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How many unknown Bibles are there? June 23, 2022

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation.
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There are known to be translations of the full Bible in 720 languages and New Testaments in a further 1617. The answer to the question of how many unknown ones that there are should be obvious – “nobody knows”.

The known ones get catalogued in several places:

find.bible and ScriptureEarth.org exist to help people find scripture and other resources in all available languages.

progress.bible focuses more on being a resource for organisations involved in Bible Translation helping them to track where work is currently happening or is believed to be needed.

Many of the translations that exist are submitted to the Digital Bible Library, “an online digital asset and licensing management platform developed and maintained by the United Bible Societies”. From here they can be shared with platforms such as YouVersion and Faith Comes By Hearing, or the publisher isn’t quite ready to do that, simply stored to ensure that the latest electronic text is maintained in a standard format.

At a conference a few years ago I heard a seminar about work to digitise “lost translations” and at the start of the pandemic I helped spark some conversations that led to promotion of this Wycliffe, the Bible Society, and MissionAssist. Mission Assist’s keyboarding service has been running for over 30 years. At one point they had a “Bible for the Future” project, seeking to preserve texts digitally for when they were needed for reprints, revisions and further translation work, or could be shared online.

In the last few years I’ve been able to help track down and pass on information about a few translations that were known to exist but not easily available online, starting with some of those spoken in Europe. These include old translations which have scanned copies or exist only in print in a library or archive somewhere, or newer ones that have been completed with or without the involvement (or sometimes knowledge) of local Bible societies and translation organisations.

The most recent example I came across is in the Piemontèis language of Italy, (also called Piedmontese or Piemontese), available at https://pms.m.wikisource.org/wiki/La_Bibia_piemonèisa and translated by a retired pastor from the region who now lives in England.

The new testament is “a stylistic revision of the New Testament in the Piedmontese language of 1841, with a scrupulous comparison of the best Greek text at our disposal.” and the Old Testament makes use of the Net Bible and it’s 60,000 accompanying notes.

The language itself is currently spoken by between 700,000 and 2,500,000 people with varying estimates as to how many people can read and write in it (A 2006 survey quoted on the English version of Wikipedia suggests only about 2% of speakers can read and write in it, The Piemonteisa version of Wikipedia suggests 500,000-700,000 people).

Meanwhile, if you want to read a version of the New Testament from 1834 then the digital version of “L Testament Neuv de Nossegneour Gesu-Crist: tradout in Lingua Piemonteisa” can be found in the Reading Room of the Racconigi Castle with information about it found here, and perhaps more widely available sometime in the not too distant future.

Finding the Bible in the 4th Swiss Language June 13, 2022

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, Scripture Engagement.
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Switzerland is one of the many countries that doesn’t have a single national language. It has four (German, French, Italian and Romansh), but while Romansh was recognised as a ‘national’ language in 1938 it wasn’t at that point an ‘official’ language, and though it had been written for centuries, its different dialects had different orthographies.

In 1968 work began on a new translation into Romansh. The New Testament was published in 1988 and some of the old Testament (Psalms and Prophets) in 2014. These are available via the Swiss Bible Society but in a standard form of Romansh that official reports suggest hasn’t been as popular as hoped for.

For an earlier full translation you’d have to look a little harder.

adapted from image at wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_Switzerland by Tschubby, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bibles can be found on YouVersion in German, French and Italian but there isn’t anything there in Romansh. Neither is there anything on Bible.is or ScriptureEarth.org. Find.Bible has links to two portions in Romansh – but the links didn’t work (I’ll let them know).

The complete Bible was first translated into one of the dialects of Romansh in the 16th century and you can see a picture of a copy from 1679 on Kings College website.

I did find a version from 1818 on Google books, and even created a printable QR code to make it easier to share (click to follow the link, right click to save the QR code), but…

…while a Bible that is available is better than one that can only be found in history books and museums, translation and accessibility are only two factors in encouraging actual engagement with scripture, and even these two conditions require a bit more than “does something exist” and “can people get hold of it somehow”.

Modern Romansh speakers (and according to latest statistics there are about 40,000 of them) might be interested in looking at the 1818 translation, but that doesn’t mean they will find it easy to understand or indeed preferable to one in another of the languages they speak.

