Hendrik Pieter Marthinus Steyn

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First name: 
Hendrik Pieter Marthinus
Last name: 
Steyn
Date of birth: 
9 September 1886
Date of death: 
14 August 1963
Location of death: 
Cape Town

Hendrik Pieter Marthinus Steyn was born in Utrecht, Natal, 9 September, 1886. He was a Minister of the NG Kerk and secretary of the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS), was the son of Jan Daniel and Louisa Steyn.

Steyn spent his early youth in the Utrecht district, which at that time was still part of the Transvaal Republic. He went to school first on the farm and afterwards in the town. When the Second Anglo Boer War (1899-1902) broke out he joined the Boer forces as a lad of thirteen, and after the war farmed for some time on his father’s land in the Ermelo district. In 1905 he was employed by a business firm, but two years later decided to become a minister and left for Stellenbosch, where he matriculated within three year Steyn After passing the ‘Intermediate’ at the Victoria College, he continued his studies in literature and theology at the Theological Seminary of Princeton, USA. Here he gained distinction as a capable and industrious student, particularly in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. He also wrote a dissertation in Latin. Having completed the final examination for the ministry, he returned to South Africa and was admitted as a minister of the NG Kerk in December 1916.
On 14.7.1917 he was ordained at Steytlerville, CP, where he worked for the education of young people and to redeem the congregation’s debts, displaying exceptional ability as an organiser.
At the beginning of 1922 he accepted the responsible position of secretary of the BFBS, the head office of which was in Cape Town. At first he was responsible for the Cape and South-West Africa only, but in 1948 he became General Secretary of the Society for all southern Africa. His organising ability and proficiency in both official languages, but especially his diligence and devotion, made him the obvious person for the task of Bible distribution. Annually he covered from 24 000 to 32 000 kilometres and even visited distant places in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), the Belgian Congo (Zaire) and the far north of South-West Africa. He re-organised the work of the Bible Society in South Africa, established Bible houses in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban and successfully strove to have the Bible translated into more and more Bantu languageSteyn In the highest circles of the BFBS in London Steyn was recognised as the authority on South African affairs by virtue of his mature experience, sound knowledge of language, and administrative ability.
Steyn Will be particularly remembered for his part in bringing about the translation of the Bible into AfrikaanSteyn He was especially concerned about young Afrikaners for whom Dutch as the Bible language had gradually become more alien and less intelligible, and used all his powers of persuasion to gain support from the Bible Society in this matter. It was no easy task, since he met with strong opposition from his own people, for whom the idea of a Bible in Afrikaans was unacceptable. However, devotion to the cause and his persuasiveness induced the Society to finance the venture, and the Four Gospels and the Psalms, which appeared in 1922 as an experiment, were published in 1929 as the official translation. As secretary of the BFBS, Steyn worked in close conjunction with the translators of the Bible, who came later. His views often influenced decisions in difficult cases and it was due to his administrative ability, aptitude for organization, and tireless industry that the complete Bible appeared in Afrikaans in May 1933 instead of at the end of that year. Dr J.D. Kestell*, one of the final translators, referred with much appreciation in the following words to Steyn’s contribution: ‘We do not believe that there is one single person who has done more to give the Afrikaner nation a Bible’. Steyn was the first person to use the Afrikaans Bible in the pulpit of the NG Kerk in East London on 4.6.1933.
Soon after the complete Bible appeared it was revised on his initiative since, being himself a fine linguist, he wanted to ensure that it would be in the best AfrikaanSteyn When the revised edition appeared in 1953 he made sure it was distributed in a large variety of editions, and in fact acquired the nickname ‘Bible’ Steyn. In recognition of the service he had rendered his people and church with the translation and distribution of the Bible, the degree D . Phil. honoris causa was conferred on film by the University of Stellenbosch in December 1954, shortly before he retired in February 1955.
According to Prof. B.B. Keet*, one of the translators of the Bible, Steyn was one of the best-known ministers of the NG Kerk and one of the most appreciated and best-loved pulpit orators in its history. Everyone who knew him could testify to his humanity, his consideration and his sense of humour. While his daughter was driving him from Bible House in Cape Town to his home in Pinelands, he died suddenly in the car. As text for his funeral service the Rev. H.C. Kinghorn of Pinelands chose Esther 10:3’... he was great ... and accepted of the multitude of his brethren

On 18.12.1912 Steyn married Zerilda Minnaar* on whom the University of Stellenbosch conferred an honorary doctorate for her untiring work in connection with urban housing for the underprivileged. He was survived by his wife, a son, and two daughterSteyn The son, Jan H. Steyn, later became a judge. He died in Cape Town, 14 August.1963.
The well-known portrait of Steyn holding the first Afrikaans Bible, on which the sunlight falls, appears in, among others, Die Kerkbode and SteynE.SteynA. (both infra). Other photographs of him also appear in Die Kerkbode, 7.12.1966, and Die Burger (infra). --- ..A. P. SMIT died in Cape Town, 14 August.1963.

Obituaries: Die Burger, 15.8.1963; Cape Times, 15.8.1963; n. B. KEET, ‘Huldeblyk Ban dSteyn H.P.M. Steyn’, SABC broadcast, Afrikaans service, 16.8.1963; Die Kerkbode, 25.9.1963; - p. i. NIENABER. Die geskiedenis van die Afrikaanse Bybelvertaling. CT., 1934; --- A. v. SMIT, God made it grow: history of the Bible Society movement in Southern Africa. CT., 1970; - SESA V.2. C.T., 1970.

Last updated : 16-Aug-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 17-Feb-2011