In 2019, Voice of the Martyrs Korea, the leading publisher of North Korean dialect Bibles in South Korea, has received more orders for North Korean Bibles from South Korean Christians in more than nearly 20 years. The number of orders is up 30% from last year. Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, Voice of the Martyrs Korea representative, notes that the increase in orders began in spring 2018, as North Korea and South Korea began to engage in peace talks.
“Some of the South Korean Christians who order the Bibles tell us that they want to effectively evangelize North Koreans when opportunities arise for inter-Korean interaction. Others have heard that the North Korean Bible is easier to read and more accurate than the South Korean version, and they want to see for themselves.”
Linguists claim that the North Korean and South Korean dialects are as much as 40% divergent. North Korean defectors and North Koreans visiting discipleship bases in China report difficulties in understanding the New Korean Revised Bible, the Bible used most commonly in South Korean churches. Representative Foley says that this is the main reason why Voice of the Martyrs began publishing many different versions of the North Korean Bible in 2005.
“VOM Korea’s goal wasn’t to produce an entirely new NK Bible, nor did it want to do a paraphrase or adaptation of an existing work,” says Representative Foley.
“Instead, the goal was to use the most linguistically and theologically well-regarded translation of the Bible in the North Korean dialect. Surprisingly, this was a work commissioned by the North Korean government through their Chosun Christian Association. The Chosun Christian Association runs the NK state church and also helps create the outside appearance of freedom of religion in NK. They produced the Common Translation (Pyongyang Version) of the Bible, which was based on the Common Translation Bible published by the Korean Bible Society in 1977.”
Representative Foley says that the North Korean government only printed 10,000 New Testaments in 1983 and 10,000 Old Testaments in 1984, and that these were never made available to ordinary North Koreans, despite the North Korean government’s insistence of freedom of religion for its citizens.
VOM Korea sends as many as 50,000 North Korean dialect Bibles (in various forms) per year back into North Korea. These are sent in many different ways, including Bible balloon launches and smuggling in digital audio devices containing a dramatized audio version of the North Korean dialect Bible. Broadcasts recordings of the Bible via shortwave, AM, and satellite broadcasts are also sent into North Korea and across East Asia, as well as through its website. A sample recording can be heard at Radio Broadcasts Ministry.
Representative Foley says, “It is vital for us to get the North Korean dialect Bible into North Korea using as many different ways as possible.”
She cites statistics from the North Korean Human Rights Records Preservation House indicating that the percentage of North Korean citizens who have seen a Bible with their own eyes while inside North Korea rose from near zero percent in the year 2000 to almost 8 percent in the year 2014. “That means approximately 1.9 million North Koreans inside North Korea have seen the Bible,” she says. “But it’s not enough.”
Representative Foley encourages South Korean Christians to read through the North Korean dialect Bible in one year in preparation for unification.
“Voice of the Martyrs Korea offers a North Korean/South Korean [바른성경] Parallel Bible for purchase for 20,000 KRW,” says Representative Foley. “We also have a program called 1+1 where, for a donation of 50,000 KRW, we send a North Korean dialect Bible to you and to a North Korean through our field ministry.” The North/South Parallel Bible is available for purchase at https://vomkorea.com/product/nk-bible-2014/.