East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 4, No. 4, Fall 1996, Covering the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe

Bible Translation in the Former Soviet Union

Curt L. Gustafson

Almost 150 languages are spoken in the former Soviet Union, ranging from those with millions of speakers and a long literary tradition, to those with only a few hundred or fewer speakers and no written form.  The Bible does not exist in the vast majority of these languages.  Today, the Swedish-based Institute for Bible Translation (IBT) is translating the Scriptures into 73 languages in the former Soviet Union spoken by 85 million people, 55--60 million of whom are of Muslim heritage.  The Institute translates and publishes the Bible, but is not involved in distribution which is carried out by other organizations.

In 1973, Dr. Borislav Arapovic, a Croat living in Stockholm, Sweden, recognized that Bible translation work among the many large non-Slavic peoples in the Soviet Union had ceased following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.  Seeing the need for renewed efforts to translate and publish the Bible in these languages, Dr. Arapovic founded East Bible Institute and began research, reprinting, translation, and publishing activities.  In 1978 the organization was renamed the Institute for Bible Translation.  The largest nationality of the former Soviet Union without a full translation of the Bible are the 20-million-strong Uzbeks.  The smallest groups without Scripture number perhaps 50 people in remote villages of the Caucasus and Pamir Mountains.

Publications to Date
 The Institute has now translated and published the complete Bible in three languages (Moldovan, Georgian, and Tajik) and the New Testament in ten languages (Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Turkmen, Balkar-Karachai, Kabardin, Komi, Azeri, Mari-Low, Ossetic, and Adygei).  Gospel portions have been published in another 37 languages.  In addition, the Institute publishes a 540-page, illustrated Children's Bible, now available in 24 languages.  Another similar publication, a 50-page version of the Children's Bible called "Jesus Friend of Children," has been distributed in hundreds of thousands of copies in several languages.

Publications in Slavic Languages
The Institute only publishes specialized editions in Russian, Ukrainian, and Bielorussian; for example, its Children's Bible, has been distributed in 7.5 million copies to date.  In 1989 the Institute provided 150,000 sets of a three-volume, 6,500-page Russian study Bible to the Russian Orthodox Church in commemoration of the thousandth anniversary of Eastern Slavic Christianity.  Private donations from all five Scandinavian nations, including government contributions from Norway and Denmark, funded this project.  In 1995 the Institute published a Greek/Russian interlinear Gospel of Luke.  An entire Greek/Russian interlinear New Testament should be completed by 2000.  Over an eight-year period, the Institute cooperated with the British and Foreign Bible Society and Germany's Licht Im Osten (Light in the East) to produce the first-ever computer-generated concordance keyed to the Russian Bible.  The first copy of this work was presented by IBT to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II on 17 December 1995.

Partnerships and Training Programs
With the dismemberment of the Soviet Union in 1991, other organizations began to assist in the Institute's translation projects, including Wycliffe Bible Translators/Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) and United Bible Societies (UBS).  IBT also has partnered with the Russian Academy of Science and its affiliates in other former Soviet republics.  IBT, in cooperation with Wycliffe/SIL and UBS, regularly arranges courses and seminars for indigenous translators in the former Soviet Union, including 10 in 1995-96.  The Institute also offers a Bible translation course in the Department of Linguistics at Moscow State University.

Since its founding in 1973, the Institute has been supported primarily by four Scandinavian missions:  Danish European Mission (Copenhagen); Norwegian Mission to the East (Oslo); Swedish Slavic Mission (Stockholm); and Avainsanoma (Helsinki, Finland). Other organizations in these countries, as well as organizations in Germany, Britain, Switzerland, and Holland, have participated in the Institute's work by sponsoring the publication of translations.  In the United States, the Russian Bible Society, Asheville, NC, has for many years partnered with the Institute and provided financial support.

For additional information contact:

Dr. Borislav Arapovic 
Institute for Bible Translation 
Box 20100 
Stockholm S-10460 
tel: 08-722-2340 
fax: 08-722-2345 
e-mail: rizell@ibtinst.no
Curt L. Gustafson 
WORDpress International 
Box 216 
Alhambra, CA 91802 
tel: 818-281-4740 
fax: 818-458-0677 
e-mail: gustafson@ibtla.org. 

Curt L. Gustafson, "Bible Translation in the Former Soviet Union," East-West Church & Ministry Report, 4 (Fall 1996), 5-6.

Written permission is required for reprinting or electronic distribution of any portion of the East-West Church & Ministry Report.

1996 Institute for East-West Christian Studies
ISSN 1069-5664

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