What It Takes To Check Translated Scriptures

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This week I am to start the consultant checking of Mborena Kam books of James and Jude.  These happen to be a couple of the hardest books in the New Testament to translate, as there are many places where we really do not know what exactly they are talking about.  That is where commentaries are so helpful.

These two books will be the last books of the NT to check for the Mborena Kam.  Praise God for that.  I think it should only take us about 3 days or so to check the 108 verses.  Then I want to work with the team to help them start to pick maps for the back of the Bible, such as Paul’s three missionary journeys, and a map of the Middle East during the time of Jesus.  Then I want them to choose Bible illustrations for culturally difficult passages.

    

Take Mark 1:6 as an example, where someone might ask “What is a camel?”  This is important, because John clothed himself in the “hairs of the camel” and so we put a picture of a camel in the text.  Then the team needs to choose a phrase in the Tok Ples (their village language) that helps to describe what the picture is all about.

Another task that I hope to do with the Mborena Kam in this two week period is to work with them on running all of the Scriptural “Checking Tools” which we have.  We are so fortunate to live in this day and age where we have so many powerful computer programs which can assist us in our work in tremendous ways.

I will ask the team to “Run the Basic Checks”.  These checks look at such things as “Are quotation marks being used consistently throughout the NT.”  Often they will find the errors where there is an opening quotation, but they cannot find a closed quotation marker.  And so the verse is marked with a “Missing Component” mark.  Other basic checks are the use of punctuation, Capitalization, paired words, etc.  You’d be amazed at how many times there was an extra space put between the last word of a sentence and the punctuation that closes the sentence.

    

In addition to spending many hours reading the book verse by verse, holding discussions as to whether something has been added in that should not have been, or something has been left out that needs to be put back in, we often need to do what is called  comprehension checking.  This is where the consultant (me for example) writes up hundreds of notes and questions to ask the team, and waits then to find out what kind of response they will get to the consultant’s question.

Some questions are usually simple ones, comprehension questions, like “Where did Jesus go, was it upstream or downstream.”  (This directional sense is very important in many language groups.)  Some questions simply deal with missing information.  It is not that difficult while one does translation work that your eyes get tired, and they can skip ahead in a verse and leave something out.  These errors are easy to find and fix.

    

There are other more complex issues to deal with, such as when some extra-biblical material has been added to the text.  Does this material get deleted, simply because we do not find that these words are not found in the original Greek documents.  What we have to realize though, is that these documents of the Bible were written by men from within one ancient cultural world and world view that many of the people to whom they were written, already shared the same culture and worldview.

That leaves the Scriptures to be wide open with misunderstanding for people today, since the understood, implicit information that  the 1st Century Jews and Christian would have, is not understood by us.  And so there are many places where we take this culturally understood implicit information and we bring it up to the surface and make it explicitly clear for any reader of any time or culture.

We also check for consistency among verses with similar wording, and we also look at how consistently the people are using special Key Terms, like priest, Sabbath, temple, prophet, etc.  In many cases, these key terms can be translated in identical ways.  But this will not be the case in many times, since context and work usage is so important.

When the word is used as a subject of the sentence, or the object of the sentence, or has some aspect of possession of another item, then many languages use special suffixes or prefixes to show how the work is being used grammatically.  We need to keep an eye on sentence syntax and grammar to know if the word is spelled right, and is fulfilling its purpose within the sentence.

    

There are just so many aspects involved in trying to produce the very best translation that is accurate to the original languages of the Bible (Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic), that has gone through translation principles to make it flow in natural village language style, and most importantly, that the message is clear to all those who hear it in their own mother-tongue language.

So please be praying for me and the Mborena Kam team as we finish the last official consultant checked books for their New Testament.  But we are not done yet.  Pray for us as we work through all of the other tools and checks to make sure no Scriptural errors have made it into the final form of their Bible.

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My Life Testimony & Being a Missionary

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When I was very young, going to church every Sunday was the normal thing for our family to do.  I should qualify this by saying that it was my mother who would bring the kids with her to church.  My father wanted nothing to do with religion.  By the time I was in Grade 6, my older brothers were in High School and we were not really serious about God.  Only my sister seemed to like going to a Youth Group at another church.

