A Bible translator who turned 70 on 14 September and retires at the end of this month, has been able to celebrate by seeing three languages he has worked with launch their New Testaments. John Macaulay and his wife Heidi have served with Wycliffe Bible Translators for 35 years, and are celebrating from afar as the Malila, Kinga and Sangu New Testaments are launched in Tanzania between September and November.

John and Heidi Macaulay

During his 35 years working in Bible translation, John has worked with translation teams from about 70 languages. He says: ‘Most of the languages I have worked on have been in Africa, but I did contribute to a translation in the Middle East and another one in West Asia. Some of my contributions have been small – for instance, recently I spent an hour or so giving my advice on problems with the Gbeya language glossary in the Central African Republic. But some have been much longer: my longest contribution is the Duruma translation, which I have worked on, on and off, for 26 years. That Bible is currently being read by representatives in the Duruma community, in preparation for typesetting in the next month or so.’

John is not attending any of the three dedications, because, as he says, ‘I concluded a long time ago that I couldn’t go to the dedication of every language project I worked on, as there were just too many. But I did go to two – the Duruma and Pokomo New Testaments in 2000 and 2005, respectively. And I was excited to see the Vwanji New Testament, which I contributed to over a number of years, dedicated in February, and now to see these three dedications going ahead in the autumn.’

The Duruma New Testament launch in 2000, with John celebrating in the background

John explains his role within translation teams: ‘I am a translation consultant, working in partnership with the translation teams to ensure the translation is of the highest quality. A translation consultant has to sign off any piece of translated Scripture, be it a single book like the Gospel of Mark, or the New Testament, or the entire Bible, certifying that it is translation of good enough quality to be distributed to speakers of the language in print, or video, or by phone app. I ensure that the translation is accurate to the original Greek or Hebrew, communicates clearly to mother-tongue speakers, and employs the natural idioms of their language. So I examine every verse, comparing it with the Greek or Hebrew, through the use of a back translation. A back translation is a translation back into Swahili, or English, of what the translated text is saying. An important part of my work is training translators so as to improve their translation skills, and providing them with resources to do their job effectively.’

John has shown no signs of slowing down as he has neared retirement. ‘I’ve been involved recently with two languages, Simbiti and Ikoma. The Simbiti New Testament is in the final stage of typesetting, so my role there is finished. However, the Ikoma New Testament is soon to be typeset, so I will have more input to give after I’m retired, answering questions that the typesetter has.’

Even in retirement, John will continue to make contributions. ‘I will reduce my work to three days a week. I’ll continue to contribute to Translators’ Notes [a resource that gives background notes, commentary and suggested translation ideas to help translators understand what they are translating] as well as advising translators across Africa on the Paratext translation software that we all use.’

‘One of the things I love about Bible translation is that we work in teams. A translation is a marathon, not a sprint, and it takes many people to bring a New Testament or Bible to completion. It’s the work of hundreds of people, some of whom (the translators and translation consultants) are more centrally involved than others. The local people – the language speakers – are probably the most important contributors of all. And our 35 years of service would not have been possible without our faithful supporters, who have kept us provisioned with everything needed to carry out this ministry throughout this time. All are needed to make the work of Bible translation happen.’

James Poole, Executive Director of Wycliffe, says: ‘I never cease to be amazed by the faithfulness and commitment of those who serve with Wycliffe. John is typical of so many Wycliffe people, who give their expertise and abilities to Bible translation for decades. Their dedication, serving alongside the teams working on the translations, is helping to make such a difference in bringing God’s word to people in the language that speaks to them best.’

Explore Online

If you would like to find out more about serving in Bible translation, join us for Explore Online, an online event over two weekends in October.


Notes to Editors

1. For further information, call Jeremy Weightman on the Wycliffe Communications Team on 0300 303 1111.

2. Wycliffe Bible Translators seeks to enable all peoples to engage with the Bible in a language that speaks to them best. It does this through a range of activities, including Bible translation, literacy and Scripture use initiatives. Currently, Wycliffe has 360 people from the UK and Ireland serving 530 million people who speak 360 languages in 71 countries. Of the 7,300 or so languages spoken worldwide today, only about 700 have the Bible. Around 1.5 billion people (1 in every 5 people) do not have the Bible in their language. As a result, translation of the Bible into people’s languages is one of the critical needs in world mission, to enable the growth of evangelism and discipleship ministries.

3. Images. You can download the following images to accompany the press release, by clicking on the ‘Image’ link:

Image 1 – John and Heidi Macaulay

Image 2 – Launch of the Duruma New Testament in 2000, with John Macaulay celebrating in the background

Image 3 – John Macaulay working with Kinga colleagues on the Kinga New Testament translation in 2007

Image 4 – John Macaulay working with Temi colleagues

Image 5 – Vwanji New Testament launch, February 2020: Vwanji people from the generations intrigued by the Vwanji New Testament

Image 6 – Vwanji New Testament launch, February 2020: two Vwanji women read the Vwanji New Testament

Image 7 – Vwanji New Testament launch, February 2020: Vwanji women excited by the Vwanji New Testament

Image 8 – Vwanji New Testament launch, February 2020: Vwanji men look at the Vwanji New Testament

Image 9 – Vwanji New Testament launch, February 2020: Vwanji people read the Vwanji New Testament

Images from the Malila New Testament launch in September 2020 can be accessed here.