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If Bible Translation was an Olympic Event… August 1, 2021

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, Statistics.
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If Bible translation was an Olympic event then looking at languages per country, the ‘medal’ table for the first 20 countries might look something like the chart below. But it all depends on what you count…

& Stories
1 India7212567264
4Democratic Republic
of the Congo
10Papua New Guinea16265137418
20Russian Federation10222961
data from progress.bible July 2021

The chart shows totals for translated scripture by the ‘hub country’ for each language. This avoids counting a language in more than one country but can sometimes give a distorted picture – as could assuming that all the athletes representing a country speak only the ‘national’ language of the country.

The truth is that many Olympic teams and many Olympic cities are a celebration of diversity. The website Olympic Cities states that London is “A world-in-one city”, “With no less than 230 languages spoken”. (most sources claim over 300 languages spoken in the city, and I suspect that to be an underestimate).

Charts showing the number of Olympic medals won by each nation rarely include columns about the numbers of athletes entering or the total population of the country. The chart on Bible translations above doesn’t show the total number of languages for each country.

Another ‘problem’ with my chart is that it doesn’t take into account how recently the translations have been completed, or how readily available they are.

So here’s a quick table of the world totals from the last few Olympic years, along with a couple of notes of explanation.

(so far)
New Testament96010341168127514421583
data from wycliffe.net and progress.bible

Translation statistics above are those reported by Wycliffe Global Alliance, usually up until September 30 of each year, so there are still a few to add for 2021. ‘Results’ don’t come in quite as quickly as for the Olympics – figures here are from July 2021.

The leap in 2016 is due to identification of some previously unreported translations plus a change in reporting which included selections and stories rather than limiting portions to the translation of a full book.

Currently, work is in progress in over 700 of the languages in which nothing has been published, and many languages that have ‘something’ will have a lot more by the start of the Paris Olympics in 2024.

As for availability, most published scriptures are available in print and/or audio somewhere (if you know where to look) and in recent years an amazing (Olympian?) effort has been made to make scripture available digitally with scripture now available in at least 2100 languages via apps and websites with about 200 of these being made available for the first time just this year. (almost 90 new on YouVersion since my last blog post and 28 new languages added in June to the audio recordings from faithcomesbyhearing.com ).

The apps with scriptures in the most languages are YouVersion and Bible.is and the most complete public index of these and others is ScriptureEarth.org.

A quick request. I don’t mind how many people link to this blog post, but I’d love to see more churches celebrating the variety of languages and cultures in their community, helping people find scripture online and exploring other aspects of being a more multilingual church. If your church website and social media doesn’t already link to online Bibles, why not suggest it?

The Bible: between 1500-1600 April 10, 2021

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, Scripture Engagement, Statistics.
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When I mentioned that YouVersion had scripture in 1555 languages, one facebook friend thought that I was talking about the language of the year 1555, not the number of languages. Perhaps I should have written my post to commemorate the first authorised translations in the English language “Great Bible” of 1539, also known as the “Chained Bible”.

“The Great Bible” 1539, also known as “The Chained Bible”

A lot of things changed in regard to the availability of scripture in the 1500’s. I’ll mention a few of them before reflecting on the amazing progress being made in our own century.

William Tyndale started translating the Bible into English in the 1520’s, with the New Testament first published in 1525. For this (and perhaps for some of the words used) he was forced to flee. In 1536 charged with heresy, he was tied to a stake, strangled and then his body burned. His final words are reported as, “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes.”

His prayer was answered. The principle of an English Bible was legalised in 1536 and the first authorised text was approved in 1537 (here’s the letter). While not given official credit, Tyndale’s translation was built upon in the Matthew Bible (1537), The Great Bible (1539), and the Authorised Version or King James Bible (1611).

The Mathew Bible 1537, British Library
“The Byble, which is all the holy Scripture: in whych are contayned the Olde and Newe Testament
truly and purely translated into Englysh by Thomas Matthew.”
View more at https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/matthews-bible

You can read more about the various versions on the website of the British Library in a 2019 article by Alec Ryrie, “From Sacred Scriptures to the people’s Bible” .

The picture at the top of this post is of the “Great Bible” which as the caption says and the Wikipedia article explains, the name was due to it’s size and it was also referred to as the “Chained Bible”.

Suddenly, it wasn’t just legal for churches to own a copy, it was commanded,

In 1538, Cromwell directed the clergy to provide “one book of the Bible of the largest volume in English, and the same set up in some convenient place within the said church that ye have care of, whereas your parishioners may most commodiously resort to the same and read it.”


