The History of the Translation of The Bible Into Bahasa Malaysia

1628-1638 The Malay translation of the Gospels of Mark and Matthew was published by Albert Cornelius Ruyl, a Dutch East India Company (EIC) trader, in a bilingual format based on the current Dutch text. Ruyl's first translation used the Jawi script but later translations were in Roman script.
1628-1638 The Malay translation of the Gospels of Mark and Matthew was published by Albert Cornelius Ruyl, a Dutch East India Company (EIC) trader, in a bilingual format based on the current Dutch text. Ruyl’s first translation used the Jawi script but later translations were in Roman script.

The history of translating Bible into Bahasa Malaysia has started since the 16th century. It was the era when the European colonialism was rapidly developing. South East Asia became an attraction for the colonial powers for its trade and resources potential. South East Asia has also become the potential field in order to spread the Gospel for the European. The Roman Catholic churches had already sent missionaries to most of Asia.

The publication of such versions becomes easier with the rise of Protestant States. As a consequence, the Bible was translated into the language of the regions. Netherlands is one of the first countries in Protestant Europe to establish its power outside of Europe. As a result, Malay has become the first language into which Bible was translated outside of Europe and the Middle East.

Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, VOC) was one of the corporations that sponsors pastors for the Dutch population, and tolerated some evangelistic efforts among Catholics although it was said that it does not encourage the missionary activities. The first initial effort to translate the Bible into other language was made by a trader and clerk of the Dutch East India Company, Albert Cornelius Ruyl and Jan Van Hasel. The first period of the translation ended with the publication of the complete New Testament translated by Rev. Daniel Brower.

The first translation of the Bible was done in Jawi script. But, there’s problem with the Jawi script; it has only three letters to represent the vowels sound. The translation of the Bible into Jawi has not been produced until the mid of 18th century. The second problem which emerged was to define the limits boundaries of the Malay language, and to distinguish differentiate its dialects and the related languages. The last problem was “related to the problem of determining the limit of the language lay in establishing its proper idiom”.

In 1758, the complete translated Bible was published in Batavia using Jawi script. The Bible was translated by Dr. Leidekker at first, then, was continued by Francois Valentine which then died in 1727. The translation then checked by van der Vorm and a group of language expert. This translation became the standard translation for nearly two centuries in Indonesia and Malaysia.

As the colonial power of British expanded into Southeast Asia region, so does the Christianization operations by missionary societies. London Missionary Society (L.M.S) was one of the missionary organizations who became interested to send missionaries to China. In 1814, William Milne, one of the members of L.M.S came to Melaka and decided that Melaka would be the best location for the center which the L.M.S had decided to establish. This was because of Melaka was the ordinary trade routes to China.

L.M.S’ efforts to produce Malay-translated bible began with an interview between Milne and his language teacher, Munshi Abdullah (Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir). Forty years after this interview, as William Milne focused on the production of Chinese Bible, Munshi Abdullah would be the one who played a major role in translating the Bible into Malay, with the support of Claudius Thomsen, another missionary sent by L.M.S in 1815 to specifically work among the Malays. Thomsen, however, faced a difficulty in publishing the Bible despite having his own printing press in Singapore. Only the press in Melaka had the capability to print an entire gospel. Back then, it was under the control of a group of missionaries whose focus was on the Chinese literature. Therefore, Thomsen’s missionary efforts had received less support from the missionary agencies.

When Thomsen left Singapore, he sold his printing press to the American missionaries who had just arrived. One of them, John Stronach took over the work of revising the New Testament as well. Stronach also worked with Abdullah in order to revise the New Testament.

In many ways the year 1852 marks the end of era in Bible translation into Malay. The cessation of translation work did not mean the end of efforts to use and distribute Malay literature. In 1880, a full time Bible Society agent was assigned was assigned to Singapore and in 1882, it began what was regarded as the most successful way of reaching non-Christians with the scripture. At about the same time that Keasberry was printing his translation of the complete New Testament a Dutch Mennonite minister in Java was undertaking to improve on Leidekker’s translation.

