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No. 2 (Spring 1952)
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The war clouds of World War II had hardly rolled away over the horizon after VE-Day, followed by VJ-Day. Countless members of weary and disillusioned folk, after long years of strife and anxiety, followed by months of want and uncertainty, were left, many of them, spiritually bankrupt—the prey of materialistic forces. How to stir new hopes and rouse the people to fresh endeavours was the immediate problem.

This was the atmosphere in which the British and Foreign Bible Society in New Zealand found itself. It was faced with the task of providing for the moral and spiritual recovery of many in all lands. But while facing up to this tremendous task it was not unmindful of the needs of the Maori people in this land. This, of course, was in line with the broad policy of the society, and consistent with steps taken previously. For all this the Maori people generally should be for ever grateful.

Following on the cessation of hostilities in World War I, the late Bishop Herbert Williams, then Archdeacon of Waiapu, was given the task of bringing out a new edition of the Maori Bible. To his everlasting credit he took over the double burden of editing and supervising the work through the press without flinching. But it was too big a task for one man, even a man of his calibre. There were men like Sir Apirana who were ready and willing to help if they were called upon. The result was the edition of 1925, which, unforunately, was full of typographical errors. The Society, without any thought of revision, set about the task of having these mistakes corrected before re-publication.

Individual copies of every book of the Bible were printed, and a panel of scholars of the language invited to do the work. Men well known for their scholarship, standing and interest responded to the call, and did a good job of work. In the process of this work, which meant a very close scrutiny of the whole text of the Bible word by word, these men felt that something more than a mere correction of errors should be carried out. In other words, a revision of the Maori Bible was called for.

In response to this demand, the society thought fit to call a conference of selected members of the three main Churches concerned to study the question further. This conference met in Wallis House, Lower Hutt, Wellington, on March 9–12, 1946, under the chairmanship of the Rev. David Calder, who was secretary of the society at the time. The conference was of one mind regarding the need of revision, and the following were selected as the Maori Bible Revision Committee:


  • The Very Rev. J. G. Laughton, C.M.G. (ex-Moderator and Superintendent of Presbyterian Maori Mission)


  • The Right Rev. F. A. Bennett, C.M.G., L. Th. (Bishop of Aotearoa)

  • The Rev. Eru Te Tuhi (Superintendent, Methodist Maori Mission)

  • Sir Apirana Ngata, M.A., LL.B., Litt.D.

  • Mr William Bird, M.A. (former Senior Inspector of Native Schools)

  • The Rev. Te Hihi Kaa, L.Th. (Waipawa Maori Pastorate)

  • The Rev. W. N. Panapa, L. Th. (Taupo Maori Pastorate)

The presence of Sir Apirana on the revision committee put a new complexion altogether on the work of the committee, and ensured that, for all time, the new edition would be a standard work on the Maori language. His leadership, capacity for work and organising ability made itself felt, and his was the impulse

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which drove the work relentlessly on to its completion in three years. Now that he has passed on to join the ‘great cloud of witnesses’, an extract from our chairman's report should be quoted here:

‘No words can adequately express the gratitude of the revision committee, nor its admiration for the work of Sir Apirana Ngata in this great undertaking. He is a scholar of the Maori language without peer, he knows it in all its idioms, he is master of its poetry and historical background, and from the moment he entered the ranks of the revision committee he has thrown himself into its work with boundless enthusiasm, and with an energy that fairly astonishes his fellow members. To him, also, is due the initiative of the splendid effort of the Maori people to raise £3,000 towards the costs of the revision and publication of this new edition of the Maori Bible….’


The committee was a representative one, and much is owed to all its members. Sir Apirana himself was the first to admit that team-work and the pooling of experiences were of vital importance in such an undertaking. Subsequently, Mr Pei Te Hurinui Jones was co-opted as a member of the committee. A Maori linguist, and an authority on Maori lore and history, he represented the Tainui dialect, in which the Old Testament of the Maori Bible was written by men like Dr Maunsell.

