Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 26, 1959

The Bible In Japan

Bob Nichols, Osaka, Japan

The story of the Bible in Japan is a fascinating one. Many things that actually did happen seem improbable and serve to illustrate what Paul said, "God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put to shame them that are wise; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the things that are strong." I Cor. 1:27.

There is some record of fragmentary translations of the Bible as early as the middle of the 16th century, when Francis Xavier, the first missionary to enter Japan, came to this country. Karl Gutzlaff, a Prussian doctor, is regarded as the first Protestant translator. In 1832 in the Port of Macao, he came into touch with three shipwrecked Japanese sailors. Their junk had been blown clean across the Pacific in a fantastic journey lasting 14 months, to be wrecked on the coast of Oregon. From there the three survivors were sent to Macao via England in the hope that they could be repatriated. Gutzlaff befriended them and seized the opportunity to learn the Japanese language under their tutoring. With this knowledge he translated the Gospel of John into Japanese, and it was printed in Singapore by the Bible Society.

The first New Testament printed in Japan was made by Jonathan Goble, a marine on the Perry Expedition. His heart was stirred by the plight of Perry's interpreters. These were all shipwrecked seamen, who were terrified lest they should be landed in Japan. As men who had been in foreign countries (even though it was through the accident of having been shipwrecked) their lives would be forfeited. Goble returned later to Japan as a missionary, and published his translation of Matthew in 1871. The printing plates were cut in wood in secret, as there was a prohibition against Japanese helping foreigners in producing such a work. In 1873 Goble was joined by Nathan Brown who pressed on with the translation work while Goble devoted himself to the dissemination of the Books. The first Japanese New Testament was duly completed in 1879.

In 1880, just 18 months after the Goble translation, the Hepburn New Testament translated by Dr. J. C. Hepburn, was published. The first complete Bible was published in 1887 by the National Bible Society of Scotland. In 1888 the American Bible Society issued the first one volume edition of the Japanese Bible. In 1917 a revised edition was published which was used until the appearance of the New Colloquial Bible. The New Testament in Colloquial Japanese was issued in 1952, and a Colloquial version of the New Testament in 1954 and the whole Bible in 1955. This translation cost approximately $9,000.00 and represents the most expensive of recent revisions.

Two million copies of the Bible are sold yearly in Japan. One of the most popular editions of the New Testament is a bilingual edition of the English and Japanese. This has been used by many American Christians who are here in the service to teach their Japanese friends about Jesus; the Saviour of the World. When people humbly study, believe, and obey Bible commands as God's word, they become Christians, (Acts 11:25), who enjoy peace here (Philippians 4:7), and eternal salvation hereafter. (John 5:39.)