Author: Katherine O’Donnell

MA dissertation: Bible & Mission, Redcliffe College (2013)

Abstract:

This study examines both what Tanzanian Christians think about the Bible and the way they engage with it, through a review of the literature on Bible use in Africa and primary research in the Mbeya-Iringa Cluster Project of SIL International. Data was gathered through a mixed method approach using questionnaires (with respondents selected through purposive sampling across four language areas) and a group interview (with the Literacy/Scripture Use Coordinators who administered the questionnaires).

The research revealed that Tanzanians commonly see the Bible as the Word of God, though what they mean by this is less clear. Preaching, prayer meetings, Bible seminars and songs were most commonly ranked as very important for growing in faith. Further, respondents most frequently engaged with the Bible by reading or listening to it at church (80%), reading alone (55%), singing (47%) or praying (45%). There was a clear discrepancy between their level of Bible engagement and the importance they ascribed to it. Only 63% owned a complete Swahili Bible, while far fewer used mother-tongue Scriptures. Most people seemed to interpret the Bible simply and directly, but not always contextually or accurately, and saw the Bible’s central message as being one of judgement, sin or salvation. Variations were sometimes found between genders, denominations and language areas.

Amongst other things, the findings suggest that Scripture Engagement workers should use methods appropriate for oral and communal societies, provide training for pastors and lay Christians in hermeneutics and other Bible engagement tools and facilitate the distribution of Christian literature.

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