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2017 Bible Translation statistics and bits of Scripture November 10, 2017

Posted by P, J, or J in Uncategorized.


The latest annual statistics for Bible translation progress are now live at http://wycliffe.net/statistics.

Congratulations to Eddie Arthur for being the first to blog about them and raise some great questions about “The Minimum Unit of Scripture“.

If you don’t have time to read all this post you can skip to the big bit in bold  at the end about someone impacted by half a verse.

We used to require a complete book of scripture, often a gospel, before we declared that there was ‘some scripture’ in a language. Well meaning people then often boldly declared that everyone else didn’t even have a single verse, or worse didn’t have a single word of scripture. I’d usually point out that most of the words existed but that no one had put them in the right order yet. Often there would also have been verses, and stories translated and accessible.

Eddie, suggests we shouldn’t be content with just translating a bits of scripture and presenting them out of context. I agree.

To take one quote from him. “Scripture isn’t a series of isolated stories that can be stripped from their context”.

He also says, “can we say that a language has Scripture if a verse has been translated?”

This leads him to the statement, “Christians (and evangelicals in particular?) tend to think of the Bible in terms of isolated passages, rather than seeing it as a connected, coherent text – and ultimately as a canon. We need to take steps and adopt language that helps us to avoid this tendency and to see the Bible as it really is.”

Again I’d agree. The few quotes I’ve given here might be enough to help you dig deeper but to truly understand what Eddie is saying you need to read his whole post. Maybe you also need to read that post in the context of the rest of his blog, and maybe the blog itself is best understood if you’ve spent some time with Eddie and know even more about his heart and his passion for mission.

  • Can we say that a language has Scripture if a verse has been translated?

No. We can say people have access to some scripture in that language. We might also want to avoid saying that they don’t have any scripture.

  • Is translation finished when the New Testament is completed? 
  • Should we wait until the full Bible is completed before we let people here the first portion? 
  • Is translation finished when the whole Bible is translated?

I’ll let you answer the first three of those questions for yourself and ask one more

  • How many people still need the Bible?

My answer is, “all of us’.


  • Who needs scripture translating for them?

The statistics I help compile give numbers for how many translation projects are in progress and what level of scripture each of those have. They also give a number for how many languages are known or believed to need work to begin, but who needs more scripture translating is not a simple question, especially in contexts where scripture is already available in another language that people can understand well.

Obviously the ability to understand the words and meaning in available translations is important, but language is about connection as well as comprehension. Often, speakers of ‘non-majority languages’ can understand most of the Bible in a language they use in school or the workplace but it still speaks to them very differently in the language they use at home. Others struggle because they available text is in a very formal or old fashioned form of their language.

I no longer need the Bible translating into my language for the first time but I’m glad for some of the modern translations in recent decades.

Half a verse

Before I joined Wycliffe the friend of a new Christian I knew said, “I tried reading the Bible once. All those thee’s and thou’s – I couldn’t understand it”

I opened my modern translation ‘at random’  to somewhere near John 3:16.

He read a tiny portion from  John 1:38, “Rabbi, (this word means teacher)” , and declared, “Hey, this is great! It tells you what it means”.

I got him a copy of his own and he waved it at me in the staff canteen a few days later, and called across the room to say he was still reading it.

To understand the whole story, you need the whole story, but to half quote what someone famous once said, “every journey starts with a single step”.






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