Arising out of the same conference, two further resolutions should be noted here and quoted in full. These should dispel all the criticism and misunderstanding which arose from different quarters during the course of our work. The first resolution was moved by the Right Rev. the Bishop of Aotearoa, seconded by the Rev. Eru Te Tuhi, and agreed to:

‘That this committee is of the opinion that the Very Rev. J. G. Laughton, Superintendent of the Maori Missions of the Presbyterian Church, should be sent to London to see the revision of the Maori Bible through the press, and further, that, if the British and Foreign Bible Society approve of this proposal, the authorities of the Presbyterian Church be asked to release him from his present duties for the necessary time.’

In the second resolution it was laid down that:

‘This committee, convened in the Frederic Wallis House, Lower Hutt, in connection with the revision and re-publication of the Maori Bible, puts on record its conception of the task to which the committee, as being the production of the most perfect edition of the Maori Bible within the capacity of its members, by the removal of all typographical errors, by the clearing up of obscure passages in the text, and by casting the same in characteristic Maori idiom where desirable, the English Authorised Version of the Bible and the Maori translation thereof, being the basis from which the committee works. For clearing up difficulties in the text, the committee recommends to its members the use of the English Revised Version, and also to have recourse to the original Hebrew and Greek, Dr Moffatt's translation being used as a guide if thought desirable.’

Thus authorised and armed for its great assignment, the committee settled down at once to its own methods of procedure in carrying out this great work. From the outset three great principles were laid down for the general guidance of the committee:


Every decision made to amend, alter, or add to the text in the process of improving or clearing up, as laid down in our charter, must be the decision of the whole committee.


The original dialect or dialects in which the Maori Bible was first written must not be tampered with, but remain paramount.


The actual sittings of the committee in its revision work to be of one week's duration, and to be held in open forum, in all important Maori centres, in rotation.

There was quite a flutter in Northland and other sections of the Maori community about the new revision. Some made the rather worn objection that what was good enough for our fathers was good enough for us. However, there was a real concern that the original dialect would be changed, and the literary merits of the old Bible would be replaced by a conglomeration of all the dialects represented by the members on the committee. Canon Wiremu Keretene wrote a touching letter from the Bay of Islands to a member of the committee, saying: ‘I have just concluded my lament over the passing of the dialect of our fathers: so let it be, you and I can at least give it a decent burial.’ The decision not to tamper with the original dialect or dialects, however, was very satisfying to our people in the north.


The idea of holding sittings in meeting-houses, or places accessible to the public, proved to be an excellent one. It gave our people the opportunity of listening in, and of making some contribution to the work of revision. Further-

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more, it gave the new edition of the Maori Bible the necessary publicity, to the extent that it was being discussed through the whole Island. Critics who voiced their opinions from afar, and were not interested enough to attend in person one of the many sessions held all over the country, were condemned out of their own mouths. Our experience was that anyone with a real contribution to make did come, and was entirely satisfied, whether his suggestion was adopted or not. Looking back on this self-imposed procedure, I know it certainly entailed more work, and took up much more time. But I feel strongly that none of us on the committee would have had it otherwise. It gave complete satisfaction to ourselves and the Maori people as a whole.

The work proceeded apace, according to schedule. By the year ended November 30, 1947, the society was able to report as follows:

‘The revision committee has gone on steadily with the task, and the typescript of the revised New Testament is now in London, and proofs have been promised within the next six months. Work on the Old Testament revision is well forward, and the members of the committee have given a great deal of their time ….’

The committee members were all given an individual share in the task of revision. As a beginning, each member was allocated one book each of the New Testament, and told to carry on his revision verse by verse, in accordance with a few simple rules. Special forms were printed at Bible House, Wellington, according to instructions from the committee. Notes and comments were made on these forms by each reviser. Here is an example of the actual notes of Sir Apirana on the revision of St. Matthew's Gospel:

Notes on Maori text

In. Insert
Del. Delete
Re. Recast as in revision
Ref. Refer to
Sub. Substitute
Trn. Transliteration
A.V. Authorised Ver. (E)
R.V. Revised Ver. (E)
87 Maori 1887
H.W. Maori 1925
W.D5 Williams Dict. 5 Edit.
Ngi Ngapuhi


Chap. Ver. L. Note
1 1 1 In Ko at beginning of verse.
3 2 Del., after Tamara
5 2 Del., after Rahapa
Picture icon

Bishop Panapa meeting the people of Ruatoki (November, 1951).

5 3 Del., after Rutu
6 2 Alter cap W to w
6 3 Del., after Uria
8 3 Sub. Ohiaha for Utia. Ohiaha in 87 A.V. Ozias. Better transliteration.

