In celebration of National Deaf History Month (March 13 to April 15), the American Bible Society is bringing to light the completion of the full translation of the ASL (American Sign Language) Bible, which came to fruition last September and has made God's Word accessible to the deaf community like never before.
American Bible Society (ABS) president and CEO Robert L. Briggs recently announced the fruit of a project led by Deaf Missions that spanned nearly four decades. The project included collaborations between ABS, Wycliffe Bible Translators USA, Deaf Harbor, DOOR International, Seed Company, Pioneer Bible Translators and the Deaf Bible Society.
"Although more churches are using sign language interpreters, they're still few and far between," Briggs explained in a piece he wrote for Religion News Service (RNS). "This all contributes to the surprising fact that until only a few months ago, millions of American churchgoers have been without access to a fully translated version of the Bible in their native language."
Not your ordinary Bible
Unlike a traditional Bible, the ASL Bible caters to the needs of the deaf community to help them grasp the full meaning of God's Word … their way.
"Deaf people rely on tangibility and their eyesight to navigate and communicate with the world; this can make learning to read difficult as words and concepts are conveyed differently," Briggs pointed out. "To help deaf Christians feel the richness of biblical stories, the ASL translation team recorded a series of videos broken up by Bible chapters or passages with someone signing the text. This American Sign Language Version Bible utilizes the distinct and dynamic vocabulary of sign language to bring Scripture to life in an entirely new way."
He is encouraged that the deaf community now has fewer obstacles to deal with when taking in God's Word.
"There are an estimated 11 million deaf or hard-of-hearing people in America, and while strides have been made toward inclusivity in the modern era, like utilizing translators and closed captioning, the bestselling book in history had not been fully available until last year," Briggs added.
New Life Deaf Fellowship pastor Josh Bonjour – who is not deaf, but grew up in a deaf home and in the deaf community – is grateful that his congregation in Fort Worth, Texas, has access to the ASL Bible.
"Even though I have access to multiple translations and have studied in seminary, sometimes seeing a passage of Scripture signed makes it click in a way that it never has before," Bonjour shared. "If that happens for me – as a hearing person – imagine what it does for the deaf."
He is excited how God's Word can now come alive like never before for the deaf community.
"In the Bible Belt … everyone has at least a basic framework for understanding the Bible just because it's part of the culture; however, this was not true among the deaf students we began reaching out to," Bonjour asserted.
"Whether or not they grew up in a church with their family, the chances were that the deaf students had a minimal or very muddied understanding of the story of the Bible and of who Jesus was, because they hadn't had the same access to the gospel as others who were hearing."
The pastor explains that the ASL Bible has taken down the barriers for the deaf to fully understand Scripture.
"Imagine discipling a group of new believers who don't have access to a Bible in their own language – that was the challenge we faced," Bonjour related. "I would tell students to just try their best to read and understand the Bible – even to read a comic book Bible if it helped – but they would come back disheartened and with a feeling that God's Word was hard and that it wasn't for them. That was tough, and that issue wasn't confined to youth groups – it persisted among deaf believers as a whole."
The Texas pastor sees the completion of this version as just the beginning.
"One of my deepest prayers is that this work would not be checked off as 'completed' with the completion of the ASLV, but that it would continue for years to come – that we would see revisions, new translations and study tools continue to come out so that the deaf would be able to enjoy the riches of God's Word," Bonjour concluded.
In addition, Briggs stressed that ABS's work is far from over.
"We celebrate this monumental achievement and continue our work in translating the Bible into every living language – including an additional 275 global sign languages," the Christian leader informed. "Christians have read the Bible for centuries – hearing God's words to them. Now, deaf communities know that God has a message to sign to them, too."
Image above compliments of Deaf Missions.