Using the Japanese Bible devotionally
Incorporating the Japanese Bible into your devotions can be beneficial for both language learning and hearing God speak
Many missionaries minister in contexts that require them to prepare Bible studies and sermons in Japanese. But when it comes to nourishing our own souls, it is usually best to read the Bible mainly in our mother tongue, as it is generally easier to hear God speak to our hearts in our own language. However, that doesn’t mean that there is no place for the Japanese Bible in our devotional activities. Reading the Bible in Japanese has at least two benefits: it can provide new insights and it slows us down.
Japanese Bibles can reveal things that aren’t obvious in English translations (much of the information in this article is equally applicable to other languages besides English). For example, English is quite “flat” when it comes to expressing hierarchical relationships, whereas Japanese has three levels of politeness that express the relationship between speakers. Japanese Bibles consistently use honorific keigo when talking about God, which brings out a sense of his dignity, honour, and loftiness. Also, the disciples use keigo when talking to Jesus, emphasizing the honour in which they hold him.
Another example of an insight that the Japanese versions bring out is whether “you” refers to one person or more than one person. For example, in John 1:51, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (ESV). Since this statement follows a conversation with Nathanael, the “you” in this verse might be taken to refer to him. But in Japanese it is clear that Jesus is addressing all his disciples since he says “あなたがた” (most English versions have a footnote to this effect).
Finally, it can be interesting to note places where a Japanese translation differs from the English one. There are various reasons for these differences: the choice of one textual variant in the ancient manuscripts over another, translation philosophies, interpretative decisions made by the translators, and cultural relevance to the target audience. There are variations amongst English translations for just the same reasons.
Reading slower to pick up more
Reading in a second language forces us to read more slowly and carefully. This can be good when reading a short passage for devotional purposes since it may cause us to notice nuances and details that we might have missed if reading faster.
Ideas for devotions
You can incorporate the Japanese Bible into your devotional time to different degrees depending on your reading ability. If you’re reading a short passage and your reading skills are up to it, you could read the whole passage in Japanese after reading it in English. If you find reading Japanese more of a challenge, you could just pick one or two verses that particularly speak to you and try reading them in Japanese. Or if you’re just starting out, try looking for a few kanji that you recognize in a verse.
Here are some resources that might help you:
Word of Life Press has produced some bilingual Bibles.1,2 They are a bit hefty to carry around but are good if you just want to read them at home. Or you can create an electronic bilingual Bible by displaying your preferred English translation side by side with a Japanese translation (Accordance mobile app has Shinkyōdōyaku and Shinkaiyaku 2017; Olive Tree’s Bible Study app has Shinkyōdōyaku; You Version’s the Bible app, has Shinkyōdōyaku, Living Bible, and Kōgoyaku—all for free). Electronic versions have the advantage that you can look up unfamiliar words just by touching them (with the exception of You Version).
There are a couple of free audio Bibles available in Japanese, which you can listen to while following the text and thereby strengthen connections between reading and listening. The You Version app has audio versions for the Living Bible and Kōgoyaku, which can be streamed but not downloaded. Another free app, called Kiku Dorama Seisho (聴くドラマ聖書), has the full text of Shinkaiyaku 2017 along with a dramatized audio version that can be streamed or downloaded. This is the same app mentioned on page six of this issue. It is very well done and is definitely worth checking out.
Try experimenting with different ways of incorporating the Japanese Bible into your devotional time and see what works best for you.
1. Japanese-English Bilingual Bible/NIV 2nd edition (Word of Life Press Ministries; 2014).
2. Japanese-English Bilingual Bible 2017/ESV (Word of Life Press Ministries; 2019).