In many years, the version of the Bible translation is being improved by many people and organization. This was due to some problems that occur, for example the language used was not appropriate or language cannot be understood by the natives or some of the word was not spelled correctly. During the time, there were communities that take the responsibility to revise the Bible in Malay. The members were Bishop Hose, W.H. Gomes and Shellabear. The committee consulted with Dato Dalam of Jahore for several hours each day on ‘various questions of Malay language and literature’. According to Shellabear, Dato’ Dalam was one the son of Munshi Abdullah.

Other than this, there also exist other organizations which had tried their best to improve the translation of the Bible. They worked with the natives in order to make the translated Bible being accepted and understood by the natives. Problem still exist although they tried their very best to improve the translation of the Bible. As we all can see, the definition of “idiomatic” Bahasa Malaysia continues to evolve there may be the need for further new translation.

As a conclusion, developments in the translation of the Bible revolve around these considerations; 1. The establishing of the standards of the language. 2. Establishing the appropriate ways of using the language to communicate Biblical ideas within the culture. 3. The targets and means of distribution.

1) Hunt, R.A “The History of the Translation of the Bible into Bahasa Malaysia”JMBRAS Vol 52 Part 1 June 1989, pp.35-56.)
2) Executive Summary “The History of the Translation of the Bible into Malay” MBRAS, link:

This summary of Hun’ts publication was written by,
Norlia bt Salleh
IKB Researcher
Information Systems (FSKTM), UNIMAS


Sejarah dan perkembangan gerakan kristianisasi di Sarawak


Gerakan kristianisasi di Sarawak telah bermula sejak tahun 1848 bahkan lebih awal, dengan kedatangan Francis Thomas Mcdougall di atas jemputan James Brooke. Francis Mcdougall merupakan seorang doktor perubatan yang bermazhab Anglican dan merupakan pengasas bagi Mazhab Anglican di Sarawak. Beliau memulakan aktiviti missionaries pertamanya di Sarawak dengan menubuhkan Borneo Church Mission.

Sasaran awal bagi gerakan ini adalah orang-orang Melayu di Sarawak. Francis Mcdougall merupakan orang pertama yang membuka sekolah formal bagi anak-anak Melayu sebagai cara untuk memudahkan dakyah Kristianisasi terhadap anak-anak Melayu. Beliau telah membina sekolah-sekolah, gereja-gereja dan dispensari bagi menyebarkan agama Kristian dalam kalangan masyarakat Sarawak.

Bagi tujuan untuk menggencarkan lagi penyebaran agama Kristian dalam kalangan masyarakat Melayu di Sarawak, Francis Mcdougall telah menjemput Melayu Kristian dari Singapura untuk berdakyah kepada orang Melayu. Namun begitu, usahanya gagal apabila pemimpin Melayu dan masyarakat Melayu menentang tindakan tersebut. Setelah gagal dengan usaha tersebut, Francis Mcdougall meneruskan usaha dakyahnya dengan membuka sekolah untuk anak-anak Melayu serta menyebarkan buku panduan agama Kristian dalam bahasa Melayu kepada masyarakat.

Setelah usaha kristianisasi terhadap orang Melayu menemui kegagalan, Francis Mcdougall seterusnya mengalih sasaran kepada masyarakat pribumi dan Cina di Sarawak. Usaha penyebaran agama Kristian oleh beliau dalam kalangan masyarakat tersebut membuahkan hasil. Beliau menggunakan sebaik-baiknya kelebihan beliau sebagai doktor perubatan bagi menarik minat masyarakat tempatan untuk menerima Kristian dengan menubuhkan klinik perubatan selain mengambil anak angkat serta mendamaikan pergaduhan yang berlaku dalam masyarakat di Sarawak.

