Why Bible Translation Matters
Since Carmen and I have been moving towards working for JAARS oversees in Bible translation, we have periodically run into seemingly unsurmountable difficulties and frustrations while only looking forward to a crazy amount of work ahead of us before we actually are settled and working in Tanzania. From living in an RV for a few months to simply being on the road for weeks on end, our life is not ordinary and presents unique challenges for ourselves and two young boys. In the midst of this we have to step back and ask ourselves why what we do is worth it. Every time we do, we come to the same conclusion, Bible translation is worth it. But why? That is what I want to explore in this post.
"The words do matter, but they matter because they constitute a message. The message is paramount. That's why the Bible can be translated. If the inspiration were tied to words themselves as opposed to their message, then we could never translate the bible, and if we could never translate it, how could it be a book for all people.”
Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus - Nabeel Qureshi
Bible translation is based on providing people with the best resource to know who God is in their own language - one that can not only be understood but also speaks to people's hearts and minds.
What happens when there is no translation?
When a people group does not have the Bible translated into their mother tongue, the church is at a major disadvantage.
- Leadership and pastoral training encounter roadblocks. The church's best textbook to know God is unavailable
- Church planters cannot effectively share the gospel
- Discipleship of new believers is lacking
- Outreach and evangelism become difficult to say the least
All forms of ministry and Christian life are lacking when people do not have a Bible they can really understand.
Translation becomes paramount based on the fact that the Bible is God’s message to the world. Christ lived on earth as a man, brutally suffered on the cross, and rose from the dead to conquer death forevermore so that we may be at peace with God and be with him for eternity. This is the message we need to get out to the world! And yet, there are still more than 1,800 languages in the world which do not even have a translation of God’s good news even started. Translation should be at the forefront of the church’s agenda because it is on the forefront of God’s heart for all to know Him.
Of course, you don't really need the Bible to know God, but it is certainly more difficult to walk in Jesus’ footsteps and really know important concepts about Him. Many times it takes God’s word to help a Christian go through difficult times and grow in faith.
For the Church
The Bible is the basis on which the church can lay a firm foundation to fight against false doctrine and build a community of believers. As mentioned before, the Bible is the foundation of evangelism, discipleship, church planting, and training in godliness. All of this encourages the growth of strong churches. Strong churches will in turn reach out to their neighbors ultimately transforming communities and bringing glory to God.
"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
The result of Christianity is a transformation of lives within a community. This also means that with the presence of God-fearing Christians a radical change in society often takes place. Imitating Christ's genuine concern and love for others, believers will exude care for others. Lasting and loving marriages are encouraged, and peace instead of violence is modeled. History tells us that the best form of humanitarian outreach and positive impact in society is the introduction and utilization of the gospel.
Our Calling and Responsibility:
Before Jesus ascended to heaven he commanded His disciples to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Matthew 28:19. Scripture is crucial to this calling. As such, Bible translation is an integral means by which we, the Church, are able to fulfill His commandment.
“I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish…For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” Romans 1:14-16
The gospel is the power of God for salvation. That is the crux of Bible translation and the obligation of the church - to bring the gospel to everyone.
"Translation is the church's birthmark as well as its missionary benchmark…The church would be unrecognizable or unsustainable without it... Translation is profoundly related to the original conception of the Gospel: God, who has no linguistic favorites, has determined that we should all have the Good News in our native tongue.”
Lamin Sanneh, of Yale University.
I cannot imagine what it is like for believers around the world to go through life without being able to open up God’s word. God loves them. God died for the lost and conquered death. And God has good news for them. If only they would hear.This is why we press on. This is why we must go to support translation work. The Bible in every language - that is something worth living for.