Not All Bible Translations Are Created Equal: Church Leaders

By Lana Silk

Our world today is driven by instant gratification. Yet, our God-granted purpose compels us to act in ways that oppose the fleeting satisfactions this world has to offer in order to create lasting fulfillment and eternal reward for the things we do. 

When it comes to translating the Word of God into new languages, our challenge is to consider the importance of this concept, focusing on the people receiving this Word, the language that connects with their hearts and the attention to detail through the process. How will the new translation be received by those it has been prepared for? Will it be truly understood? Is it an authentic representation of their language? Have we honored this unreached people group, their language and their culture with the process? 

Scripture is inerrant, authoritative, sharper than a double-edged sword and God-breathed. The original combined text was carefully, thoughtfully, prayerfully and accurately canonized and anyone translating or distributing this perfect text today, carries that same weight of responsibility.  

Why Do We Translate the Bible?

As humans, we are task-oriented and driven by the important things that we do and accomplish. If we forgo purpose in action, then we must ask ourselves why we do anything at all. My background in marketing taught me to continually ask myself, “So what?” for all my marketing claims and captions. This question has become a backdrop to so many other choices throughout my life.  

Purpose is how we operate, and there is a purpose for everything we do. We must have a good reason for every action we take and every word that comes out of our mouths. If we are doing things just to say that we’ve done them, then we are missing the point. It is the same with the Word of God; it should never be our endgame to translate the Bible simply to say that we’ve done it. The Holy Word of God is not a checked box.  

Rather, the Bible always has to do with people and the Kingdom of God. The objective is that people connect with Jesus.

Those of us in the awesome ministry of Bible translation have this as our exciting driving force. What a privilege to be tools in God’s hands, bridging the gap between the precious Word of God and those who have never heard it before. 

‘Used’ Versus ‘Usable’ Translations

If we aren’t careful, we can find ourselves focused on translations that are commonly “used,” rather than those that are actually “usable.” In other words, a translation that is “usable” needs to accurately communicate Truth to the reader using precise vocabulary and phrasing that coincides with the lingual facets, accents and encompassing nuances of the receiving language.  

When we produce new Bible translations for people groups who have yet to hear the Gospel message, are we considering if it is actually usable?  

When Jesus speaks to us, He sounds like us. He speaks to us in our hearts. In the same way, when we read his Word, it speaks to us in ways that resonate with us, moving us to action and touching our hearts, speaking to the depths of our souls, as we recognize what it means to be known and understood by God. It is important to ensure that the Bible speaks to everyone in this way.  

Cutting These Corners Isn’t Just Lazy—It’s Harmful.  

If the objective is to produce as many passable translated Bibles as possible, how will these translations ever end up in the hands of the people they are supposed to reach? 

Take Iran for example. With more than 39 languages spoken throughout the nation, there are countless Iranian people groups who have never received the Gospel message at all, let alone in a tongue that speaks to their hearts. Sadly, today there are translations of Iran’s ethnic languages that have not been received by their intended audiences because they are not authentic representations of their spoken language—languages that are fiercely loved and revered amidst political pressure to be replaced with Farsi, the national language of Iran. Therefore, these inadequate versions will inevitably fail to resonate with their hearts on any level and prove to be harmful, as many of these people then write-off God’s Word altogether. 

This should concern us. How will the Bible end up in the hands of those who need it the most?  

The Beauty in the Process

In light of the newly released Gilaki case study, we have seen the profound impact of intentionality in constructing an inspired, cohesive and precise translation for this Iranian people group. The process has taken around 14 months to build, starting with interviewing specialized translators and language experts throughout Iran to select a core team, connecting the appointed individuals over Zoom calls to pray, discuss and exactingly bring together the Word of God in an entire audio Bible in the true Gilaki language with the region’s accent and music—key cultural elements in Iranians forming heart connections. 

The other key benefit of this process is that of showing people that they are worth the effort—including communicating that very message to the translators themselves. The language experts hired aren’t always Christians because we are just as interested in the authenticity of the Gilaki language than any other element. In many of our translation groups, we have Muslims who recognize the Bible as an important historical work; this is a crucial ministry towards them too. And because these are tight-knit communities, these linguists have great influence within them. They also ensure that we use language that unchurched people will understand, delivering a much more accessible final translation. 

In producing these true translations, thus dignifying and preserving these languages, we show the very people within them just how important they are to Jesus. The result is that we have seen countless Muslims come to Christ. In one people group, more than 20 Muslims have turned to Christ. In another, 2 Muslim Bible translators were themselves impacted by the words they translated, gave their lives to Christ, and began enthusiastically sharing the fragments of completed Scriptures with others. In five months, we now have more than 50 Muslin converts in this previously unreached people group. There are now house churches in these communities – something Farsi evangelism had not been able to achieve. The names of these languages cannot be shared for the safety of those concerned. 

Compiling Bible translations in any authentic native tongue cannot be done by cutting corners, but it is undoubtedly and eternally worth the time, attention, funds and prayer.  

Our Call To Pursue Intentionality Over Mass Production

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

God is always interested in our personal testimonies. Therefore, we must ask ourselves why we are called to the things we do. How will people’s lives be transformed, not for our glory, but for the glory of Christ Jesus?  

The challenge to each of us is to prioritize prayer and thoughtfulness in our own Kingdom efforts. May we pray that these authentic translations would be made possible, that the Lord would fuel these paced efforts of intentionality. We must also pray for the people themselves receiving the Bible for the first time, for their hearts to be transformed, made new in Christ Jesus, pierced by his Word.  

In our Kingdom efforts, let this knowledge drive us to ask ourselves why we do what we do in ministry. May we further examine our tasks to determine if we are acting just to act, giving just to give; when it comes to the Kingdom, it is our heart posture for people that matters. It is our job to remain informed about how various ministries are operating to ensure that our contributions aren’t exacerbating ongoing problems, and instead, helping to veraciously spread the Gospel message. 

Originally published on: Church Leaders

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