jump to navigation

Bible translation progress 2018: looking beyond 2025 October 26, 2018

Posted by P, J, or J in Statistics.
add a comment

At the end of 1999 Wycliffe and it’s partners launched Vision 2025, part of which said:

“We embrace the vision that by the year 2025 a Bible translation project will be in progress for every people group that needs it.”

That powerful soundbite wasn’t the whole of the Vision 2025 statement any more than the great commission and the great commandment is the whole of the Bible’s message.

While the need is still great, the amount of work currently in progress is impressive.


(Chart from FAQ sheet accompanying new annual Bible translation statistics at wycliffe.net/statistics).

But the goal of starting work is not enough. In some languages work started, and then stopped. Those that stopped (for now) without any scripture having been produced have been added back into the current calculation of need for initial translation. Other languages may have had selections or even a full New Testament for five, ten, or even a hundred years and nothing since. Is that enough?

It is people not languages that need the Bible so it is not as simple as saying that the entire Bible needs to be translated into every language on the planet before everyone can understand.

But it is clear that many people would benefit from more of the Bible in their main language, or from updated translations, or additional scripture products. And while some scripture exists in 3350 languages, that doesn’t mean that everyone who speaks (or signs) those languages know that the translation exists, or where to access it, or why it matters.

It isn’t enough to start work. Another important fragment from the Vision 2025 statement

“Our desire is to build capacity for sustainable Bible translation programs and Scripture-use activities.”

from the Vision 2025 statement, 1999

Bible translation doesn’t just need to start, it needs to continue. Engagement is the goal – individuals and communities engaging with God, and people becoming not just converts but disciples – knowing, and showing what it means to love both our God and our neighbour.


Bible Translation Statistics 2018 October 23, 2018

Posted by P, J, or J in Statistics.
add a comment

It’s a privilege to be part of the team that tracks the progress being made in Bible translation. The full set of numbers available at wycliffe.net/statistics not only show in how many languages some or all of the Bible is available in but also a revised estimate of how many more translation programs may need to begin.

2018 BTstats-en This year the number of possible translation needs has actually gone up. This is in part due to the inclusion of a large number of sign languages adding to those that were already part of the lists.

The real celebration is not about the numbers. The statistics page also links to six sites where Bibles, New Testaments and scripture selections and stories can be downloaded or accessed online and in phone apps.

The goal of Bible translation isn’t translated Bibles, it is transformed lives.

One statistic that saddened me recently was a report that suggested many modern Christians are unaware of the term “the great commission”, which refer to the command of Jesus as written in Matt 28:19. Here it is as translated in the Easy English Version.

17 When they arrived at the place, they saw Jesus. Then they went down on their knees and they worshipped him. But some of the disciples were not sure that it really was Jesus. 18 Jesus went close to them and he said to them, ‘God has given me authority over everyone and everything. I have all authority in heaven and in this world. 19 So, you must go to people in every country of the world. Teach them how to become my disciplesBaptise them by the authority of God the Father, his Son and the Holy Spirit20 Teach them to obey everything that I have taught you. You can be sure that I will be with you always. I will be with you until the end of time.’

The “great commission” goes hand in hand with the “greatest commandment” which Jesus gave as his answer when asked “Διδάσκαλε, ποία ἐντολὴ μεγάλη ἐν τῷ νόμῳ;” (‘Teacher, which of God’s Laws is the most important rule for us to obey?’)

Perhaps you already know the answer, if not you can find it at Matt 20:37-40

More from me about some of the numbers at wycliffe.net/statistics soon.

Bible Lens – the Pokemon Go of memory verses? September 8, 2018

Posted by P, J, or J in Uncategorized.
add a comment

 2Tim3.16So, hot on the heels of the iPhone version, Bible lens for android is now here. The new app that automatically suggests Bible verses to go with your selfies and snapshots has already been installed on well over 100,000 times and will probably 500,000 before the weekend is out. (update: I was wrong on that. Two months in and still not at 500,000. Meanwhile a new app, “Follow JC Go” has launched which really is copying Pokemon Go)

Sadly it doesn’t seem to work on all phones and tablets (including the ones I own) but I can see what other people are sharing (especially when they use the #BibleLens tag.)