My sister invited me the next year when I was old enough, and I started to see that not all Christians were boring.  In that Fall of 1972, our Youth Group went to a Youth Conference in northern Alberta, and I was surprised to find hundreds of young people getting “excited about Jesus”.  It was at the banquet night, when a girl sang the song “For Those Tears He Died”, that I suddenly found that I too was crying, for Someone was starting to melt my toughened little heart.

    

I started to attend this church in Calgary with keen interest and I would listen to the messages each week.  Afterwards, I would go up to the preacher and ask lots of deep questions.  I also started to read through the Bible to see if the same answers could be found within this Book.  For six months I searched for the Truth, and by the Spring of 1973, I was ready to give my life over to Jesus.  I was baptized then at age 12, and I committed to making Jesus the Lord of my life.

Within two years, I felt the strings of my heart being tugged by the Holy Spirit as He began to call out to me to walk toward the path of becoming a missionary.  I would go to many evening services at church and listen to the missionary stories and I knew that someday I would also be a missionary.

The next step forward in my life happened when I was just 16, serving a year in the Canadian Naval Reserve.  The ship that I was stationed on had traveled from Victoria, Canada to Lima, Peru.  While docked there, I was given permission to go up to the mountains of Cuzco and visit a family that I had heard about.  They were missionaries which our church supported, and they were doing Bible translation work.  After spending a few days with them, I knew in my heart that this was the kind of ministry that I would want to give my life for.

    

Over the next four years, while finishing High School and entering University, I sought out mission groups and was able to do some short-term mission work with Teen Missions Int’l.  I enjoyed that so much that I actually stayed past the summer mission and became part of the staff of TMI, allowing me experiences in Brazil, Honduras, Scotland and doing mission presentations across America.

I became convicted though that my zeal for the Lord did not match my understanding of the Scriptures. In 1981, I entered into Bible College and worked diligently at learning the Bible and being involved in church life and ministry.  I found preaching hard at first, but as my love for God and my knowledge of Scripture increased, I found that 30 minutes was often not enough time to express the truths of God.

I still hungered to go work in overseas missions, but it seemed that so few people around me had any concept of what that was all about.  There was one person though with whom I would spend long hours into the night talking about the things each of us would like to do for the Lord in missions.  We developed a great friendship, even having good arguments too about how life ought to be lived.  But our friendship prevailed, and our passion for missions led us to become husband and wife one week after I graduated from Bible College.

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Jill and I both felt strongly about being well prepared to serve overseas, so I pursued a Master’s degree in missions, while at the same time, Jill pursued one of her heart’s desires, to become a nurse.  We felt like we would make a great team together for the Lord.

Married life and education bring with it financial responsibilities, and so we found that God led us through a winding path of nursing jobs for Jill and church preaching experience for me.  And we also started a family in this time with God blessing us with two wonderful sons.

Always the mission field beckoned though.  And after some good advice from a friend, I returned to do a little more study of Greek and Hebrew at a Seminary in Illinois, and that is when we found out about Pioneer Bible Translators.

    

The moment I met some of their leaders in Dallas, I knew this was the mission group we were looking for.  In 1994, we moved to Texas to get the linguistic training I would need.  And then in 1997, our family stepped off the plane over in Papua New Guinea and began our five year ministry among a tribal people group there.

In that time, after learning the language and culture, a team of national men and I were able to translate the book of Mark for the people.  That is the beginning of what is now almost 20 years of ministry with PBT, first in PNG, then across Canada while our son underwent some cancer treatment, then to East Africa for 18 months, and now for five years of travel back and forth to PNG to do Bible translation consultant work.

This adventure of serving the Lord began 40 years ago, and I find that it is still just as exciting to me today as it was the first time that I stepped out of North America and into a different culture group.  I look forward to what the next 20 years will hold.