These notes were sent to our typists, who retyped the entire Maori Bible according to the instructions given. Eight copies were taken, so that the proposals made by the revising member could be put before all committee members separately. I shall quote some verses from Matthew I. as they came from the typists' hands.

ko te rongopai ki te ritenga a

  • Ko te pukapuka o te whakapaparanga o Ihu Karaiti, tama a Rawiri, tama a Aperahama.

  • 2 Whanau ake ta Aperahama ko Ihaka; whanau ake ta Ihaka ko Hakopa; whanau ake ta Hakopa ko Hura ratou ko ona tuakana, ko ona teina;

  • 8 Whanau ake ta Aha ko Iehohapata; whanau ake ta Iehohapata ko Iorama; whanau ake ta Iorama ko Ohiaha;

  • 16 Whanau ake ta Hakopa ko Hohepa, ko te tahu a Meri; whanau ake te Meri ko Ihu, e kiia nei ko te Karaiti.

Upon receiving his copy of the typescript, each member would study the new revision, and make notes for submission to the next session of the full committee. So it may be of interest to readers to know that the final revision of those four verses above after the session of the committee was as follows:

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  • Ko te pukapuka o te whakapapa o Ihu Karaiti, tama a Rawiri, tama a Aperahama.

  • 2 Na Aperahama ko Ihaka; na Ihaka ko Hakopa; na Hakopa ko Hura ratou ko ona tuakana, ko ona teina;

  • 8 Na Aha ko Iehohapata; na Iehohapata ko Iorama; na Iorama ko Ohiaha;

  • 16 Na Hakopa ko Hohepa, ko te tahu a Meri; whanau ake ta Meri ko Ihu, e kiia nei ko te Karaiti.

My own suggestions on these verses, finally adopted by the full committee, reads: ‘It is worth while going back to the original, as in the 1844 edition, it is more Maori, simpler, and reads better, while still retaining the implication of “begat”. Actually, the only place where “whanau ake ta” applies is in verse 16, where it can be said that “whanau ake ta Meri ko Ihu”….’


With our modus operandi clearly set out, this seems a fitting place to pay a tribute to our typists, who did a wonderful job of work right through. We started off with three—Miss Frances Mitchell, of Ohinemutu, Miss Moe Poata and Mrs Tom Kaua, both of Gisborne, who carried on to the finish. Mr Bird always spoke at our meetings of the good work of the girls, and moved a vote of thanks in appreciation of their labours. But on more than one occasion there was a smile on Sir Apirana's face, when his own typing measured up (as he put it) to that of the girls. He did the major part of the typing himself in the beginning, and all through he saw to it that enough typescripts were available to carry on. Members will not easily forget our session in ‘The Bungalow’ at Waiomatatini, when the soft clatter of the typewriter was heard up to two o'clock in the morning. Sir Apirana was seeing to it that we had enough script to last out the session there. But that does not in the least detract from the fine performance put up by these good ladies.

Was the revision of the Maori Bible fully justified? If so in what way? Busy men like Sir Apirana, John Laughton, Bishop Bennett, Eru Te Tuhi, and so on, giving over three years to such a task, should be sufficient answer to the question. In varying degrees we were all busy men. One can only give some of the more salient points which made the work of revision very satisfying. There were, of course, verses throughout the older version which seem to miss the point altogether. To take a very simple example there is the oft-quoted phrase, more used than any other at a Maori tangi. ‘Ta koutou i tenei ao he matemate, otira kia maia, kua taea hoki e ahau te ao.’ Translate that back to English you get: ‘Your lot in this world is (simply) to die, but be of good cheer, etc.’ That seems far removed from the English version, ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, etc.’ We made the slightest alteration here by changing the word mate-mate into mamate (misfortune) but what a difference! It now reads: ‘Ko te koutou i tenei ao he mamate (misfortune) etc.’, which any Maori scholar will appreciate to the full.


