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New Zealanders celebrate 150 years of “glad tidings of great joy” – the Bible in Maori

Posted on: September 18, 2018 10:35 AM
Leonard C Mitchell’s depiction of the first Church service in New Zealand, on Christmas Day 1814, as the Revd Samuel Marsden delivers a sermon on Luke 2:10 – “Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy.”
Photo Credit: Bible Society New Zealand

The 150th anniversary of the first printed edition of Te Paipera Tapu – the Bible in the Maori language – is being celebrated in New Zealand. The work that led to the Maori language Bible began years before-hand, when Anglican priest Samuel Marsden, working as a Church Missionary Society worker in Sydney, was given permission to establish a mission in New Zealand. He preached at New Zealand’s first Church service on Christmas Day in 1814, introducing 300 Maori to the Gospel, using as his theme Luke 2:10 – “Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy.”

Edited versions of the scriptures – the books of Genesis, Exodus, Matthew and John – were printed in Sydney and shipped to New Zealand; before CMS arranged for a printing press and printer to be shipped to the islands from London. This resulted in the first ever book printed in New Zealand: a 16-page edition of Ephesians and Philippians in Maori, in 1835.

Between 1836 and 1837, the press printed some 5,000 copies of the New Testament in Maori, before the first full Maori Bible was published in 1868.

To mark the sesquicentennial anniversary, that first edition has been made available in digital form, “and this digitised version will be one of the many tools used to help produce a new translation in more contemporary language for today’s Te Reo Māori speakers,” the Bible Society in New Zealand said.

Since that original 1868 edition, three further versions were published in 1889, 1925 and 1952. In 2012 the 1952 edition was published in a reformatted version.

“Translation of any significance takes time, and anecdotal evidence suggests that contemporary Maori usage is already considerably different from the language of the current Maori Bible,” the Bible Society’s Translations Director, Dr Stephen Pattemore, said. “So we need to be pro-active.”

The Bible Society is developing a Maori language Bible app, which will feature the 2012 Maori Bible text, alongside English Bible translations for people who want to compare the two languages. The new app will launch early next year.