25th Anniversary Pic

My Life Testimony – Pt. 5

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My Online Christian Magazine Interview – Pt. 5

Recently, I was interviewed by a Christian magazine regarding my life in Christ and the translation work that I have been involved with for over 17 years now. In this fifth article that includes a portion of the questionnaire, I talk about our mission, Pioneer Bible Translators and what is involved in translation work.  My prayer is that what I wrote will be a blessing to you, and be a testimony to the greatness of God who has empowered me to do His work.

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Q9: Some technical questions: of the 850+ languages in Papua New Guinea, what language are you currently working on right now? What are some of the key challenges in tackling that particular language and how much progress has your group been making so far? How do you explain words such as ‘gospel,’ ‘love,’ ‘sin’ and ‘forgiveness’ to people who may have little or no concept at all? What are examples of other tough words equally challenging to teach or formulate for translation?

As a Bible Translation Consultant, I will come and work with any language group that has Scripture ready to be checked.  In these past four years I have worked with 8 different language projects.  In this period of Jan-April of 2012, I will work with one PNG highland language on the Gospel of John, two PNG lowland languages (the first one on John and the second one on Daniel), and one S.E. Asian language on the Gospel of Matthew. 

The greatest challenge I have as a consultant is that I do not know the language that I will be consulting on.  Thankfully, there are two ways for me to check their vernacular translation without having to depend upon just speaking through an interpreter.  Most importantly, each team will take their vernacular text and reverse translate it (called a Back Translation) into either English or Tok Pisin here in PNG. 

I can study this Back Translation and compare it to the Greek and Hebrew and fairly quickly know if there is a problem with the text (missing material, extra unnecessary material, or a clear error in translation.)  The second thing that helps me is the excellent computer programs and tools that we have that help us to analyze languages, even if we don’t know them.  Read through my four-part series “God’s Assignment For Me” (March 31, April 7, 14, 21 of last year, but especially Part 2 on April 7th.)

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Every language will have its challenges.  PNG languages are very tricky in that the main verb of a sentence is normally put on the end of a sentence.  So if you have a long and complicated sentence, you need to wait until the end of the sentence to find out exactly who and how many (singular or plural or even dual) people did or are doing or will do the action of the verb.

Single words or concepts that might be foreign to the culture are also a challenge to doing translation.  In the translation I just checked, the “Passover” (which occurred when Moses brought the people out of Israel) is a long phrase which means roughly, “the day for getting thought about the fact that the man-killing sky-being, and not killing the Israelites’ ancestors, passed by [them]”. 

Sometimes we make comparisons to help the people understand a foreign concept.  For example, a “camel” has often been translated in PNG as “a big pig-like animal called a ‘camel’ ”.  And sometimes we must use other words to convey the meaning of Scripture, such as instead of saying “white as snow”, we might translate it as “white as a very bright cloud”.  It is really “meaning” rather than “form” that we are trying to translate.

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Q10 Aside from translation, PBT is also involved in sending specialists such as teachers, builders and administrators, teaching people to read, planting churches and forming a community to serve God. Could you give us a successful/ ongoing example of changing a certain people/tribe that went through transformation thanks to PBT?

I wish I could give you specific success stories as you ask about, but these stories would really belong to other PBT missionaries. What I can talk about is the larger picture of success here in PNG.  Up until World War II, most of the interior of PNG was still unexplored.  There have been missionary endeavors since the mid 1800’s, but for the most part, the people of PNG remained locked in their Stone Age tribalism, which include terrible stories of barbarism and cannibalism. 

So you can say that the Gospel of Christ has only really been making inroads into the lives of the people for about 60 years.  Pioneer Bible Translators has only been in the country for just over 35 years.  But in that time, PBT has completed two New Testament projects and has another dozen coming along.  Within the groups that have made the most progress of translation, you will also see not only existing churches, but dynamic and thriving churches. 

We are also very happy about how many national men and women are being trained to reach out to their own people.  And some national men are starting to target nearby language groups to help them get a translation and literacy program going.  Just like Jesus transformed Peter from being a fisher of fish to a fisher of men, we have seen some of the people of PNG transform from being animistic spirit worshippers to Christian evangelists.

