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Bible-less languages and Bible-less people July 9, 2018

Posted by P, J, or J in Bible Translation, multilingualism, Statistics.
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People often get confused as to why there is a difference between the number of languages that don’t have any scripture and the number of languages in which Wycliffe and others report that scripture translation needs to begin.


I’m wondering if we sometimes need to be more careful to distinguish between “Bible-less languages” and “Bible-less people”.

The simplest public messages on the need for Bible translation continue to imply that people cannot understand or respond to scripture unless it is in their language but research over the last 40 years has taught us that there are in fact many barriers to engagement. Which perhaps explains why there are so many millions of people who own or could easily access a Bible in their main (or only) language but never read it.

Language can obviously be a significant barrier (this is why I’ve spent the last 22 years of life working with Wycliffe and others involved in Bible translation). Promotional material has often implied that people only speak one language really well. This is sometimes nuanced with the idea that people only have a single “heart language” through which God can clearly connect  to them.

Many people speak more than one language equally well. Some are spoken to in multiple languages from birth, others acquire them one after another as they move into education or as they move from one place to another. It can still be true that for people who speak several languages well, one or two touch them more deeply. Language isn’t just about intellectual understanding but also about emotional connection, identity, and even trust.

2017BTstats-enThere are 3,312 languages with some scripture and 1,636 languages where translation is estimated as ‘needing to begin’. (figures from Wycliffe’s last official global statistics in Oct 2017)

Those ‘translation needs’ might rise or fall depending not just on linguistic analysis but upon the felt needs of the speakers.

As our understanding of the issues of multilingualism continues to grow it may be that some of the need is for initial connection with the Bible rather than ensuring that what ‘we’ see as the most important bits around salvation and Christian living are translated first.

One old story that comes to mind is the impact of genealogies for some cultures. Something the translators saw as secondary to the ‘important bits’ but which gave the local people the connection they needed –  a list of ancestors pointed to Jesus being a real person, the length of the list pointed to him being a very important person. Suddenly mere stories became true! In Joanne Shetlers’ book, “And The Word Came with Power“, it’s interesting to note that while Bible translation had a major impact, this discovery came from looking at a Bible in a majority language.

Meanwhile, I once met a young British man who had tried reading the Bible before but didn’t understand it. I showed him a modern translation opened “at random” to include the bit about God loving the world and giving his son so that those who believed could have eternal life – all wrapped up in John 3:16. The key to him engaging was John 1:37, “They answered, “Where do you live, Rabbi?” (This word means “Teacher.”)”
“Hey this is great!”, my new friend said, “It tells you what it means.”

Although there are still many people who are unreached and unevangelised, there are also billions of people do have easy access to the “important” bits in languages of head and heart but they have yet to make it past their own obstacles and make the connections.

For anyone wanting to read more deeply about multilingualism I’ve just downloaded a draft copy of “Language and Identity in a Multilingual, Migrating World“. I’ve got lots more of it to read but recommend John Watters’ section on “The Language of the Heart”. 


Bibles banned at Eurovision Song Contest May 3, 2018

Posted by P, J, or J in Uncategorized.
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There is rather a long list of things you can’t take with you should you wish to be part of the live audience at Eurovision 2018 in Lisbon. As a member of the audience you are not allowed to take in your own ladder, megaphone, or adhesive tape. You also cannot take in “any material that has any connotation of: political and religious views, racism, xenophobia and discrimination.”

I doubt you will get your phone confiscated if you have a Bible app on it but I don’t know what will happen if you choose to wear a T-shirt with a scripture verse or reference on it.

I understand that the organisers are trying to prevent any trouble or distress but it’s a shame they aren’t able to discourage racism, xenophobia and “descrimination” without assuming that they need to ban any connotation of “political and religious views”.

Linguistic pedantry isn’t banned as is evidence from the absence of at least one comma, a misspelling, a possibly errant conjunction and may be evidenced in some of the lyrics. I hope that the best of “politics” will be present in the judging.


