Why a Sign Language Bible?

Deaf Ministry Catalyst and Consultant for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, Steve Dye talks about his first experience watching God’s Word in a whole new way!

I grew up going to church and reading the written Bible. My first Bible was the King James Version (KJV). My church was The First Independent Baptist Church, where we read Scripture from a written Bible. That was how it was.

Later, when I stepped into the Deaf world, I realized that Deaf people don’t use the KJV Bible. At first, I wasn’t sure why until I learned that this new world actually preferred to watch the Bible in American Sign Language (ASL).

“ASL is more dynamic, more visual, and has more expression – the first time I saw it, I was captivated.”

I remember the first time I went to the Deaf church. It was a bit strange for me, as I never heard about Deaf church before, but I went, and it was amazing! I saw that they had worship, but it was without music, without sound. I was used to having music. I wondered, how do you have worship without music?

But I just watched and was engrossed in the visual aspects of it all. And the ASL Bible stories! I remember the first time I watched a Deaf pastor preach on Gideon, I’ll never forget. I grew up knowing Gideon’s story, so when that pastor preached on Gideon, I just nodded my head in agreement as the story went along.

After church was over, a group of Deaf people, older than me, were standing around talking about the sermon and the story. Everyone was saying what a great story it was, and I said, “that story is similar to Ezekiel.” You know the story of Ezekiel, right? No? You don’t know the story of Ezekiel?! The similar battles he faced? No one knew.

“At that moment, it felt like a rock hit me in the chest.

Deaf people have been left behind.”

At that moment, it felt like a rock hit me in the chest. Deaf people have been left behind. That bothered me so much. Those people were older than me, I felt like they should have known more than me, but that wasn’t the case. 

The Deaf church used a Bible translation in American Sign Language by Deaf Missions. I was so surprised that they had the translation in ASL. That was cool. Reading was always fine for me. Watching the ASLV, I had to figure out some of the signs on my own or ask others what some meant. But, I sat there and watched the Deaf church members react to watching Scripture in ASL, and I saw a huge impact on those people.

During my 24 years in Deaf ministry, I’ve used the ASLV in sermons for clarity. Sometimes my signing is good, but if I really want it to be clear, I just show the ASLV and watch along. The Scriptures are so dynamic and expressive in a way that all understand, clearly. I can see it in their eyes as they watch, and there seems to be a better understanding.

In my experience, if you give someone a book – a written Bible, and you give that to a Deaf person to read, can I trust that they will read it? No, not always. But, if I provide them with a DVD or the ASLV translated from Deaf Missions, can I trust they will watch it? Absolutely.

“If you give someone a book – a written Bible, and you give that to a Deaf person to read, can I trust that they will read it? No, not always. But, if I provide them with a DVD or the ASLV translated from Deaf Missions, can I trust they will watch it? Absolutely.”

I can trust that because Scriptures are translated in their language- sign language, for their culture and people. It makes it easier for Deaf people to relate.

We have to remember that every Deaf person has a different experience growing up. Some Deaf people grew up attending a school for Deaf people using sign language as their first language. Reading a spoken language is not their first language. 

It definitely makes it easier for Deaf people to learn about God when you give them something in their heart language. 

Be good to your servant while I live, that I may obey your word. Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.

Psalm 119:17-18