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Malawi is a small country situated in Central Eastern Africa with a population of 17.5 million. It is bordered by Tanzania to the north, Mozambique to the east and south, and Zambia to the west. Malawi has nine official languages of which Chichewa is the most widely spoken. In addition, Chichewa is spoken in parts of Zambia and Mozambique and also can be referred to as “Chewa” or “Chinyanja”.
Christianity in Malawi
Malawi is a nominally Christian country, with a significant Muslim minority. About 87% of the population professes to be Christian, with a Muslim minority of 11.6%. The two largest professedly Christian denominations are the Roman Catholic Church, with 19% of Malawians in membership, and the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) with a membership of about 18% of the population. There are also many other denominations and small independent churches, as well as sects.
The missionary and explorer David Livingstone reached Lake Malawi (then Lake Nyasa) in 1859 and identified the Shire Highlands south of the lake as a suitable area for European settlement. As a result of Livingstone's visit, several Anglican and Presbyterian missions were established in the area in the 1860s and 1870s.
Malawi has experienced peace since its independence from Britain in 1964 and became a Republic in 1966. From that time, for many years Malawi was a one-party state, but in 1993 it became a multi-party state.
Malawi has various Chichewa translations of the Scriptures. In 1893 D. C. Scott translated the Gospels, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. Several other translations were made over the next 20 years. The first completed New Testament in Malawi was translated by W. H. Murray in 1909. The entire Chichewa Bible was translated in Zambia by W. P. Johnson in 1912. This older version, known as “Buku Lopatulika”, was first published in 1922, and then revised in 1936 and again in 1966.
The most widely accepted Chichewa Bible version in more recent times is named “Buku Lopatulika ndilo Mau a Mulungu”, meaning ‘Holy Book - it is the Word of God’. There are several other translations, including one translated by the Roman Catholic Church which contains the Apocrypha and another used by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Regrettably, all of these are based on the Critical Text, with a variety of significant textual and translational problems.
TBS Chichewa Project
In 2015 a Chichewa New Testament project officially commenced in partnership with the Free Grace Evangelistic Association (FGEA). Due to the lack of Chichewa speakers who could translate directly from Koiné Greek, the translation is being carried out
with principal reference to the English AV and a Received Text Interlinear. The translation work is led by a native Chichewa speaker from Malawi, with reviewers from both Zambia and Malawi. A Malawian minister who studied at a Reformed seminary in
the USA has provided detailed review comments. By God’s grace the work has proceeded well and the Chichewa New Testament was printed in 2020.
The Chichewa team is now working on the Old Testament. We hope that this interim project based on the Authorised Version will eventually lead to a new translation of the Chichewa Bible directly from the Hebrew Masoretic and Greek Received Texts.
‘Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him’ (2 Corinthians 5.9).