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The Gospel of Luke? – A New Hope December 17, 2017

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I know there are lots of people talking about the new Star Wars movie but some haven’t seen the first one yet. I first saw it in 1981, in my mind’s eye as I listened to the radio version. (See Wikipedia if you didn’t know about that).

Spoiler Alert.

Here’s a summary of the Star Wars – A new hope.

“Luke wants adventure and purpose to life. He has an enemy who wants to rule the universe and turn Luke to his side. Good prevails and Luke is reconciled with his father.”

IMG_20171011_100636A classic tale, and yet not quite enough to grip us. We don’t want the plot summary we want to enter into the story, get to know the characters and join in the adventure, even if only in our imagination.

In this way the Bible is a bit like Star Wars.

Popular theologian, NT Wright, might look a bit is a bit like Obi Wan Kenobe, or an older Luke. An older man who has studied and lived what he believes.

In a great lecture to a conference about worship he points out that even young children can hold an incredible amount of detail in their heads about fictional universes be that Star Wars, Harry Potter, or Tolkein.

(Also available at https://worship.calvin.edu/resources/resource-library/public-worship-as-sign-and-means-of-new-creationhttps://worship.calvin.edu/resources/resource-library/public-worship-as-sign-and-means-of-new-creation/ )

And yet too often we oversimplify the story and give them life lessons and picture to colour in.

Wright’s call to engage more with Bible is not a new one, it could have been told in a galaxy far far away. Or it could be watched by a small group in your church.

It’s quite a long lecture so you might want to dim the lights and get the popcorn out. I’m one of the 10,000 people who have seen it and won’t give further spoilers.

To be continued….

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How much of the Bible is needed? November 23, 2017

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Are there any books of the Bible you’ve never read?

Any chapters you’ve never heard preached on?

Any verses that no-one shares on facebook?

How much of the Bible do we actually need?

 

jn11-35


Many Christians like to point to 2 Timothy 3:16
"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" 2Tim3:16 NIV

…and many who quote that verse don’t recognise that in most translations that isn’t even the end of the sentence.

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 

 

The chapters and verse markers are a late invention, a handy way of dividing the Bible up so that we can find bits of it. Does “all scripture” mean each verse has equal weight or does it mean that we are meant to look at the whole story in order to know more of God and be “equipped for every good work”.

Because we can count the number of languages with “some scripture” some organisations will tell you that speakers of 3,797 languages don’t have a single verse. (some of them may, we don’t have figures on whether single verses have been translated, just on when significant portions have been checked and published)

jn11-35

Consequently it might need less than 3,797 verses translated before everyone has ‘something’ in their language. We could pick a short one such as John 11:35 “Jesus wept”. But while those two words may speak to the compassion of Christ you need a bit more detail to know why he wept and what amazing thing he did next.

Translating a single verse into every language isn’t enough. Neither is translating a single chapter, or a single book, or even the whole New Testament.

The full Bible is available in 670 languages. Speakers of another 1521 have the New Testament and some of those have some books or selections from the Old Testament. In another 1121 languages there are published selections and stories. So, speakers of 2642 languages have access to some scripture in their own language but must wait for more.

If all scripture is God breathed then surely everyone should have access to all scripture?

As to whether that means the full Bible needs to be translated into every language that’s something I’ll address in another chapter. You don’t mind waiting do you?

(2017 statistics from wycliffe.net/statistics )

 

Cautiously approaching the Unapologetic NKJV Study Bible November 18, 2017

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“Have you ever wished that the Bible spoke directly about controversial issues we face today?”

NKJVunapologeticSomething about the question made, me nervous and not just because I subconsciously link NKJV to KJV and the King James only movement.

I acknowledge that many people who like the NKJV don’t assume that readers of other version are heretics. But I wonder what kind of notes might have accompanied the original KJV as an authorised study Bible?

I’d recently read something about the history of one particular edition of the Bible, and then read something else that disputed that version of history as ‘revisionist’ and written to back up specific claims by the religious right. As a result I was pondering again the dangers of believing everything you read on the internet. That was when I read on the internet about the NKJV Unapologetic Study Bible.

It may have a lot of good content – good not just because I agree with it but because it agrees with how Christians down the centuries have interpreted scripture. But it may also contain things that I and many other Christians are less convinced are as certain as the articles might want to declare.