I suspect it will lead to a lot of people sharing a lot of Bible verses, and a lot of photos. Will it be a quickly passing fad or a new era in looking at the world around us and seeing what the Bible has to say about it?

I likened it to the Pokemon Go of memory verses because while I have a few reservations I can see it’s potential to get people out and connect the Bible with the world around them. Point your phone at a scene, take a picture and see what verse the apps algorithm proposes.

Does it trivialize the word or celebrate and share it? How does the app analyse the photos and decide what to suggest? I don’t know, and neither do I know what list of verses the app selects from. I suspect it’s not every verse. There are certainly a number you wouldn’t want to accidentally appear alongside the photos you share …(but I’ll save those for another post).

Meanwhile here are a few public examples from people I’ve never met.

(warning verses and photos can be taken out of context. The content below is direct from social media streams and may have been edited or have links and comments I didn’t see when posting)

Lots more available on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/search/photos/?q=%23biblelens

and lots on on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/biblelens/

What do you think of the idea and the app?

What are your favourite verse/photo combinations?

Not so popular verses in the Bible August 10, 2018

Posted by P, J, or J in Uncategorized.
add a comment

There is a new app from YouVersion “Bible Lens“, allowing you to take photos and then “It detects not only objects in your photo, but more importantly, the Biblical themes of the moment that photo captured… and then suggests Bible verses to match!”

I’m suspecting that the app will probably pick from a small selection of pre-picked themes and vetted verses but it got me thinking. I recently found a website, topverses.com listing the most popular verses in the Bible. With over 30,000 to choose from I wondered which ones wouldn’t end up in the top half of the list



For example Job 30:29 seems to be much less popular than Leviticus 11:15, but more popular than Deut 14:14.

In case you haven’t memorised those verses here they are

Job 30:29 Bible Rank: 20,218
“I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls.” KJV

Leviticus 11:15  Bible Rank of 4,707
“Any kind of raven”

While probably never likely to be verse of the day on your favourite Bible website Leviticus 11:15 is apparently quoted on the web a lot more than when exactly the same four words appear in Deuteronomy 14:14

(check out other popular verses for raven at http://topverses.com/?find=raven )

If you want to browse the top verses in order you can start at http://topverses.com/Bible . At number 9 you will find

2 Timothy 3:16

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness


It’s worth remembering that however good single verse are the Bible isn’t meant to be read that way but  if you are inspired you could create your own #obscureverseoftheday memes with perhaps just a clue here or there as to why they are worth making available to the world.

Why you should translate …with caution July 28, 2018

Posted by P, J, or J in Uncategorized.
add a comment

“Where do Christians get the idea that it is not only permissible, but even a good idea to translate?”

There are lots of words in this document. I apologize if it is not in your first (or favorite) language.

Justification4translationIn a 2012 post from Desiring God, Tyler Kennedy explains:

Why Every Christian Should Care About Gospel Resources in Languages Beyond Their Own


I recommend looking at the full article but here are a few quotes along with my own endorsement and a couple of words of caution.

English is the most dominant global language ever. So why are we at Desiring God doing so much work to translate our resources into other tongues? Why not just spend the same amount of time, money, and effort teaching people to read our English resources rather than doing the hard (and sometimes messy) work of translation?

“Why don’t you just teach them English?” has been a common question addressed by many.

There is a certain amount of of imperialism and superiority that goes with that. English is a dominant language because we forcibly dominated a lot of places that would have preferred we hadn’t.

That having been said, lots of people do now speak English and if its your first language you (hopefully) don’t think of it as being imposed by the people of England. We even differentiate between British English, American English and many of the other Englishes now spoken around the world.

Where do Christians get the idea that it is not only permissible, but even a good idea to translate?

