God’s Word to sign language users

By 4.2.20 Foundation

There are over 400 sign languages in the world, but only one (ASL) has a translation of the whole Bible. Deaf communities are the unreached people groups all around us.


Learning to read is a very different process if you don’t use sound. Sign languages like ASL are not word-for-word translations of written languages like English – the vocabulary, grammar, and the way you form a sentence are quite different. For this reason, many Deaf people around the world find reading very hard work and miss meaning when they’re reading. They are trying to read in their second language.

Their first language can’t be written down at all, it’s a sign language!

Oleksandr Raikovskyi is the Associate Director of our Center for Deaf Scriptures. He explains why reading the Word is very challenging for most Deaf people, and how seeing a sign language translation changes everything.

“There are some Deaf people who can read the Bible, but even they cannot understand it completely. When I read the Bible, I too understood the text only as puzzle pieces; the whole picture was inaccessible to me. Then I was given a video of the Bible translated into sign language, and I felt the text completely. This is my language. The different fragments came together into one clear picture.”


Whole Word Institute welcomed another cohort of seven students onto our Sign Language Translation Consultant Training MA program in the fall. That means seven more signing translators who are working to produce the first videos of books of the Bible in their native sign languages, and supervise others working in their region.

Brown from Rwanda is one of our students. She says:

“I get excited when I watch a sign language video that helps me understand God’s Word and grow spiritually. I really want to spread the Word of God, so that those Deaf people who can’t read can turn to God with their hearts.”

But there is an extra hurdle for Deaf translation students like Brown. Other translators use hundreds of Bible dictionaries, commentaries, lexicons and manuals in their work. But these are almost completely inaccessible to most Deaf translators. They need their own commentaries and manuals to work with.

That’s why we launched an ambitious project to create a set of useful translation materials in sign languages, designed to meet the needs of Deaf translators and consultants.


Last year, we built a video studio in Jerusalem and started work. In December, a year ahead of schedule, we had finished and launched a set of seven exegetical resources in ASL that explain coins and money in the world of the New Testament – one of the knowledge gaps identified by our Deaf students and partner agencies.

These are the first ever signed resources produced specifically for Deaf Bible translators, and are now available to translators worldwide.

We received feedback from Deaf Bible translators from the American Bible Society who had never seen these biblical passages explained in sign language. Now they will be able to translate them more accurately.

We have already started another project to create seven episodes covering Genesis 1:1 – 2:3, the Creation story. Our hope is to have these completed and ready to publish by the fall of 2024.


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