”
Many think that ASL is simply English turned into hand signs, but it is in fact its own unique language, with its own distinct vocabulary and grammar. The ASLV Bible is not a printed book; rather, it consists of videos, broken up by Bible chapters or Scripture passages, with someone signing the Biblical text.
The ASLV translation was primarily translated by Deaf people and features 53 different translators who drew from the Bible’s original languages—Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek—to accurately render God’s Word.
“When I see the Bible in sign language, I finally feel that God does get me,” Dunn said. “He understands me. He wants me to understand him. He loves me. He wants me to love him. He speaks in my language.”
The pandemic has hit the Deaf community especially hard when it comes to being able to maintain day-to-day routines. Widespread mask wearing has made it difficult for Deaf individuals because facial expressions are such a critical part of sign languages, not to mention most Deaf people are forced to read lips to communicate with those who don’t know sign language.
According to Deaf Bible Society, there are more than 400 different sign languages worldwide, yet 95% of those languages have no Bible translation. With the completion of the ASLV, linguists and translators anticipate accelerated progress in translating the Bible in other sign languages.
Photo: Courtesy of Deaf Missions