Scripture engagement specialists are not focused on a tick box approach of language and availability. Before “Appropriate translation” they speak of the need for “Appropriate language, dialect and orthography” and along with “availability” comes “accessible forms of scripture”. These are just four of eight conditions that emerged from many years of research and form the basis of many training programs and of a new website featuring a Scripture Engagement guide that helps communities think through some of these issues for themselves.

Pentecost 2022: Encouragement for a more multilingual church June 4, 2022

Posted by Pete B in multilingualism, worship.
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I’ve been blogging for a while about #multilingualchurch. Here’s why – A rich diversity of language and culture was God’s idea!

This is an idea explored a few times in a new book, “Language and the mission of God“. This is an ebook with a suggested price of $25 but a minimum price of “FREE” , that asks, amongst other things, “How does our perception of language influence our lives and ministries?”

If it’s the first time you’ve been asked that, ponder it yourself for a while while listening to this very multilingual compilation of “the Blessing”.

Long before the “World Blessing, the “UK Blessing”, the “The Blessing Zimbabwe” or before that particular 2020 worship chart topper was sung in over 214 languages in over 100 nations around the world, it was God’s idea to bless not just one chosen people but to bless all the nations.

At Pentecost three amazing things happen:

  1. The Holy Spirit comes on a waiting but hidden group of believers
  2. He gives them the gift of speaking other languages (and the hearers a gift of being spoken too)
  3. He launches the church as something that is not confined by language or culture.
image pixabay

It’s 30 years since I first really heard about Pentecost in a way that spoke to me and made me realise that the fragments of the Bible I’d heard many times before might fit together into something that was both attractive and true.

Pentecost definitely isn’t the first appearance of the Holy Spirit but it’s the start of something new. Jesus had said he was going back to the Father (I recently saw a facebook post where someone talked of Ascension day as the day Jesus started working from home), and he had told his disciples to wait. He’d said that he would send a new counsellor.

As with many other things Jesus had said, the disciples probably didn’t get what he meant at the time, but with a possible threat to their own lives they had good reason to be hiding away.

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gave the tired believers new courage to proclaim good news to those around them. May that be our prayer and practice in the church today.

Puppies and Kittens in the Bible #4 May 29, 2022

Posted by Pete B in Scripture Engagement.
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It’s four year since I wrote a trilogy of posts on Puppies and Kittens in the Bible …and time to say something new.

“don’t let that which was there to attract you, distract you”

This could be said of puppies and kittens, or of worship songs, church architecture, or “good” preaching. But you were possibly hooked in by the promise of puppies, so here is one.

#is_this_a_real_bible

The Peaceful Puppies Bible was indeed a real thing, published in 2012 and (according to the blurb on Google books) aimed at 6-10 year olds.

I have no doubt that many of the owners of Peaceful Puppies Bibles treasured them and loved each of the 12 cute pictures that allowed the book to deliver on its title. I wonder if as they’ve grown they have questioned some of the captions?

In the example above there is one verse, a simple exhortation, “live at peace with everyone” with two qualifiers, “if it is possible” and “as far as it depends on you”. The larger commentary however ignores the qualifiers, acknowledges that life can be tough but states, “God expects us to live in peace with everyone around us“.

No he doesn’t.

God expects that there are times it will be tough.

God expects that at times it won’t be possible, and it doesn’t completely depend on us.

Don’t let the cute puppy distract you. Read the Bible not just the comments. Read it in context. Read it with others. Discuss it. Pray about it.

And, while there is a time for study there are also times to simply rest in God’s word and be comforted.

You can read more on Puppies and Kittens in the Bible, along with a post on is this a real Bible and some further reflections on design in how to make the Bible look good and why it matters. You could also keep scrolling through your social media feed for the next cute or funny animal picture – there are times when we can can benefit from some gentle distraction.

More thoughts on design and engagement with scripture coming soon.

How to make the Bible look good (and why it matters) May 23, 2022

Posted by Pete B in Scripture Engagement.
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Before you read the post (you could) watch this video about how to sound smart in a Ted Talk. (or not)

The video is worth watching (and also says very little) because it is about how style and presentation make a difference.

It is a lesson that has been learned in the world of Bible translation and in the related, but not always respected, world of Bible marketing. The big difference?

