Why Bible translation?

Bible translation is about giving people the best resource for knowing God—in a language that speaks to their minds and hearts. That’s the simple answer. Translation impacts people in many ways, and it looks different for every community. Below are just a few examples.

The Bible matters.

It’s the whole story. From Genesis to Revelation, we see the full picture of God’s love, holiness, and redemption of humanity. We can’t possibly understand its depths by reading short excerpts, or by relying on someone else to tell us about it.

  • People can understand and relate to God more deeply.

    You don’t need a Bible to be a Christian, of course. But without one, it’s a lot harder to grasp certain concepts—or to hang onto your faith during tough times. Scriptures let people study and reflect for themselves, truly owning and growing in their relationship with God.

    Grace, Not Works

    A former shaman in Vanuatu was sent out as a missionary—before he really understood the gospel. What did he tell people? “You have to work hard to get into heaven.” Then he joined a Bible translation team. After working on Galatians, he finally understood: “There’s nothing we can do to be saved. [We’re saved through] the blood of Jesus.”

    I wondered if they weren’t just preaching their own ideas. ... But as soon as I learned to read in Lama and could then read God’s Word myself, I was convinced they were teaching the truth. When I read and meditate on God’s Word, I understand it just like they do.

    Angèle Akonda
    Woman who attended a literacy class in Togo
  • Lives are transformed.

    The Bible is the best tool we have for becoming more like Christ. First, it’s an incredible guide—a lamp for our feet (Ps 119:105). And second, the Holy Spirit can speak through it to change our hearts and minds (Rom 12:2). With God’s Word, entire communities can find freedom from sin, fear, selfishness, and destructive behaviors.

    Village

    Peace

    Sivini was a ruthless killer. His village was in an all-out war with the Kamano-Kafe, a neighboring group in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. By chance, he wound up at a Bible translation workshop—right alongside his enemies. As they studied Cain and Abel, he saw the faces of people he had killed. Sivini repented on the spot, and later told his people not to retaliate when they were attacked.

     


    Lasting Marriages

    "Today married, tomorrow divorced" was the mindset for most Koti people in Mozambique. But the Bible is teaching people to commit to their marriages instead.

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    Caring for Others

    After hearing what the Bible says about caring for widows, a Cameroonian couple gave back the land they’d taken from a brother’s widow and children.

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  • The local church is strengthened.

    The Bible gives leaders and laypeople a strong foundation. With it, they can learn how to live as a community of believers—and watch out for false teachings. The Bible can also give new life to every aspect of a church: preaching, worship, evangelization, and discipleship.

    Lukas and Juma

    A lot of people who thought they understood the Bible in Swahili are now realizing they don’t. They’re hearing it in Malila and getting it for the first time. … In Bible studies and church groups, people who never used to say anything are participating now because they feel free to use Malila to discuss things. … It’s like the people in the churches are waking up.

    Lukas Mwahalende and Juma Mwampamba
    Malila Bible translators, Tanzania

    Ownership

    With God’s Word, the local church can study, reflect, and develop their own forms of meaningful worship and community life.

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    Unity

    Working together on Bible translation can help denominations see their common ground. As a leader in Indonesia said: “We can come together for one purpose…to see that God is glorified. This is the spiritual partnership that we are trying to see…”


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    Resources

    Once Scriptures have been translated into a language, many other materials can be made: audio Scriptures, worship songs, children’s Bible stories, the JESUS film (story), and more.

  • People can make sense of suffering.

    Many people have faced war, famine, oppression, natural disasters, and epidemic diseases like AIDS. They may get physical help, but have no way to work through the deep emotional scars. God’s Word can speak into their pain. “It was written by and for people who [have suffered],” says Eddie Arthur, past director of Wycliffe UK. "It isn't a book about nice, comfortable suburban living."

    Workshops

    Our partners are training church leaders in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific how to work through emotional trauma—in their own lives and with their communities. The workshops walk through basic mental health principles, with God’s Word as a foundation.

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    For four years now I have been crushed under an unbearable weight of sadness. … Before my eyes, rebels killed my pregnant sister, my father, and my brother. They kept me to cook for them. A few days later I fled with some others. God helped me get away. After this seminar, I feel ready to forgive because the Lord saved me.

    Woman who attended a trauma healing workshop in Côte d'Ivoire

Language Matters.

It’s more than a set of sounds, symbols, and syntax. Language shapes how you see the world. It’s intimately tied to your culture, history, and identity as a person. And throughout your life, it dictates what information you can and can’t understand.

Smiling girl picking up book
  • The story finally makes sense.

    Many people speak three or four languages: One at home. Another at school or church. Another in the city. But they might not truly grasp something until it’s in the language they know best—usually the one they grew up speaking.

