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pies, more pies, and statistics December 15, 2009

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, Statistics, Uncategorized, wycliffe.

many people still need a pie

Like many appearently simple sets of statistics, the ones we recently helped to compile around Bible translation are a lot more complicated than they first appear. It’s easy to misrepresent them and end up saying something that the data doesn’t actually say. Often neither the numbers nor the people being told about them worry too much, but we’ve been working hard to make sure the people and organisations who use Wycliffe International’s official statistics have a clear idea what the data says and what it doesn’t.

eg it’s true to say that from a count of languages where there is understood to be a clear need for Bible translation along with a calculated estimate (guess) of how many might need a translation within the languages where further survey is needed, we have a current estimate of 2252 languages that may need translation to start.

From this it’s true to say “Number of languages where Bible translation may need to begin: 2252”

…but a bit less accurate to say:

“only 2252 languages still to go!”  – with further study the estimate might go up!

or “Number of languages without the Bible: 2252”  – the reality is that of the approximately 6,900 languages in the world less than 500 actually have the complete Bible, and just over 2000 others have a New Testament, or a few books, or a few verses. There are also projects started that currently don’t have any published scripture, and a number of languages where for various reasons translation is not seen as necessary by either the linguists or the community (eg a language may still be classed as ‘living’ even if most of the remaining live speakers use an alternative language for daily communications).

One other thing that occured to us it that you could accurately (if confusingly) say:

“Number of languages that need the Bible = 0”

Languages do not need the Bible – but people who use them do, and they need to access God’s Word in a way that speaks to them, usually in the language they understand best and in a variety of forms. In addition to print, the gospel is enacted in film, spoken and used in songs on CDs, tapes, downloadable MP3’s, radio, and in many other forms that you (as someone with access to the whole ‘pie’ in many forms) have  encountered the words and message of the Bible.

It’s nearly Christmas, a time of many traditions, including over eating (by those of us with ample access to lots of food). Feast well and spare a thought for people in other places and circumstances. They’re not just statistics.

nice idea, bad drawing

(Feel free to email me a better drawn cartoon for this. Both graphics can be used freely in your own posts if you link back to the original.)


1. Peter - December 15, 2009

also see http://tominthebox.blogspot.com/2009/11/unreached-people-groups-everywhere.html “Unreached People Groups Everywhere Rejoice over New NIV translation” (I suspect a few quotes may be made up)
I’m not personally as opposed as some to there being yet another English transation, but I hope people and publishers will stop to consider their response to those with less choice and opportunity.


2. “Lies, damned lies and statistics” « John 20:21 - December 17, 2009

[…] Now friend and colleague Peter Brassington has come up with a subtle paraphrase to explain the difficulties of supplying statistics for Bible translation in a blog entitled Pies, more pies and statistics. […]


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