The Bible in Bulgarian
The whole Bible has been, during the year 1871, published for the first time in the spoken language of the Bulgarian people. Methodius and Cyril, who first preached the gospel to the Bulgarians a thousand years ago, gave them the Scriptures in their then spoken language, the Slavic. But this ancient tongue, the mother of the modern Russian, Bulgarian, Servian, Polish, Illyrian etc., has long since ceased to be the vernacular of any of the nations which once employed is as such. Hence the necessity of new translation of the Word of God in all these dialects.
The last fifty years has witnessed a great waking up of the national and intellectual life among many people. In the wide-spread awaking, the six millions of Bulgarians dwelling between the Danube on the north and the Aegean on the south, The Black Sea on the east and Servia on the west, have shared. One of its first fruits was the publication of elementary books in their spoken language. And it may certainly be regarded as an omen of good, that one of the earliest of these was a translation of the four gospels, prepared, so far as appears, without aid or suggestion from abroad, by Messrs. Seraphim, of Eski Zagra, and Sapoonoff, of Trevna, and published in Bucharest in 1828. The latter, who edited the work, in his preface says to the reader, “Enjoy the reading of the gospels in your own tongue; taste and see the wonderful works wrought by our Savior Jesus Christ while he dwelt on the earth; and may it (the readying of the gospels) contribute to reader as pleasing to God and loving toward one another …. These divinely inspired words do greatly tend to regulate our lives; to make us wise, kind, temperate, and loving toward one another. Therefore seeing that our people have remained in darkness for ages, because of not understanding the sacred Scriptures, we have undertaken, according to the ability which a merciful God has bestowed upon us, to translate them.” He goes on to say that not having the means of publishing at once the whole of the New Testament, he was obliged to put out first the four gospels in paper cover, that by the sell of these he might realize sufficient to unable him to go on and publish the remaining books. But in this he seams to have been disappointed.
The first edition of the whole New Testament in Bulgarian was issued in 1840, at Smyrna, this time at the expense of the British and Foreign Bible Society, the literary labor being performed still by a Bulgarian, the Rev. Neophyte P. Petroff of Rila, with the aid and approbation of Hilarion, the Metropolitan Bishop of Turnovo. This edition was well received and sold off rapidly.
The writer’s first connection with this work was looking over this first edition, at the request of Mr. Baker, agent of the British and Foreign Bible Society, at Smyrna, with reference to the printing of the second edition. As this translation had not been received by the any agent of the Bible Society, it was satisfactory to find it, on the whole, very faithfully, and ably prepared. It was not strange, however, that the translator had in some instances failed to grasp the true sense and force of the sacred text. For instance , in 2 Corinthians 2:16, where the Apostle, overwhelmed by the consideration of the eternal issue connected with the preaching of the gospel, exclaims, “Who is sufficient for these things?” the translator, fearing, doubtless, that a simple rendering would too much disparage the great Apostle, makes him say, “Who is (so) sufficient for these things (as I)?” honestly making his additions by parentheses but intentionally marring one of the most magnificent passages in the sacred writings.
It is worthy of note in this connection, that the circumstance which led our mission (about the same time) to undertake the publication of tracts in Bulgarian, was a movement on the part of the native Bulgarians. Some young men who had gone to Odessa to study, became acquainted with Mr. Melville, an English teacher and a faithful Christian worker. He put into their hands some evangelical tracts in Russian, a dialect cognate with their own, and in which they were pursuing their studies. These tracts they did not merely read and then throw them aside, but impressed by their truth the excellence, and without any hope of apparent wish for pecuniary compensation, translated some of them into Bulgarian, and Mr. Melville sent them to us for publication. The mission on learning these facts, regarded this voluntary movement on the part of these young men (some of them from Macedonia ) as a repetition of the call addressed in vision to the Apostle of the Gentiles “Come over to Macedonia and help us” and instructed the writer of this article so give so much attention to the Bulgarian language as to be able to examine tracts in it, and be assured of their soundness and fitness for publication. Several tracts were in this way issued, and were eagerly welcomed by the people. But the decision in 1841, to suspend labors in the Greek department of the mission to Turkey (of which the Bulgarian department was regarded as a branch), put a stop to efforts of this kind for several years.
