Jehovah’s Witnesses have released the New Testament and the book of Genesis in sign language

22 July 2018, 11:00 | Reports | 0 |   | Code for Blog |  | 

Julia Lukyanova

The translation of the book of Genesis was started in January 2017.  On July 17, 2018, as a result of painstaking work, a video of the book of Genesis in sign language was released. The translation of the New Testament (Christian Greek Scriptures) took 8 years. A team of volunteer translators from different countries worked on the sign language Bible. This translation is based on the New World Translation – a modern translation of the Holy Scriptures that encompasses the latest findings of Bible research.

A life in complete silence. Have you ever wondered what that would be like? According to the Ministry of Health of Ukraine, almost 135,000 Ukrainian people are hearing-impaired. The majority of them use sign language in their daily life.  And even though some deaf have learned how to read and write to a certain degree, the written language is still foreign to them and hard to understand, because in reality, their native tongue is sign language. If someone was put in a soundproof room with transparent walls and was asked to learn a foreign language by watching how people moved their lips, it would be an impossible task. This illustrates why deaf people, who live among us, feel like foreigners and are not able to understand a written text.


“It’s hard to believe that in Ukraine deaf people were not able to read and understand the Bible only because it was not translated into their language. For the first time in history a sign language translation of the New Testament, that the deaf in Ukraine and many neighboring countries can easily understand, was released,” - says Ivan Riher, a representative of the Ukraine Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”  For this purpose a sign language translation office was set up. Videos in sign language that are produced in this office are viewed not only in Ukraine, but also in 9 other countries in Europe and Asia. The goal of the translators is to help the deaf satisfy their spiritual needs.  The translation team considers that out of the over 150 Bible videos produced in sign language, the most important accomplishment has been the translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures (the New Testament) and the Book of Genesis.

Features of the translation process

In total, over 20 persons have been involved in the Bible translation project in a professional video recording studio. Besides the translator, there is a checker and a proofreader in each team. The proofreaders are usually deaf. Their task is to watch the visual signing, and also to make sure that the translation is clear and understandable for a hearing-impaired person. The role of the checker is also important. He makes sure that the translator conveys the original text as accurately as possible, without omitting or altering any thoughts.

Before the translation was started, a thorough search was conducted of some the words used in the Bible. After some careful discussion the team recorded a draft video. Next, deaf proofreaders, who had not participated in the translation, were invited to make an additional evaluation. When needed, corrections were made to ensure that the translation was clear and natural.


Only then the final version was recorded. The recording takes a lot of time, so it was important to make sure that the signer’s physical appearance remained the same during the whole recording period. The signers’ objective was to convey the Bible text accurately and in an animated manner. Thanks to the signers’ acting abilities even a person, not familiar with sign language, will be able to understand some Bible passages.

After the recording, the translation team thoroughly checked every passage, comparing it with the draft video. One of the project participants relates: “We strived to ensure that the recorded material conveyed accurately the spirit of the text. In the end, the video track of the Bible book was checked four more times: by the project coordinator, the translation team and twice by the technical corrector. And only after receiving the final approval, the video of the Bible book was sent to its viewer.”

“Another great feature of this translation is its availability for everyone,” – notes the representative of the Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “The translation of the Bible into sign language is a non-profit venture. Although it is a unique, special, and as of yet, the only sign language translation of the New Testament and the book of Genesis, it is available free of charge and will continue to be so.”

 Challenges for the translators

There were many challenges during the translation process. “The hardest part was probably the translation of specific terms, ” - recall the translators. “For example, there is no exact equivalent of the word “spirituality” in sign language. Therefore, in each case its meaning was rendered according to the context. Thus in Matthew 5:3 the phrase “conscious of their spiritual need” was translated “understands that a person needs God.”

“Regarding the translation of the book of Genesis – the greatest challenge was the genealogies that contain many Jewish names and references to family relationships”, the translators related. “Before, in such cases, we used  fingerspelling. However, it was exhausting for the signer, and not interesting for the viewer. Therefore, in the video of Genesis for the first time we used a system of screen text. It allows the viewer to easily see the names of the characters and their family relationship. We are going to use this approach in the future translation of other Bible books.”


“Historically, the deaf, who live in former Soviet Union countries, use the same sign language. On one hand, it makes the process easier, but on the other hand, makes it more complicated”, the participants of the project explained. “So that all deaf people from the post-Soviet countries were able to watch the Bible in their native tongue, we chose the most widely used signs that the majority would understand. We also used other means of sign language: mimicry, elements of pantomime, descriptive signs, etc.” In the translation process we involved those who know sign language the best: deaf people, children who were raised by deaf parents and had learned this language from infancy, and also sign language interpreters from different countries.

Thanks to this approach, the language became lively, and the translation — understandable. As the translators themselves point out, in their translating the Bible, they have never tried to explain it. Their goal has always been only to render the contents of the original text into sign language that is clear and easily understood.

Where and how the New Testament and the book of Genesis in sign language can be viewed?

This translation is available online on site or can be downloaded free of charge on a phone or a tablet by using the mobile application, JW Library Sign Language. This application was developed especially for easy viewing of the Bible and Bible publications in sign language, even offline.

In the “Bible” section the Christian Greek Scriptures (the New Testament) can be found, as well as the book of Genesis and those passages from the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) that have already been translated. A user-friendly interface allows one to quickly find the needed Bible book, chapter, and verse. And, thanks to a built-in player, one can switch between different verses of the same chapter and change the playing speed. Also, separate playlists can be created so as to always have your favorite Bible verses at hand.

What do the deaf say?

Some deaf ones living in Ukraine, who had a limited idea about the Bible, have already come to appreciate the translation. Yaroslav, a 23 year old deaf man from Ivano-Frankivsk related: “I have never read the Bible before, because I could not understand what it was about. I didn’t want to read it in printed form. Now that there is a Bible in sign language, everything became easier to understand. I got a much clearer idea of what kind of person Jesus was.”

“When we finished working on the New Testament, our joy was mixed with anxiety, as there is even more hard work before us on the Old Testament,” the translation team expressed. “However, after the book of Genesis was released, we no longer feel it is impossible to accomplish this task as we felt in the beginning. We will continue to use all our abilities and energy to translate other Bible books, because we love God’s Word and its Author.”

Система Orphus
0comments count


add comments 

    Сan leave comments only to registered visitors Еnter

    Last comments

    • Slava43 | 12 August 2020, 15:35

      Закони, правила та угоди впрводжують щоби запобігти непорозумінням. Однак все в руках парафіян або завойовника як потвердила історія. Кажім, в Німеччині цілий ряд сіл та містечок були

    • bopa | 8 June 2020, 11:43

      То перераховані факти ви називаєте "фантазиями и ночными кошмарами"? Чому викладену інформацію ви "Очередная статья нижайшего интеллектуального уровня"? У вас

    • Slava43 | 4 June 2020, 13:46

      Це жодна агітація. На Буковині казали :»Мойше герехт, Сури герехт».

    • Slava43 | 4 June 2020, 13:39

      За часів союза, УПЦ підлягала моіковському патріярхату, примусово. Від незалежності УПЦ старалась отримати незалежність від Москви. Тепер, коли Україна має ТОМОС та незалежність то Лавру потрібно

    • Стефан | 2 June 2020, 15:54

      Последние события показали глубокий кризис РПЦ МП, где только отдельные редкие священнослужители твёрдо исповедуют Православную Веру, как схиигумен отец Сергий Романов, которого сейчас травят

    Most Popular Articles month