A Bible for every language

Here is the good news about Bible translation: it is getting faster. This means more people groups are getting the Scriptures in their own language each year than ever before.

The Scottish Bible Society is a founding member of the United Bible Societies (UBS) – a network of Bible Societies operating in over 200 countries and territories around the world.

Commenting on the increase in the rate of Bible translation, Michael Perreau, Director General of UBS, gives a startling prediction:

Some people alive now will see some portion of the Bible available in every language on earth. They might have just the Gospels or the New Testament, and some others the whole Bible. By 2033, if we keep the momentum up, we could see all languages having some Scripture.  I am not sure if I will live til then, but it is very exciting to think my children and grandchildren will live to see that.
Michael Perreau, Director General of the United Bible Societies

A Bible in every language

There are some 6,000 languages in the world, with a further 1,000 minor languages, making a total of 7,000 languages worldwide.  Mr. Perreau says there are around 2,000 languages with some form of Scripture and he knows of projects to translate the Scriptures into another 2,000 languages. Then there are 2,000 other languages where translation work has not yet commenced.

A third, a third and a third is a good way to put it. Of course, the populations are different for these languages. That tells a more optimistic story. But God wants ALL to have his Word.
Michael Perreau, Director General of the United Bible Societies

Some languages only have a few hundred speakers, for example, some of Australia’s indigenous languages. But a language group can be up to two million strong and not have a single verse of the Bible. This would be one of the larger groups falling into the third of Mr. Perreau’s thirds.

Currently, Bible Societies that form UBS are engaged in 451 translation projects and are committed to full Bible translations for these language groups. The length of time to produce a Bible translation is reducing and according to Mr. Perreau we are accelerating towards the target of having the Bible in every language.

In 2011 we used to complete some five translations a year. Now each year we complete between 25 and 30 translations. This means millions more people get the full Bible each year.
Michael Perreau, Director General of the United Bible Societies

Four important factors

There are four factors that make the increased pace of Bible translation possible according to Mr. Perreau:

  1. Digital technology is making the task quicker, putting translation tools in the hands of locals. Paratext, a joint product of UBS and missionary agency SIL International, accelerates the translator’s work. They can input a first or revised draft of the text and check and review that draft against the biblical source texts and a selection of model translations and resource materials. Publisher’s Assistant, another programme, enables fast layout.
  2. Bible translators are no longer just the experts from other countries. Mobilising local translators makes the task faster and creates a Bible reading community. UBS is currently mentoring 1,200 local translators who might be local pastors and other workers on the ground. Mr. Perreau points out that these days, a Bible translation begins when a local group of churches demands it, rather than a mission group from overseas deciding to do it.
  3. Christian groups are working together on Bible translation better than before. An example is the Digital Bible Library run by UBS. It stores electronic texts, future proofing the Bible against being stranded in obsolete computer and media formats. It now holds 1,400 languages and 1,500 texts. It’s the place other Bible agencies like YouVersion – the Bible App – get their texts.
  4. “Every Tribe Every Nation” (ETEN) is a core group behind the changes mentioned in #3. Commending ETEN for their contribution, Mr. Perreau says that for the first time, it brings together significant components – the business community who have a heart for the work, and all of the key Bible agencies, to the same table. He says there is respect for every partner and the collective see themselves as joint problem solvers. The result has been one place to put digital texts (the Digital Bible Library), one group developing the software and so on. Cutting out duplicated effort has been important in focusing on the translation effort – and ETEN has been part of the push to speed things up.
  • Give thanks for the Bible translations we have and the dedicated team of translators across the world.
  • Pray for the current and future translation projects so that we can have Scripture translated into all languages.
  • Pray for people and communities to be transformed by God’s Word.

With thanks to ‘Eternity News‘ who interviewed Michael Perreau. ‘Eternity’ is a national news service for Australian Christians and is published by Bible Society Australia.