The History of Vietnamese Bible Translation

In 1996, it was the 70th Anniversary of the publishing of the first Vietnamese Bible for the Vietnamese Protestant Church. We have requests to translate into Vietnamese more information and dissemination of the Christianity regarding the Vietnamese people. 

Based on the information from the following sources; The Catholic UBS, the Vietnamese Protestant Church's newspaper and magazines, and consultation with pastors, concerning translation and dissemination of the this information, this writer has assembled the facts for this writing. 

We realize that we do not have a total account on the subject however, we hope that this document will provide the reader with informative information. And through further investigation, our hopes are that we may provide into a complete and accurate historical document the history of Christianity in Vietnam. 

We the Publishers wish to express out heartfelt appreciation to Doctor Le-Hoang-Phu who has shared the many historical documents for this paper. 


According to the history books of Vietnam and China, Christianity came to Vietnam in two main phases. The 1st phase starting in the first century after Christ's death and until the end of the 15th century. The 2nd phase began from the 16th century to the present. 

According to Pedro Ordonez de Cevallos, a Spanish Priest, The Apostle Thomas was the first to bring Christianity to Vietnam, Thomas made an appeal and testimony to the Vietnamese King to accept Jesus as his Savior. However, no historical documents have been found to verify this claim. 

The Priest, Pedro Ordonez de Cevallos was one of the first missionaries In Vietnam in 1590. With having the grace of God and prestige, he baptized the Princess Mai Hoa under the king LE regime. 

According to history in the first part of the 1st century, Vietnam was ruled by the Chinese and was called Giao-chi until the two King Sisters drove the Chinese out in 40-43AC. In 43AC when the Chinese again regained power in Vietnam and thus the 2 King sisters taking their own life rather than capture, the country was renamed Dong Han (Quang Vo regime). It is possible that during the rein of the 2 King Sisters 40-43AC, that The Apostle Thomas was able to visit and covert however, no facts have been found to give foundation to this statement by the Priest Cevallos. 

In the history of Christianity through out the world, Christian churches began in and around the year 33AC. And they mainly found footholds in Jerusalem even though they were being severely harassed. Also Juda and Samaria were locations Christians were gathering. Is it possible that the Apostles were able to travel into the Asian World less than ten years later and meet with the 2 King Sisters? 

The book, "Viet Su Tan Bien" published by Pham-Van-Son published in Saigon by the Dai Nam in 1961, examines the writings of the first works of Christianity in Vietnam. In 186-226AC, the Governor of Vietnam was Si Nghiep. History shows that Si Nghiep believed in God and built many churches, statues, and Jesus on the cross monuments. During the Hau Le period in the 16th century, the remains of these monuments were unearthed. 

In the book "The History of Evangelism in Vietnam" published in 1959 written by the Vietnamese Priest Nguyen-Hong stating that a group of European business men visited Vietnam in the second century. In China's written history, that in the year 166AD, there was a diplomat sent by Marcol Aurelio Antonio to China who also visited Giao Chi (Vietnam). In the year 266AD, a business man by the name of Tsin Lonen came from Giao Chi to Nam Kinh and in 980AD, there were a group of missionaries from Nestoriens Nomination that came from North Vietnam to China.

To further investigate when Christianity came to Vietnam, the historians tell us that during the King Le-Anh-Tong period (1557-1573AD) and while repairing some ancient temple walls, discovered a statue of an old cross. When this discovery was reported to the King Le-Anh-Tong and he ordered that the occidental missionaries living in Vietnam be well treated and that Christian evangelism be permitted to be freely taught.

Based on this historical information, some historians state that Christian evangelism may have been in Vietnam since the first century AD. And then during the period between the 1st century and the 16th century, forbidden to be preached. And then brought back again in the 16th century.

However, history books clearly state that Christianity officially began in Vietnam in the 16th century. Quoc-Su-Quan wrote during the Nguyen period, the book "Kham Dinh Viet Su" that during the years 1532-1533AD under the King Le-Trang-Tong dynasty, there was a European man, I-Ne-Khu who came unofficially by ocean to evangelize in the village of Ninh-Cuong, Quan-Anh of Nam Chan province (or Nam Truc) and also preached at the village of Tra-Lu, Giao Thuy of Nam Dinh province. During that period, evangelism was strictly forbidden and Christians were arrested by orders of then King Le-trang-Tong. The edict, ordering arrests for Christians, were stopped during the Le-Anh-Nguyen, as mentioned earlier. 

During the 16th century, Vietnam consisted of only the northern and some centrals land areas. However, history has the tendency to divide Vietnam in to two regions. Further Vietnam history records that King Le-Cung-Hoang was defeated by Mac-Dang-Dung in 1546AD, and a mandarin of the LE dynasty, by the name of, Nguyen-Kim with his son-in-law Trinh-Kiem, defeated the Mac-Dang-Dung regime and rebuilt the LE dynasty (Le-Trung-Hung) as stated by Nam-Trieu. However, The Mac (Bac-Trieu) were able to hold onto territories in the north where he tried to regenerate his power and authority. By wanting to regain the Mac dynasty, Mac-Mau-Hop (1562-1592AD) seeks assistance from the Europeans. He wrote a letter to Manila in the Philippines and invited the Priests to Vietnam to preach Christianity.

