East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 2, No. 1, Winter 1994, Covering the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe

Russian Bible Commentary Finished

Walter Sawatsky

"The 33 volume Bible commentary project in Russian translation is finished," they announced to the audience in Russian and English.  It was the concluding evangelistic rally of the European Baptist Federation council meeting, held in Kishinev, Moldova, on September 25, 1993, with over a thousand attending.  Even though the printing presses in Odessa will not finish their work until Easter 1994, as far as the sponsoring committees were concerned -- the major goal had been accomplished.

It had started 15 years ago with a vision. Russian pastors, who used to pray and plead for personal copies of a Bible, had finally begun starting a new request to their visitors from the West.  "Help us to read with understanding," they said.  Gerhard Class (then of the European Baptist Federation, later Baptist World Alliance General Secretary), Peter J. Dyck and Walter Sawatsky of MCC, Bernd Dyck of Licht im Osten mission, and Peter Deyneka, Jr. of Slavic Gospel Association held a meeting in Stuttgart, Germany, in the spring of 1978 to decide on a course of action.  They stressed in particular that such a project must proceed in close partnership with Soviet church leaders.  The Soviets should set the agenda and we would help as we were able.  At the time, for that setting, partnership in mission was a radical idea.

When the project officially started with a semi-secret meeting in Brighton, England, in 1979, the ground had been prepared.  Six Russian leaders representing Evangelical Christians-Baptists, Pentecostals, and Mennonites had received advance copies of three sample translations of commentaries on the book of Romans.  Those three samples had been chosen from series known and recommended by multilingual Soviet church leaders.

For the New Testament the Russians settled on the William Barclay Daily Study Bible Series.  Since leaders within the two mission agencies had wanted another series, they pulled back from full partnership, but with good will toward each other.  So it became a long-term cooperative project across the Cold War barrier between the All Union Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (AUCECB), the Baptist World Alliance, and Mennonite Central Committee.

Over 12,000 sets [of the 16-volume New Testament series] have now been distributed to Russian Protestant evangelical pastors and to Orthodox priests and laity.  Today, wherever one travels in church circles in the CIS, they know the Barclay series.  It has become a standard.

Now the 18 volumes covering the Old Testament, based on portions of the Daily Study Bible Series and the Layman's Bible Commentary Series, have been completed.  Those sections causing theological anxiety have been dealt with to mutual satisfaction.  This time another new challenge was for the new publishing house (Bogomyslie in Odessa, Ukraine) to find the necessary equipment and materials to produce a high quality effort.  Even the proposed readership had changed.  Now the chief concern was the many theology students entering the Bible institutes, colleges, and seminaries that have started up.  Access to this series was highest priority since those students had virtually no serious biblical, scholarly literature to read in Russian until now.

Total expenditures so far are close to a million dollars.  It could not have been done without the close communication and trust between Mennonites and Baptists--surely an exercise in attempting unity in diversity.
Walter Sawatsky is associate professor of church history and chair of the department at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries, Elkhart, IN, and a part-time East/West consultant for Mennonite Central Committee.

Walter Sawatsky, "Russian Bible Commentary Finished," East-West Church & Ministry Report, 2 (Winter 1994), 11.

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1994 Institute for East-West Christian Studies
ISSN 1069-5664

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