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Why is Bible translation so important?
The Scriptures are essential for evangelism, discipleship, and church growth. Jesus told his followers to take the gospel to all the world, but there are still hundreds of language groups which don't have access to God's word in their own language. History shows that there has never been a strong indigenous church without the translated written Scriptures used by indigenous leaders. To make a lasting impact, people in every mission and denomination depend on Scriptures in the language of those they seek to serve.
What translation standards does Wycliffe adhere to?
We believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. We take very great care to ensure that Bible translations are faithful to the original languages. We are committed to Bible translations which communicate the original meaning in full, without distortion.
Wycliffe adheres to internationally agreed standards for Bible translation. We are a member of the Forum of Bible Agencies International (FOBAI) and abide by the FOBAI translation standards and the translation standards of the World Evangelical Alliance.
What are the qualities of a good Bible translation?
The purpose of translating the Bible is so people can be transformed by coming to know God through his word. A translation should not only be faithful, it must also be used!
A good Bible translation will be:
Accuracy is the most important quality of a good translation. An accurate translation is one that conveys the same meaning as the original, or tries to get as close as possible to communicating the original meaning. Finding exact equivalents for specific words or biblical ideas across different languages is often very challenging, especially where the biblical idea (eg forgiveness) is unknown in the receptor language culture. Yet, difficult as it may be, the translator strives to find the closest equivalent possible to convey the same meaning.
A good translation will make the meaning as clear as possible and will be easy to understand. It will not be confusing or ambiguous. We don’t want people to read the translation and wonder what it means.
A good translation will reflect the natural usage of the local language so it will not sound like a translation at all. Readers will think that it sounds like it was originally written in the receptor language. Every language has natural patterns that make it sound beautiful. An unnatural translation will sound stilted and be hard to understand so people will not enjoy reading it. But readers will enjoy using a natural translation and will readily understand the meaning.
The Bible is translated so that people will use it and be transformed by it. We don’t want it to sit on a shelf. An accessible translation will be delivered in the right format, with the right script and appearance, so that people will engage with it.
Why don’t you use Google Translate?
Google Translate only supports around 100 of the world’s over 7,000 languages, and works by searching for word patterns in large banks of documents. For many of the languages we are involved with, these banks of data don’t exist, as no documents have ever been written before. Even where written documents do exist, Google Translate can’t replace a human. Among other things, computer programs struggle with complex grammar structures and words that have more than one sense or meaning, and tend to produce robotic-sounding (and sometimes barely comprehensible) texts.
Why does Bible translation take so long?
The Bible is a long, complex book written in a different time and culture, and producing an accurate rendition in another language is a tall order not to be taken lightly! For this reason, a full Bible translation can take 30 years or longer, and a New Testament alone can take from 5–20 years to complete.
Before even starting on actual translation, foundations need to be laid. Bible translation teams need to raise local awareness and support, find and train the right translators, and in many cases, create and test a written form of the language. Building a foundation of local involvement and ownership, as well as developing a written form of the language in partnership with the people group is vital. Without this preparatory work, a translation can end up gathering dust on a shelf, or even be rejected completely.
Once translation is under way, projects can be affected by illness, children, study, and other personal circumstances. Even without specific delays, producing a good quality Bible translation takes several years. We believe it is important to invest this time into each Bible translation because it takes time to understand how a language and culture works, and without this understanding, Bible translations can end up confusing or misleading.
What is Words for Life?
Words for Life, our magazine, comes out four times a year and is delivered free of charge to all our subscribers. Words for Life offers impact stories and Bible translation news from around the world, and an accompanying prayer diary comprised of one short item every day for four months until the next edition. Subscribe online – it only takes a few seconds.
Where can I get copies of Bibles in other languages?
We don't sell Bibles in the UK, but we know a few people who can help. The Bible Society has at least 400 different language editions in stock. (United Bible Societies provides links to Bible societies in other countries.) The Scripture Earth website has a wealth of resources for languages in the Americas. SGM Lifewords (formerly Scripture Gift Mission) provides a number of shorter Scripture booklets.
Visit our page on supporting speakers of other languages for more helpful resources.
