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English Bible for the Deaf opens new world

For many the words in the Bible are self-explanatory.

Verses like “whoever has ears, let them hear” or “if you declare with your mouth...you will be saved” are so commonplace, many don’t think twice when reading it.

For a deaf person this is a completely different experience, says Dr Rocco Hough, who helped put together the English Bible for the Deaf (EBD), which the Bible Society of South Africa released at the end of last year.

Hough, who was a reverend at the De la Bat Dutch Reformed Church for the deaf in Bellville for over 30 years, was directly involved with both translations, along with Elmien Roux, a retired teacher who used to work at the De la Bat School for the deaf in Worcester.

Helping them were scores of academics and deaf people, making this a translation developed with the deaf, for the deaf.

The EBD follows the runaway success of The Afrikaans Bible for the Deaf of 2008 (now also known as the Bible for All), the first Afrikaans Bible for the deaf.

The EBD is aimed at people who were born deaf and could not learn a language in an auditory way.


Hough says he was challenged to do the English translation of the Bible for the Deaf while in Kenya about 11 years ago.

A pastor there said they were struggling to understand the English Bible for the Deaf they were using at the time.

When he looked at the Bible himself, he saw about 50 words in the first chapter of the Bible that the average deaf person wouldn’t understand.

There was a great need for a text based Bible for the deaf in English, Hough realised.

And as he knew only too well from translating the Afrikaans Bible for the Deaf, most of the existing Bible is too difficult for a deaf person to understand.

“The mother tongue of the deaf is Sign Language, a very difficult language for hearing people to learn, and likewise, difficult for deaf people to understand written language as we find it in our Bibles.”

A hearing impairment normally leads to a language impairment.

“Deaf children cannot learn language in a normal way, and in the past deaf children were sent to a school for the deaf at the age of 3 where they had to learn language in a specialised way.”

Even though they have normal intelligence, the average reading ability of an adult deaf person is that of an eight-year-old-hearing child. This creates a large barrier when trying to read something like the Bible.

Added to this is the fact that the Bible is filled with idioms, which is something that is acquired by speaking a language over time and not something deaf people learn automatically.


The translation of EBD officially started in 2011 and the text was completed after about five years.

“After (this) it was tested, the development of all the footnotes and illustrations, the page layout, and then it was printed in China, who has the largest and most modern Bible printing press.”

Two source experts Prof Bart Oberholzer and Prof Hermie van Zyl, helped with this translation. After Oberholzer’s death, Dr Tiana Bosman took over.

Hough says this Bible is ideal for groups of people wanting to read an easy translation, like Christians in countries like Pakistan and India.

“There is such a big need for a Bible like this and I’m grateful we could finish it,” Hough says.

Hannerie Swart, development manager at the National Institute for the Deaf (NID), says it’s special that the deaf can receive the word of God in a way that’s easily understandable.

“It supports deaf accessibility and inclusivity.”

The Bible is available at Cum Books or at the Bible Society of South Africa.

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