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The Faroese Bible Society.

The Faroese Bible Society – an overview

Author: Bergur D. Joensen

The History

The Statutes of the Faroese Bible Society were signed October 11, 2012, in Tórshavn, the capital of Faroe Islands. The statutes were signed by a board, representing the main Christian churches, congregations and movements in the country. This was an important step to form a full legitimate Bible Society in the Faroes. But many previous events had been reaching up to that moment.

Faroese Bible-translations

The story of the Faroese Bible Society started in 1814, the year the Danish Bible Society was founded 10 years after the British Bible Society became a reality. Faroe Islands were at that time and still are part of the Kingdom of Denmark. At that time we had no authorized grammar to our language and no book were published in Faroese for centuries. In school, court and church the official language was Danish.

But inspired by the newly founded Bible Society in Denmark, a minister in the National Church (Evangelical-Lutheran) in the Southern Island of the Faroese got at vision the very year of 1814: Why not translate the Danish New Testament into Faroese?

J. H. Schrøter was his name. He was committed to this project himself. His motives were the children and the old in Faroes, who had difficulties understanding the Danish language and needed to hear the Word of God in their own tongue. And young as well as adults needed also the Bible in their own language, so they were better equipped to express their Christian faith in words.

In 1823 the Danish Bible Society published the Gospel of Matthew to Faroese, which in fact was the only Faroese book in print at that time. In 1824 1.200 books were sent to all households in the Faroe Islands, which numbered less than 5.000 inhabitants.

Among common people this publication was named “The Faroese Book”. The translation of Schrøter was phonetic, because we hadn’t formalized our written language in his days. But Schrøters’ translation of the Gospel of Matthew was an important stepping stone for what later became the official written language and for Bible translation in Faroese. V. U. Hammershaimb, yet at minister, is the founding father of the written Faroese language. In 1843 he published his orthography of our language, which laid the foundation under the Faroese language in writing.

In 1880-ies the Faroese national movement rose. They had dreams and took initiatives mainly to improve the state of the Faroese language, which was not allowed for official purposes. For the first time national songs and psalms were written in Faroese.

Some ministers of the National Church were in front. In a service in the New Year 1855 V. U. Hammershaimb read for the first time the gospel in Faroese in one of his congregations. The leading figure within the National Church, the dean Fríðrikur Petersen, published for first time The Lords’ Prayer in a Church Periodical in 1892. In 1900 we got our first Bible retold for youth by at school teacher Jógvan Poulsen. 1908 the minister A. C. Evensen published The Gospel of John, and then in 1921 the dean Jákup Dahl published The Psalms and then The Gospel of Matthew in 1923, one hundred years after the Schrøter-translation.

Dahl translated all New Testament from Greek and published it in 1937. Another gifted minister, Kristian Oswald Viderø took on himself to translate all Old Testament from Hebrew to Faroese – except The Psalms and other passages of the OT, which J. Dahl translated from Hebrew as well. In the year 1961 we too had OT in a Faroese translation from the original languages. The style of Dahl is pretty and closely linked to the original texts, while the style of Viderø is higher language and poetic. Both of them delivered an extraordinary piece of work.

To the story of the Bible into Faroese belongs the important work Victor Danielsen, of a clever and industrious teacher and later missionary and leader within the Plymouth Brethren. At seminary he was a student of J. Dahl. Victor translated the whole Bible into Faroese from well-known European Bible translations. In 1937 he published the New Testament and in 1949 all the Bible. The style of Danielsen is solid but more ordinary.

The year of 1961 we - a nation of around 35.000 people - were blessed with two good and mutually supportive translations of the Bible, which was a momentous shift having been used Danish Bible-translations for centuries. Since 1980-ies around 47.000 people have lived in the Faroese.

The Bible-translation of Dahl/Viderø 1937/49 was printed and published by the Danish Bible Society - just like the first Matthew-translation of 1823. V. Danielsen printed and published his translation by a Bible Fund in the Faroe Islands. The Brethren assemblies and many free churches in the Faroese use his translation, but the National Church and related mission gatherings (like Inner Mission), some Charismatics congregations and the Catholic Church use The Dahl/Viderø-translation. Some use both.

In 2010 and 2011 a committee which represented all churches and denominations in Faroe Islands under the head of Heðin Lamhauge worked on New Living-like translation of the Greek New Testament into Faroese. This translation was meant for the youth and people unknown to the Bible. Bylaws were written and efforts made.

This was the first time a team like this met for a Bible project in the Faroes. We had some good and fruitful discussions and sharing of views, but the project failed because of lack of money and commitment. But the members of the team went home with the hope, that one day the dream would come true.

The Faroese Bible Society