Holy Spirit Enabled Missionary

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Full-time Missionary Employee Again

It is 2012 and we are staring off the year with me becoming reinstated as a full-time employed missionary. It has been an interesting three years of learning more about what I can do in spite of my muscle disease, and I’m so excited as I prepare to leave for my longest trip to Papua New Guinea since we lived there ten years ago.

In the next few months, I will be busy doing the consultant check on Matthew for a Southeast Asia project, the Gospel of John for two PNG projects, and then the book of Daniel for another project in PNG. Before heading ‘down under’, I have had the joy of teaching part of a week-long intensive training course in Dallas interacting with 16 students who are considering future work with Pioneer Bible Translators.

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My trip to PNG starts on January 15th, and after a few days of rest from the journey, I will work with a team checking the second half of the Gospel of John at a mission base up in the highlands. On Feb. 14th, I will fly down from the highlands, and Jill will fly from the capital of PNG so that we end up meeting in Madang where our PBT mission office is located. (How romantic don’t you think, to meet on Valentine’s Day after being apart for six weeks?)

Then, after a few days of rest, I will begin my work of helping as an Advisor to a group of national men to get their rough draft of the Gospel of John into a much clearer and accurate text. It will take up to six weeks to do that, but once it is finished, then they are ready to have a consultant come and check it. After Easter in April, I will work once more as a consultant to help the third language group check their translation of Daniel. It will be the end of April when I finally return to Canada.

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When I requested employment status with PBT Canada, it was a leap of faith in many ways. My struggles with fatigue and pain have prevented me in the past from being able to do full-time work. The S.E. Asia project (which I can work on remotely through Internet connection) allows me to work when I can and rest when I need to and there is plenty of work with just that alone to keep me busy when I am not on a trip to PNG. And it looks like there is a strong possibility that I will also become attached to one of the language projects of PNG as a remote consultant.

We have found that warmer climates make a big difference positively in my daily pain level, and so we were thankful for the opportunity that arose for me to be in Dallas from August until December, and now for the rest of the winter to be in Papua New Guinea. Recently on Facebook, I wrote my status as “I am no longer a disabled missionary; I am a Holy Spirit enabled missionary.” Whatever it takes to get around and do the task, I want to continue working to help others in whatever way I can to know about the wonderful love of Jesus in the language that speaks best to their heart! What a privilege to serve God in this way.

This most recent chapter of my life is now just about to close.  Except for being apart from Jill and the boys for most of the four months, from August until December, it has been good for me to be here in Dallas.  With the heat, my muscles and my body in general have been doing well.  Remember when people were upset during last Summer because it was above 110 F for almost 100 days?  Well, when I went outside, it was like a giant warm blanket was wrapping around me.  And now that it is in the 40’s F here in Dallas, I am eager to get back to PNG where it is always hot and humid.

But that is not the only reason I am looking forward to going back to PNG.  In every language project, we have a group of national men and women to work with.  This helps us to check for fluency and naturalness of the text, as well as the accuracy.  The real joy comes when we get to the last verse of the last chapter and we breath a sigh of relief that all the tedious, day-by-day checking of every work and phrase and sentence of each verse is completed and now we all have one more book of Scripture ready to be published and put into the hands of the people.

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Someone recently asked me this question, “Besides the warm weather, which is good for your muscles, what are you looking forward to the most as you head back to PNG?”  Without even pausing to think about it, I immediately blurted out, “It is seeing the joy, the awe, the reverence and the excitement in the eyes of the national men and women when they get to hold a copy of the corrected Scripture.

Even though it is one of the manuscript copies of the Scripture book, with all the pen and pencil corrections added into the text, and bunches of words and sections have been struck through until new words were found, to them, the manuscript is still the Word of God to them.  They have such high respect for God’s Word, it often puts us to shame.  But as they hold the old beaten up manuscript, they are able to envision the day when they will hold the completed, real copy of the Bible in their language.  Wow!  What an experience.  I thank God that I can be a part of this ministry.

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The Joy of Reading God’s Word

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The following devotion comes from my email subscription to

Connection! Devotions for Every Day Life.

