An expert in Bible translation says oral learning is an important way of learning the Bible for populations in developing countries.
In a National Association of Evangelicals podcast centered on the future of Bible translation, Samuel E. Chiang, president of The Seed Company, discussed the importance of orality when learning scripture in non-western cultures during an episode posted on Aug 15.
Chiang told NAE President Leith Anderson that sometimes when translating the Bible, they work with an “oral format” due to the lack of a written version of the language.
He noted that “orality,” or the quality of being verbally communicated to — usually in an environment without written communication — can be important to learning the Bible even for those who are literate.
“There are approximately 5.7 billion people who are oral learners and some of them actually highly textual, but they prefer to learn in an oral manner,” Chiang said.
“People recognize that there are people in this world who we cannot reach purely by texts. What are we going to do in order to reach them?”
Chiang has campaigned on behalf of orality in Bible evangelism, explaining that “we’ve been so textually-driven for the last 500 years.”
“We have forgotten how people actually learn and express themselves, especially in the marketplace,” he said, adding that “most of the Bible translation organizations are highly textual.”
“It has taken time, even for Seed Company, to grapple with and come to a decision point about orality and oral Bible translation.”
At the request of Anderson, Chiang also gave a “state of Bible translation” for the modern day, noting that there were approximately 7,100 languages worldwide and 4,000 of them still need a Bible translation.
“Out of the 4,000 languages that are needing a translation, approximately 2,000 of those languages have not yet started … don’t even have a single verse of scripture in their heart language,” Chiang added.
“There are also millions of people without the whole Bible, meaning the Old Testament. So the challenge in the numbers are quite large and great.”
Chiang explained that when doing translation work, they often work with native nationals of a given region who have close proximity to an untranslated language group.
Established in 1993 and based in Arlington, Texas, the Seed Company seeks to accelerate the translation of the Bible into all living languages.
“Working with over 1,400 global partners, we serve the local church by providing training, consulting, funding, and project management that leads to a meaningful, accurate translation in the local mother tongue,” according to the Company’s website.
Last August, Wycliffe Bible Translators announced that they had completed 1,000 translations of the Bible. No. 1,000 being in the Sudan-based Keliko language.
Wycliffe USA Chief Operations Officer Russ Hersman told The Christian Post in an email last September about the dedication of the Keliko Bible in South Sudan.
“The day after the dedication of the Keliko New Testament, there was a church service in the Bidi Bidi Refugee Camp, the second largest refugee settlement in the world with more than one-quarter million refugees. The church service was almost a second mini-dedication. During the service, the pastor called for an offering to be taken. Hundreds of people streamed forward,” wrote Hersman at the time.
“Where refugees got bills and coins to put in an offering is a mystery, however there were many who had nothing to give ... but they still came forward and put their hand into the offering basket. It was as if they were saying, 'I give myself to the Lord.' These are the people for whom the Keliko translation was done.”