“One of the most touching events of my life.” This is how Norwegian Bible Society General Secretary the Rev Stein Mydske describes the recent launch of two new Bible translations. Here is the story of how the project evolved and of the impact that the new translations are already having, especially in digital format.
The process of making new Bible translations in the two main Norwegian languages, ‘bokmål’ and ‘nynorsk’, began in 1999 as a minor revision. The translation team soon realised that a more comprehensive approach was needed, since the Norwegian languages were rapidly changing and all the Dead Sea scrolls had recently been published. The New Testament was launched in 2005. The launch of the full Bible on October 19 included the new Bible text in various electronic formats to be read on mobile phone, i-Pad and the internet (see below).
Authors and poets involved
In addition to three full time translators, the Bible Society used scholars in Greek and Hebrew, theologians and professional authors and poets specialising in the Norwegian languages. Their participation in the project from the beginning was an exciting and important feature. In addition to give the translated texts a very high linguistic quality, it gave the new Bible broad publicity. It has been remarkable to see famous authors and poets appear in the media strongly recommending the new translation and talking with enthusiasm about their own participation. Their involvement has underlined the cultural importance of the Bible in modern society.
Marketing experts as volunteers
Three marketing experts volunteered to work with Dag Smemo from the Bible Society to plan the launch of the new Bibles. They worked without pay for a year and half to determine how to reach non-churchgoers. The results have been quite remarkable: the impact of the launch in the media has been compared with Steve Jobs launching new Apple products and the Beatles launching a new recording of their music. All with a very low marketing budget!
Midnight sale started in bookshops
No bookshop was allowed to start selling the new Bibles before October 19. One bookshop in Stavanger opened its doors half an hour after midnight and people were queuing to buy the first Bible at midnight. This was recorded on national television. In most big cities young people slept outside the bookshops to be first in the queue to buy the new Bible. Bookshops served breakfast for those who had waited through the night. Theology students in Oslo dressed up like Jesus and his disciples, the angel Gabriel and other biblical characters as they waited for the Bible to go on sale. On the evening news broadcast by the main television channel on Tuesday evening, the news reporter ended by encouraging viewers to return at 6a.m. for the launch of a new Bible translation. And the Bible was on all the main television channels on Wednesday morning with interviews and reports. Even French national television had a report about the Bible launch in Norway!
Main event in Oslo Cathedral
At 10a.m. Oslo Cathedral was packed with people who wanted to be part of the main launch ceremony. Representatives from all political parties and all Churches were present, together with Bible Society friends and donors. A procession of key people involved in the translation brought the new Bible in. There was music by a children’s choir, Bible reading by professional actors and greetings by the Bible Society chairman Tor Tjeransen, who gave the new Bible to the leading bishop of the Church of Norway, who in turn gave it to the Cabinet Minister for Church Affairs Rigmor Aasrud. She gave a speech focusing on the important role of the Bible in our history and for future generations. The new Bible was then given to representatives of the new generations, children and young people, and to representatives of the Churches. After the ceremony, people joined main translator Hans-Olav Mørk in a ‘sending out’ ceremony outside. Accompanied by a band from the Salvation Army, the crowd sang hymns and the new Bible was given to Christians who run a street ministry in central Oslo. A touching ceremony that made people stop and listen!
On Wednesday afternoon and evening there were several events and broad coverage on radio and television. Over the following weekend, there were local and regional celebrations all over the country. More than 100 different events were held by local churches to celebrate the new Bible. For the Bible Society and churches, the main challenge now is to help new people to read the Bible and to discover the treasures in this old book for modern men and women!
Before the launch, the Norwegian Bible Society had shared these texts with the UBS Digital Bible Library and given permission to make them available to YouVersion, one of the DBL’s End User Ministry Partners. This is the first time that a new Bible was launched electronically through the DBL together with a print edition.