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Passion For The Word Of God

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Reading God’s Word is one of the simplest and the most common spiritual disciplines for connecting with God’s heart. I choose to expose myself to every verse in the Bible at least once a year. Sometimes I read an inordinate amount of God’s Word in December, but I will finish reading all of it by the end of the year. This is not my study time, nor lesson preparation time, but simply an attempt to understand the broad scope of God’s written Word.

We can have different motives for reading the Bible. One motive is to read through the Bible to accomplish something. A better motive is to read through the Bible to learn something that can glorify our incredible God. Self-glorification comes from focusing on my accomplishing a spiritual activity.

Some of the religious people in Jesus’ day had an issue of spiritual pride. They had an immense knowledge of the Bible, but not a passion for God. Their passion was for accomplishment and self-righteousness. Their Bible knowledge led to more pride in their great accomplishment. When we read the Bible with a desire to develop passion for God, our Bible knowledge will nurture that passion and not lead to pride.

–Taken from The Path toward Passion (Nine Disciplines that Connect Your Heart to God’s) by Dean Trune. (Click on the blue title for more information about this resource).

Holy Spirit, teach me as I read Your word and convict me when I read it only to accomplish rather than to know You better. May I learn how to pray through Your living word, seeking wisdom and knowledge from Your heart.

Posted 30 Aug 2011

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Reading God’s Word is a great thing to do.  Not because we “have to” but because we want to do it.  Reading God’s Word has become a natural part of my daily life.  Or if not daily, certainly it is a regular part of my week.

I heard recently a powerful preacher say that if we can spend some good devotional time in the Bible at least four times a week, then we will see our personal life grow in a positive direction, which includes our marriage, our business life, and our interpersonal relationships with others.

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Now you may have heard about the many “plans” that are out there that are meant to help you with your Bible devotional readings.  And all of them are great, in their own ways.  Having a plan for reading Scripture is a good thing for many of us who like or need to have structure to guide us in our daily lives.

The main thing, as the devotional says above, is not to get so caught up in the “plan” that we forget to worship the One who is to be found in the Scriptures.  As I reflect on Scripture passages that speak about the benefits that come from regularly reading God’s Word, the following verses come to mind, each which teach an important truth:

2 Peter 1:20-21  The Bible’s origin comes from God, not man.

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.  For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Romans 10:14, 17  Salvation and Faith come from hearing Scripture.

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?…. So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

2 Timothy 3:16-17  Every part of Scripture is beneficial for us.

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed.

Psalm 119:11, 105  God’s Word guides us and helps us to not sin.

Your word I have treasured in my heart,
That I may not sin against You.

Your word is a lamp to guide me
and a light for my path.

Joshua 1:8  God’s Word helps steer us to be successful in life.

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

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These are just a few of the rich promises that lay within the pages of the Bible.  And there are many ways in which we can read and learn the messages that God’s Word contains: using devotional guides, studying themes, following Bible reading plans, etc.

The main message here is not to worry so much about “how” to read the Bible, but rather that we are reading God’s Word.  This is how we learn about who God is and what He has done for us.  That is how we build our relationship with God.  And that is what the Christian faith is all about.

Faith Comes By Hearing

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What Is Faith – Part 1

Faith!  Do we have it?  Do we understand what it is?  Is this something that once we have it we always have it?  Do we exercise it?  Can we increase it?  Can we lose it?  These are all some very important questions for a Christian to ask.  Therefore, I will do my very best to try to find some answers to these questions.  I pray that the answers I give will not be just academic “head” answers, but life-changing “heart” answers.

The reason why these questions have come to mind to me now is related to my situation with my muscle disease.  It is very hard some days for me to have sufficient energy to be able to get out wherever I live, and to be able to get to a church, to be able to sit for the length of a worship service, to listen to a sermon, and then get home without being totally physically exhausted.

