Less than a decade ago, while I was serving as a pastor, I heard a representative from Bibles International (BI) say something that both shocked me and excited me. He stated that it is possible that we could see the Bible translated into every language on earth in our lifetime! That idea ought to excite every child of God – the thought that two thousand years after the life of Christ, we are within striking distance of ending the drought of every tribe, tongue, and nation having the Scriptures in their heart language.
William Cameron Townsend, missionary-linguist and founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators, captured the significance of Bible translation when he said, "The greatest missionary is the Bible in the mother tongue. It needs no furlough and is never considered a foreigner. Understanding Scripture in a language other than the heart language in which we think and experience emotion is like trying to eat soup with a fork. You can get a little taste, but you cannot get nourished." Embedded in Townsend's statements are some vital concepts that must not be overlooked, because translating the Bible into the heart language of every people group is not the ultimate goal. Actually, Bible translation is a means to a far greater goal – the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
The Great Commission calls us to evangelize the lost, edify the believers, equip them for service, and establish local churches. A well-translated Bible that is thoroughly read, clearly understood, and accurately preached is absolutely essential to the fulfillment of that Commission! That is why Bibles International takes a holistic approach to Bible translation; that is, we don’t just translate the Bible and air drop copies in hopes that people read it and trust Christ. Bibles International works intentionally with believers and churches to translate the Scripture and to equip native speakers to distribute, read, study, and teach it. At the end of the day, our goal is that a new translation of Scripture will be the vital tool that God uses to "teach all nations . . . to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:19-20).
As you can imagine, that is no small task. Yet, as Bibles International celebrates its 40th anniversary, it is committed now more than ever to accomplishing that task. But like every gargantuan goal, there are several keys to seeing the goal become reality. I believe that there are five keys to fulfilling the Great Commission through Bible translation.
First, we must rally around a sound philosophy of Bible translation. Some of the recent trends in Bible translation philosophy are quite troubling. As a result, Bibles International and other conservative translation societies crafted the Arlington Statement on Bible Translation. This statement lays out a solid foundation that assures faithful and accurate Bible translation in every cultural context without compromising meaning for the sake of over-contextualization. You may read it at https://arlingtonstatement.org.
The second key to fulfilling the Great Commission through Bible translation is identifying language groups that need and want a Bible. Much prayer and research goes into a decision to begin a new translation project. The BI projects department carefully analyzes such things as the number of speakers, the status of the language, the church(es) that will be supporting the translation, and the level of commitment and qualifications evidenced by those who will be involved in the translation process.
Once a language is identified, the third key is to enlist and train native speakers to do the translating. We believe that those best equipped to translate the Bible are people who not only speak the language, but also think, dream, and pray in the language. Thus, the native speaker paired with a BI translation consultant trained in biblical languages maximizes the expertise that each of them brings to the table.
In a sense the third key presumes on the fourth, which is the mobilization of translation consultants and the staff that support them. Currently, Bibles International is blessed with 29 translation consultants or consultants in training who are working on 45 translation projects in 15 nations. Additionally, five literacy consultants produce materials and teach people around the world not only how to read, but how to teach others to read. BI's consultants are part of the text production department and are supported by staff members in the projects, Scripture engagement, advancement, and finance/office departments. Each department is crucial to the holistic task of Bible translation, and the need for more missionaries to join this team cannot be overstated.
Finally, none of this is possible without the faithful support of God's people, both through prayer and giving. Bible translation is not inexpensive, but it is worthwhile. I can think of no more strategic, eternal investment than giving so that people without a Bible in their heart language may receive one. Now more than ever Bibles International needs churches and individuals to stand with us by generously giving to this ministry that connects the eternal Word of God to the eternal souls of mankind.
Will we see the Bible translated into every language on earth in our lifetime? Hopefully! More importantly, could every people group have the Bible in their language and be able to read it, understand it, teach it, and fulfill the Great Commission through those translations? That is both our goal and our prayer!