Bible Translators' New Tactics Put Finish Line at 2025

Every spoken language in the world may have part of the Bible written in their own heart language within 15 years because of new technological advances as well as translation strategies.

Wycliffe Bible Translators, the world's largest scripture translation organization, believes Bible translation into all of the remaining 2,200 languages used by some 350 million people is possible by 2025.

The man responsible for raising the $1 billion needed for the effort, called the Last Languages Campaign, believes God will provide people and money to finally finish the more than 2,000-year effort.

"By God's provision we went through a financial crisis and during the very same year as the financial crisis we have our greatest year ever in the number of translations started," said Paul Edwards, executive director of Wycliffe's Last Language Campaign, to The Christian Post.

"Apparently, God is less worried about the money and He is more worried about his Word getting out."

The Last Languages Campaign launched in November 2008 with the goal of providing literacy, life-saving health information, and the Bible to all of the world's small language groups in need of language development by 2025. Since the launch, Wycliffe has received a total commitment of $184 million.

Rapid Translation Speed

Edwards said many factors are contributing to the rapid speed of Bible translation over the past few years.

As recent as 1999, Wycliffe estimated it would take eight generations, or some 140 to 150 years, before it would see the last translation started. In 1999, the group was averaging 20 new translation starts a year and there were about 3,000 languages left.

But 10 years later, Wycliffe had 109 new translation starts in 2009. The average new translation starts for the past 10 years is 75, Edwards noted.

The Last Languages Campaign director credits technology and new approaches to translation for the increased speed.

Computer software allows translators to fairly accurately predict the rest of a paragraph after they enter a few phonetic words. Also a small, battery-powered satellite and a laptop allows a translator to check his translator with a master translator somewhere in the world with little effort.

Previously, the translator had to hand carry the paragraph translation from a rural jungle for hours using boat and truck and then fly 20 to 50 hours one way to get it checked. Now with the battery-powered satellite and laptop, translators can just submit their translation online and hours later a master translator replies.

"It is extraordinary compression of time," Edwards said in awe.

Wycliffe is also using a new approach with translation by having teams translate groups or clusters of similar languages at the same time. Many translation teams worldwide are working on five to 12 similar languages at the same time so if one language group receives a Gospel story so do the other similar language groups.

Another innovation is not using chronology to determine the starting point of translation. Instead, teams translate New Testament stories that can then be quickly shared by oral story tellers with villagers. The "frontline" translator is also changed from a Western missionary to an indigenous person.

"Our old methodology was 'One team, for one language, for one lifetime,'" said Edwards. "We would call that our classic approach."

But now, Wycliffe tries to find as many clusters as possible for the campaign. However, some languages will still need to be translated by "One team … for one lifetime."

"Our hope and desire as we look at 2010-2011 is that North American churches can wake up to and choose to engage in this thrilling, final lap," said Edwards. "Can you name another 2,000-year-long continuous movement that is going to have its closing in our lifetime?"

There are a total of 6,905 spoken languages in the world and about a third do not have Scripture in their heart language.

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