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A partial solution for me, and I emphasize partial, is that I have found a man who has been truly anointed by God to preach the Word of God with boldness and with great clarity.  And in our modern-day of wonderful technology, I have been able to download podcasts of his sermons on to my computer’s hard drive.  And since these sermons are so good, I want to share with you the wonderful insights into Scripture that I have gained by listening to some of his sermons.

This brings us to the topic of this posting, and will continue for many more articles, namely Faith.  Pastor Leon Fontaine, the senior pastor of Springs Church in Canada, has preached a four-part series on “What is Faith?”  But between the insights that he gives into this topic, plus me interjecting some stories and some helpful comments, we may end up with many more than four articles in this journey together on this question.

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Perhaps a good place to start is to highlight a few important verses of Scripture on faith.  Both Christ and Paul had a lot to say about this topic.  I think we should answer two very important questions right at the start: “What is faith?” and “How do we get it?”  Consider these two verses:

Romans 10:17  “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”  (NASB)

Romans 10:9-10  “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;  for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”

Romans 10:13  “… for whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

What do we learn from these few verses?  First, there is an important message that we must hear, but not just hear with our ears only.  We must hear this message and let it soak right down into our hearts.  This message is the good news concerning Jesus Christ.  We read about this good news of Jesus in the first four books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  We read about how Jesus, who was and still is part of the eternal Godhead, came to earth as a man, taught people about the Kingdom of God, and then died on a cross to pay the penalty for the sins of all people, then came back from the dead and returned to God the Father in Heaven.

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The second thing these verses in Romans tell us is that we must believe all of this message in our heart.  Now we are not talking about sentimental emotion when we say “you must believe in your heart”.  No, we are talking about deep down within the core of our very being, we must make an act of our will and accept in the center of our being the absolute truth of this message concerning Christ.

And going one step further, when we truly believe that Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice to  remove us from the guilt and penalty of death that comes to all those who sin, in effect we are bowing in submission to Him, for He bought and paid for our lives with His life.  So not only do we accept Christ as our Savior when we believe in Him, we also accept Him as our Lord.

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That leads us to the final important aspect of these verses, namely that we are to confess (meaning to “speak out”) with our mouths that Jesus is our Lord and Savior.  We are to tell others about what we believe.  We are to testify with our own words that this Gospel message is true.  And the promise given to all who accept, believe in, and confess Christ in their words is that they will be saved.

Now the question someone might ask next is, “Saved from what, or saved to what?”  The best and most obvious part is that we are saved from God’s judgment upon our sins and the consequence of eternal punishment in Hell.  And the flip side to this is that we are then saved toward the joy of eternal forgiveness and to be able to live in God’s presence forever.

But the Greek and Hebrew words for “salvation” are much richer and complex than just seeing the result of our faith in Christ being a distant spiritual reward.  No, the concept of salvation really concerns the whole of a person.  Not only do we gain spiritual blessings when we believe in Jesus, but there are also many blessings that are connected with the physical world of here and now.

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It is important at this point to not get side-tracked on to wrong conclusions, i.e. “When I accept Christ I will automatically get “healthy, wealthy and successful” in all areas of life.  But we must not go the other way and reject the idea that Christ will not bless us financially, or physically, or relationally or in many other aspects of our lives here on earth.

And having said all that, this is just the introduction to the very important biblical topic of “Faith”.  Stay tuned for many more articles that will expand on this life-changing topic.

God’s Great Plan For The Nations

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Bible Translation Steams Ahead

Bible translation is not a new endeavor.  The Old Testament Hebrew Text was translated into Greek in its final form more than 150 years before Christ died, and before the Greek New Testament began to take shape.  The New Testament was translated into some Middle Eastern and North African languages like the Coptic text, the Syriac text and the Ethiopian text starting as early as the second century A.D.

The most famous of the early translations was the Latin Vulgate written by Jerome who was commissioned by Pope Damascus I in 382.  This translation became the standard for the Early and Medieval Church that was to last a millennium.  In fact, it was exactly 1,000 years later that John Wycliffe translated the Bible into vernacular English.  His based his translation though off of the Latin Vulgate.

