From Russia, With God’s Love
Tears fall as Adventist scholars release a modern translation of the Bible in Russian.
He did it.
- Mikhael M. Kulakov accomplished what many thought impossible. He completed an epic spiritual work started by his father that transcended denominational affiliation in a country marked by years of religious intolerance.
Kulakov, through an unprecedented collaboration between nearly a dozen Seventh-day Adventist, Russian Orthodox, and Jewish scholars, recently published a new interdenominational Bible translation in Russia, and only the second major translation to be released in post-Soviet Russia.
Joyful tears fell and excitement radiated as those involved in the undertaking of the New BTI Bible shared stories of sacrifice and dedication at the official unveiling ceremony this summer at Zaoksky Adventist University, which Kulakov helped establish near the central Russian town of Tula in 1987.
The plan to convert the Holy Scriptures into modern Russian was first put into motion through the formation of the Bible Translation Institute, founded in 1993 by his father, Mikhail P. Kulakov, a scholar and former Euro-Asia Division president. Opening the institute inside the Zaoksky Theological Seminary was his lifelong dream.
It was in the late 1940s, early in his ministry in Daugavpils, Latvia, and prior to a five-year imprisonment in Stalin’s labor camps for being a Christian, that the elder Kulakov began to comprehend the great need for a new translation of God’s Word into modern Russian. During that time, he frequented the home of pastor Janis Oltinsh and its massive library of theological literature in various languages. Oltinsh was an accomplished Bible scholar, and he had a strong, formative influence on the young pastor.
Oltinsh introduced Kulakov to the advantages of comparing various translations of the Bible — literal and amplified. Out of that mentorship, Kulakov decided to begin a collaboration with scholars from other denominations to produce from the original languages a more accurate version that would help Russians clarify the meaning of passages that may have once puzzled them.
A Legacy Fulfilled
Only two major translations have been released in Russia during the past millennium: the Gennadievskaya version published in the 15th century, and the Synodal version at the end of the 19th century. Both use antiquated language that is difficult to interpret, and the Synodal version was hard to come by, the younger Kulakov said.
As a result, Russian seminarians in the early 19th century used the more accessible Latin Vulgate Bible. As Russian universities slowly began teaching biblical studies, the Bible was often absent from the curriculum. Not even students at Kazan Orthodox Seminary had a Bible of their own.
Translation work was impossible for most of the 20th century because of the atheistic regime. Only at the end of that century did translation work resume.
The elder Kulakov spent more than a decade working on a new translation of the New Testament and Psalms. It was released several years ago and can be purchased at Adventist Book Centers across the United States, on Amazon, and at russianbible.org.
Some of his colleagues became despondent when he died in 2010, assuming that the project and institute would die with him. What they didn’t realize was that his son was determined to finish the work.
This son, however, was a full-time professor of theology, history, and philosophy at Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, Maryland. He decided to seek the support of Weymouth Spence, the university’s president.
Spence’s team granted Kulakov the university’s first five-year sabbatical to complete the translation.
“I saw how important this project was to the mission of our church and how it aligned with our values as a university,” Spence said.
“We couldn’t have done this without the support of Washington Adventist University,” Kulakov said at the unveiling ceremony. “This is all happening as if it were a dream. It will take a few years, lots of rest and meditation for this moment to really sink in.”
The new Bible is the second to be released in contemporary Russian. The first translation was published by the Russian Bible Society in 2011.
The New BTI Bible is also a landmark for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Euro-Asia.
Although Russia’s primary religion is Eastern Orthodox, a more trusting relationship has been forming between the Adventist Church and other faith communities through the Bible translation collaboration and the leadership of Guillermo E. Biaggi, who served as president of the Euro-Asia Division from 2010 to 2015 and is now a general vice president of the Adventist world church.
This is evident in the New BTI Bible’s quick acceptance in parts of Russia. A number of Orthodox clergymen are excitedly using it, Kulakov said. Educators from the department of biblical studies at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University and other theological schools are encouraging their students to use it.
Adventist team members have been surprised to see their work received so positively, but see it as testimony that the Lord led in the project.
“What a blessing it is for this to be received so positively by other denominations,” Biaggi said. “We are thrilled to see this happen in our lifetime.”
Dave Weigley, president of the Columbia Union Conference and board chair of Washington Adventist University, added: “I am so excited that we can be a part of providing the Word and the Light to the masses. Incredible, incredible opportunity! This will make such a difference because we know the Word does not return void.”
The New BTI Bible was formally presented at the General Conference Session in San Antonio, Texas, in July. Adventist Church president Ted N.C. Wilson prayed there for the Holy Spirit to speak to the hearts of the thousands of Russian readers who will get a first or renewed taste of God’s Word.
Next for the new Bible is an effort to reach Russian young adults and youth. The board of trustees for the Bible Translation Institute has voted to support the development of a mobile app version and an illustrated children’s edition.
Angie Crews is director for corporate communications at Washington Adventist University. A version of this article appeared in the Columbia Union Visitor.