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Inside the massive effort to translate the Bible into American Sign Language

Posted at 9:30 PM, Apr 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-13 01:38:35-04

PHOENIX — It is a book that has been translated into thousands of languages. Yet one of the biggest challenges churches all over the country have faced is translating the book into a language the deaf community can understand.

Within the last year, the Bible was finally available in American Sign Language. It took Deaf Missions Ministry and their partners 39 years to complete the translation, and it took the Jehovah's Witnesses 15 years to put together the New World Translation of the Bible.

Robert Hendricks, a spokesman for the Jehovah's Witnesses, described the project as a massive labor of love.

"It's really the Bible acted out if you will, in the language of the heart for those who are deaf," said Hendricks.

Now those who are deaf will not have to rely on going to a service or meeting with translators present to understand the message. They can access the Bible anytime they want, in any order they want, in the comfort of their own homes, as it was intended.

Hendricks said American Sign Language was the only way for the message to get to the heart, for so many.

Torrion and Irene Norton, who are both deaf, said they thought they had a good understanding of the Bible until they saw the translations in the language that "spoke to their heart." English is not the first language for Torrion Norton, American Sign Language was the first language he learned.

"It was a very cloudy message for me. I just had to keep an optimistic attitude that perhaps one day it would be available in American Sign Language," said Torrion Norton.

"If I could compare it to something it would be kind of like not having my glasses on and one day you had a prescription and you put the glasses on, and you could see everything clearly," he added.

"Having it in my language I would tell you that I had tears well up. I am not one to cry publicly but I definitely felt the emotion deep within me," said Torrion Norton.

His wife Irene said she openly cried.

"For me, I am one to cry and I definitely had tears coming out of my face," said Irene Norton.

"When I see the Bible in American Sign Language it reaches my heart, it motivates me and makes me want to make adjustments in my life to be a better person," she added.

Jeremy Mallory was one of many translators involved in the effort to translate the Bible into the American Sign Language. He called it an honor to work on a project of this magnitude. One of the reasons it took so long, according to Mallory, was the great attention to detail they spent on every sentence in the Bible.

"It wasn't just about signing of course. It was including the body language, the shifting to show who was speaking. The placement of things to space," added Mallory.

The Jehovah's Witnesses completed their translations just as the global pandemic took over America, a time when so many have relied on their faith like never before.

To download the New World Translation of the American Sign Language Bible go to ASL Bible: Complete New World Translation Is Available | JW.ORG Videos

To download the American Sign Language Bible through the Deaf Missions Ministries go to ASLV - Deaf Missions.

Both can also be downloaded as apps on your smartphone.