Equipping The Global Church To Translate The Bible Into Its Own Language -- By: Perry Oakes

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 12:1 (Spring 2015)
Article: Equipping The Global Church To Translate The Bible Into Its Own Language
Author: Perry Oakes

Equipping The Global Church To Translate The Bible Into Its Own Language

Perry Oakes

Perry Oakes is a Bible translator at Wycliffe Associates in Dallas, Texas.


We are living in a new age. This is always true, and so we have to continually reexamine our strategies for how we relate to the world. But this statement seems “more true” now than it has ever been, with the recent advent of the digital age and its enormous advances in the areas of information storage and access. These advances directly affect the field with which this article is concerned, namely, Bible translation and distribution.

The Traditional Approach

Soon after the modern Bible translation movement began, a strategy was developed that entailed a linguistically-trained missionary going to a people group, spending a decade or two (or more) learning that group’s language, overseeing a translation of the New Testament into that language, then sending the manuscript off for printing and putting the resulting book under strict copyright, usually with a Bible society.

Figure 11

Now, eighty years later, the world has changed. Yet most Bible translation programs that I am aware of follow basically the same pattern, and most languages still do not have a Bible, let alone a New Testament.2 This is not for lack of effort, but the methods that were necessary eighty years ago to transfer biblical meaning into a new language and distribute it to a people group took a great deal of time and money. The number of linguistically-trained missionaries available for the task was also limited. Because of these constraints, mission agencies had to pick and choose where to allocate their people and resources. Logically, the way to reach the greatest number of people in the least amount of time was to translate the Bible into the languages with the most speakers.

Consider Figure 1, where the languages of the world are sorted into groups according to the number of people who speak them. At the top of the chart, we see that there are eighty five languages that have greater than ten million speakers each, making up a total of almost five billion people! It would make a lot of sense to start there, and then move to the next category with almost a billion people, and keep moving down the chart. While Bible translation has been done in languages across this spectrum, the languages nearest to the top have received most of the attention and now have the most biblical r...

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