5.6 billion people now have access to the full Bible in their language, yet more than half of the world’s languages still have no Scripture at all. This is the encouraging and challenging overview of the Bible translation landscape at the start of 2019.
Of the 7,350 languages in the world, the full Bible is now available in 692 languages used by 5.6 billion people. That means around 1.5 billion people do not have the full Bible in their language. However, 1,547 languages used by 805 million people have the New Testament, and shorter portions of Scripture are available in a further 1,123 languages used by 411 million people. That leaves 3,988 languages used by 246 million people without any Scripture.
Nine1 of the languages which received full Bible translations for the first time in 2018 were completed by United Bible Societies (UBS), which places high value on the translation of the full Bible. Together, the nearly 150 Bible Societies which make up UBS have provided just under three quarters of the world’s full Bible translations.
1One of these Bibles involved support to a partnership project.
Translations launched by Bible Societies in 2018
In 2018, working closely with churches and partner organisations, Bible Societies continued to make a significant contribution to the global Bible translation landscape, completing Scripture translations in 66 languages used by 440 million people.
44 of those languages, used by over 77 million people, received ‘first’ translations: 9 communities welcomed their first full Bible and 15 got their first New Testament. 20 language groups received their first, or additional, portions of Scripture.
In Eritrea, Letensea, 42, celebrated with thousands of others at the launch of the very first New Testament in their language, Blin. “Today, I have received food that can fill us up more than anything in the world: this new Scripture speaks to our hearts!” she exclaimed.
After the celebration, copies of the new Scripture were loaded onto camels to take to villages and churches in remote areas.
Bible Societies also published new or revised translations for 22 languages used by 363 million people that already have some Scripture, including completion of five full Bibles. These fresh translations will help to ensure that new generations are able to understand and engage with Scripture.
The dedication of the revised Havakinau New Testament in Vanuatu was an emotional moment for a community facing a very challenging time. Volcanic eruptions on their home island of Ambae last year led to their urgent evacuation to other islands, and delayed the launch and distribution of the long-awaited New Testament. Many may not ever be able to return home because the volcano could remain active for the foreseeable future.
People wept as they listened to the new Scripture being read out loud, and they sang and danced as they held their New Testaments and prayed for their future. The revision will help people engage more deeply with the Scripture text, which will help their faith to grow, noted Kathleen Lingi, one of the translators.
Increasing Scripture access for Deaf and visually impaired people
Among the 20 languages which received first or additional portions of Scripture were five sign languages used by more than a million Deaf people in Hungary, Lithuania, Japan, Thailand and Guatemala. Helping the world’s 70 million Deaf people get access to Scripture in their language is a growing focus for Bible Societies and their partners. Currently, only around 10% of the world’s estimated 400 sign languages have any Scripture, and no sign language has the full Bible.
“This translation is indispensable for the Deaf community,” said József Kéri, a member of the Hungarian Bible Society’s sign language translation team. “Even though I grew up in a Christian family I only really understood the Gospel when I met someone who was Deaf, like me, and who signed the message of the Gospel to me.”
József was delighted to help make Mark’s Gospel available to the Deaf community in Hungary last year.
Braille continues to be the most popular and effective way for people with visual disabilities to engage with the Bible, so Bible Societies continued to expand the number of Braille Scripture editions available to them. In 2018, Luganda – a language spoken in Uganda – became the 45th language to have a full Braille Bible, and visually impaired communities in seven other countries also received first or new Scriptures in Braille.
Transcribing and printing Braille Scripture translations is a significant undertaking, with a full Braille Bible consisting of more than 40 bulky volumes and costing around US$600 to print.
Incredible growth of the Digital Bible Library®
The incredible growth of the Digital Bible Library® (DBL) is the result of closer collaboration in recent years between Bible agencies and donors. Set up in 2011, in partnership with the Every Tribe Every Nation alliance (ETEN), it is a repository of digitised Scripture translations by UBS and other Bible translation agencies, which enables standardised storage and more efficient sharing of Scripture. This enables hundreds of millions of people to access the Bible in their own language, no matter where in the world they live, through websites and apps such as Global.Bible and YouVersion.
By the end of 2018, it securely hosted 2,120 texts in 1,430 languages used by 5.5 billion people, including 799 full Bibles in 440 languages. Over 75% of the full Bible texts in DBL are provided by UBS.
The number of audio Scriptures grew to 1,125 in 752 languages spoken by 5.4 billion people. The very first video translation was also uploaded – Mark’s Gospel in Thai Sign Language – and this is an area that is expected to grow in coming years.
‘Extraordinary moment for Bible translation’
The increasing collaboration that led to the development of the DBL has also created unprecedented momentum in Bible translation. Shared processes, resources and digital tools mean that Bible translation today is happening more quickly and effectively than ever before. All of this means that millions more people can access Scripture in their language.
“We are living in a time when the Bible’s message of mercy, reconciliation, justice, peace and love is sorely needed,” notes UBS Executive Director of Bible Ministry Alexander M. Schweitzer. “That’s why it’s essential to make sure that no matter what language a person speaks, they are able to access Scripture for themselves.
“By God’s grace, this is an extraordinary moment for Bible translation: Bible agencies and donors are partnering more effectively than ever before, and developments in technology are creating unprecedented opportunities.”
A bold 20-year journey
To steward this momentum in Bible translation, in 2018 UBS embarked on a bold 20-year journey that aims to provide around 600 million people with new access to Scripture in their heart language. If Bible Societies receive the funding that they need, this will involve the completion of 1,200 translation projects by 2038.
“Our 20-year vision and mission strategy builds on a legacy of sacrifice and generosity passed down by generations of faithful servants,” says UBS Director General Michael Perreau. “Now we continue that mission with fresh momentum by working more closely than ever before with partners around the world, including modern day Bible heroes living lives of sacrifice and dedication so that we all might have access to the life-giving word of God.”