Holding History

I’ve always loved history. I can spend hours walking around an historical site or looking at artefacts in a museum.

There’s a strange kind of connection with the past you feel when you see something several hundred years old. A person who lived all those years ago owned that item, and now I am looking at the very thing they held in their hands. I often wonder what life was like for that person.

Recently, my historical research into the history of the Bible in Māori took me to the Alexander Turnbull Library here in Wellington. I requested a special book, which I wanted to see – the corrected proof copy of the first ever New Testament in Māori. It was William Williams’ copy, who worked with others including his brother Henry on the original translation.


A proof copy of a book is one produced by the printer for the editor or author to check (proof). It’s typical to get a pen and make marks on the copy where things need to be changed. The copy at the Alexander Turnbull Library has Williams’ original pen marks on it.

As I turned each page of the unbound manuscript, I realised that I was touching the very copy he held in his hands back in 1837. I was looking at the same pages, the same text he was. I could see his marks and thoughts as he’d recorded them throughout the document.

This really is an important part of New Zealand history. The publication of the first every New Testament in Māori by William Colenso in 1837 at Paihia is a monumental achievement. This book changed everything for Aotearoa. Many Māori all over the country came to faith in Jesus through it, and passed it on to one another. And yet most New Zealanders don’t know anything about this story.

We’ll be sharing stories like this at our 175TH anniversary events, starting in April. Check out the one near you here.

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Inspired by the Great Commission, The United Bible Societies has the ambitious vision to complete 1,200 Bible Translations by 2038 which will make the Word of God accessible to 600 million People.