Profound answers to these questions have been set forth by Andrew Walls, a man once dubbed by Christianity Today as perhaps “the most important person you don’t know.” In 1996 he published The Missionary Movement in Christian History in which he argues that translation work is both permissibleand necessary to the Christian faith. He gives two main reasons for making this claim:

  1. translation is a central component of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and
  2. translation is God’s means for sustaining and maturing his people.

Lamin Sanneh, in his article “Christian Missions and the Western Guilt Complex,” acknowledges the distinct power of human language. In speaking about the history of translation in Western missions, he states, “The importance of vernacular translation was that it brought the missionary into contact with the most intimate and intricate aspects of culture.”

SIL International affirms this reality in their Linguistic Creed: “As the most uniquely human characteristic a person has, a person’s language is associated with his self-image. Interest in and appreciation of a person’s language is tantamount to interest in and appreciation of the person himself.”

But many in SIL are also aware that many or even most people on the planet speak more than one language (quite a few that only speak one speak English) and that particularly in multicultural urban environments, some people might not always have just one ‘heart language’.

Meanwhile more from Sanneh

In many traditional societies, religious language has tended to be confined to a small elite of professionals. In extreme cases, this language is shrouded under the forbidding sanctions of secret societies and shrines, access to which is through induced trances or a magical formula. The Christian approach to translatability strikes at the heart of such gnostic tendencies, first by contending that the greatest and most profound religious truths are compatible with everyday language, and second, by targeting ordinary men and women as worthy bearers of the religious message.

Amen. But good Christian theology also isn’t confined to a small elite of (English speaking) professionals. Thought in the English speaking world has and continues to be shaped by works translated from other languages.

As people strive to translate their materials into other peoples languages lets hope that it goes both ways with ideas generated in less dominant languages translated into the more dominant ones.

Modern day translation of the Christian message continues Jesus’ work of coming to the common. People are saved, and their faith is nurtured, when they encounter Jesus in the language they know best.

For a recent example of this, see the BBC’s magazine article and corresponding video, “Jamaica’s patois Bible: The word of God in creole.”

Do watch that video and be encouraged that the BBC has services in multiple languages that don’t just translate stories from English but generate fresh material from journalists writing in the language they know best to the people they know best.

There is a lot more great stuff in the article and in the materials from Walls and Sanneh that Kennedy quotes.

But what do you do with these ideas? How do you apply them?

As individuals, families, churches, denominations, missions boards, etc., we should care about and prioritize translation work, especially Bible translation.

Having spent 20 years working with Wycliffe Bible Translators I’d say a healthy amen to that!

Kennedy then say…

In addition to the Bible, we should value and translate John Piper’s (and others’) content, because of how it helps people read and understand Scripture for themselves.

…and here is where I’m a little more cautious. John Piper has written a number of things that I have found personally helpful, but he has also more recently expressed views I (and others) are not so sure on. Even where I agree with him that might sometimes be my cultural and theological bias agreeing with some of his.

Many of the sermons and resources that resonate with us are not just because they are in our language but because they connect with (and often correct) our own experience of life. In some ways life in Minneapolis is similar to life in many other parts of the world, and in other ways it isn’t. (eg not sure when Piper or other DG staff last addressed ancestor worship, sacrificing to idols, child sacrifice or  witchcraft ).
The Bible deals with a lot of themes that don’t get preached everywhere, and preaching, while often seeking to be true to scripture usually comes with a level of denominational and cultural bias.

Bible translators work hard to avoid denomination bias.

Bible translation is scripture not commentary.

Commentary is commentary. Often incredibly helpful but not always presenting opposing views in an unbiased way.

For some of you this application means that you should take an incarnational dive into one of the unreached languages of the world, learn to speak it, develop a writing system for it, teach other speakers how to read it, create a dictionary, and translate the Bible into it.

A bit more partnership. The ideal aim isn’t that you translate but that you help people from the community translate.