Don’t forget that Christians in previous centuries have probably defended a few things that you are not in favour of today (eg the divine right of kings, slavery, a flat earth, burning heretics, colonialism, not giving women the vote).

One of the things about controversial issues is that they are controversial because people have come to different conclusions. This is not just a case of Christians vs ‘the world’ or ‘proper Bible believing Christians’ vs ‘liberals’, this is a case of fellow believers who have have come to different conclusions through honest study of the Bible and diligent prayer.

Would the study Bible give more than one side to an argument or would it favour the opinions of one group of Christians over another, giving those views extra force by placing them in bold boxes right on the pages of the Bible?

I’m still not sure but you can find out for yourself if you wish. You can download a sampler from https://www.thomasnelsonbibles.com/nkjv-unapologetic-study-bible/ and get your own copy in one of seven editions ranging from the hardback at $34.99 to the more luxurious Bonded Leather, Black, Indexed, Red Letter Edition for $89.99. (You can also get it as a bible app or as an ebook on Amazon for $5.43 with a free preview.)

You might also use the trailer to inspire your own study or spark discussion in a home group setting. Some of the issues may be controversial but that doesn’t mean we should shy away from them or be afraid of forming our own opinions based on our understanding of scripture. However be aware that there is a branch of theology known as ‘apologetics’. This is not about feeling awkward and saying sorry for what you believe but about being able to give a clear and reasoned defence, explaining what you believe and why, and in so doing allowing others to think through the issues themselves and either agree, or give you a few more more things to think about.

 

 

Who is Translating the Bible? November 15, 2017

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212latin

Even before the New Testament had been completed, the words of Jesus were translated from Aramaic to Greek. After a while Latin took over as the leading language of education and of the church many but for most still not the language of the home.

In 2017 there is Bible translation happening in well over 2,500 languages.

There are a few big organisations involved, (and lots of smaller ones), some high profile networks (and lots of quieter ones). But at the end of the day the work is done by people (thousands of them).

A few links to websites and facebook pages of some of the organisations are at the bottom of this page.

I don’t know and couldn’t list all the people. Some also have their own websites or are mentioned openly in publicity and prayer letters. Others will go largely unrecognized by the people who benefit from their years of service.

Some translations are pioneered by the speakers of the language, either working alone or having secured outside help. Others are instigated by outsiders keen to help an ‘unreached’ people discover Christ for themselves, or strengthen an existing church by providing God’s word in a more accessible and more relational language.

Often there is opposition and hardship. Not everyone welcomes a new translation. Some are opposed to Christianity, others opposed to the idea that God might speak in a common language that doesn’t always sound as formal and respectful as befits the almighty God. Even if the community welcomes the translation there is an enemy who opposes it. Bible translation is a spiritual battle.

In nearly all cases it takes a team. Some are there at the start, some at the end, and some throughout the process.

Some are on ‘the frontline’, wrestling with the text of the scripture in Greek, Hebrew, and existing translations and commentaries, and with how to communicate the meaning in a different language and culture. Some are involved in the tasks of establishing how best to write down a previously unwritten language.

Some are involved in 1001 other tasks that ensure the translation moves forward and is published, distributed and engaged with.

There is an old, old story of workmen on what we’d now call a construction site. Some saw their individual tasks and the few coins at the end of the day, some had glimpsed the plans and the vision and went home each day knowing they were building a cathedral.

An old man serving the soup in a Wycliffe canteen was asked what he did. He poured out another bowl of soup and said, I translate Bibles.

Ultimately our role isn’t about translating Bibles it is about participating in the mission of God, so if you’ve read this far and have nothing to do with Bible translation, but participate in other areas of mission then that’s okay. You can get involved or just celebrate with us the huge progress that is being made.

If you are a full time, or part time worker in Bible translation; if you are a prayer supporter, or a donor, or an advocate; if you are simply a friend that offers a word of encouragement. – thank you for what you do.
You translate Bibles!


An incomplete list and links to some Bible translation organisations and networks


Wycliffe Global Alliance is an alliance of 100+ organisations.

Organisations in the Alliance with content in English include:
USA – Wycliffe USA, Seed Company, JAARS
UK – Wycliffe UK, Mission Assist
Canada – Wycliffe Canada
Switzerland – Wycliffe Switzerland
Ethiopia – Wycliffe Ethiopia
Ghana – GILLBT
Kenya – Bible Translation and Literacy

If you don’t (just) speak English you may prefer another site (and might not be reading this blog) but you can also use Google to translate any of those sites into other languages (understanding that Google won’t always be accurate or sound very natural).
United Bible Societies
There are national Bible Societies in most countries. The United Bible Societies website lists and links to to rather a lot. (click on the static map below to go to an interactive one on the UBS site).