The Bible is full of amazing content!

It’s stories have resonated throughout the centuries and its truths continue to transform lives for good. When people open and engage with the Bible they discover that “Good News” isn’t just marketing hype. This book really will change you life!

But the challenge is that people do continue to judge a book by it’s cover. They judge the Christians and the church and the Bible by what they see.

did the picture help grab your attention?

Some see an old book with a lot of pages that doesn’t fit with their view of life in the 21st century. They’ve seen it on TV waved by people who use it as a weapon, they’ve seen it held up in a court of law in a system that effectively uses it to call down a curse if they tell a lie.

Some see it as foreign and alien to their culture.

Some see at something to be respected, but not necessarily read at home.

Some see it marketed differently …and still don’t like it because the marketing looks like sales hype.

I’m not a fan of all of the options for Bible covers and bits to make it look attractive (see earlier post on “Is this a real Bible?“), but neither do I want to go for the lowest cost printing options with no thought to design.

I’m also not a fan of all the things we do to try and make church attractive to outsiders. I was once part of a church that had an old poster insider that said “Our church is about the people, not the building” – which was and is true, but from the outside the building looked very uncared for. Cleaning the windows, tidying the garden, repainting, updating the sign and noticeboard, were all part of the process of refreshing the building and the people, ready to welcome new people. At least one person who joined us in the months that followed told us, “I’d never noticed there was a church here”.

Looking ‘good’ is only one element of design in Bibles, Church buildings or events (or anything else). Design is about how well it works not just how good it looks.

The attractive looking “Digital Strategy Guides” at internationalmediaservices.org/strategy-guides have a few things to say about design and I hope to follow up with a few more posts over the next few weeks.

What an atheist learnt from dating a devout Christian March 21, 2022

Posted by Pete B in Uncategorized.
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There are a lot of lapsed atheists in the world. I used to not believe in God but that was over thirty years ago. In an article from 2019, journalist Michael Burton declared:

I’m an atheist. I have been for as long as I can remember. All my closest friends are atheists. We do atheist things like fear death and worry about the meaninglessness of life. Then, about a year ago, something quite unexpected happened: I fell in love with a Christian. A proper one, too. For her, God is as certain as daybreak and nightfall.

Michael Burton, https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/atheism-date-christian-love-religion-relationships-god-a8934071.html

Back in the final days of my own atheism I didn’t specifically fear death – I figured that once you were dead you ceased to exist and consequently weren’t to bothered about being dead. Life however was another matter entirely. Life, at times, was scary. I guess Michael understands that too – in another article he talks about the time in 2010 that he spent a year going blind. That’s another story, long before he met his girlfriend, but like every other human on the planet he still has troubles…

Whenever I’m going through emotional turmoil or have a tough decision to make, she’ll say, “I’ll pray for you.” This was infuriating at first. It was like I’d cut myself and she was saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll ask my imaginary friend to get some plasters.” In time, however, I realised that, for her, praying is perhaps the most intimate and loving gesture she can undertake.

I also used to think of God as “an imaginary friend” for people who didn’t know better. Atheists can be a bit arrogant that way …but I’ve since learned that Christians (and people of other faiths), can be a bit arrogant too, secure in our own belief and convinced that everyone else is wrong or misguided. Atheists make assumptions about Christians and people of other faiths, Christians make assumptions about atheists, and people of other faiths …and also make assumptions about people in other branches of our own faith.

A final quote from Michael (you can read more in the original article:

I’ve never read it but I have to say, the Bible is full of good stuff. So much fantastic life advice in that book. There isn’t an inspirational meme or a self-help topic that hasn’t been written about and worded better in the Bible. Although I don’t buy into the metaphysical aspect of it all, my girlfriend has quoted passages from the good book to me that I love.

I’d not have gone as far as say I’d never read the Bible. I was raised at a time when you occasionally had to. I was even sent to church and Sunday school until I was 8 or 9, but I never really read it of my own choice, at least not until after I’d met some ‘devout Christians’ at university.

For me however, it wasn’t just the ‘devout Christians’ that had an impact. I assumed they’d just been brought up that way. I was more surprised when my room-mate told me that he believed in God, but wasn’t interested in church or the Bible for now. He said he’d get serious about God when he was older – he wanted to enjoy life first.