But, on display in the church was still different to being available in people’s homes. The Bible’s were often chained to prevent removal from the church.

Today, as I also mention a lot in my blog posts, the Bible is very widely available in a huge number of languages. There are full Bible in over 700 languages.

progress.bible/data March 2021

Many others have at least a New Testament

progress.bible/data March 2021

And still more have selections and individual books of the Bible published.

progress.bible/data March 2021

Published, still isn’t the same as freely available to everyone and freely available isn’t the same as people knowing where and how to access a copy, but through print and digital versions this is getting closer. Making scripture available on an app or website still doesn’t quite make it accessible to everyone, but it’s certainly a help.

I started the post with my friends confusion about YouVersion having the Bible (or at least part of it) in 1555 languages. This was on March 24, 2021. By the time I started writing this post that number had gone up to 1575 languages, and as I publish the number at the bottom of their page at bible.com has just shot up to 2375 versions in 1639 languages.
It might be more by the time you click the link!

YouVersion isn’t the only platform providing scripture as text, audio, and as part of films including the Jesus film and the new Lumo Gospel films. Also check out the recordings data base of Faith Comes By Hearing and via their bible.is app. ScriptureEarth.org is another fantastic resource, providing links to the major platforms and also hosting a large number of additional texts and recordings along with links to individual apps and scripture sites.

Do you know anyone who doesn’t know that an “unchained” Bible is available on their phone? Is your church making people aware of this?

Reading (or watching) the Bible for fun April 6, 2021

Posted by Pete B in Scripture Engagement.
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It’s been said that you can’t judge a book by its cover – but people still do. The cover of the Doric New Testament does not scream “fun”, and yet that is a comment from a genuine review on Amazon.

“I love this bible . It’s such fun . I read it aloud to who ever will listen , usually my long suffering friend . I know the regular bible well but it’s SO good to read it in local dialect and reading it aloud helps me work out what it means . Some of the words are so funny . As a Lossiemouth girl ( originally ) who has lived in the North East of Scotland all my life it’s like reading it afresh with new eyes . It touches my heart and is as real as any other bible .” –

Tea Jenny, Amazon Review of The Doric New Testament, Translated by Gordon Hay

When I started to ask, “Why do people read the Bible?“, not many said because it was fun. I think it’s a valid reason, but might need to explain that.

Holy Doric?

I suspect that a few people would be uncomfortable with the idea of reading the Bible for fun, because “fun” might imply not taking scripture seriously. There are jokes in the Bible, but most of them get lost in translation. In the case of the Doric New Testament, the delight appears to be in the incongruity of local dialect words being used, phrases that truly “bring something home” to the readers but with words that sound a little strange on the lips of Jesus and those around him, because people are more used to hearing scripture in more formal language.

The final line of the review is also telling, both in “it touches my heart” and “is as real as any other Bible”.

Bible translation isn’t just about making the word available to people who can’t understand it in another language, or in more formal language, but is about the idea that the language use can touch the heart. Translation organisations have even made a lot of the phrase “heart language” and my own organisation has recently begun recognising that in a multilingual world, some people have more than one “heart language”.

The second point is that people do have expectations, including oddly enough, that the Bible should sound formal and harder to understand, and that anything that sounds too colloquial somehow isn’t a proper Bible. Some fans of the King James Version for instance, like to point to certain ideas about the beauty of the translation, and the integrity of the source texts, but for many it’s probably more of a notion that it just “sounds holier”. (though in 1611, people may have had a different idea)

Watching a Bible themed TV series for fun?

The TV series “The Chosen” doesn’t claim to be the Bible.

The Chosen is based on the true stories of the gospels of Jesus Christ. Some locations and timelines have been combined or condensed. Backstories and some characters or dialogue have been added.

However, all biblical and historical context and any artistic imagination are designed to support the truth and intention of the Scriptures. Viewers are encouraged to read the gospels.

Opening credits of the Chosen Series 1, https://watch.angelstudios.com/thechosen/watch

The writers have clearly and intentionally made up the backstories of the characters, and have also put words into the mouth of Jesus that are not recorded in scripture. (more on that in another post). All that being said, I binge watched the entire first season over Easter and enjoyed it. I’ve seen many film portrayals of Jesus over the years and as one pastor friend said of the series, this “makes him real”. (Neither of us are in doubt that Jesus was and is real, but I get what he meant). The portrayal is of a Jesus who dances at the wedding in Cana, who shows care and concern for his mother who laughs with his disciples, and who’s meeting with Nicodemus sounds like a compassionate conversation rather that than a set of theological sound bites. Does it get everything right? No. But then, neither do I when I imagine the scenes in my own head.