In terms of religion my personal view (I’m not planning on going) is that “religious” themes of love, justice, mercy, peace, harmony, and an occasional bit of existential angst and search for meaning, identity and validation, seem to come up quite a bit, and that God is a wonderful blend of liberal and conservative (without party politics) favouring freedom and grace alongside a very keen sense of truth and justice. He discriminates against no race and could rightly be called xenophilic – (see verse that starts “For God so loved the world…” and talks about Jesus not being sent to condemn.



The (Christian) Commonwealth April 20, 2018

Posted by P, J, or J in Uncategorized.
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The Commonwealth: What is it? What’s it for? and who should lead it?
It is definitely in the news at the moment (that moment being now Friday morning April 20th in the UK).
(screenshot from chogm2018.org.uk) 

Here are a few headlines I found last night from around the globe:

The latest news in the UK was
Commonwealth meeting: Queen hopes Prince Charles will succeed her BBC News, which includes a helpful link to Commonwealth: Seven things you might not know

Lots of Brits (perhaps along with lot’s of non-Brits) don’t really know a lot about the Commonwealth, fortunately for those of us who weren’t really taught about Empire, colonialism or post-colonialism there is always Wikipedia and not surprisingly there is a Commonwealth website http://thecommonwealth.org which contains a handy list of the 53 member countries.

There is also a subsite http://thecommonwealth.org/kids/ and I was very pleased to get 100% in the online quiz (can you?).

What I hadn’t known was that there are three intergovernmental organisations at the heart of the Commonwealth:


Each are worth taking a look at but I looked most closely at the Commonwealth of Learning and it’s emphasis on open learning.

As mentioned in some of the news stories it isn’t an automatic choice who will succeed the queen as it’s head, but something else I didn’t know was that an American had already put forward the idea of a different successor in a document entitled “The Christian Commonwealth”.

In the preface the author stated:

“Much is spoken of the rightful Heir of the Crown of England, and the unjustice of casting out the right Heir: but Christ is the only right Heir of the Crown of England, and of all other Nations also.”

He went on to urge,

“That you would now set the Crown of England upon the head of Christ, whose only true inheritance it is,” and set their “civil polity” on the model given by God to Moses in the wilderness (in Exodus 18), so that “then shall the will of God be done on earth, as it is done in heaven.”

ChristianCommonwealthIt should be added that this was stated in the year 1659, long before British ‘involvement’ in many of the current Commonwealth countries, and the author John Elliott is often credited as being the first American to draft a political book, but also the first to have it banned. You can read The Christian Commonwealth: or,The Civil Policy Of The Rising Kingdom of Jesus Christ in full at digitalcommons.unl.edu/libraryscience/19/ and read a bit more about some of the other fascinating history of John Eliot on wikipedia or a few thousand other web pages..

Who reads this stuff …and why it matters April 16, 2018

Posted by P, J, or J in Uncategorized.
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Less than a third of you reading my blog do so from the same country and you may or may not be in one countries that I have lived in.

WhoReadsThisIn the last 12 months I’ve had readers in 79 countries and territories – 33% of readers from the US, 21% from UK, 8.5 from Canada, after that the next highest are from India, Germany, Australia and the Philippines.

Like many other bloggers I do enjoy seeing that I’ve had a visit from somewhere and someone new.

But do I stop to think enough about who is reading?

I’ve not got a large enough following that millions or even hundreds of people are reading each post. I hope that if I was, I’d think a bit more about where my audience came from, and that my audience would think about where I came from.

I sometimes wish some people with larger global followings would be a little more aware, not just in order to fill in the gaps when someone doesn’t come from the same culture but to recognize their own gaps.

In a recent conversation with a friend from another country I realized that I knew nothing about his country. It had become an independent nation in my lifetime and  it’s people and his family had a history that I still know little about.

