Zarma Bible

  • Location: Niger
  • Old Testament Completion Date: 1989
Living in southwestern Niger, the Zarma speakers belong to a larger West African people group known as the Songhai. As the second-largest group in Niger, numbering approximately 4,010,000, around 0.20% of the Zarma profess Christianity, but only 0.01% of those claim to be evangelical. Of the population aged 15 and over, about 19.1% can read the language, with a male literacy rate of 27.3% and a female literacy rate of 11%. Additionally, the Zarma speakers in urban areas experience a higher literacy rate than the overall national rate. Not only do primary schools teach Zarma, but also radio and television programs use the language regularly.
In 1928, the Evangelical Baptist Mission (EBM) missionary pioneer Joseph McCaba brought the message of the gospel to the Zarma people. Recognizing the incredible need for the Scriptures in their language, he began translation work that resulted in a complete Zarma New Testament in 1955. After arriving in Niger in 1954, Arlene Spurlock joined the translation committee and later became the chief translator for a New Testament revision and Old Testament translation.
While working on the Old Testament with many African nationals, EBM contacted Bibles International, which had been organized in 1981, to request assistance from translation consultants to finish the project. The BI committee agreed to incorporate the Zarma project within the scope of BI and provide support to the EBM translation personnel. They also agreed to revise the New Testament translation. One of the Zarma language helpers testified how the revision impacted their understanding of Philippians 2 by stating, "The old translation covered up the meaning of this passage. Ours has brought it out to the open for all to see." Another Zarma believer remarked about how much more he got out of his Zarma translation compared to his French Bible.
Finally, the translation team had fully checked the Old Testament translation after carefully working through exegesis and laboriously poring over every detail of the manuscript, so Dr. Henry Osborn, BI's Chief Language Consultant, recommended the Zarma Bible for publication approval in 1989. At its dedication in 1990, it became the first complete Zarma Bible in history. One of the EBM missionaries wrote, "That special look of appreciation that lights up in the eyes of the Zarma Christians when they can read Scripture portions in their own language has been the reward of those long, laboring hours of producing the Word of God for them."