Six Initial Reflections on the Urdu Common Version Translation of the New Testament

I recently encountered the Urdu Common Version translation by Biblica. You can find it here in the Apple store and here in the Google Play store. So, I distributed the app to a few friends and colleagues to begin getting feedback. Of course, people started asking for my feedback almost immediately. Unfortunately, I have only read Matthew 1-3 and flipped through other verses. As I read more, I may come and write another blog post as my understanding of this translation grows. 

Please note that I am transliterating phrases from the UCV into Roman Urdu here (with English glosses in parentheses). Some readers understand Urdu in the Nastaliq script, and others can only read it in Devnagri. Thankfully, the UCV is in both Nastaliq and Devnagri scripts! But I know that all the readers here understand Roman Urdu. 

So, I am writing to move the conversation forward. I honestly believe the UCV might become my translation of choice for work among South Asian Muslims.

I have six initial reflections on this new translation.

First, I like the contextualization of this translation. For example, here are a few of the translation decisions in the UCV.

  • “Isa” for “Jesus.” The name of Jesus usually has the tag “Hazoor” (Persian term for honor) attached, but sometimes “Hazrat” (another Persian term for honor) is used (See my note below on the inconsistent use of Hazrat in this translation). The translators of the UCV generally prefer Hazoor for Jesus over Hazrat to indicate that Jesus is worthy of more honor than any other prophet. I love that translation decision. It is something small, but I like the implications. 
  • “Al-Maseeh” for “Christ.” Many Urdu translations use “Maseeh,” which has a more Christian sound. Most of my Muslim friends prefer to add the prefix “al,” which is simply the Arabic for “the.” There is no shift in meaning, but this small change gives this a better contextualization flavor.
  • “Khuda” for “God.” Khuda is a Persian word for the almighty. Traditionally, most Urdu translations have used this term for God. Another Muselmani Urdu translation primarily uses Allah for God, which also has strengths. The only issue is that more and more Muslims in South Asia are switching from using Khuda to Allah. Some Muslims have come to believe that Khuda is now a Christianese term (a term that Christians rather than Muslims use). Therefore, many Muslims might find the word “Khuda” a foreign-sounding term. 
  • “Khudawand” is used for “Lord.” This choice is faithful to the intent of the original authors of the New Testament in the implications of the Lordship of Jesus. For example, in Romans 1:1, Khudawand Isa al-Maseeh is used for “Lord Jesus Christ.” I enjoy that this translation uses a term as strong as Khudawand for the Lordship of Jesus since this term implies His deity. 
  • The tag Hazrat is applied to various prophets/leaders of the Old Testament. In South Asia, most Muslims attach “Hazrat” before the name of a prophet and “alayhi salaam” (may the peace of Allah be upon him) after the name of the prophet. Many Muslims find it disrespectful of the prophets when we do not follow this custom. The translators of the UCV seem to have found a good balance here by using the “Hazrat” and omitting the “alayhi salaam.” I believe this will cause most Muslim readers to see that the prophets are being respected while not inserting too much into the text. From a contextualization standpoint, I love the insertion of “Hazrat” in this translation. However, my biblicist side hates seeing an extra term repeatedly inserted into the text. The UCV translators have done as well as can be expected to find a middle ground on these two poles. 
  • “Pak-Gusl” for “baptism.” Traditional Urdu translations transliterate the Greek word “baptismos” into Urdu as “baptisma” rather than translating this term. But “Baptisma” is an entirely foreign term and concept for Muslims. However, the ritual washings of gusl and wudu are common among Muslims. A “pak-gusl” (holy bath) clarifies that the text does not refer to the normal gusl used in Islam but something distinct. Therefore, “pak-gusl” is a great term to use for baptism.
  • “Yahya” for John the Baptist’s name. The UCV does a great job of using the Arabic names of prophets that will be familiar to Muslims. I was recently reading Matthew 3 with a Muslim-background believer. That translation used “Yahunna baptisma denewala.” This phrase meant nothing to my MBB friend. But my friend understood when I explained that it was about Hazrat Yahya, who gave a special pak-gusl for repentance. 
  • “Khuda ka beta” is used for “Son of God.” Muslim-friendly translations sometimes seek to obscure fundamental biblical truths, such as the fatherhood of God and the Sonship of Jesus. I am very thankful that the UCV provides the most precise and straightforward translation calling Jesus the Son of God. 

Second, there are a few areas where the contextualization of the UCV translation needs to be improved. Please note that the positives on contextualization are much higher than the negatives! Here are two areas I have noticed so far.

  • Naya Ahadnama instead of Injeel Shareef. I have only seen one paper copy of the New Testament UCV. On the cover, they used the term “Naya Ahadnama,” meaning “New Testament.” The issue with this term is that it bears no significance or meaning to a Muslim audience. If a Muslim sees a Naya Ahadnama, they see a book about which there is no meaning. If they know the term Naya Ahadnama, they understand it is a book for Christians rather than Muslims. Instead, Injeel Shareef is the common term Muslims use for the book of Jesus. When Muslims see the Injeel Shareef, they understand that this book is significant for their community. Therefore, it would be a better contextualization practice to use that term.
  • Allah for God. I understand that there are significant controversies around the word Allah. Half of me thinks that Khuda is the best term to use in a translation like this, and half think Allah is the best. In many contexts, especially in Muslim-majority areas, I fear this translation will fail to gain traction because of the use of Khuda over Allah. In South Asia, Muslims are beginning to trend away from using Khuda and towards Allah in their regular use. 

Third, I am overall pleased with the readability of the UCV, but I have noticed some Christianese remaining. By Christianese, I mean terms that Muslims will not understand but that Christians easily understand. In those cases, there are often better terms to utilize in the Muslim context. While I have found the UCV easy to read overall, here are a few areas where I would have appreciated improvement. 

