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