When you think of Bible translations, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? If you are like me, probably something like ESV vs. NIV vs. NLT vs. KJV. Or perhaps “formal” vs. “dynamic equivalence.” Or maybe the thought paralyzes you because there are so so many translation choices available to English-speakers today. But when Mark Noll, author of the important church history book called Turning Points, thinks of Bible translations, he thinks globally. When someone like William Cameron Townsend, missionary and visionary founder of the immensely significant organization Wycliffe Bible Translators (WBT), thinks of Bible translation, he pictures whole language groups of people around the world who do not yet have a Bible translation available in their “heart language.”
According to Noll, the 20th century witnessed perhaps one of the most seismic turning points in all of church history. Like no other time in history, WBT has equipped missionaries to go to the uttermost parts of the earth to not only bring the gospel of Jesus Christ, not only to plant churches that proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, but to give a vernacular Bible translation to a people who speak a common language so that when missionaries vacate they leave the gospel of Jesus Christ to do its work from within the culture. This massive effort to provide the Scriptures to the nations in understandable language has contributed substantially to the shift of Christianity’s center to the Global South. We who live at the dawn of the 21st century are witnessing the emergence of a new Christendom, and it ain’t developing at all like the first.
Only time will tell how the Word of God, translated, brought, taught, and planted in nearly every culture on earth will change the history of Christianity and the history of the world. But if history teaches us anything, God’s promise that his Word will not return void but will accomplish all his purposes (Isa 55:10-11) will come true in ways we cannot fathom.
See the links and slide presentation below for further reading and reflection on the church history turning point of Bible Translations for the world.
Stories of Impact. Narrative accounts celebrating the Bible’s arrival in a new language.
Statistics (2002) of partial and full Bible translations. A summary, by geographical area and type of publication, of the number of different languages and dialects in which publication of at least one book of the Bible has been registered.
The Rise of Global Christianity. A Conversation with Philip Jenkins and David Brooks
The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. Book by Philip Jenkins about the Global South’s emergence as the center of worldwide Christianity.