Like most people I see things from the perspective of my own culture and of my own life experience. Sometimes that means I see things that others don’t and some times it means I miss seeing things from other peoples view point and I misinterpret and misunderstand both their words and intentions.

Like most people who read the Bible, I sometimes misread  – I read it from my perspective and miss what the original authors were trying to say to their original audience.

I wasn’t born in Israel, and I wasn’t born at the time of Jesus, or of any of the characters or authors of the Old Testament.

Words originaly written in a different time, culture and language still have tremendous relevance for us. It just means we sometimes need to think about who wrote them and what we might know about their situation and worldview, and that we might also need to think about who is reading now and what perspectives we bring.

Such insight can also help us recognise why different people focus in on different truths in scripture and emphasize different characteristics of God. He is a God of love and mercy but also of justice. Christ came as both servant and king, and is friend, brother, and master. To some the good news is that he can calm storms, cast out demons, and heal the sick, some are accutely aware of their own sins and seek forgiveness, some are marginalised and have been told they are nothing, then Jesus calls them friend.

My last thought on perspectives is simply this. God sees you far more clearly than you see him. He knows your current faults, understands you current pain, but sees your true beauty and invites you daily into his presence that you can become the person he sees.


Thus saith the Lord! (as far as I can tell) March 25, 2018

Posted by P, J, or J in Uncategorized.
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Or if you prefer it in Latin:

Isaiah-probablyHæc dicit Dominus
ad me usque poterit indicare

(providing Google translate got it right).

There are people in this world who like to be very certain about many things, and others of us who are a little more cautious. This may be related to culture and personality as well as confidence and experience.

Perhaps the use of “may be” hints that I’m often a hedger. I may have some fixed ideas and opinions but I also know that there are other perspectives and ways of looking at things and that on many issues the clear cut answers aren’t always clear.

This can be annoying to other people who like to see everything as black and white. To them stuff is either right or wrong.

So for example when Paul said he didn’t permit a woman to preach they assume not only that he meant it at face value but also that was a prohibition for all time and when Peter said that sometimes Paul was a bit hard to understand (2Peter 3:16) he meant it too.

Understanding the Bible or any text isn’t always easy. That’s why we often call it “interpreting ” and why theologians or preachers can sometimes say things that are in stark contrast to each other. As Peter says in that verse about Paul sometime “ignorant and unstable people” distort the scriptures but so do fairly educated and stable people (It’s just that we do it unknowingly) . Often I’m willing to believe that people I disagree with are doing their best to prayerfully unpack what the Bible teaches in the light of what they already know. I like to hope they believe the same of me.

That isn’t to say that anything goes. The Bible is not a pick and mix collection of wise sayings that we can use to back up our own opinions.

…at least that’s not how I read it.


Toffee for Lent #1 March 7, 2018

Posted by P, J, or J in Uncategorized.
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toffee4lentA little while ago (first Sunday of Lent) I had a bright idea. Instead of giving stuff up (eg Facebook or chocolate) why not do something for Lent (eg buy a bag of toffees).

The idea wasn’t just about eating sweets but about providing myself a deliberate small window in the day for a little extra reflection

As part of the sermon that Sunday the preacher shared these few words

  • Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
  • Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
  • Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
  • Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
  • Fast from worries and trust in God.

Googling later I discovered that they came from Pope Francis in a Lent message in 2017.

I didn’t jot them down at the time but even before I bought my bag of toffees I googled and found the rest.

  • Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
  • Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
  • Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy.
  • Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.
  • Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
  • Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.


There’s some good stuff there. You could simply reflect on each for a few days or perhaps write a few more of your own.


Fast from froth and seek depth

Fast from platitudes and speak truth

Fast from overhearing and start listening

Fast from chocolate and eat toffee

Fast from dwelling on stuff and meditate on truth


Today’s toffee is finished. I won’t blog each day (I haven’t so far). But I might do a couple more before Easter.

