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Bible translated into more languages than ever before, despite the pandemic

by Donna Birrell

Efforts to translate the Bible into more languages across the world are accelerating, despite the pandemic.

Wycliffe Bible Translators says 717 languages now have a full Bible translation - almost ten percent of the number of languages spoken in the world. That's an increase of 13 languages on the previous year.

While one in five people are still waiting for the Bible in their own language, Wycliffe says that one new translation was launched every week during the pandemic.

James Poole, executive director of Wycliffe, told Premier he's encouraged by the progress being made:

"It's been a really exciting year for the number of new translations, it's just been an incredible time for translation access. And of course, each time a New Testament becomes available, the Bible becomes available.

"There are so many people rejoicing because for the first time in history they've been able to hear what God is saying to them in their own language and read for themselves and see for themselves the things that we take for granted.

"The story that goes on through the year now is of churches growing, Christians getting a clear understanding of what it means to follow Jesus, a great love for Him. And so, praise God, it is a wonderful, wonderful time."

Wycliffe says :

"    despite the pandemic, Bible translators were able to launch more than one new translation every week*
"    the number of languages with a complete Bible has risen to 717 (up from 704 last year)
"    the number of languages with a complete New Testament has risen to 1,582 (up from 1,551 last year)
"    a further 1,196 languages have some portions of the Bible translated (up from 1,160 last year).

(*To put these figures in context, there are 7,135 languages, which rises to 7,378 once sign languages not yet recognised by the International Organization for Standardization are included.)

At the launch of the Tafi, Logba, and Nyagbo New Testaments in August, one recipient called Sylvester Nkrumah shared: "Without the word, it seemed as though God was so far away. Now we can say Jesus is no longer a foreigner, he is no longer a stranger, He is one of us and he speaks our language. He has moved into our neighbourhood and we can reach out to him."

A Sangu man in Tanzania, on receiving his Sangu New Testament last year, described it as being like the 'key to entering heaven'.

James Poole says there is still much work to do:

"Despite this tremendous progress, we remain deeply concerned for the 1.5 billion people worldwide who still do not have the Bible in their language. That's 1 in 5 people who do not have the same access to the Bible which we take for granted. This is not fair, and translation teams worldwide are working with urgency to rectify this injustice."

He tells Premier that despite the progress, 1.5 billion people still don't have a Bible in their own language:

"In parts of the Islamic world, there may be millions of people, yet with very few non-believers. And many people think 'Why do a Bible for these people, where there are so few known believers?' But we look at it and say, 'Well, perhaps the reason there were so few believers is they've not had access to God's word properly.' And to make it available to them, perhaps on smartphone apps or whatever, can actually see new churches come into being and just really exciting new things happening. So, we see it is taking place all over the world."

The emergence of local translation teams, greater collaboration between Bible translation organisations, access to technology and the development of software are all making progress easier.

Wycliffe hopes that in the next 10-15 years 95 per cent of the world's population will have the Bible, that 99.95 per cent will have a New Testament and everyone will have access to at least some portion of Scripture (currently 145 million people have absolutely none).

James Poole said: 

"A key milestone in world history is fast approaching - when everyone will have at least some Scripture in their language for the first time! These projections give fresh inspiration and motivation for people to get involved in the work of Bible translation. Wycliffe remains committed to the urgent and long-term work of seeing the Bible made accessible to all people in their own languages."

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