Karl Roehl was a linguist and Bible translator in East Africa. Born and educated in Germany, Roehl combined his training for the ministry with linguistic studies, including Arabic and Swahili, with a view to mission service abroad. In 1896 the newly founded Protestant Mission Society for German East Africa (later the Bethel Mission) sent him as one of their pioneer missionaries to Usambara, in present-day Tanzania, where he took a leading part in translating the New Testament into Kishambala. He was transferred to Rwanda in 1906 and there translated the four Gospels into Kinyarwanda. Later, after his retirement from mission service in 1935, he concentrated on his main assignment, a new Bible translation in Swahili (1938; 2d ed., 1950). Roehl and his African helpers succeeded more than others in rendering the biblical message in African thought forms. He also tried to avoid terms and phrases which carried specific Islamic connotations. While his Bible translation has met with criticism and is unlikely to be generally accepted for modern usage in East Africa, it continues to stimulate improvements in the indigenization of the biblical message among Swahili speaking people. Roehl will also be remembered for his contributions to the development of Swahili grammar and literature.
E. Dammann, “In memoriam Dr. K. Roehl,” EMZ 8 (1951): 92.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.