I’ve recently come across an interesting article by Patrick Johnstone, editor of Operation World, about the history of when the Bible has and hasn’t been translated into local languages in the last 2,000 years, and the impact on the church of those decisions.
If you don’t have time to read the whole article as he looks at mission to various cultures over the last two millenia, you should take a look at a few of his conclusions below:
- The translation and enculturation of Scripture into every language where there is a response to the Gospel is a fundamental prerequisite for the endurance of Christianity over many generations. […] In modern times it requires giving priority to Bible translation and literacy programmes for any culture without heart language Scriptures.
- The use of liturgical languages and Scriptures across many cultures and multiple centuries such as Latin, Greek, Syriac, Slavonic provided continuity and impressive ceremonial church services, but damaged the transmission of the truths they contained and hastened the nominalization and even demise of Christianity where this language was not understood. In our modern times English has become one of the most desired languages for communication, education and the Internet, but this brings its dangers – a cultural imperialism and insensitivity, a belief that learning another language is not so necessary, an expectation that the natives should learn or understand English and a hope that short term visiting church planting teams using English can obviate the need to send long term missionaries.
- A dominant Christian culture rarely has the passion to adapt its worship style and culture to that of minority peoples, or those considered inferior. That is why Russian ethnic minorities may be more easily evangelized by non Russians, migrants into modern Europe by non Western missionaries, the Muslim Middle East by Asians rather than by Western missionaries.
- The importance of a people proudly having their own version of the Bible cannot be under estimated for the preservation and advancement of its culture. This was true for the Armenians, Goths, Georgians, Ethiopians who have long been Christian. It is equally true for the Kurds in the Middle East, the Kabyle of Algeria, the Konkornba of Ghana and the Quechua of Peru and Ecuador. The 21st Century will possibly see the extinction of 2000 languages. The most effective preventive for this is the translation and use of the Scriptures. It gives added weight to ‘Vision 2025’ of Wycliffe Bible Translators and other Bible agencies to see the initiation of translation work into every language now without the Bible and for which the speakers of that language desire it. This is likely to be a further 1,500 – 2,000 languages. The areas of the world with the biggest challenge with many such languages are the Sahel in Africa, India, the minorities of China and parts of Indonesia.
Do take a look at the whole article and reflect upon the importance of the Bible being communicated in the language of every day, wherever we are in the world.