Recently I explored the websites of the Bible Society of the South Pacific and the Bible Society of Chile. (Google compensated for my poor knowledge of Spanish and I was able to read about translation work for the Roma people in Chile.

BibleSocieties

And more…

find.bible attempts to list and link to scriptures in the 3,312 languages known to have scripture (plus products in quite a few dialects too). It also lists 31 member agencies of the Forum of Bible Agencies International and hundreds of other contributing agencies

This is still not the end of the list, nor the end of the work. As I said in the first section…

If you are a full time, or part time worker in Bible translation; if you are a prayer supporter, or a donor, or an advocate; if you are simply a friend that offers a word of encouragement. – thank you for what you do.
You translate Bibles!

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

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2017BTstats-en

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’.

needsmatrix

  • 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”.

 

 

 

Can I reuse your blog? November 6, 2017

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Yes. Under certain conditions!

Years ago, I used a simple copyright statement that said “please do not copy without asking nicely”. This was in the days before Creative Commons licences made it easy to copy some things without having to ask.

by-nc-sa1

This particular post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. (Details of the licence is in people friendly language in 38 languages, and also in more formal legalese)

This means you can copy the whole post don’t have to ask as long as you are giving attribution, not making commercial gain and are sharing the reused material under the same licence. If you don’t meet these conditions you are supposed to ask first.

Several other types of Creative Commons licences are also available here.

I like me you are using WordPress.com then their terms of service state:

“You also give other WordPress.com users permission to share your Content on other WordPress.com websites and add their own Content to it (aka to reblog your Content), so long as they use only a portion of your post and they give you credit as the original author by linking back to your website (the reblogging function on WordPress.com does this automatically!).”

Even if I wanted to, I can’t stop you using part of what I blog on your own wordpress site, and most of the time I wouldn’t I want to if you give me credit.

Like most people on the planet I often use words and even whole sentences that other people have used before. Once I go beyond a certain level of knowingly using other people’s stuff without their permission I start to infringe on their rights to be identified as the owner. I don’t have a right just to use other peoples material as if it is my own.

If I know that I didn’t come up with something myself I’ll try not to take credit and a lot of the time if I use a section of someone else’s blog or a picture that I didn’t create myself I’ll try and give credit where it is due.

Just saying where I got something from isn’t good enough either if the owner hasn’t given permission in some way.

Fortunately for bloggers, as well as copyright there is a thing called “fair use”. This isn’t a right. It is a legal defence that can be used if someone decides to sue me or decides to sue WordPress.

More details from a WordPress perspective at https://en.support.wordpress.com/fair-use/

If I have used something of yours and you didn’t want me to please let me know.

 

 

 

Challenging theology and sexism October 23, 2017

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CharliesangelsThere are certain areas in which Christians often agree to differ. This includes whether women should be police officers and whether they should be pastors.

A few months ago I traced the theme of Gender and mission through the history of the Lausanne movement who (now) say much in support of women but in 2010 also stated.

” We recognize that there are different views sincerely held by those who seek to be faithful and obedient to Scripture. Some interpret apostolic teaching to imply that women should not teach or preach, or that they may do so but not in sole authority over men. Others interpret the spiritual equality of women, the exercise of the edifying gift of prophecy by women in the New Testament church, and their hosting of churches in their homes, as implying that the spiritual gifts of leading and teaching may be received and exercised in ministry by both women and men.”

Lausanne Movement, Capetown Commitment, 2010

But agreeing to differ shouldn’t mean that we agree not to talk about that which divides us. I believe it is okay to say: “I don’t doubt your salvation; I don’t question your integrity; but I do question your theology.”

Questioning is important. It is easy to reject the view of another person or church without taking the time to ask how they came to believe what they believe. It’s also easy to stand by our own opinions and conclusions without recognizing that our own journey has shaped us and that honest questioning of others may include some reflection.