Like the Doric New Testament part of the joy of the interpretation is in it’s use of language that doesn’t sound like the Bible you are used to reading.

The show can be viewed via it’s own website or app and is also available on YouVersion’s Bible site and App. It is being translated into about 50 languages. Doric isn’t one of them. If you’ve not seen it yet, take a look at the trailer and see what you think…

Why do people read the Bible? – looking for answers, and finding questions March 23, 2021

Posted by Pete B in Scripture Engagement.
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The reason I first started reading the Bible was simple: I didn’t believe in God …but I wanted to.

I was looking for purpose in life, and at that point simply a reason to keep living.

Some people start with a belief in God and a desire to know him more.

Some start with a desire to know him more, if he is real, not being sure when we start the search either because we’ve never been part of a community of believers or because we’ve been disillusioned or let down.

So perhaps it was desperation, perhaps curiosity, perhaps hope that led me to read the Bible.

I’d listened to a tape of Christian music (For anyone not born in the last century, this was 1989, in the days when music was stored on reels of magnetic tape). In the final song, the enthusiastic young songwriter was singing about how he’d read the Bible and now had a life overflowing with love, joy, peace and power. I didn’t believe a word of it …but I wanted to, so I went and found the pocket sized New Testament I’d been given at school and actually started reading it.

Reading the Bible helped me make sense of the bits I’d already heard, helped me understand more about the central character in the story, find some of the deeper answers I thought I’d been looking for, and a few surprises along the way.

The purpose of this post however, isn’t to give the story of my journey over the years with God and the Bible, but just to highlight that different people will have different starting points and different experiences. Some may come looking for reassurance, encouragement, direction, intimacy with God, answers to issues in life. Some even come for reasons that don’t sound so great. Some have come looking for an argument and to try an disprove the Bible. There are testimonies of people who have come with this attitude and had their lives turned around, but there are also those who read the gospels and yet somehow miss the good news.

Have you stopped to think why and when you started reading the Bible? How does it compare to other people in (or not in) your church?

Why do People Read the Bible: The Boy who promised his mother March 20, 2021

Posted by Pete B in Scripture Engagement.
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The boy who promised his mother
There’s a story of a 13 year old boy who “promised his dying mother that he would read a portion of the Bible each day for the rest of his life”.

The story has been been printed in the front of millions of New Testaments handed out for free in schools by the Gideons, and distributed in hotels, hospitals and prisons around the world.

It’s nearly 40 years since I was given a Gideon New Testament and 30 years since I started reading it.

Page 1 of the Gideon NT contains a list of contents and a Bible quote.
It starts with several pages of references on “Where to Find Help”, followed by “Guidance in life” before getting to “what the Bible says”

So the assumption is that people turn to the Bible for help and guidance.
The verse however points to John’s intention for writing his telling of Gospel:
“30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name”

This is part of a short series asking the question, “Why do people read the Bible?
This is a different question to why do we think they/we should, and one I think is worth exploring.

The Gideon’s UK is no longer part of Gideon’s International and has now become “Good News For Everyone”. Their Bible Helps section is available online.

Why do people read the Bible? March 5, 2021

Posted by Pete B in Scripture Engagement.
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This simple question of why people do read the Bible is different to the question of why people think they, or other should read the Bible. For me, the reason I started reading the Bible seemed relatively simple: I didn’t believe in God …but I wanted to

Reading the Bible helped me make sense of the bits I’d already heard, helped me understand more about the central character in the story, find some of the deeper answers I thought I’d been looking for, and a few surprises along the way.

Other people have different journeys, and even different views as to what the Bible is and is for. So I threw this question out to a few friends and colleagues.

You might want to read some of the responses I got, or listen to a short sermon I preached virtually on the topic, skim the slides, or read some further reflections (coming soon). Or you might just like to ask your own friends, family, colleagues, and neighbours, why they think people read the Bible. Who knows, you may be as surprised by some of the responses as I was.

View Sermon or Slides

With grateful reference to https://www.wycliffe.org.uk​ , http://biblesociety.org​ , https://btlkenya.org​ , https://www.gideons.org​, https://goodnewsuk.com​, http://www.catndogtheology.com​, and the Bible (available via http://bible.com​ , http://bible.is​, https://scriptureearth.org​ )

More posts

coming soon.

  • Making Bibles acceptable – an old story
  • Are there wrong reasons for reading the Bible
  • Why did people write the Bible in the first place?

