North America’s two hundred thousand Amish people will soon have the Old Testament in their Pennsylvania Dutch mother tongue, to add to the New Testament, published in 1994. Hank Hershberger,* a native speaker of Pennsylvania Dutch and long-time member of Wycliffe Bible Translators, has completed the translation of the Old Testament, with help from four other speakers of the German dialect. He expects ten thousand copies of the newly translated Scriptures will be printed by the end of the year.
If the response to the New Testament—seventeen thousand copies have been sold—is any indication, the Old Testament should also be well accepted by many Amish.
“My wife Ruth and I have received many letters telling how they appreciate the New Testament,” says eighty-eight-year-old Hank. “When the New Testament was so well received, with requests for the Old Testament too, we felt we had to do the Old Testament as well.”
As one Amish lady using the New Testament wrote in a letter to Hank, “I have read it clear through and am so excited about it. I have found my native language… It adds new meaning—which thrills my soul. At times I weep at such great clarity in simple everyday language. It speaks to my heart.”
Hank says there is a movement among the Old Order Amish away from “works righteousness,” and the Pennsylvania Dutch New Testament may have influenced this. “It is being used mostly by individuals or in family devotions,” he adds.
Amish churches have traditionally used Luther’s Gothic Script High German Bible, even though most Amish don’t understand it well. But some ministers are beginning to read from the Pennsylvania Dutch New Testaments. And with the whole Bible soon available, Hank hopes that even more Amish ministers will begin using their mother-tongue Scriptures in church.
This story originally appeared in Wycliffe Canada’s Word Alive magazine. Read the rest of this issue at http://www.wycliffe.ca/wycliffe/resources/wa_mag.jsp?mid=27
*Hank and Ruth previously spent twenty-five years in Australia where they completed a New Testament for the Gugu-Yalanji Aboriginal people.