It may seem foolish to ask an “imaginary friend” for help but if you believe in a creator God who actually wants to be involved in your life, then ignoring him seems totally crazy. If God is the reason you exist, then surely he should have some impact on how you live?

I was still an atheist at that point, but perhaps a less committed one, and when my own turmoil hit later, I did open a Bible, and gradually shifted from convinced but nominal atheist, to someone who was searching, and then from someone who was searching, to someone who felt found.

I’d unsurprisingly agree that “the Bible is full of good stuff”. In my initial enthusiasm I ploughed through the New Testament in four weeks and the Old in four months, but even after 30+ years of reading it there are some bits I’m still waiting to understand.

Words like butter – anxiety is not a one verse problem February 6, 2022

Posted by Pete B in Scripture Engagement.
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I just had a rant at a facebook post promoting ucb.co.uk/word-for-today/89157. Here’s why…

Anxiety is tough and the psalmist knows that. I’m disappointed that the notes provide no link to the whole psalm in which the psalmist pleads with God for a change in his circumstances, and in the actions and attitudes of his friends. (see verses 20-21 for the reference to “words like butter”)

Out of context verses like verse 22 can falsely imply that anxiety is a failure to trust in God. This was not UCB’s intent, but many Christians suffering from clinical levels of anxiety have had well meaning friends quote things like this.

It can be helpful to follow the pattern of the psalms in venting our frustrations to God. He is patient with us, can take it and already understands where we are at. So, if you are going to point people to verse 22, please point them to the whole psalm.

In reply to my post, UCB added, “We want to always encourage readers to read the full scriptures which are referenced in Word For Today”. So here is all of psalm 55 via Bible Gateway  biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalms 55


After a previous post on the dangers of reading tiny bits of scripture a friend reminded me of the saying, “a text without a context is a pretext” – which got me wondering about who said that first and in what context. Apparently the full quote is, “a text without a context is a pretext for a prooftext” and is attributed by Canadian theologian, D.A. Carson to his father. This is not not say a single verse cannot speak powerfully, but rather that it is open to misinterpretation.

The dangers of reading tiny bits of scripture January 29, 2022

Posted by Pete B in Scripture Engagement.
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God can and often does speak powerfully through single verses of scripture, even when they are quoted out of context, but there are dangers in this to. People seem quite keen on sharing affirming, ‘feel good’ verses but nice people rarely quote single verses about not eating ravens, or about slaughtering other nations. (I’d be worried if you did and don’t recommend it).

I recently noticed one encouraging sounding verse posted on the YouVersion Facebook page and shared over 2,500 times in the first 24 hours.

Being told that God goes with you and will not leave or forsake you is encouraging …unless you happen to be using it to justify doing something that God doesn’t want you to do.

The original context is that these are words spoken by Moses to Joshua, encouraging him that God would be with him as he entered the promised land. It is repeated again in Deut 6:8 and in Joshua 1:9

“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deut 6:8

Less people share Deut 6:9-10 reminding people about cancelling debts and commanding them to listen to the public reading of scripture:

“So Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the Levitical priests, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel. Then Moses commanded them: “At the end of every seven years, in the year for cancelling debts, during the Festival of Tabernacles when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose, you shall read this law before them in their hearing.” 

Even less people are likely to share “And the Lord said to Moses: “You are going to rest with your ancestors, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. And in that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and calamities will come on them, and in that day they will ask, ‘Have not these disasters come on us because our God is not with us?’ “

Joshua 1:9 repeats the encouragement

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

…but does so after saying

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

The next few books of the Bible make it clear that the Israelites did not follow “all the law”, neither the people, nor their rulers (even the good ones). It should be added that Christians don’t follow all the laws either. Acts 15 (over more than a few verses) makes it clear that God accepted non-Jews without a need to follow Old Testament law. If you want to find out more about that read the whole chapter…

bible.com/en-GB/bible/111/ACT.15.10-11

I’d like to encourage reading the whole Bible, but there are challenges in that too. I recently posted on four dangers of reading the Bible in a year and plan on a few more posts this year on the benefits and challenges of Bible reading.

So far this year I’ve read more books of the Bible than I expected. Some of it is a bit tough going but having read it before I’m glad that I know how it ends.

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