Who and what is involved in Bible translation?
It’s all about teamwork! There are many different roles and areas of expertise. Surveyors carry out initial research to establish translation needs. Working alongside local people, work is done where needed to develop an alphabet for each unwritten language, analyse the grammar, produce primers and teach people to read. Literacy specialists help to train others in order to establish ongoing literacy programmes and encourage widespread use of the language in written form. Linguists/translators oversee the actual translation work and pass on their skills to local people. Other people specialise in encouraging Bible use. We also need support workers, such as secretaries, teachers, accountants, computer technicians and programmers, mechanics, pilots, printers, media personnel and many others. The likelihood is that with your gifts and professional skills you could be a valuable part of the Bible translation team.
What has been accomplished so far?
There are currently 7,378 languages in active use. 717 of these have the complete Bible, a further 1,582 have a New Testament, and 1,196 languages have selections and stories. This means 5.75 billion people have access to the whole Bible in their own language, a further 830 million people can access the New Testament, and 457 million can access portions and stories. There is also known translation and/or linguistic development happening in 2,899 languages. As a result, many thousands of people’s lives have been changed, and many indigenous churches have developed and grown. The language work we have been involved in has also contributed to ongoing literacy programmes. More details are available at wycliffe.org.uk/stats.
Where do you work?
Worldwide, work is underway in 2,899 languages. Wycliffe and other partner organisations are involved in about three-quarters of this work. Currently we have over 360 people from the UK and Ireland serving over 470 million people speaking over 350 languages in over 70 countries. There are still 1,892 language groups which may need some form of Bible translation to begin.
Which original texts do you translate from?
A whole Bible translation can take many years to complete. All those involved in Bible translation need wisdom from God in making the right decisions, in textual matters and in the many other complexities of translation. Standard Hebrew (Masoretic) texts for the Old Testament, and for the New Testament the Nestle-Aland, Majority Text or Textus Receptus (upon which the King James Version is based) may be used. Read a fuller explanation and explore further reading on this subject.
How can I know if I would fit in with Wycliffe?
If you can see yourself working with Wycliffe, pray about it, talk with your pastor and other church leaders, and talk with us to get to know us better. Write for more information in your specific area of interest. Attend our events Discover (online) or Explore which will give you a good overview of how you could be involved. Regional representatives are available in various parts of the UK to talk with you personally about your interest. You can reach us at [email protected].
Do I have to be a Christian to work with Wycliffe?
All Wycliffe members and volunteers are in full agreement with our statement of faith. This statement is a deliberately broad, evangelical confession of Christian belief. Having this shared understanding drives what we do and keeps us focused on why we exist: the conviction that when people take the Bible’s message to heart, they are brought to saving faith in Jesus and are equipped for discipleship. In addition to the statement of faith, all our workers also give full and hearty assent to ethos and values statements, which help us live a life of prayerful holiness and love shared in service to others, which is glorifying to God and upholds our integrity as an organisation.
What initial training would I need to work with Wycliffe?
Our aim is always to provide the right level of training and orientation for the role you will be taking. For some roles, all you need is your existing skills and some basic cross-cultural training. Others require specialist courses offered at the School of Language and Scripture.
Are there short-term opportunities?
Yes! Our One-to-One programme offers opportunities of six weeks to two years especially for teachers, secretaries, finance people, computer specialists and others who don’t need much training from us. The Language Project option (two years or more overseas) combines linguistic training with an overseas assignment, while GradTeam is designed for recent graduates, and offers the opportunity to work alongside a language project for a year.
I’m no good at languages – how can I help?
How are Wycliffe personnel supported?
All Wycliffe members, serving overseas or home-assigned, whether translators, administrators or support workers, develop their own team of prayer and financial supporters to meet their living and ministry expenses. Wycliffe helps by conducting partnership development workshops led by trained consultants.
Read about some of the ways we see God providing for his work in the Bible, and how Wycliffe personnel have seen him provide for them here.
Are there other ways I can get involved?
I’m outside the UK – how can I get involved?
The easiest way to get involved is through the Wycliffe office closest to you. Try this worldwide list of Wycliffe Global Alliance organisations.