The supremacy of the Latin Bible was slowly eroding at the end of the 15th century as the fledgling Protestant Reformation began to grow in Europe.  Finally, vernacular translations gained a solid foothold when Martin Luther produced a German translation of the New Testament in 1522, and William Tyndale translated large portions of the Bible into common English.  Both men bypassed the Latin Vulgate and based their translations directly off of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament.  In 1611, King James I commissioned the “official” English Bible, or the King James Version, which is still in use today.

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It has been 2,000 years since Jesus lived, and 400 years now since the King James Bible was translated.  I’m sure there are other great men who contributed in some way in making the Bible available to the average person during those 1,600 years.  And there was some progress made in the next 200 years.  But in many ways, Bible translation did not take any huge leap forward until a 32 year-old man named William Carey stepped foot as a missionary from England on the shores of India.

Carey spent most of the next 40 years in India, and not only did he learn the local Indian language of Bengali, but also the prestigious language of Sanskrit and a number of other languages.  From the beginning of his pastoral ministry there in India, Carey saw the value of translating Scriptures into the vernacular languages of the people.  He truly was a giant among those pioneering missionaries of the early 1800’s.  Consider this quote about his life:

“Despite personal and domestic handicaps of health, he was able, in addition to his usual pastoral and preaching duties, to translate the Scriptures in whole or in part into 37 different languages.  Alone he produced a complete Bible in Sanskrit, Bengali, and Marathi.  In addition to his work as a church planter, he foundedSeramporeCollegefor the training of an indigenous Indian ministry.  He founded the botanical gardens nearCalcutta, which evoked the praise of allAsia.

Carey also wrote Bengali colloquies, which authorities have acknowledged as constituting the basis for modern Bengali prose.  He distinguished himself both as a scholar and as a reformer.  He became professor of Sanskrit and Bengali and played a significant leadership role in the abolition of Suttee, the practice of burning alive Hindu widows upon the pyres of their husbands.”

 (pp 22-24 of Classics of Christian Missions by DuBose)

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All of what I have written so far may be interesting history for us.  And we may feel like these great moments of history in the story of Bible translation are long gone and done.  But that is not true!  We live in truly historic days today.  With the advance of technology and the increase in the information flow, plus some hard on-the-ground field work, we have been able to get a fairly accurate picture of where we stand today in regards to who has and who has not received God’s Word in their own language.

When I ask people the question, “How many languages do you think there are in the world today?” often I get the response of a few hundred to maybe as much as one thousand.  Believe it or not, there are almost 7,000 languages still spoken in the world right now.  That’s a huge number.  Then I would ask people if they had any guesses as to how many of those languages have any Scripture at all in their language.  And again, people are stunned to hear the statistics.

Here is the latest information that we have:

  • Complete Bible  =  457 languages
  • Complete New Testaments  = 1211 languages
  • Portions of the Bible  = 897 languages

That means that 2,565 languages have at least a piece of the Bible in their language.  Of the remaining 4,295 language of the known 6,860 existing languages, there are almost half of these that have some work begun in them.  But according to the 2010 world language statistics, it has been estimated that “340 million people speaking 2078 languages may have a need for Bible translation to begin.”

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Now that is definitely a huge number and still a huge challenge.  But do you know why we live in such a historic time?  The major Bible translation agencies in the world (Wycliffe Bible Translators, Pioneer Bible Translators, Lutheran Bible Translators, New Tribes Mission, United Bible Societies, to name just a few), they have determined that we have within our grasp the potential resources of finances and personnel to get the job done within this or the next generation.

In 1999, Wycliffe Bible Translators adopted a strategy called “Vision 2025“, indicating that they would do all that they could do to see every language group in the world that needs a Bible translation project started to actually see them get started by the year 2025.  Pioneer Bible Translators has also just released its commitment to see our areas of language responsibilities begun by 2030, and Lord willing to have at least a New Testament available by 2050 if possible, but no later than 2060.

These are truly exciting days as we see the possibility of the Good News going out literally to “all the nations” within this next generation.  I am thrilled to be a part of this  grand plan of God.  And no doubt, I will have many more articles to come which expand on all of this.  So stay tuned.

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