G. Holmes, First grass church at Kawaihao, 1822. Mission Houses Museum and Archives.
“I had an interesting conversation with Tamoree [Kaumuali‘i], last evening, on the subject of religion. He asked, if I had any Bible in his tongue; I replied that I had not now, but it was our intention to make one, as soon as we should be sufficiently acquainted with the language … I recited to him the first verse of Genesis, in Hebrew, and he repeated it after me. He then asked me what it was in English, and as I repeated it, he repeated it after me. He asked again, what it would be in Owhyhee, and as I replied, he repeated as before, seeming to be pleased, not only with the knowledge of the important truth itself, but with my ability to translate it, and his own ability to repeat it, and with this specimen of the manner in which a Bible was to be made for this nation, in their own tongue.” — Hiram Bingham, as quoted in Journal of the Sandwich Island Mission, p. 157
For these Protestant missionaries, the Bible and the ability to read it was fundamental to becoming a Christian. Rev. Hiram Bingham and Rev. Asa Thurston, through their seminary studies, were well-educated in the original texts: the Old Testament in Hebrew and Aramaic, and the New Testament in ancient Greek. The task ahead involved establishing written protocols to record the Hawaiian language that could be read and written by the populace, and then translating the Bible at a level that would meet their standards.
“They believed that their religion was the religion of the Bible … For them, the Bible was the very voice of God. … If, therefore, the Protestant understanding of Christianity was to be embraced by Hawaiians, then a Bible in the language of the people was indispensable.” — Jeffrey Lyon, No ka Baibala Hemolele: The Making of the Hawaiian Bible, p. 3