    Understanding for All

    One Manjak pastor said, “Sometimes people don’t understand the Bible in French. Sometimes we read it in Creole [in church], and only some understand. But when we read it in Manjak, everybody understands.”
    One Manjak pastor said, “Sometimes people don’t understand the Bible in French. Sometimes we read it in Creole [in church], and only some understand. But when we read it in Manjak, everybody understands.”
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    In French, it’s confusing. But in Ifè, it doesn’t matter how something is said; when you read it, you understand it.

    Kokou Amouzou, Ifè pastor, Togo

    A simple gathering, like attending a literacy class, can sometimes be a source of unexpected riches for the soul.

    Dorothy's Story

    A simple gathering, like attending a literacy class, can sometimes be a source of unexpected riches for the soul.


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  • It connects to their hearts.

    As Nelson Mandela said, "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart." A translated Bible also redefines your entire relationship with God. He’s not an outsider anymore. He’s not the God of a different language and culture—he’s your God.

    Bonifácio Paulo

    Most of the time I can read and understand the Portuguese Bible, the English Bible, and even a little of the Greek Bible. But the way I understand it is somehow only on a superficial level. ... When I read it in Makhuwa, it's like I'm naked before God.

    Bonifácio Paulo
    Bible translation consultant-in-training, Mozambique

    Brighter, Deeper Words

    When a woman was hired to translate Scriptures from Russian into her own language, she found the words were “so beautiful—brighter, more touching, deeper than Russian.” As she read about Jesus praying on the night before he was crucified, she couldn’t stop crying.

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    Through this language, I can hear him talking directly to me. Now I am sensing through the language that he is like my close relative.

    Yurranydjil Dhurrkay
    Indigenous Australian translator and advisor
  • People gain pride in their identity.

    For many minority groups, feeling inferior is common. Outsiders might ignore, mock, or discriminate against them. Their language might feel insignificant, because it isn’t spoken in school, the capital, or even church. But having a written form of their language—and a book as important as the Bible—can help people see how valuable they truly are.

    Man smiling while holding Scripture copies

    Now, we are just like the French, the Germans, and the Americans. We have an alphabet and a Bible in our language, just like them.

    Kouya man in Côte d’Ivoire, while holding some of the first Scriptures in his language

    Paumarí Family

    Done Hiding Their Language

    For decades, river traders told the Paumarí they were less than human: They spoke an “animal language.” Shame set in. The Paumarí wouldn’t even speak their language in front of outsiders.

    But in the 1960s, linguists moved to their little village in northwest Brazil. As the Paumarí learned to read—and then began studying Scriptures—they realized their language was just as good as Portuguese.

    Today, the Paumarí stand taller. They’ve learned math, so traders can’t cheat them anymore. They create reading materials for their children, and they know how to treat health problems. Their population has grown from 96 to 1,200. And they’re now starting to translate the Old Testament.

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Communities Matter.

Bible translation is usually part of a much bigger package. A translation team—people from both outside and inside the community—typically creates a writing system, starts literacy classes, and improves formal education. Sometimes, they’ll also help a community tackle other pressing needs, like health, agriculture, income, or clean water.

Two Quechua women discussing a book with baby
  • People learn to read and write.

    And that alone can change their lives. Literacy can help someone get a better job. Read a baby’s medicine bottle. Learn about health, agriculture, or current events. Write letters themselves, rather than having a child write for them. According to a UNESCO report, literacy can even raise a person’s self-esteem—and empower her to take action in her community.

    Multilingual Education

    Most kids learn best in their own language first, rather than an official one they can barely speak. Our partners often work on multilingual education, which helps a child master his school subjects and the official language more quickly.

    Students in more than 6000 schools in Ghana will soon be learning to read in Ghanaian languages. A project is underway to develop reading materials in 11 Ghanaian languages, in order to improve the reading skills of students in the early grades.

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    Reading in Quechua makes them feel like people. It gives them value, and they know they are as good as everyone else.

    Pelagia Mendoza
    Quechua teacher, Peru
  • They’re healthier.

    Sometimes, a translation team will create simple, practical booklets on topics like malaria, hygiene, clean water, and maternal health. They might also give basic medical care (video) or train local people. Literacy can also help: A United Nations study found that a 1% rise in women’s literacy is more likely to reduce children’s deaths than a 1% rise in the number of doctors.

    An illustration from Kande's Story.

    "This is powerful! We need this in our language! Our people need to see this!"

    What had evoked such a response from the Kamano-Kafe translation team? It was the DVD produced by a church in Papua New Guinea several years ago depicting the devastation of AIDS. The story focuses on one family in which the parents contract the disease through the husband’s unfaithfulness. The story goes on to show the tragic effects on the wife and children.


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