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The Translation and Development of the Portuguese Bible

Originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, the Holy Scriptures soon became unreadable by all except the most learned. Between the 2nd and 4th century AD the Christian Faith and its Bible spread quickly throughout the Roman Empire. First came the Latin Bible, commissioned by the Pope and translated by St. Jerome. The scattering of the Roman Empire into multiple smaller empires formed multiple Latin-derived languages, many still spoken today. These include the Romance languages such as Portuguese, English, Spanish, Romanian, French, and Italian. The Bible, however, remained only in Latin and its original languages.

With the extinction of Latin, came the fight for Bibles in each language. In general, the Roman Catholic Church opposed efforts to translate the Latin Vulgate to modern spoken languages. The Church wanted to keep its power over the common man, and therefore left the Bible in Latin, which was almost only known by priests. Reformers like John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, William Tyndale, and Casiodoro de Reina are well known for opposing the Church by translating the Bible to their own languages. Between the 15th and 16th centuries, Bibles were made in English, German, Spanish, and many other languages. Even so, it would be much later before the people of Portugal would have a Bible in their native tongue.[1]

The Roman Catholic Church was extremely powerful in Portugal during the years of the European Reformation. Due to the rebellion against the church in nearby countries, the Pope launched a Counter-Reformation to strengthen it and increase its authority. João III, King of Portugal, established the Court of Inquisition in 1536, and from then on executions were used on almost anyone that was supposedly “against the Church.” Due to this power, the Inquisition was able to repress the Portuguese Bible from being developed during the Reformation, and Portugal remained almost completely Catholic.

During this time, some small-scale translating of the Bible was done in Portugal. Damião de Góis translated the first published portion of the Bible into Portuguese in 1538. It was only the Book of Ecclesiastes, and was hardly ever used. Another fraction of the Bible was translated by Dom Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil, and consisted only of the Book of Nehemiah. For the most part, however, the Bible remained relatively untranslated to Portuguese. Services and Bible readings in the Church were conducted in Latin, which the common people of Portugal and Brazil did not understand. As in other countries which did not have the Bible in their native tongue, the people of Portugal remained quite ignorant of the Holy Scriptures.

It was not until 1748 that the first complete version of the Bible was published in Portuguese. This version was translated by João Ferreira de Almeida, a man born in Torres de Tavares, Portugal in 1628. Little is known about Almeida. He was raised Catholic, but became a Protestant as a young adult. Around the same time, he moved to a Portuguese-speaking region of Malasia, to work for the local Igreja Reformada Holandesa, or Dutch Reformed Church. Two years later, at the age of 16, Almeida began translating the New Testament from Spanish to Portuguese.

In 1651, he became a chaplain at the Presbitério da Batávia, in Djacarta. There Almeida studied theology and edited the parts of the New Testament that he had previously translated. He also began to take a stand against the Catholic Church, which went on to impede him from preaching in Portuguese. The Inquisition also ordered some of his writings to be burned publicly. In 1663 he began studying Greek and Hebrew, which allowed him to better translate the Bible into Portuguese.

After finishing the translation of the New Testament, Almeida fought a long battle in order to get it published. He sent his texts to the Netherlands, but the process of publishing it took much longer than normal, due to resistance from the Church. Finally, in 1681, the Novo Testamento de Almeida (Almeida’s New Testament) was printed. However, this translation was laden with errors, and it took ten more years before it was ready for publication. During this time, de Almeida began translating the Old Testament. He died in 1691, and had translated Genesis through Ezequiel 48:21. In 1694, his Old Testament was finished by a Dutch pastor, Jacobus op den Akker. It underwent many changes until it was finally published for the first time in 1748. The Old and New Testaments together became known as the Tradução de João Ferreira de Almeida (João Ferreira de Almeida’s Translation). As the power of the Portuguese Inquisition weakened, it became easier to translate the Bible. Padre Antônio Pereira de Figueiredo, a reform-minded Roman Catholic Priest, was able to translate the Latin Vulgate into Portuguese. By 1790, the Old and New Testaments of the Versão de Figueiredo (Figueiredo’s Version) were published. This Bible is now considered less accurate than the Tradução de João Ferreira de Almeida, due to its being translated from Latin rather than the original Hebrew and Greek. Right after Figueiredo’s version was published, however, it was more popular than its predecessor because it was written in modern Portuguese. After these two translations were published, a number of other versions followed, most of them simply revisions of Almeida’s text. In 1898, a commission of Brazilian translators edited the Tradução de João Ferreira de Almeida to make it more understandable for those who spoke the Brazilian-dialect of Portuguese. It was called the Revista e Corrigida (Revised and Corrected). Another revision of Almeida’s translation, the Revista e Atualizada (Revised and Modernized), was made in 1956. The Versão dos Monges Beneditinos (Benedectine Monks’ Version) and the Versão dos Padres Capuchinhos (Capuchinho Priests’ Version) were separate translations made in 1959 and 1968, respectively.

Nowadays, the most commonly used translations are the second edition of the Revista e Atualizada (1993) and the NVI (2000). The process for the translation and publication of the Portuguese Bible was a long and arduous one. It was wrought with danger, difficulties, and opposition. For many years the common people of Portugal and Brazil were unable to read the Bible. However, thanks to the power of the Lord, and some remarkable Christian heroes, there are now multiple accurate versions of the Portuguese Bible.


Link externo: Portuguese Bible



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