SCJ scholar contributes to first edition of La Bible Africaine

La Bible Africaine is the most recent edition of the African Bible which is already published in English, Portuguese and Swahili


Joseph Mukuna, SCJ
Joseph Mukuna, SCJ

One of the first challenges of bringing the Word of God to others is ensuring that it is in a language –– literally and metaphorically –– that can be understood.

It was with this goal in mind that the Daughters of St. Paul undertook a massive project: translating the African Bible not only into French, but French in an African context. After four years of work, La Bible Africaine was published at the end of last month.

One of the contributing scholars to the work was Fr. Joseph Mukuna, SCJ, a member of Congolese Province currently doing post-graduate studies in Biblical Languages and Literature at Loyola University in Chicago. He is an alumnus of Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology’s ESL (English as a Second Language) program and a graduate of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa) where he specialized in “Contextual exegesis and Translation of the Bible in African languages.”

The Daughters of St. Paul approached Fr. Joseph about the project in 2013; at the time he was working with the Congolese Bishops Conference as a Bible scholar for the Ecclesiastic Province of Kisangani.

The newly released Bible Africaine

“For the La Bible Africaine I worked mostly on the introductions, notes and commentaries of Corinthians 1 and 2, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Timothy 1 and 2, Titus, Philemon, and the letters to the Hebrew,” said Fr. Joseph. He and other scholars based their work primarily on an ecumenical translation of the Bible known in French as the “TOB” (Traduction, eocumenique de la Bible).

“We adapted some of the translations to the French speaking realities and linguistic categories,” he said. “Our working material and format was the English version of the African Bible.”

As with the English version of the African Bible, the purpose of the French “is to bring the word of God to people’s homes,” said Fr. Joseph. “The language that is used helps people to get closer to the biblical text. Introductions, notes and commentaries in the Bible are contextualized to make the Bible relevant to French-speaking Africans.”

An estimated 120 million people in over 30 African nations speak French, “which means that there is no ‘single’ French-African culture or French-African race,” said Fr. Joseph. “However, as Alexis Kagame, one of the leading African philosophers suggests, it is possible to find commonalities in the diversity of Africa.

“Language, he says, is the best place to begin to identify and establish these commonalities. So, when talking to Africans one must develop, among other things, a good mastery of local languages with attention to idioms, slangs and other cultural nuances. We tried to incorporate these into the French tradition of the Bible.”

La Bible Africaine is enriched with commentaries and footnotes that reveal the wealth of African cultures.

Besides French, the African Bible, published by Pauline Editions East Africa and Pauline Editions Mozambique, is now available in English, Portuguese and Swahili.