The Bible In Japan

By Randy S. Reese Sr.

The story of the Bible in Japan is a fascinating one. Many things that actually did happen seem improbable.

The Bible’s initial introduction to Japan came through Francis Xavier in 1549. Xavier brought with him a copy of the Gospel of Matthew, which had been translated by a young Japanese named Yajiro living in Goa India.

After Xavier’s arrival in Japan several attempts were made to translate the bible. However, no copies of these efforts are known to exist.

Karl Gutzlaff, a Prussian doctor, is regarded as the first Protestant Translator. In 1832, Gutzlaff came into contact with three shipwrecked Japanese seamen in the Port of Macao. Their junk had been blown clear across the Pacific Ocean in a fantastic journey lasting 14 months, only to be wrecked at the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon. From here they were sent to China and finally to Macao. With the help of these three men Gutzlaff translated the Gospel of John into Japanese and had it printed in Singapore in 1837. Unfortunately no copies reached Japan until 1859.

The first New Testament to be printed in Japan was made by Jonathan Goble, a marine on the Perry Expedition. In 1860 Goble returned to Japan this time as a missionary and in 1871 successfully printed this translation of the book of Matthew. Goble’s translation ‘was cut on wooden plates, all of this done in. secret as a prohibition existed against Japanese helping foreigners produce writings on Christianity in Japanese.

Between 1874 and 1880, a committee representing six Protestant denominations headed by Dr. James C. Hepburn, translated the entire New Testament. Dr. Hepburn also headed the committee that translated the Old Testament in 1888. Thus making the entire Bible available in Japan for the first time!

During the years 1910 to 1917 a committee produced a revised version of the New Testament, which with the 1888 edition of the Old Testament became and remained the standard Bible in Japan for nearly half a century!

After World War Il the Japanese language found itself in need of a new Colloquial Version of the Bible. (All previous versions had been in Classical Japanese.)

From 1951 to 1955, the Japan Bible Society produced a new Translation. The translators creed was, “To translate the Bible faithfully and correctly from the Greek originals, and to do it in simple colloquial style.”

This was the first translation done solely by Japanese scholars. All previous work had been done under the leadership of foreign missionaries.

In 1961, the New Bible Retranslation Publishing Committee was founded and once again the Bible was brought up to date. This is the translation that we use here in Japan today.

According to the Japan Bible Society more than 2,269,000 copies of the Bible were sold last year by them. (This does not include the Catholic versions.) Since 1871 more than 100 different translations of the Japanese Bible have been done.

When people humbly study, believe, and obey Bible commands as God’s Word, they become Christians (Acts 11:25), who enjoy peace here (Phil. 4:7), and eternal salvation hereafter (John 5:39).

Information Sources:

1. Takeshi Ankyu’s “Mikotoba,” Osaka, Japan, May 1982,

2. Otis Cary D.D. A History of Christianity in Japan, Tuttle, Tokyo, Japan, 1982.

3. Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan, Vol. 1, p. 150.

4. Japan In Review, J.E.M.A. Tokyo, Japan, 1970.

5. Japan Bible Society Pamphlet, Tokyo, Japan, 1986.

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 7, p. 210
April 2, 1987