The Need for the Ukrainian Bible

In order to explain the need for the Ukrainian Bible, I would like to present some of Ukraine’s history. The religious, political, cultural and linguistic situation today in my country show that it is needed as never before.

After the Mongolian-Tatarian invasion in 1240, Ukrainians lost their statehood and for seven hundred and fifty years the territory of Ukraine was a part of different countries. During that period of time, not only did Ukrainians retain their identity, but they also developed their own culture and language. Many attempts were made by them to restore their state system but they were not able to until December of 1991 when more than 90% of those who came to the referendum voted for independence. The longed-for dream of the Ukrainian people to have their own state had at last come true.

Since 1654, Ukraine had been a part of Russia. Russian policy concerning Ukrainians was to destroy national identity and assimilate them into the Russian culture by total “russification”. Ukrainian people were declared ethnically identical with Russians and the Ukrainian language was pronounced a dialect of Russian. Many decrees were made to forbid the official use of Ukrainian. The Soviet Union inherited and continued the policy of the Russian Empire. The main ideology of the soviet government was to combine all the ethnic groups of the country into a new social formation – the Soviet people, which meant nothing less than assimilating all of them into the Russian culture. Russian was the language of the state, education, science, and inter-ethnical communication. In spite of all this, in 1979 more than three-fourths of Ukrainians affirmed that they spoke in their mother language.

Since independence, the government has been trying to revive national culture and put Ukrainian back into every area of society. Ukrainian has become the official language, as well as the language of education, science, religion, mass media, etc. It is the language of the new generation of intelligentsia. Bilinguism still exists (mainly in the eastern part of Ukraine and in large industrial centers), but society is definitely moving towards Ukrainian speaking.

Today, Ukrainian Christians find themselves in a difficult situation. For about 150 years, they have used Russian as the language of worship: they have read the Russian Bible, sung Russian songs and hymns, and prayed in Russian, while speaking Ukrainian in everyday life. Back then, such bilinguism was not only a normal thing, but a necessary one because believers could have been persecuted as nationalists as well as Christians. The situation today is different: most people want to use their native language in every area of life, including worship. Using Russian reminds them of the former totalitarian system, so preaching in Russian is not well accepted by many Ukrainian speaking people. And yet, Russian is still mainly used as the language of worship. Since Russian is also predominantly spoken in large cities, this is where most national preachers and foreign missionaries are concentrated and where most Christian work is done. As a result, much of the Ukrainian speaking population is not being reached. This is why the greatest challenge to Christians in modern Ukraine is to switch to Ukrainian as the language of worship. If this is not done, evangelism among Ukrainian speakers will continue to be neglected. Much has already been done: songs and hymns have been translated into Ukrainian and several hymnbooks have been published; also, more and more preachers have begun preaching in Ukrainian (although most still use the Russian Bible). However, the main problem – the lack of a trustworthy and accurate Ukrainian Bible – remains. It is this lack that hinders many Christians from changing to Ukrainian as their language of worship and is the reason why Bible training is still being done in Russian. Consequently, Ukrainian speaking preachers are not being trained and sent to work among the Ukrainian speaking population.

The first attempts to produce a Bible in Ukrainian were made in the 19th century. In the 1860’s, the famous Ukrainian scholar and writer, the giver of the modern alphabet, spelling system and grammar, Panteleymon Kulish, undertook to provide a Ukrainian Bible. He had almost finished the work when a fire destroyed it along with his entire village. He had to start all over again but death didn’t allow him to finish his translation. Two other Ukrainian writers finished it and it was finally published in 1903. This was the first complete Ukrainian Bible and it was used for a few decades. It used good Hebrew and Greek texts, but because of the irregular language, it cannot be used today at all. For instance, the word used for ‘fruit’ means ‘vegetable’ today, so instead of “fruit of the Spirit” it reads “vegetable of the Spirit”. It also used inappropriate words (the word used for a ‘Hebrew’ is very offensive today, kind of like ‘Polack’ in English). Further, the spelling system used in the Kulish version is different from the one used today. My analysis of the first two chapters of Romans showed 293 mistakes of various nature, which include: inaccurate translation, poor grammar, words with inaccurate meanings, misspelling, cases of a different spelling system, typographical errors, etc.

Attempts to make another translation in the 20th century testified to the fact that the need for a good Ukrainian Bible was not yet satisfied. In the beginning of the 1930’s, another great Ukrainian scholar in diaspora, Ivan Ohiyenko, started work on the Ukrainian Bible. In 1939 the New Testament was ready and in 1962 the whole Bible was completed. It has become the standard Ukrainian Bible. However, its language is not the same as is actually spoken in Ukraine and its underlying text is critical. Here are some of the examples of textual corruptions:

  • 1 Tim. 3:16 “who was manifest”, instead of “God was manifest”
  • Luk. 2:33 “And his father and mother marveled” instead of “And Joseph and his mother marveled”
  • Col. 1:14 “through his blood” is missing
  • 1Joh 4:3 “is come in the flesh” is missing
  • Rev. 1:11 “Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last” is missing.

In 1992, the president of the Baptist Union made another attempt to provide a new translation. His premature death did not allow him to finish it, so only the New Testament was completed. This New Testament is used when it comes to spreading the Scripture among unsaved people. Its underlying text is good but in some places it follows corrupt readings. Its language is better than that of other available translations but there is still much room for improvement. Also, the Old Testament is not available.

Since the 13th century, Catholics have tried to spread their influence on the territory of Ukraine. One of their attempts in modern days was to produce their own Ukrainian version, “The Roman Bible”. The Catholicism of this version is obvious from the fact that:
1) it was done under the supervision of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in emigration;
2) it includes the Old Testament apocrypha;
3) it has Catholic corruptions and footnotes (for instance, in Matthew 1:25, “her firstborn” is missing and the footnote to this verse says “… the gospels and church tradition clearly teach the perpetual virginity of Mary”).

As for its underlying text, for the Old Testament it claims to use the Hebrew Masoretic text but it also makes references to the Septuagint “in those places where the Masoretic text is corrupt”. Thus in Genesis 4:8 it adds “let us go to the field” after “And Cain talked with Abel his brother” because this phrase is in the Septuagint. For the New Testament it uses the critical text published by the Pope’s Bible Institute. One of the most famous corruptions is the omission of “…in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth…” in I John 5:7-8. Other examples of corruption are very much like those of the Ohiyenko version.

The Ukrainian Bible Society, a branch of the United Bible Societies, began work on a new translation several years ago. Right now, the New Testament is ready. This upcoming version cannot be approved for several reasons. First, it uses the critical Greek text for the New Testament, namely the 4th edition of the United Bible Societies, and the Septuagint for the Old Testament. Their New Testament Greek text is missing literally thousands of words, phrases and even entire verses. It also changes many words, as in John 1:18, where it reads “only begotten God” instead of “only begotten Son”. Second, translators use the modern principle of translation, one of the peculiarities of which is the secularization of Christian terminology: replacing “temptation” with “test” and so on. Third, the main translator is Catholic.

Thus, none of the existing translations meet the necessary requirements: correct Hebrew and Greek texts, sound translation principles, and proper language.