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New digital Auslan Bible available for the first time

New sections launched on International Day of Sign Languages

On the International Day of Sign Languages, Bible Society Australia has launched new translations of the Bible in Auslan, Australian sign language.

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It’s the first time that John’s Gospel, a revised version of Acts and selections from Paul’s letters have been available in the language, which are accessible in digital form for free.

The translations add to existing Bible translations in Auslan that have been launched since the Auslan Bible Project began 22 years ago.

According to the United Nations, there are 72 million Deaf people worldwide who use more than 300 different sign languages. In Australia, about 20,000 people use Auslan to communicate every day.

“For those people, sign language is the first or only language that they know,” said Melissa Lipsett, acting CEO of Bible Society Australia, who launched the Auslan digital Bible in Sydney today.

At the launch, she opened up the Bible to Romans 10:15 – a passage that has now been translated in Auslan: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Bible Society translation consultant John Harris suggested that, in this room, it might be more like: “How beautiful are the hands of those who bring good news.”

“Faith comes not just by hearing but also by signing.” – Greg Clarke

Greg Clarke, former Bible Society Australia CEO who was at the helm for much of the recent Auslan Bible Project activity, sent a message to those present at the launch, saying that during his tenure the Auslan Bible Project had “been a favourite”.

“Faith comes not just by hearing but also by signing,” he wrote.

Mac Adams was born profoundly Deaf and has been involved in the Auslan Bible Project right from the beginning. He told Eternity that Deaf people “think visually”.

“Having the Bible in Auslan helps me read the Bible better,” he said simply.

John Harris told the crowd that Bible Society had been approached in 1996 by Christians in the Deaf community to help them translate the Bible into Auslan. One of those who approached him was Betty Bonsar, who has sadly passed away. Her son Peter and his wife Judy have played a major role in the project since its beginning. Both Peter and Judy are children of Deaf parents, but are hearing people themselves. Harris said they have “dedicated much of their lives” to helping see this project through.

It was Harris’ role was to help the Deaf committee involved in the project to “choose the right signs to communicate the intended meaning.”

“Having the Bible in Auslan helps me read the Bible better.” – Mac Adams

Harris said it was important to reiterate that the Auslan Bible Project was more than just relaying Bible stories.

“This is a translation. It’s not just telling Bible stories. This is a Bible; it’s the word of God.

“Some people might say it’s boring … just like someone might say reading whole chunks of the Bible (depending on what section you’re reading!) is a bit boring. But we can’t ‘jazz it up a bit’. We have to give the Deaf the honour and respect of giving them the Bible. The difficult bits, the boring bits, the interesting bits. All of it.”

“This is a translation. It’s not just telling Bible stories. This is a Bible; it’s the word of God.” – John Harris

In 1999, Bible Society launched the first two books of the Bible in Auslan – Ruth and Jonah – to great fanfare, with a speech from Australia’s then Governor-General, Sir William Deane.

At the time, Sir William said it was only the sixth time that portions of the Bible had been translated into a sign language. It was also one of the first major pieces of literature to be translated into Auslan.

Harris said the decision to translate the books of Ruth and Jonah first was a traditional tactic for early Bible translations in a new language.

“We hope that a new committee of young Deaf people will come forward to continue the work.” – John Harris

“You get a short book of the Bible, a narrative that is easier to translate than, say, lots of Paul’s discussions. So we have two short narratives and can say we’ve done the first two books in this language … it creates momentum,” he said.

Twenty years later, Auslan now has an abridged version of the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, the full book of Luke and John, and a collection of Paul’s letters.

“It’s the end of a stage and there are yet more stages to come,” Harris said. “We hope that a new committee of young Deaf people will come forward to continue the work.”

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The Auslan Digital Bible

Bible Society Australia

Available from Bible Society Australia

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