In 2017, Bible Societies assisted in the completion of Scripture translations in 49 languages1 spoken by more than 580 million people.
2017 was a ‘first’ for 20 languages, spoken by over 14 million people. 7 communities received the very first full Bible in their language, 4 received their first New Testament and 9 communities received their first, or additional, portions of Scripture.
Languages change and develop over time. That is why Bible Societies are also committed to revising existing translations or providing new2 translations, when requested, giving new generations the chance to meaningfully engage with Scripture. In 2017, this resulted in 26 new translations and revisions, plus 9 study editions, with the potential to reach more than 566 million people. (For full details of the languages published in 2017, see the Appendix.)
1There are 49 languages not 50 (20+30) because 1 language (Pere) has both a first and new translation. Some languages have more than one translation so the total number of projects is 55.
2A ‘new’ translation is undertaken when an existing translation no longer meets the Scripture needs of the whole community.
Sign Language Scriptures for Deaf Communities
70 million Deaf people use sign languages as their ‘first’ or heart language. But only 10% of the more than 400 unique sign languages that exist have any Scripture, and those that do have very little. No sign language has the full Bible; American Sign Language comes closest, with the New Testament.
United Bible Societies is working closely with several international partners to help meet the significant Scripture needs of this major unreached people group. Bible Societies are currently involved in 26 active sign language projects, with more than 10 more in the planning and preparation stages. This work has the potential to impact 12.9 million Deaf people.
This work will continue to develop as Bible Societies and their partners invest in training and support for the growing number of Deaf translation teams. Technical developments, too, are helping to open the Bible to the Deaf Community, from software tools used by Deaf translators to apps that deliver new translations to the end user.
Reaching People with Visual Disabilities
An estimated 285 million people are visually impaired, 40 million of whom are blind. Only 44 languages have the full Bible in Braille, with some Scripture available in a further 200+ languages.
Transcribing and printing Braille Scriptures is a significant undertaking: a full Braille Bible consists of more than 40 bulky volumes and costs around US$600 to print. But despite the development of audio and other accessible electronic formats, Braille continues to be the most popular and effective way for blind people to engage with the Bible.
In 2017, Bible Societies in 32 countries ran Braille projects to meet the Scripture needs of blind readers. Two languages received their first ever portions of Braille Scripture: Luganda (Uganda) and Khasi (India). A further four languages received additional Braille Scriptures: Oshikwanyama (Namibia), Kinyarwanda (Rwanda), Armenian (Armenia), and German (2017 Luther Bible). In Latin America, work was completed on the transcription of the Dios Habla Hoy version of the Spanish Bible, meaning that all 44 Braille volumes can now be printed on demand.
In the course of 2017, United Bible Societies developed new software to speed up the process of Braille transcription, whilst maintaining the same quality. This software will make it easier to share Braille files through our Digital Bible Library®.
Scripture Access Today
There are currently 7,097 languages in the world spoken by over 7.6 billion people.3
674 languages spoken by nearly 5.4 billion people now have a complete Bible and a further 1,515 languages spoken by 631 million people have a New Testament.
This leaves 406 million people with only some portions of Scripture, and a further 209 million people with no Scripture in their language.
United Bible Societies is working towards the day when everyone can access the full Bible in the language of their choice. Bible Societies are currently working on over 400 translation projects around the world.
3Figures as as 31.12.2017. We thank Bible Societies and progress.Bible™ (1 Feb 2018) for their help in compiling these statistics. The number of languages has been standardised to match Ethnologue’s language count. Figures for the number of first language speakers are based on the best available data, which in 2017 totalled 6.6 billion, less than the actual world population of over 7.6 billion.
Scripture Access and Engagement
Developments in digital technology have provided unprecedented access to the Bible, and more people than ever before in history are engaging with Scripture – and sharing it, too.
The Digital Bible Library® (DBL) is central to our strategy to make the Bible as widely and easily accessible as possible. By the end of 2017, the DBL contained 1,735 Scripture texts in 1,269 languages spoken by 5.6 billion people. Audio Scriptures in the DBL nearly tripled in 2017 to 1,078 audio Scriptures in 732 unique languages spoken by 4.9 billion people.
The DBL is owned and maintained by United Bible Societies in partnership with other Bible agencies and with the support of the Every Tribe Every Nation alliance. It makes the Bible accessible by providing Scripture texts to the public through partners such as BibleSearch and YouVersion.
Why Bible translation matters
When a community receives the Scriptures in their language, something profound happens. People feel that God is speaking directly to them, from among them. “God speaks my language!” is a common joyful reaction as they start to experience the hope and transformation in the Bible.
While great strides have been made in Bible translation, with the full Bible available in the languages of around 81% of the global population, 209 million people across the world still do not have the chance to encounter any part of Scripture in their language. Much work lies ahead if at least some parts of the Bible are to be made available in these remaining 3,773 languages. Please pray for this vital area of mission and for the Bible Societies and partner agencies committed to meeting this need.
Click here to download a PDF of this report, which is packed with case studies and includes an Appendix of languages published in 2017.