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The Breton Language

Breton (Brezhoneg) is a Celtic language related to Welsh (Cymraeg) and Cornish (Kernewek). It is spoken in western or lower Brittany (Breizh), in the north-west of France. In 1814, the committee of the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS) first discussed the fact that the Breton language did not have a translation of the Holy Scriptures.

Testamant Nevez 1827

In 1824 Le Gonidec was contracted by the Bible Society to translate the New Testament from the Latin Vulgate into Breton. Jean François Le Gonidec (1775-1838), was a respected Breton scholar who had already published a dictionary and grammar for the Breton language. Le Gonidec was a Roman Catholic who knew French, Breton and Latin. The translation was made from the Latin Vulgate and the text was checked against the Greek and revised by two Welsh scholars: Rev Thomas Price (1787-1848) of Crickhowell and Rev David Jones of Swansea, Wales. The New Testament (Testamant Nevez) was published in 1827.

John Jenkins Revision 1870

From the 1830s Welsh-speaking Baptist and Calvinist Methodist missionaries started to arrive in Brittany. In 1834 John Jenkins of Glamorgan in Wales arrived in Brittany with the Baptist Mission. Jenkins learnt the Breton and French languages, and became a Bible Society colporteur selling copies of the Le Gonidec New Testament. These missionaries soon found that the scholarly language of the Le Gonidec version, was not well enough understood by general Breton speakers.

John Jenkins recommended a revision of this translation, which he was commissioned to do in 1838. He simplified the language and revised it by reference to the Greek, Welsh and English texts. From 1845 until 1847 Jenkins was assisted by the Breton writer Guillaume Ricou (1778-1848), who ensured it was in understandable language. The first revision was printed in Brest, Brittany in 1847. After Ricou died in 1848, further revisions were made with the help of the Welsh Calvinist Methodist missionary Rev James Williams, who came to Quimper in Brittany in 1842. Jenkins and Williams continued to revise the New Testament, and it was republished in 1854 and 1863 and the last revision was published in 1870.

Alfred Llewellyn Jenkins Revision 1897

In 1882 Alfred Llewellyn Jenkins agreed to revise his father's New Testament. He had grown up in Brittany and spoke Welsh and Breton natively. He revised the text with the help of Monsieurs Rohan and Luzel, and V. E. Bouhon of St. Brieuc. It was first published by the BIble Society in 1885, and then in 1886 as a dual language edition with French. In 1889 Alfred Ll. Jenkins started to translate the Old Testament from Hebrew into Breton. In 1897 the British and Foreign Bible Society published his book of Genesis (Levr ar Genes), and a final corrected edition of the New Testament (Testament Nevez). The Gospels were reprinted separately in 1906, and the New Testament was reprinted in 1920, 1927 and the last time it was reprinted was 1935.

Digital Edition

The Jenkins edition of the 1897 Breton New Testament was digitised in 2017, from originals in the BFBS archives, with the help of volunteers from MissionAssist. This historical text is maintained by the British and Foreign Bible Society.

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