After receiving the letter from Mac-Mau-Hop in 1578AD, the Franciscan Monastery Catholic Priests came to Vietnam and began converting Vietnamese to Catholism. In 1615AD the Catholic Jesuits also arrived in Vietnam.

After continued fighting between the Mac-Mau-Hop regime and the two Nguyen-Kim and Trinh-Kiem regimes, Vietnam was divided into two parts and Christianity retained its foothold in both regions. According to history that in 1639, the North had 80,000 Christians and Central Vietnam had 50,000. The next two centuries record that Vietnamese Christians were harshly treated and when Tu-Duc came to power, there were over 130,000 Vietnamese Christians that were killed for their religious belief.


The Monastery Ten in Vietnam, in order to facilitate the evangelizing efficiently, spent a lot of time studying the cultures and habits of the Vietnamese people. The Priests invented a new way to write Vietnamese by using Latin characters to record the sound of Vietnamese words because the Nom letters (the Chinese characters transformed into Vietnamese) was very hard to learn. They called the new script "Chu Quoc Ngu". During this period, the Spanish Priest Gaspard de Amarl prepared a Vietnamese to Spanish vocabulary book and the Priest Antoine de Barbosa systemized into another dictionary Spanish to Vietnamese. Also a Priest by the name of Alexandre de Rhodes published a Spanish to Vietnamese dictionary in Rome in 1651AD. Priest Alexandre de Rhodes published other writings in the Chu Quoc Ngu script and is now considered the "Father of the Chu Quoc Ngu" Vietnamese language which replaced the "Chu Nom". Chu Quoc Ngu is the writing the Vietnamese people use today.

Although, the Chu Quoc Ngu had been written in the 17th century, it took more than 250 years (1872) for Vietnamese Bibles to be translated for common teaching use in Vietnam. And in 1963 the Catholic officials published Vietnamese Bibles for the Vietnamese people's use. 

During the 70 years of the Bible being translated into English, Chinese, German, Korean, and Vietnamese, the early VT translations of the Bible were very active with an unofficial count of around 5,000 to 10,000 Bibles. And could be the most Asian translated Bible during those 70 years.

In present time, The VB, Inc. continues with their project of translating the Bible into Vietnamese and there is also a group of Pastors who are working to translate the Bible to Vietnamese using the English "New International Version" (NIV).

In The Future
Among the 6,000 languages used in this world, Vietnamese is among the top 20 commonly used.

The Vietnam population as of 1995 was 76 million and 2 million living abroad which accounted for 78 million people using the Vietnamese language. Future predictions find that the population of Vietnamese speaking people will increase rapidly and therefore the need for Bibles with accurate, clear, and fluent Vietnamese translation. It is very important that the Vietnamese Christian churches be aware of this fact.

At the present time there are three vocations of Vietnamese Bible translation in the world:

1. The first vocation is the method of translation "word for word". The basic principal of this method is that the translators must look for the vocabulary which has the same meaning with the original copy. The weak point of this method is that the translators must translate exactly the same meaning with the words in the original copy so the style of the translation copy is not common used and leading to hard to understand. The strong point of this method is presenting almost complete meaning of the original copy. The typical translation copy in English is the translation of King James (KJV). The Vietnamese translation by this method is the copy of 1952.

2. The second vocation is that the translators use popular vocabulary and sentence to express the main idea of the main copy with accuracy and easy to understand. This method has a strong point to set off for the readers easy to understand the term of translation. However sometimes it does not cover totally the other meaning of the original copy. The typical translation copy in English for this vocation is The living Bible (LBV).

3. The third vocation attach to the strong points of the two vocations above. The translators use the flexible methods but try to use the common accurate words and earnest to the original copy, at the same time the style must be fluent, updated, easy to read and understand. The typical translation copy for this vocation is The New International Version (NIV). For Vietnamese translation, so far there is not any of bible completed by this method. Although there are three main vocations cited above, but in reality when translating Bible, the translators will be flexible using two or all of three methods at the same time.

Looking in the future to share with the task to be performed for God, the community of Vietnamese Protestant should have the projects as follows:

In the past the prophet Hosea acknowledged that our people was destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6) At the present time millions of Vietnamese souls are lost because of not knowing the words of God. To succeed generation of serving God in the past, it is expected that every one of us try to do the best in order the words of God spread all over areas in our country and also in all our communities of different territory of the Globe.

And hoping that some day we are joyful to know that there are millions and millions of Vietnamese people understand the words of God and accept Him as their Savior.

Phuoc Nguyen - January, 1996 - Extracted from Linh Luc journal
Thanh Duc Hoang - February, 2005 - Translated to English