  • Use of the term rastabaz for righteous. This term occurs in Mathew 1:19 as a description of Yusef/Joseph and in Matthew 3:15, when Jesus asked Yahya/John to baptize him to fulfill all righteousness. In my experience, Urdu-speaking Christians understand the term rastabaz Urdu-speaking Muslims do not. Other terms could be utilized, depending on how the term “righteous” is being used in context, such as the Urdu “nek” or “sadiq.” 
  • Use of “Aap.” An uncommon usage of the Urdu “aap” is to use it in a very respectful way in place of “us” or “un.” The issue is that this is not a very common way to use “aap.” Those who are educated will understand, while those with less education may have difficulty with this term. Let me give on example of how the UCV uses “Aap” in this way. In Matthew 1:6, “Hazrat Daud se Hazrat Suleiman paida hue, aap ki maa pehle Uriyah ki bivi ti.” While this usage is technically correct and highly respectful language, it slightly obscures the meaning. If we obscure too much in a text, the meaning becomes harder and harder for those of low education to understand. A perennial issue in translations in South Asia is a preference towards high language that many need help understanding. Translators should avoid high Urdu terms to make the text more accessible. 

Fourth, I always see weaknesses in the biblical accuracy of translations not done from the original language. Let me give a few indications that the translators did not do this translation from Greek.

  • The insertion of police in Matthew 2:16. The UCV reads that Herod “sipahi bhej kar” (sent police/constables) to kill the children two and under. The Greek text does not mention who was sent, just that Herod sent unnamed people to kill the children. However, the BSI/PBS translations say that Herod sent “admi” (men) to kill the children. While it cannot be conclusively shown from one or two examples, it appears likely that the translators of the UCV leaned heavily on other translations rather than going to the original Greek.
    • BSI means the Bible Society of India; PBS means the Pakistan Bible Society. 
  • The obliqueness of Matthew 1:6. The Greek text boldly declares that “David fathered Solomon by Uriah’s wife.” The Greek text seems to point out the offense of what had happened and the greatness of God that He worked through such a genealogy to bring for Jesus. However, the BSI/PBS translations sought to dull the offense of this passage by saying, “aur Daud se Suleman us aurat se paida hua jo pehle Uriyah ki bivi thi” (and David begot Solomon by that woman who was previously the wife of Uriah). The UCV follows the BSI/PBS very closely, while staying far from the clear Greek text. The UCV translates this as “Hazrat Daud se hazrat Suleiman paida hua, aap ki maa pehle Uriyah ki bivi thi” (Hazrat David fathered hazrat Solomon, whose mother was previously the wife of Uriah”). When I read these texts in parallel, it seems to me that the translators had the PBS and BSI translations in their hands rather than the Greek New Testament.

However, I have always been something of a biblicist. So, I may be too strict here. I dislike it when people obscure the Word of God. It is one of the reasons that I learned Greek because I wanted to see the Word of God without looking through the lens of a translator. Neither of these two examples changes the meaning of the text much. However, there is a danger of simply building new translations on top of old ones rather than returning to the sources. 

Fifth, I am still trying to figure out the inconsistent uses of Hazrat and Hazoor in the UCV. They may include an explanation somewhere. Here are a few of the most interesting examples for me:

  • It was odd that they use Hazrat al-Maseeh about Jesus in Matthew 2:4, when they consistently use Hazoor Isa elsewhere. They want to show the distinctiveness of Jesus by using a different term for him, so why the change in Matthew 2:4? 
  • They call the following unlikely people Hazrat in the genealogy of Matthew 1:2-17: Boaz (1:5), Obed (1:5), Jesse (1:6), Zerubabbel (1:13), Azor (1:14), and Jacob, the father of Joseph (1:16). By affixing Hazrat to these men, they are ascribing them as spiritual leaders or prophets of some type. Of these, I was most perplexed by Azor, about whom we know nothing. Why did they randomly ascribe this title to him? What was the reasoning?
  • At the same time, consider the omission of Hazrat before the following people: Jeremiah (Matt 2:17), Isaiah (Matt 3:3), the Twelve Apostles (Matt 10:2-4), Paul (Acts 13:13), and the Old Testament kings after Solomon (Matt 1:7-11). If the translators used the term Hazrat to show the prophetic nature of a person, surely Jeremiah and Isaiah deserve inclusion, right? The exclusion of the apostles is also striking since it reduces them below Old Testament figures.
  • But think for a moment, Hazrat Azor (Matt 1:14), but not Hazrat Isaiah? Hazrat Zerubabbel but not Hazrat Paul? It’s just strange to me.
  • Another strange example is that Joseph, Mary’s husband, is called Hazrat Yusef/Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25; 2:13, 19, 21). He heard directly from angels and from God in dreams in Matthew 1-2, which would make him a prophet according to Islam… but I have never heard a biblical teaching trying to defend him as a prophet. 

In the end, I would like to re-evaluate how the translators have chosen to utilize the term Hazrat or at least hear a better rationale for their usage of this term.

Sixth, I appreciate the footnotes of the UCV that provide helpful explanations of terms that Muslims would not understand. For example, Matthew 3:7 introduces the Pharisees. A footnote says, “Pharisi yaani yahudiyon ka ek tabka jo shariat ke aleem aur ustad the,” which accurately describes Pharisees as teachings and experts of the Law. It would have been helpful to say that they were experts of the Law of Moses. However, I am thankful for the inclusion of such footnotes. I am also grateful that the translators did not attempt to insert all their comments inside the text. They understood a healthy separation between translating the text and including helpful information in footnotes. 

Overall, I am pleased with the UCV translation. As I said, I need to read further, but it may become my translation of choice. If you want to discuss this translation further, please write to me at

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