One thing which afforded the committee much pleasure was the restoration to the Maori Bible of the use of the specific particle ‘ko’. Right from the beginning, Mr Bird insisted that ‘ko’ should be restored to its rightful place, not only from the grammatical standpoint, but because it is the correct Maori. And so we started off with the title, ‘Ko te Paipera Tapu,’ and inside the title page, ‘Ko te Paipera Tapu ara ko te Kawenata Tawhito me Kawenata Hou.’ Anyone looking at that quite dispassionately would agree with us that it meant more than the mere restoration of a particle, but the restoration of the old dignity of the Maori Bible. And so the work went on, adding ‘ko’ to the title of all the books of the Old and New Testaments, and the text of the Bible itself. One recollects the innumerable ‘ko's' added in one morning's sitting of the committee which brought forth the remark that it must have been dropped as a measure of economy in the printing! Unworthy thought! But when the particle was dropped, and why, are two questions to which we have not been able to give an answer.

But we found that our main quarrel with the former version was in the lack of emphasis, or, in countless instances, misplaced emphasis. I suppose that is a besetting sin in any work of translation. In the process of transferring the thought from one tongue to the other, invariably the emphasis is lost or misplaced. That was the case with our Maori Bible. The corrected version more often than not consisted simply of the same words arranged in a different order.

Let us look in for a moment at a full meeting of the revision committee. The tables are covered with books—all the authorities, dictionaries, concordance and so forth. Each member has a typed carbon copy of the particular portion under review. One member is reading aloud from his script, and enjoying it because it is all in his dialect. Eru Te Tuhi has the 1925 edition before him, and notes any departure

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therefrom, however slight. Dan Kaa revels in his Hebrew text, and usually starts an argument somehow, but has to be reminded that it is the Maori Bible that is under revision. Manu (Mr Bird) has his beloved Authorised Version in hand, with its beautiful English. The Bishop keeps a close check on everything, with his eyes on the 1887 edition. The chairman, who holds the master copy, concentrates on his script for any correction or change, but at the same time keeps the Revised Version ever before him, in order that he may appreciate the new revision that is being read out aloud. Sir Apirana's alert mind hovers over all. If he is not taking the reading, he may be humming an old Maori waiata, seeking for the one word required in a certain context.


Were there any serious arguments? Plenty. On two occasions we had recourse to Professor Knight for his opinion, which he gave willingly, much to the appreciation of the committee. Perhaps it is too much to expect seven ordinary men to be otherwise. But there was not a single thing that we did not all agree to in the end, and our fellowship together was something we shall never forget.

The practice of reading aloud was a very important factor in our work. It was the final test we imposed on the work of revision: how did it sound in our Maori ears? After we had had a full discussion as to meaning, emphasis, grammar, punctuation, it was read aloud. That was the final test. Maoris have great ears for understanding the spoken word, great ears for the music and subtleties of unwritten language. This is one of the things ingrained into their very being for centuries, through sitting on the marae, and hearing real oratory spoken by their elders. It must be realised that the Maori language was, and still is a language for speech-making. It is essentially a speaking language. And one of the chief aims of the committee was to try and put back into the Maori Bible something of the sweet musical tone and cadence, rhythm and poetry of the Maori language.


On March 20, 1950, after the rangiatea centennial celebrations at Otaki, we held our last meeting at Bible House, Wellington. Our work of revision had been completed a week before Christmas, 1949, at a final meeting at Ohope, Whakatane. But at last, the headquarters of the society, in London, was ready for Mr and Mrs Laughton to come over and start on the work of publication. Other than the business of passing and adopting the balance sheet, we had come together to farewell them both before they went overseas. Our hearts and prayers went out to them, as we realised only too well the very exacting work to which they were committed, the many weary days and nights of mere proofreading, with all its monotony and eye-strain. At last in June, 1952, the first copies of the new Bible arrived in New Zealand. Before this article is printed the general edition will be on sale in this country.

In conclusion, one cannot do better than again quote from the Chairman's report:

No edition of the Maori Bible since the first has been looked forward to with such eagerness as that at present being prepared. Maori minds and money and devotion are being given to it. In a new sense it will be the Maori Bible. Some of the funds subscribed have come from groups of Sunday School and public school children. These are tokens which hearten the members of the committee in their labours, which often call for long and concentrated research regarding the meaning of a single word, or the right turn of a single phrase. It is for the generation which these children represent that the members gladly apply themselves to their heavy assignment, that the word of God may come to them and to the generations after them, clear as crystal, and sweet as the water of life, through the medium of their mother tongue.