Turkish Bible Translations

Eberhard Werner



This overview sums up the history of Bible translations in Turkish an Altaic language. The unique history of translation attempt into this language reaches back to the Ottoman Empire and reaches up into the Turkish Republic, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in the year 2023.


Turkish is an Altaic-Turkic language for which the earliest attested records date back to 552 ce and refer to the Kök Türkler(i) (“Heavenly Türks”). Turkic languages, formerly known as Turk Tataric, with a total of 150 million speakers, are the most recently arrived and youngest family in the Near and Middle East. About 70 million people speak the Turkish language. The language of the Seljuk peoples, disseminated by the Seljuk Empire, was written with Arabic letters, and by the 11 c. had established its written orthographic standard. Following the Seljuk era, other Turkic people swept into Anatolia during the “Mongol invasions” from the 12 to 14 c. (Busse 1988, 86–87). In Ottoman times (1299–1923), Persian, Arabic, Greek, and Armenian loan words permeated the Turkish language (Ostler 2006, 101). After the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, and because of the policies of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a team of international linguists developed a Latin alphabet with 12 special characters for Turkish. A specialized language institution named Türk Dil Kurumu was set up and still operates today to renew and cleanse Turkish of all loanwords and foreign grammatical components (Myers-Scotton 2006, 214).

Bible translation into Turkish started in the 16 c. with Le’ali’s (Ahmed ibn Musafa, d. 1563) Psalms, followed in the 17 c. with work by Yahya bin ’Ishak who was also called Haki. His translation in Ottoman Turkish written with Arabic characters was finished in 1661 but was never published. The ambassador from Holland, Levin Warner, entrusted Albertus (Wojciech) Bobowski, a former Polish slave of the Tartar Ottomans known as Ali Bey, with the task of doing another translation of the Bible (1662–66). The Bible was finished in 1664 and the Manuscript was taken to Holland in 1666. Haki’s and Ali Bey’s translations remained unpublished at Leiden University library until 1814 when Baron von Dietz began revising Ali Bey’s manuscript. This work was finished by Prof. Jean Daniel Kieffer and was published by BFBS in Paris in 1819; 5,000 copies of Ali Bey’s NT were printed. This was followed by the entire Bible in 1827. Zacharias the Athonite and Seraphim of Pisidia, also working in the 18 c., translated catechisms, the Psalms, and other religious texts into the Turkish dialect of Karamanlidika, and published them in Greek characters with the aim of teaching the doctrine of the Orthodox Church and the religious duties of an Orthodox Christian to the Turkish-speaking Christians of Asia Minor. Further revisions of Ali Bey’s translation were done in 1853 by Turabi Efendi and in 1857 by Sir James William Redhouse, who is famous for his Turkish and English Lexicon (1890). Redhouse’s NT (1857) was published by BFBS, but according to Findley (1979, 583), it did not come into wide use because of its idiomatic style.

Shortly after, in 1866, William G. Schauffler from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABFCM) translated and produced a NT that some consider a masterpiece of elegant Ottoman Turkish, and parts of the Hebrew Bible (Richter 2006, 233). During 1873–78, Ali Bey’s work was revised by a committee and received the government’s approval. It was called Kitab-ı Mukaddes (“Holy Book”). A rendering and harmonization of this standard text for the Christian churches of the Ottoman Empire into Greek, Arabic, and Armenian characters was finished as three independent translations in 1901, and is called the unified Ottoman-Greco-Armeno-Turkish text (Riggs 1940, 245).

Starting in 1961, evangelical movements led to new Bible translations into Turkish. These new translations were mainly guided by a mix of conservative and dynamic equivalent translation principles. They used Tanrı and not Allah as the name of God, to be distinctive from the Kitab-ı Mukaddes and Islamic tradition. Portions of the NT employing dynamic equivalence translation principles were published in 1978 named Wonders of Jesus and Teachings of Jesus. Modern translations of the NT include Müjde (1987); İncil (1989/2008; Kutsal İncil (2003) and the easy to read version, Halk Dilinde İncil (2012). Recently published Bibles include Kutsal Kitap Yeni Çeviri (Holy Book New Translation, BS in Turkey 2001; with DC 2003) and Ekümenik Kutsal Kitap (Ecumenical Holy Book, Haktan Yayıncılık 2007). Additional reading: Gundert 1977; Privratsky 2012.



Busse, Heribert 1988. Das arabisch-islamische Weltreich und seine Nachfolgestaaten, in Steinbach, Udo & Robert, Rüdiger (Hgg.): Der Nahe und Mittlere Osten: Politik, Gesellschaft, Wirtschaft, Geschichte, Kultur, 81-96. Opladen: Leske + Budrich.

Findley, Carter V. 1979. Sir James W. Redhouse (1811-1892): The Making of a Perfect Orientalist? Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 99/4, 573-600. Winona Lake: American Oriental Society. Und Online im Internet: URL: http://www.jstor.org/­stable/­pdfplus/601447?_tokenId=­9FZjy­TSxA3­eIChf6MVPy [PDF-Datei] [Stand 2008-11-04].

Gundert, Wilhelm 1977. Bibelübersetzungen V: Übersetzungen ins Türkische, in Krause, Gerhard & Müller, Gerhard (Hgg.): Theologische Realenzyklopädie (TRE), 299-310. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. Und Online im Internet: URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=iEEsRpX_MaUC&pg=RA1-PA2­99­&lpg=RA1-PA299&dq­=Turkish+Bibles+Ali+Bey&source=web&ots=7Zyl7hzg_3&sig­=I1aC­D­gG­3dDz­PYdIEX_uJhPH02wk&hl=de&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=2&ct=result [accessed 2020-11-04).

Myers-Scotton, Carol 2006. Multiple Voices: An Introduction to Bilingualism. Oxford: Blackwell.

Ostler, Nicholas [2005] 2006. Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World. New York: Harper.

Privratsky, Bruce G. 2012. A History of Turkish Bible Translations Annotated chronology with historical notes and suggestions for further research. Online. URL: http://history­of­turkish­bible.­files.word­press.­­com/2012/05/turkish-bible-history-_2012_05_n.pdf [PDF-File] [accessed 2020-11-10].

Richter, Julius [1930] 2006. Mission und Evangelisation im Orient. Reprint of 2nd ed. Nuremberg: VTR.