If we grew up is Christian households it can be easy to assume that if society around us is changing and challenging our ‘traditional views’ then it is society that has got it wrong without questioning how and in what climate our ‘traditional views’ were formed. Our theology is often shaped by those around us as much as it is by the Bible. Most of us bring our own culture and presuppositions with us to scripture and to any discussion about a contentious issue.
CharliesangelsI was brought up in the 1970’s when institutional sexism was still rife but when enough people were challenging male domination for me to have picked up the message that men and woman were equal – or at least supposed to be, in many areas.

TV shows such as Charlies Angel’s, showed women taking on traditionally male roles and battling sexism, often while wearing bikini’s to appeal to male viewers, and in the UK we appointed a female prime minister, and then made fun of her in ways that made her appear more many than some of her cabinet. (Brits over 40 may recall the cruel satire of Spitting Image).

Others may recall other examples showing that we hadn’t quite got the hang of equality in the 1970’s and 80’s, or even today.

UK Evangelicals proposed a boycott of The Sun newspaper because after 40 years of featuring topless models, the newspaper was reported to have decided not to, but then appeared to change it’s mind.

In 2017, with a woman back in charge of the country the press couldn’t quite decide whether they would have given a male leader such a hard time for making a speech when she was losing her voice.

In 1990 when I was being asked to report to a female manager I was asked whether I was okay with that. The same happened the next year when I worked on a church team with a female leader. She asked the vicar whether or not it was okay to where jeans in the church, he replied, “That’s fine, as long as you wear a hat.” – it took a brief moment for her to realise he was joking.

That church did have a female deacon and only a couple of years later the Church of England voted to allow women to be ordained as priests. (this wikipedia article on the ordination of women in the Anglican communion charts some of the history of ordination in other parts of that church).

Other churches continue to wrestle with the issue of the place of women in the church, in the home and in society.

In 2015 John Piper answered the question “should women be police officers?” . He didn’t want to tell the young woman who answered the question what she should do but made it clear that that in his view  “there are some roles in society that will strain godly manhood and womanhood to the breaking point” and that for people considering such questions, “the key is: Do they deeply want to shape their whole lives by Scripture?”

Krish Kandiah is one of those who took him to task in the Christianity Today Article “Five reasons I don’t want John Piper giving my daughter career advice

Piper is in part responding to what he sees as abuses of radical feminism, that have lead him and Systematic Theologian Wayne Grudem to take a very hard line stance on the differences of men and women, believing that scripture not only supports but demands a complementarian understanding.

Others read scripture with different eyes. They have seen the abuses of power by men, and the obvious gifting of many women.  Within the scriptures they see an egalitarian understanding of the sexes.

Meanwhile there is also a climate that wants to not only break down stereotypes but also challenge the very idea of gender as a simple binary issue of male and female.

How many genders are there in 2017? That’s another question, but be sure there will be many different ideas inside the church as well as out.

Recent headlines have been dealing with a certain film producer and predator who was able to get away with abusive behaviour for decades because of the culture in which he lived and of the huge power difference between himself and the women he sought to dominate. I doubt he troubled himself too much with theological discussion but was immersed in a culture which is now recognising it’s own failure as well as his.

Harvey Weinstein and the women who have shared their stories have prompted the #MeToo hashtag and now an opportunity for men to acknowledge where they have been either inappropriate or criminally abusive using the tag #IDidThat .

Abuse in many forms remains prevalent and is often about differences in power. This is not just restricted to differences in gender and is certainly not as simple as arguments over the roles of men and women.
The Lausanne paper continued.

We call upon those on different sides of the argument to:

  1. Accept one another without condemnation in relation to matters of dispute, for while we may disagree, we have no grounds for division, destructive speaking, or ungodly hostility towards one another;[97]
  2. Study Scripture carefully together, with due regard for the context and culture of the original authors and contemporary readers;
  3. Recognize that where there is genuine pain we must show compassion; where there is injustice and lack of integrity we must stand against them; and where there is resistance to the manifest work of the Holy Spirit in any sister or brother we must repent;
  4. Commit ourselves to a pattern of ministry, male and female, that reflects the servanthood of Jesus Christ, not worldly striving for power and status.

C) We encourage churches to acknowledge godly women who teach and model what is good, as Paul commanded,[98] and to open wider doors of opportunity for women in education, service, and leadership, particularly in contexts where the gospel challenges unjust cultural traditions. We long that women should not be hindered from exercising God’s gifts or following God’s call on their lives.
Lausanne Movement, Capetown Commitment, 2010

I encourage you to dig deeper into the discussions of the Lausanne Movement and of other missiological and theological repositories at the World Evangelical Alliance, the World Council of Churches.