For others it means that you should take the fluency God has already given you in another language and get down and do the tough, loving work of translating gospel material into it

Again this may put the emphasis on “learn another language” and translate into it. Often professional translators would say you are better translating from another language into your own.

eg If English is your second language you may be better equipped for the final stage of translation from English into your first language than someone who speaks your language ‘quite well for an outsider’

Perhaps the best translations involve partnership and discussion between people from both languages and cultures.

One final quote from Andrew Walls…

The present situation of Christianity is like that I’ve described with the first frontier, the Greek world was crossed, only this time it’s not the Mediterranean world or the Western world at all that’s the scene of the interaction. The crucial activity is now the Christian interaction with the ancient cultures of Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Pacific. The quality of the Christianity of those areas and thus the quality of 21st Century Christianity as a whole will depend on the quality of that interaction.
Walls (2002) Demographics, Power and the Gospel







Accusations of Witchcraft in Nigeria and Britain July 23, 2018

Posted by P, J, or J in Uncategorized.
add a comment


A harrowing news story recently told of the plight of children in Nigeria accused of witchcraft. Similar stories exist in Britain.

When did you last hear a helpful sermon about witchcraft?

In Britain (most) people don’t really believe in witches. They consider them the things of fairy stories or teenage TV and fiction. But it is part of our history.

“During the 16th century, many people believed that witchcraft, rather than the workings of God’s will, offered a more convincing explanation of sudden and unexpected ill-fortune, such as the death of a child, bad harvests, or the death of cattle. Witch-hunting became an obsession in some parts of the country.  ”

Under the 1542 Witchcraft Act  witchcraft was a crime punishable by death and over the years at least 500 people were executed. (read more at https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/private-lives/religion/overview/witchcraft/ )

In the 18th century it was reduced to a finable offence. That law was replaced in 1951 by the Fraudulent Mediums Act which in turn was repealed in 2008. The assumption being that anyone trying to make a living from communicating with the dead was defrauding people. The same assumption is often made of anyone performing an exorcism.

Belief in witchcraft is still prevalent today around the world.

An article in 2015 stated ‘Witchcraft’ abuse cases on the rise , a 2018 newspaper article spoke of “Warning over abuse linked to witchcraft and possession beliefs in UK
and stated “Experts call for Government funding to tackle abuse being ‘hidden in plain sight'”

I didn’t know until I read and googled further that there was a Witchcraft & Human Rights Information Network or a 2017 report for the UN:

Witchcraft Accusations and Persecution; Muti Murders and Human Sacrifice:Harmful Beliefs and Practices Behind a Global Crisis in Human Rights


It does not make for comfortable reading, and there are accompanying photos.

Another paper available from the site is an article on Witches by Steven D H Rasmussen from the African Study Bible which illustrates well the need for more resources on such issues from within the continent.

Well meaning western theologians and writers often work hard to make their resources available in other countries and other languages but can too easily tackle subjects from their own cultural viewpoint.

Belief in witchcraft is ingrained in many societies. Before dismissing such beliefs as superstition we would do well to take a step back and explore why they have such a hold and what hope the church and the Bible might have to offer.

From what I have read so far it is clear that belief in witchcraft offers people someone to blame for disaster and misfortune. “Diviners” advertise themselves as people who can identify the witches (usually for a fee).  But as Rasamussen points out

“People fear more, but fear/trust God less. The community gains confidence in the diviner, but greater fear and suspicion of the witch. They break relationship with the suspect. Gossip is spread. People may find more problems to blame on this suspect. Eventually this person may be neglected, ostracized, beaten, fined, or even killed. People murder suspected witches every day in some countries. Those who suffer abuse as suspected witches are most often the vulnerable with few defenders: the poor, the outsider, the elderly, women, widows – increasingly step-children and orphans. Family, neighbors, and pastors who should defend and care often lead the accusations and abuse. But these are the very people the Bible repeatedly says God defends and cares for and commands that we do the same”  Read more



The photo accompanying this article is from pixabay. No accusations are made against the cat.



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

Posted by P, J, or J in Bible Translation, multilingualism, Statistics.
add a comment

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.
add a comment


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.



%d bloggers like this: