The Bible in Māori

The story of Te Paipera Tapu—The Holy Bible in Māori—began with the Rev. Samuel Marsden in Sydney.

As chaplain to the colony, Marsden met many Māori who had arrived in Sydney on whaling and sealing vessels.  In 1807 the London-based Church Missionary Society (CMS) agreed that Marsden could start a mission to New Zealand.  At the invitation of Māori Chief Ruatara, Marsden arrived in the Bay of Islands on December 22, 1814.  Three days later, on Christmas Day, he introduced more than 300 Māori to the message of the Bible at New Zealand’s first church service.  He preached from Luke chapter two verse 10, “Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy.”

“In this manner, the Gospel has been introduced into New Zealand, and I fervently pray that the glory of it may never depart from its inhabitants, till time shall be no more.”
Extract from Marsden’s diary

In the decade that followed, missionaries began the difficult task of taking the oral Māori language and putting it into written form.  With the help of brothers Henry and William Williams, the first Scriptures in Māori were published in Sydney in 1827.  This little book included passages from Genesis, Exodus, Matthew and John.

Eventually, to speed up the publication process, William Colenso arrived at Paihia in 1834 with a large and very heavy Stanhope printing press.  That following year, the first book ever published in New Zealand rolled off the press – a 16 page edition of Ephesians and Philippians in Māori.  Then from 1836 through to late 1837, the press was fully engaged printing 5,000 copies of the first New Testament in Māori.

The New Testament was very popular among Māori with many chiefs sending messengers to Paihia to obtain a copy of the book.  Māori became very familiar with the book to the point where missionaries complained they were finding it difficult to find something new in the Bible to talk about.

Te Paipera Tapu (the full Māori Bible) was first published in 1868.  Since then, three further editions of Te Paipera Tapu have been published, in 1889, 1925 and 1952.  The 1952 edition is the version that most Māori communities and speakers have used for over half a century.

In 2012, Bible Society published a reformatted edition of the 1952 text featuring paragraphs, macrons and punctuation to help readers understand the text. In 2014, exactly 200 hundred years after Samuel Marsden first brought the Bible to New Zealand, Bible Society published the first new sample translations of Te Rongopai a Ruka (The Gospel of Luke) as part of the project to produce a new edition of Te Paipera Tapu in contemporary Māori.

Pictured at top of page: Te Paipera Tapu revision committee – 1952 (From left: Mr W.W. Bird, Bishop Bennett of Aotearoa, Rev. J.G. Laughton, Hon. Sir Apirana Ngata, Rev. W.N. Panapa, Rev. E. Te Tuhi, Rev. Te Hihi Kaa).

Samuel Marsden at Oihi

Rev Samuel Marsden preaching at Oihi, December 25th, 1814.

The title page of Ko Te Rongopai i Tuhituhia e Ruka (The Gospel of Luke) printed in Paihia, 1835.

Tāku Paipera (My Bible), the first children's Bible in Māori was launched in 2016.

Tāku Paipera (My Bible), the first children’s Bible in Māori was launched in 2016.


Read more about the Bible…

What is the Bible? Where did the Bible come from? The Bible story English Bible versions