My own summary of Gender in the church and the world through a Lausanne lens is also available , but of course I may have applied my own cultural and theological bias.

 

 

 

 

Who Guards the Translation? October 13, 2017

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approved-bibleCC0When translating the Bible you want to get it right, and often translation agencies won’t sign off on a translation until it has been through a thorough process of checking. Ideally this is more about guiding than guarding and seen as beneficial and encouraging.

Here are some “Bible Translation Fails” and then the question: who decides whether a translation is a good one and how do they do it?

There was of course the misprinted “Wicked Bible” of 1631 containing the commandment “Thou shalt commit adultery” . (one copy sold for £31,250). Opinion is divided as to whether the printing error was a genuine mistake or sabotage by a rival printer.

There was the heavily over-contextualised Cotton Patch Gospel paraphrase which has Jesus born in Georgia and replaces St Pauls letter to the Romans with his “Letter to Washington”.

There was also the story of missionaries who, “Lacking adequate language preparation” translated “Enter the Kingdom of Heaven” as , “Go sit on a stick.”

There are also failures in understanding such as the people asked to explain a verse written in Swahili who thought it said “Jesus ordered his teachers to plant milk“. Nothing wrong with the Swahili except that the people asked to explain the verse didn’t speak Swahili as well as their pastor thought they did.

Stories also exist of people getting confused not by the words but by their expectations and a mismatch of what they picture in their head. eg Peter going up onto his roof to pray seems a bit strange if you have a sloping thatched roof, or translating Luke 11:11, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead”, for a people who avoid eating the local fish but do eat snakes.

I’ve been telling the “plant milk” and “fish/snake” stories since I heard them twenty years ago.

The “Go sit on a stick.” example was in a book by Lamin Sanneh but used earlier by Eugene Nida in the 1950’s. I found it quoted in the Chicago Tribune under the heading, “Humor, Chaos, in New Bible Translations

and in Nida’s own words,

“Every missionary realizes how easy it is to make silly and embarrassing mistakes in speaking a foreign language. But perhaps none has been more shocked than one missionary who discovered that in one of his favorite sermons about “going to heaven,” he pronounced the words so incorrectly that the people thought he was telling them “to go sit on a stick.”
Eugene Nida, 1953

Being able to get back to original or early sources is an important part of ensuring accuracy and some of today’s translations are supported by archeological findings of very early copies of the Bible plus the versions that have been passed down and received as part of church tradition.

Obviously knowing the language you are translating from and translating into is important.

It’s also helpful to know the culture and context of the original and of the modern recipients, so that whatever the words themselves might say the intended and received meaning can also be explored.

Back in the 1950’s Nida explored many of the common errors made by western missionaries. The people were generally not willing to criticize the missionary ” but did sometimes voice their frustration with comments such as “God surely didn’t learn our language very well.”

For these reasons the major Bible translation organisations have a long history of training translators well and of ensuring that quality is maintained by having thorough checking processes and qualified translation consultants.

But there is a problem. There aren’t always enough experienced translation consultants to go around and translations can be held up.

Technology is a help both in terms of software that helps analyse text and technology that helps people connect by video, voice and text across continents. For all the advances in technology a key skill is still how the consultant relates to the people she or he serves.

It’s important that the translated Bible be clear, natural, and accurate. But quality is still not a guarantee of acceptance. Increasingly the local church has a higher stake in deciding when the translation is ready to be released.

As early as 1958 meetings were convened to look at how translated scriptures were actually being used and what could be learned from work that had already happened.

If translation checking came of age in the 1950’s it would perhaps still be another 20 years before more in depth research really started into Scripture use (now commonly termed “Scripture Engagement”

Today’s consultants help people engage with an ever widening set of ideas and resources and specialists in anthropology, sociolinguists, arts and ‘ethnodoxolgy‘, Scripture engagement, and now some specialising in new forms of digital engagement.


For more details on some of these specialisations and of their impact explore your local Wycliffe website. There are over 100 organisations in the Wycliffe Global Alliance so I’m just adding specifics links to a few of the ones with material in English, others are linked to from wycliffe.net (which has lots of material of it’s own in lots of languages)

 

 


Version 0.9 Oct 13, 2027
This blog post has not been checked by an outside consultant

It may contain typos, errors and omissions. Being in digital form, it may be updated (and  already has been).

 

 

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