The Bible Society, however, continued its efforts, printing and putting in circulation successively seven editions of the New Testament (forty or forty thousand copies, I cannot positively ascertain which) and authorizing the preparation of a translation of the Old Testament also. The native laborer in the latter work was Mr. Constantine Photinoff, of Smyrna, a man of simple habits, devoted to the improvement of his countrymen, little acquainted with foreigners, and somewhat jealous of them, yet recognizing in the Bible the true means of their elevation, and in the Bible Society and its co-laborers, real friends of his people. He just lived to complete the first draft of the translation of the Old Testament, and died of consumption a few days after having removed from Smyrna to Constantinople, on purpose to revise it with the writer, and prepare it for the press. Though enjoying but slight advantages for becoming acquainted with evangelical Christians or their doctrines, I cannot but trust that he was truly and practically led by the spirit of the Scriptures, which he aided to prepared for others.
During the period from 1840, when Mr. Photinoff read in Smyrna the proof-sheet of the first edition of the New Testament, to December 1858, when he died, a rapid change had been taking place in the Bulgarian language, and it became manifest that the translation of the Scriptures must undergo a through revision. At the beginning of this period, the Western (or Macedonian) dialect of Bulgarian had been cultivated much more than the Eastern (or that of Bulgaria proper), which, however, in many respects more nearly resembled the ancient Slavic; but its close, the Eastern dialect was manifestly taking the lead. The proportion of publication in the two had been reversed, and in a tour taken by Mr. Byington and myself in the autumn of 1859, we found the teachers all through Macedonia readily and unanimously acknowledged that their language was destined to be mainly molded after the Eastern model. With equal unanimity they held and expressed the view, that the language was to be one and not two. The translation of both the Old and New Testaments had been prepared in the Macedonian dialect.
The death of Mr. Photinoff threw the responsibility of this important work, so far as style and language were concerned into other hands. On the day after his decease, the Government censor for Bulgarian publications called on me, to express his sympathy in our loss, his hearty interest in the work, and his hope that it would not be delayed. He expressed hid readiness to aid us in obtaining some suitable helper to carry it forward, and assured me that one could be secured without delay.
The details of our arrangements would be out of place in an article for the Herald. Suffice it to say, that Providence led to the employment on this work of two Bulgarian scholars, than whom two more suitable men could hardly have been found in the whole range of Bulgarian teachers, namely, Mr. Chirstodulos Costovich and Mr. Petko Slaveikoff, the one trained in the use of the Western and the other of Eastern dialect. The Rev. A.L. Long, D.D., of the Methodist Bulgarian mission, aided also in the revision of the New Testament. We felt that the result that could be reached harmoniously by us all would be likely to prove generaly acceptable; and so far as we can judge by the reception which editions of the New Testament, Psalms, Proverbs, and the Pentateuch have met with in all parts of the country, east and west, this hope appears to have been well founded. It is too early to speak of the reception of the entire Bible/ But the orders for it are coming in so rapidly that the depository of the British and Foreign Bible Society here, said to me the other day, “You are knocking us of our feet with your Bulgarian Bible”; and added that two of the orders just received were by telegraph.
The edition just issued is a large 8vo volumes, of 1060 pages, and contain references of our English Bible, with omission of a few which relate only to English words or phrases. An edition in smaller form and type, also with the references, Is already in press. The references are of special value to people who have as yet no Concordances, Bible Dictionaries, or Commentaries.
The first copy of the Bulgarian Bible received from the binders was laid on the table of the mission of European Turkey, at its organization at Eski Zagra, in June last. The readers of the Herald will join us in praying that the Lord of the harvest and of the Bible, that this translation of his precious Word may prove life from the dead to many souls.