Researching Bibles in Braille February 20, 2021

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, Statistics.
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I recently noticed that the Digital Bible Library now includes 53 Braille Entries in 41 languages. and I wondered how many Bibles are actually available in Braille …and how many people know about them.

The next day, I spotted a facebook post asking whether Wycliffe or SIL had anyone working on Braille Bibles. I didn’t know. But I know a lot more now…

I didn’t find much in the public SIL archives but I did find a literacy journal from 1974 that spoke of Braille transcription in four languages in Papua New Guinea. I also found a reference to work in Togo in the 1990’s. An article and infographic from 2015 on the Scottish Bible Society website talked about some of the challenges of Braille Bibles (40 volumes, not very portable, not really cheap), and why they are still important (people want to read them). It also mentioned that while the full Bible was available in over 500 languages only 40 had been transcribed into Braille. That was 2015.
It’s now 2021 and the full Bible is available in over 700 languages, with at least 46 having been transcribed into Braille. It is encouraging to read that back in 2015 some Braille Scripture was available in another 200 languages. I look forward to updating this post when I discover how many more have been added to that list.

According to an article I found on the Bible Society of Northern Ireland, the Luganda Braille Bible, launched in 2018 was the 45th full Braille Bible. In Nov 2020 this was followed by the Runyankole/Rukiga Braille Bible.

Just to be clear Braille is a writing system not a language so texts are transcribed not translated. Just as there are many different printed writing systems there are also a number of different Braille alphabets.

ScriptSource, a website dedicated to cataloguing the worlds writing systems currently lists 98 languages that use Braille https://www.scriptsource.org/cms/scripts/page.php?item_id=script_detail&key=Brai

The 2013 World Braille Usage report lists 133 https://www.perkins.org/international/world-braille-usage.

There are over 7,000 languages in the world. Fortunately some of them use the same alphabets.

So with a bit of research I know a lot more than I did this morning. I even know of a UK organisation that has spent the last 30 years helping to transcribe, publish and distribute Braille Bibles. Compass Braille’s website provides a full list of languages they have worked with, details of current projects, and stories of the impact this ministry is having.

I look forward to learning more.

Are there 600 languages spoken in Scotland? January 29, 2021

Posted by Pete B in multilingualism.
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No one knows but the 2022 census might get closer to finding out.

I recently spotted the list of 600+ language classification codes at https://www.scotlandscensus.gov.uk/ods-web/metadata.html?metadatavar=language-classification#

I was waiting to hear if these are languages that have already been identified as appearing at least once in a previous census or just a selection from the 7000+ languages in the world that might be identified if made available on the list?

…and while I was posting this blog an email arrived

The list of 600 languages available on the Scotland’s Census website is known as the classification index. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) are responsible for the census in England and Wales. The Scotland’s Census classification index is based on the ONS one so it is possible the 300 categories you have seen on their website may be a summary presentation. Enquiries on that would need to be made direct to ONS. An assessment was also made of the ISO 639-1 list of recognised written languages to check for completeness. For Scotland’s Census 2022 those who respond online will be offered suggested languages depending on what they begin to type (known as ‘predictive text’). If their language is not offered as a prompt they can type in their language therefore giving the ability to collect information on languages we may not have listed.

Business Management Unit, Scotland’s Census 2022

So I think the answer remains, no one knows quite how many languages are spoken in Scotland but if you speak one of the 600+ on the list and live in Scotland, you can report it one the 2022 census, and hopefully the same list is being used for the England and Wales, and Northern Ireland censuses. (despite being the United Kingdom we have three census boards)

Languages are both hard to count and to classify. YouTuber and linguistics graduate Tom Scott explains in a video that has been seen over 800,000 times since December, quoting a number that will be out of date by the end of February.

The answer is, of course, a bit more complicated than you might think. • Tom Scott, written with Molly Ruhl and Gretchen McCulloch

Those (including some Scots) not sure whether Scots is a language or a dialect, here is a sample of some aims articulated in a 2013 report written in Scots
it is thocht important tae:

  • promote mair the idea o bilingualism an multilingualism;
  • provide trainin for teachers throu professional oncome an initial teacher education on Community leids;
  • speir at weys that folk can access an uphaud their Community leids;
  • mak shair that folk gets alloued access eneuch tae their leid an culture.   

You can also learn more at scotslanguage.com

Meanwhile, in preparation for the 2020 USA census, “Any language that was written in at least once between 1980 and 2015 was given a code. This resulted in 1,334 language codes” (quote from census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/working-papers/2018/demo/SEHSD-WP2018-31.pdf .

The list of codes is at https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/demo/about/language-use/primary_language_list.pdf …and, just to be clear, Scots is on the list!

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