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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.

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.

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.

Finding Hidden Diaspora Languages: Who is looking? January 19, 2022

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, multilingualism, refugees, Scripture Engagement, Statistics.
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As part of my wider interest in Multilingual Church this is part 3 in a series on finding hidden diaspora languages. This section looks at “who is interested” (which includes perhaps anyone who makes it to the bottom of this blog), and who is interested enough to collect and explore the actual data.

Lots of organisations, both Christian and secular, collect and share information about or for the many diaspora communities

“Diaspora” is a title used both by self defined members of specific diaspora communities and those outside.

Today, some churches and Christian organisations talk about diaspora mission and think in terms of how we can find many ‘unreached peoples’ living in some of the major cities of the world. 

But how many? Which ones? And how do we connect?

Global Gates is one example of an American mission organisation, asking “Where should Christians prioritize work and prayer to see the least-evangelized peoples in North America reached with the gospel?”. Their publicly downloadable data covers just under 60 people groups across 60 metropolitan areas in the USA. They invite submissions of new information but state: “the people group must number at least 5,000 in the city to be included”.

Several other organisations including PeopleGroups.info and Joshua Project are looking for and sharing information.  Most are still only scratching the surface in terms of diaspora language information, but at least they are raising the questions. 

Who lives around us? 

Where else can we find members of a specific people group outside of their homeland? 

Personally, I have been interacting with other data sources and some of the people behind them for a number of years, first as a writer, webmaster, and communications specialist with Wycliffe UK, Wycliffe Canada and Wycliffe Global Alliance, then as an advocate and explorer of digital engagement (an emerging field within Scripture Engagement), and more recently in a broader field of missiology as well as data specialist with the SIL Global diaspora team.

In the last few years SIL has begun to talk about MUSE (Multilingualism Urbanisation and Scripture Engagement). We knew that people weren’t just moving from the villages to the cities, they were moving all over the world. And so without adding to the acronym there quietly emerged an SIL Global Diaspora Team, gathering data, stories, and a lot of questions with a remit, “to help SIL discern and articulate best modes of engagement with dispersed language communities and those who serve them, and to encourage and develop initiatives that advance meaningful development, education, and engagement with Scripture in urban, refugee and broader diaspora contexts.”

It is helpful to ask who else is interested in the questions of where languages are being spoken, and what languages people speak? Two clear audiences are Bible Translation agencies and Churches but they are not the only people. Governments and agencies collect or at least use what is available in terms of data on languages to plan and provide services. Thinking about who else wants to know opens up the way for discovering partnerships or data sources.

Questions I asked when presenting at the Bible Translation conference included:

  • Who is responsible in our organisation for knowing where to look and who to ask?
  • Is there someone responsible in your organisation?
  • How do we connect?

You can find key organisations, authors, and data sets through literature reviews, google searches, following some key social media feeds, and occasionally doing searches for key terms showing up in the news such as “languages” , “multilingual”, “multicultural” and “intercultural”.

Here are just a few of the organisations I’ve identified that collect information on communities and/or languages. They are all talking to each other yet but a lot of the available data can be explored and analysed.

Open Doors doesn’t specifically give information on languages but provides information about religious persecution of Christians. Many of the remaining needs for Bible translation are in countries on Open Doors World Watch list and different ethnic groups from these countries are often among the hidden diaspora, not yet recorded on the sites above.

The graphic at the top of the page also includes some sites for accessing scripture and other resources. The final links on this page points back to my first post in this series Finding Hidden Diaspora Languages: Intro and a bit more on Why it matters.

The Dangers of Reading the Bible in a Year January 3, 2022

Posted by Pete B in Scripture Engagement.
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At the start of 2022 there are many apps, podcasts and reading plans to help you read the Bible in a year. One popular plan from Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne (or McCheyne) dates back to the mid 19th century and came with warnings of some specific dangers:

  1. Formality .– We are such weak creatures that any regularly returning duty is apt to degenerate into a lifeless form . The tendency of reading the Word by a fixed rule may, in some minds, be to create this skeleton religion. This is to be the peculiar sin of the last days— ” Having the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof. ” Guard against this. Let the calendar perish rather than this rust eat up your souls .
  2. Self-righteousness — Some, when they have devoted their set time to reading the Word , and accomplished their prescribed portion , may be tempted to look at themselves with self complacency. Many, I am persuaded , are living without any Divine work on their soul — unpardoned, and unsanctified, and ready to perish – who spend their appointed times in secret and family devotion. This is going to hell with a lie in the right hand .
  3. Careless reading — Few tremble at the Word of God. Few in reading it, hear the voice of Jehovah, which is full of majesty. Some, by having so large a portion, may be tempted to weary of it, as Israel did of the daily manna, saying — “Our soul loatheth this light bread;” and to read it in a slight and careless manner. This would be fearfully provoking to God. Take heed lest that word be true of you — “Ye said, also, Behold, what a weariness is it? and ye have snuffed it, saith the Lord of Hosts.”
  4. A yoke too heavy to bear — Some may engage in reading with alacrity for a time, and afterwards feel it a burden grievous to be borne. They may find conscience dragging them through the appointed task without any relish of the heavenly food. If this be the case with any, throw aside the fetter and feed at liberty in the sweet garden of God. My desire is not to cast a snare upon you, but to be a helper of your joy.
    DAILY BREAD BEING A CALENDAR FOR READING THROUGH THE WORD OF GOD IN A YEAR reprinted in the The Works of Rev Robert Murray McCheyne (1874), available via Google Books

The good reverend, then addresses an important question,

“If there be so many dangers why propose such a scheme at all? To this I answer that the best things are accompanied with danger as the fairest flowers are often gathered in the clefts of some dangerous precipice.”

You can read more of M’Cheyne’s list of advantages in his original text (and perhaps you could think of a few of your own). You can find his reading plan in several places on the web, including YouVersion, Bible Gateway, a print copy with a forward by J John is available for purchase, or you can print out your own customisable version (choose your start date) from the Bible Reading Plan Generator. The plan was commended by John Stott who was introduced to it in the 1950’s by Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones and more recently praised by Don Carson, and Jordan Stone plus a lot of other people (I’ve not looked at all the articles Google suggested). It is currently used by the UK Bible Society for their Daily Reflections.

As for me, during 2022, I plan to read the Bible quite a lot without setting out too strict a route or timeline. I’ve “binge-read” three books already but might go faster or slower through out the year. Some bits I will read or listen to several times. I expect to hear sermons and talks on several bits, and expect (again) not to hear many sermons on a few of the less popular passages. I’m also hoping to explore more of what the Bible itself has to say about engaging with Scripture, and exploring some attitudes and ideas from down the centuries and around the world.

Finding (hidden) Diaspora Languages – intro October 15, 2021

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, multilingualism, Scripture Engagement, Statistics.
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Good data can help us ask (and sometime answer) a number of questions. Two key questions I want to ask are: “What are the languages spoken in your community?” and “What are the languages spoken in your church?”

I’m looking forward to presenting a paper today at the 2021 Bible Translation conference, on how to find more of the languages that are spoken outside of their country of origin, and people that speak them. I’m also looking forward to saying why I think this is important.

I have a written a few posts on this already including, Ten Reasons for a More Multilingual Church, but I suspect that one reason that the church doesn’t talk much about language is that they still need to talk more about Race, Justice, Culture and Diversity.

I’ve read a lot more articles on issues around language use and linguistic discrimination (which can also include accentism), as well as about churches working towards greater inclusion and models of intercultural church. Part of my contribution into discussion and action in this area has been in digging deeper into data.

Did you know that over a 100 countries were due a census in 2020 or 2021? Some of these ask questions about how well people speak the national language (or languages) and about the main language(s) spoken at home.

2011 Census details for England and Wales include about 80 languages plus over 20 different broad categories of “other”. Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own censuses and picked up a few more. Results from the 2021 census won’t be available until at least March 2022 (probably later).

Meanwhile, frequent reports of there being over 300 languages spoken in London are based on data coming from schools. (2015 data is online and a freedom of information request got me the latest list and the ability to delve deeper).

Prior to 2020, the US Census and American Community Survey had details on over 350 languages but might include more that get reported in the 2020 census. In a 2016 review, “Any language that was written in at least once between 1980 and 2015 was given a code. This resulted in 1,334 language codes”American Community Survey Redesign of Language-Spoken-at-Home Data, 2016

Meanwhile, over 700 languages have been identified in New York.

While better data on the languages spoken in our multiethnic, multicultural, multilingual cities and towns is useful for Bible Translation and Scripture Engagement  – it may also be about justice, equity, inclusion, and richness.

In some upcoming posts I’ll share just a few of the questions I’m exploring.

Under the question of “Why?” I explore reasons for wanting to know more than is already known about the distribution of migrant languages and their speakers.

Under “Who”, I raise the questions of who has information and why.

In a category of “How” I explore how information can be obtained and arranged.

Exploring “What exists?” and “What next?”, I share some discoveries to date and further exploration that may be needed.

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