LDS Church publishes new Spanish-language Bible

Translation praised for adding clarity and depth

Published: Monday, Sept. 14 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

"Una obra maravillosa … un milagro … inspirado … unificar y facilitar."

Those are the Spanish words — English translations are in the subheads below — some Mormons are using to describe the groundbreaking new Spanish-language edition of the Holy Bible prepared by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"Santa Biblia: Reina Valera 2009" represents the first time the church has published an edition of the Bible in a language other than English, but it is also a natural progression in a pedigree of LDS editions of the scriptures — the English King James Version in 1979, the English-language LDS "triple combination" (Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price) in 1981 and the subsequent printing of triple combinations in some three-dozen other languages.

Spanish speakers make up a major percentage of the church's worldwide membership and are an increasing portion of its numbers in Utah, where 70,000 Hispanic Mormons lived at the beginning of the year. The state is home to more than 120 Spanish-language LDS wards and branches.

Available beginning Monday, the new LDS Spanish-language edition of the Bible is the result of efforts from a host of translators, LDS general authorities, Area Seventies, professional linguists and church members, all under the direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. The Deseret News interviewed four involved in various aspects of the new Spanish edition.

"Una obra maravillosa" — A marvelous work

Elder Jay E. Jensen of the Presidency of the Seventy has an understandably deep love for the scriptures, the Hispanic people and the Spanish language. Before his 1992 call as an LDS general authority, he was director of the church's Scripture Coordination. His college education included certification to teach Spanish. Missionary and leadership assignments have taken him across Latin America.

So when he was called in 2004 with Elder Lynn A. Mickelson of the Quorums of the Seventy to co-chair the church's Spanish Bible project, Elder Jensen found a labor of love. The process and result is what he calls "a marvelous work."

Copyright issues with the 1960 Reina-Valera edition of the Spanish-language Bible resulted in the church using the public-domain 1909 Reina-Valera version as its source. While using the 1960 edition would have been more economical and efficient, Elder Jensen said the older text was a "blessing in disguise" as it resonated more with its English counterpart, the King James Version.

Translations and revisions were scrutinized by priesthood leaders and their wives — some 200 total in 10 different countries — to compare differences in regional language usage and to arrive at a Spanish text acceptable to all.

"The whole process was a unity of revelation," he said, adding "we just know the Lord was in the details, the spirit of the Lord guided us, prompting people thousands of miles apart."

And when he held the finished Bible for the first time?

"I can't talk," said Elder Jensen, choking back tears and picking up a copy to show how he cradled them. "I literally sat and took them in my arms and just held them. I just cried then, like I'm crying now — it was very tender."

"Un milagro" — A miracle

For Enrique Resek, manager of the church's Spanish Office for Translation Services, the miracles were many — ranging from the tools, technology and priesthood guidance benefiting the translation process to the fact that an LDS Spanish Bible wasn't even a consideration 30 years ago.

Work began a half-decade ago comparing King James and 1909 Reina-Valera passages, then updating terminology, then drafting a complete Genesis. By the time the new Spanish edition was complete, each updated verse had been compared with the King James Version and four other Spanish versions as well as the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts.

Word definitions and usages change over time, so the language of the 1909 Reina-Valera edition needed some tweaking. In some cases, archaic words had different, even offensive, meanings in a modern context.

Other changes provided greater depth. An example Resek cites — "caridad" being used for charity and Christ's love rather than the 1960 edition's "amor," a more general word for love.

"It was very beautiful," Resek said. "We were working on something very sacred and special."

To work with the 1909 Reina-Valera edition was especially meaningful for Resek. "My father was baptized before 1960, so we were always taught from that 1909 version," he said.

Resek asked his father if he could have that 1909 edition just prior to his father passing away two months ago. He now possesses a pair of treasured Bibles — the small, aging one that served as the family bible in Argentina for many decades and a new edition to bless Latin Latter-day Saints worldwide for generations to come.

"Inspirado" — Inspired

Omar Canals, an international producer in the Audio/Visual Department, served as one of five narrators for the church's first-ever Spanish recordings of the Bible, now available on CDs or as downloadable MP3 Internet files.

"For us who participated in this project, it was very close to our hearts," said the Uruguayan native who was joined by vocal talent from Honduras, Colombia and Argentina.

The five were charged to couple their readings with an appropriate blend of tone, inflection and emotion.

"I feel our function as narrators was not to inform, but to inspire, just as we were inspired," said Canals, who also used "inspired" to describe church leaders for pursuing and producing the new Bible.

Canals, whose work included Genesis, Psalms, Isaiah and Revelation, recalled an instance when he was reading in the New Testament's Four Gospels. He narrated scenes of the Savior healing, while being personally conscious of his own daughter's battle with bone cancer.

"I had to stop because it had touched me in a way like it had never done before — I stopped to apologize, and then realized everyone else (in the studio) was crying, too."

Canals offered to re-record what he feared was an emotion-choked reading. "Don't touch it," the others pled.

"It gave an added element of feeling that by just narrating you wouldn't get," said Canals, adding "my approach to the scriptures will never be the same — they came to life."

"Unificar y facilitar" — To unify and facilitate

When traveling throughout Latin America as first counselor in the church's Relief Society general presidency, Sister Silvia H. Allred encounters a common challenge when asking someone in a group to read aloud from the Bible.

"Somebody says, 'No, that's not what it says,' because everybody has a different Bible," said Sister Allred, noting Latin LDS converts often bring Bibles from their previous faiths. "I think this is so great to have a unified Bible."

She is among church leaders featured in a 30-minute video on the new Bible to be broadcast next month on the church's satellite system between General Conference sessions. The video also will be available online then.

Sister Allred said the new Bible will help facilitate comprehension, provide teachers and leaders with additional resources and give all members a new incentive.

"I think it will bring focus again to the importance of studying the Bible as a part of the restored gospel," said Sister Allred, who had never seen a Bible until joining the church as a teenager in El Salvador.

She has long since had her own Bible — including her advance copy of the new LDS edition this summer. "I could hardly wait to get home and start studying — I stayed up until two in the morning," she said.

"I had tears in my eyes because I had been waiting for it for so long."

e-mail: taylor@desnews.com

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