Did you know that the Bible is the most read book of all time?
Yes, yes, it’s even more popular than anything Balzac or Proust wrote!
So why not read it in French?
The Bible is all of those things.
Even if you’re not a believer, you better believe the Bible can help you learn French.
You’ll also become more worldly (or heavenly) to boot, as the Bible is a great way to engage with French culture.
So follow me, and let’s get biblical!
So… What Does the Bible Look Like in French?
As you probably already know, the Bible is a collection of texts, or “scriptures,” parts or the whole of which are considered by various religions to be divinely inspired. Broadly speaking, the Bible is comprised of the Old Testament and the New Testament.
The Old Testament is also known as the Tanakh and is the source of Judaism’s canonical texts. It’s also the first part of the Christian canon. The New Testament is widely understood to be the source of Christian theology and morality. The New Testament contains, among other subjects, the life of Jesus Christ and his teachings. Altogether, the Bible consists of 66 books.
Considering that the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek, most people read the Bible in translation. In the English-speaking world, the most popular translations are the King James Version and the New International Version.
With regards to your French-learning journey, you should know that there are three notable French translations of the Bible (which we’ll get into below).
In a Verse: Learning French with Bible Study à la Française
Now that you’re on board, here are some ways you can use the Bible to learn French. As always, a bit of elbow grease will be required, but here’s to divine inspiration!
Take advantage of different formats and translations of the French Bible
Not only are there different French translations of the Bible, but there are different formats, so consider what make might reading the Bible in French easier for you. Could you benefit from audio? English translations? Here are a few good options to consider.
- The Louis Segond Bible (LSG). Also known as the LSG and named after a 19th-century Swiss theologian, this is considered to be the classical French equivalent of the English King James Version, which seeks to be as close to the original as possible. The LSG was published in 1910 by l’Alliance biblique.
- Audio and text of the Bible en français courant (BFC). First published in 1982 by l’Alliance biblique, this translation focuses not so much on how the original Bible was written, but what was written. The rather informal register of the BFC makes it great for non-native French speakers.
- Audio and text of the Bible du Semeur (BDS). This is a rather new translation by Biblical scholar Alfred Kuen, published in 1992, with the goal of reaching as wide a 20th-century public as possible, particularly those of evangelical Protestant leanings.
- Bilingual Bible du Semeur/NIV Bible. Here’s another version of the Bible du Semeur that comes with a newer English version of the Bible.
Use online resources to help with your French Bible studies
Aside from the Bible itself, there are plenty of online resources ready to help make the vocab, history and general content of the French Bible more accessible to you.
- Sign language Bible. This is a site containing video recordings of the Bible en langue de signes française (French sign language). Even if the sign language itself isn’t useful for you, you may find the French subtitles handy!
- FluentU. FluentU takes real-world videos from a variety of sources—like movie trailers, music videos and more—and makes them into personalized, culturally enhanced language lessons. You can find videos on various topics that explore the place of religion in French-language culture—such as Christmas traditions in Provence, commemorating the Holocaust in Alsace or the musical rituals of Notre-Dame.
- Bible stories for children. Bible-ouverte.ch offers a compilation of condensed popular stories and parables from the Bible in simpler language. This is a great resource for beginners.
- Catholic glossary. Here, you’ll find definitions of Catholic-specific terminology.
- Glossary of Biblical vocabulary. This glossary contains more general definitions of Biblical vocabulary, as well as specific references to Bible passages.
Read familiar Bible stories in French
A great way to boost your reading comprehension and take your vocabulary to a higher level is to engage with familiar Bible stories. Knowing the general gist of a story will help you overcome the roadblocks created by unfamiliar words. Even if you haven’t read the Bible in English or any other language, you’re likely familiar with some of the more popular stories through references in other books, movies and other media.
Here are some good ones to start with:
- Au commencement (The Beginning). Genesis 1:1–2:3. You know the line, “And then there was light”? Here’s where you’ll find it: Et la lumière fut, in French. The first chapters in the Book of Genesis, colloquially known as “the creation myth,” tell the story of how God created the Earth in seven days. Along with all the creatures and plants, God also creates the first man and woman, Adam and Eve. Sound familiar?
- Le déluge universel (The Great Flood). Genesis 6-9. This Hebrew flood myth is about God’s decision to return the Earth to its chaotic, water-filled, pre-creation state and then remake it. Here’s where you’ll find the familiar narrative of Noah and his ark. The great flood is the reveal of the creation myth.
- La tour de Babel (The Tower of Babel). Genesis 11:1-9. In this story, mankind wants to build a tower and reach the heavens to be their own gods. Because of their pride, which is a sin (one of the seven deadly ones), God divides them by making them speak different languages.
- Caïn et Abel (Cain and Abel). Genesis 4.1-18. Cain and Abel are the first two sons of Adam and Eve. Cain is a farmer and Abel, his younger brother, is a shepherd. When the brothers sacrifice some of the fruits of their labor to God, God favors Abel’s sacrifice. Cain, out of jealousy, murders Abel. Cain is condemned by God to a life of wandering. It’s said that Cain was the first human to be born, and Abel, the first one to die.
- Les dix plaies (The Ten Plagues). Exodus 7:14 to Exodus 12:36. This story details the calamities (think water turning into blood, diseased livestock, swarms of locusts) that God inflicted upon the Egyptians to convince the Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery. The Pharoah gave in after the tenth plague and afterwards the Israelites made their exodus.
- Moïse s’enfuit (Moses Escapes). Exodus 1-15, Exodus 19:1, Exodus 35–40. This is the founding narrative of Israel in which the Israelites are delivered from slavery by their god Yaweh. Here we learn of the series of trials and tribulations that befall the Israelites following the death of Joseph, their exodus out of Egypt, their wanderings in the wilderness and the revelations at Sinai.
Attend a mass in French
Attending a real-life French Catholic mass will allow you to engage with your newly acquired vocabulary en temps réel (in real time). If you can’t make it abroad, no need to fret—there are plenty of options on YouTube.
Check out this frequently updated channel for the mass at Notre-Dame de Paris.
Listen to the French Bible on the go
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the stairway to fluency requires immersion. After you’ve familiarized yourself with the more popular stories of the Bible, why not dig deeper? Use one of the above audio versions of the Bible (or download a different one), and listen along as you go about your day.
Your listening comprehension will improve almost painlessly. If you’re feeling extra dutiful, you can also read along to open up an additional channel of input.
Include a verset du jour (verse of the day) in your daily feed
This one’s as easy as downloading the French Bible.com app. This is a great way to further immerse yourself in French, after you’ve changed the default language of your email and social media accounts into French. You’ll quickly pick up new turns of phrase that are sure to impress.
Now that you’ve got some ideas for how you can immerse yourself in French Bible study on the daily (or the weekly, it’s totally up to you!), it’s time to get started!
Bible study à la francaise.
You should try it.
You’ll be a believer in no time.
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