2018 the international year of …? January 16, 2018

Posted by P, J, or J in Uncategorized.
year of languages and the potato

2008 was the International Year of Languages (and the international year of the Potato)

Back in January 2008 I discovered that it was both the International Year of Languages and the International Year of the Potato. (a few of my facebook friends joined the now defunct experimental facebook group celebrating both)

More recently the UN had declared 2016 to be the ‘International Year of Pulses ‘, yet for many it was marked more by being the year of mindfulness colouring books went mainstream and distracted people from paying proper attention to and interesting US election campaigns.

2017 was International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development 

2019 will be the International year of Indigenous Languages thanks to a UN resolution (and also the international year of moderation thanks to anther one). The UN hasn’t actually declared 2018 as the year of anything.

Like most years some of the real defining features won’t be clear until the end of the year.

I’m sure 2018 will continue to be a year of suffering, hardship, and persecution for many people, including Christians persecuted for their faith, but like every year it will also be a year of hope and a year of celebration!

Throughout 2018 and 2019 there will be a lot of people who will celebrate the publication of a Bible, New Testament, or portion of scripture in their language for the first time ever. Other will celebrate the launch of reprints, revisions or the launch of new scripture in a new format such as a video, audio recording or Bible app.

There will also be people who simply haven’t known or haven’t cared that the Bible is available in their language, or haven’t known how to access it.

Readers of other posts on this blog will know those are things I focus on quite a bit, but I’ll also be looking out for what other things God will be doing in 2018.

It’s still early enough in the year to make some plans and set some goals. What do you hope to remember 2018 by?




Are you better than average? January 11, 2018

Posted by P, J, or J in Uncategorized.
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better than average behaviour

Despite the challenges and shortcomings I’m still proud of Britain’s National Health Service. I don’t know how you think it ranks in the world these days but I still regard it as one of the positives of living in Britain.

The chart above (minus my editorial text) comes from a tool on the BBC website that says Check NHS cancer, A&E and operations targets in your area . It shows where my local health trust compares to others in Britain and to national targets in respect to waiting times in the Accident and Emergency department (what some other countries call the E.R.). Sadly while we’re above national average we’re still below the target (to see 95% of people within 4 hours of arrival)  and the target is still below the ideal (no waiting).

Targets and comparisons have value in healthcare as in any other service or industry. The challenges are are not making what is measured become the focus at the expense of other things that might not be being measured, and in knowing what to do when targets are not met.

While I’m interested in the NHS and health targets in my own country, as a missionary, and firstly as a Christian I’m also interested in the rest of the world too, not in whether or not Britain can better but whether the world can better and how the church (not just in my country) can be part of God’s plan for the whole world.

Targets and measures also exist in the ministry of Bible translation and should to some extent exist in other areas of the church. There are apps to help you measure and improve you spiritual health or to monitor you success as a church. If we know what we’re trying to achieve or who we are trying to become scorecards and checklist can be among the tools that help us to know if we are on track, as long as we are careful to measure the right things, and not neglect some of the other good things that we are not measuring.

There are definitely a few things in scripture about not judging and about not thinking ourselves better than others, but there is also a lot said about living holy lives and holding one another to account.

The aim is not to belittle others or to encourage ourselves that we’re doing okay and aren’t any worse than anyone else but to build one another up.

The temptation for those who err on the side of not judging is that we can slide into thinking, like some of the churches Paul wrote to, that anything goes now that we are free in Christ.

The temptation for those who do seek to promote standards of behaviour or solid doctrine is that we often judge ourselves on our intentions and everyone else on their actions. We also fail to see the logs in our own eyes and in pointing out the specks in others we end up grinding down some of the people we are meant to be lifting up.

If you are looking for answers to know where the balance lies then perhaps this is a below average blog.

Feel free to mark this out of 10 and add a comment that edifies and encourages us all.

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