Pada tahun 1881, Charles Brooke telah menjemput tokoh kristianisasi yang daripada mazhab Katolik ke Sarawak setelah kegagalan Missionaries Anglican menyebarkan dakyah ke bahagian lain di Sarawak. Father Edward Dunn, menjadi antara nama besar yang berjaya menyebarkan agama Kristian di Sarawak. Beliau merupakan salah seorang tokoh missionaries yang bermazhab Katolik. Beliau sangat berkemahiran dalam bidang pertanian dan kelebihan ini dimanfaatkan oleh beliau semaksima mungkin untuk menarik minat masyarakat Iban di pedalaman terhadap agama Kristian. Aktiviti kristianisasi seterusnya tertumpu di bahagian kedua sarawak iaitu di Sarikei dan juga Saribas.

Keluarga Brooke sangat menyokong dan memberi dorongan terhadap penyebaran agama Kristian di setiap bahagian di Sarawak tanpa mengira denominasi mazhab, walaupun keluarga mereka sendiri merupakan Kristian yang bermazhab Anglican. Keluarga Brooke pada ketika itu memberi jaminan terhadap keselamatan missionaries Kristian serta meyakinkan para missionaries bahawa tidak akan ada tentangan daripada pemimpin Islam terhadap usaha kristianisasi yang mereka lakukan. Di samping menyebarkan agama Kristian dalam masyarakat, Father Edward Dunn juga telah berjaya menubuhkan beberapa buah sekolah missionaries di Sarawak. Antaranya, Sacred Heart di Sibu, St Teresa dan St Joseph di Kuching.

Antara mazhab Kristian utama lain yang terdapat di Sarawak, antaranya adalah Gereja Methodist Sarawak, Sevent-Day Adventist dan juga SIB (Sidang Injil Borneo).

Borneo Evangelical Mission (BEM) ataupun Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) telah diasaskan di Melbourne pada tahun 1928. Sasaran awal gerakan ini adalah masyarakat Murut (Lun Bawang) dan Kelabit. SIB antara mazhab Kristian yang terbesar di Malaysia dengan anggaran keahlian seramai 500 000 orang di seluruh Malaysia. Pertubuhan ini memberi latihan kepada masyarakat tempatan untuk menjadi missionaries serta ‘Clergymen’  gereja. Di Lawas, telah ditubuhkan sebuah sekolah pengajaran Bible dan ia berfungsi sebagai pusat latihan para paderi serta terjemahan Bible ke dalam bahasa Borneo.

Ecumenism ataupun penyatuan gereja-gereja sangat popular di Sarawak. Penyatuan ini telah dilakukan pada tahun 1991. Antara mazhab yang menyertai Ecumenism adalah Anglican, Roman Katolik, Methodist, SDA, SIB dan The Salvation Army. Penyatuan gereja-gereja ini telah membentuk Sarawak Ecumenical Centre yang menjadi suatu badan yang mengatur serta menyelaraskan aktiviti missionaries di Sarawak.

Pertubuhan-pertubuhan Kristian semakin berkembang di Sarawak selepas merdeka. Kira-kira 50 pertubuhan ataupun mazhab Kristian telah ditubuhkan di Sarawak selepas merdeka. Hasil perkembangan dan usaha gigih mereka telah berjaya merubah demografi Sarawak menjadi satu-satunya negeri yang majoriti beragama Kristian.

Selain itu juga, pelbagai purtubuhan missionaries antarabangsa menjalankan aktiviti kristianisasi secara pesat di bumi Sarawak antaranya Church of Latter-Day Saint (mormon), World Church Mission (WCM), Mill Hills Society, dan banyak lagi.

Usaha mereka yang terancang ini perlu menjadi perhatian masyarakat Islam di Sarawak agar kita semua sedar akan ancaman ini kepada masyarakat Islam di Sarawak.

Norlia Salleh
Borneo Research Institute (BRI)

Rujukan: Wan Kamal Mujani & Noranizah Yusuf,Islam dan Missionari di Sarawak: Kesan terhadap Pendidikan pada Zaman Crown Colony, 1841-1941