Bible translation jumps ahead by light years

(Stock photo courtesy Wycliffe Associates)

(Stock photo courtesy Wycliffe Associates)

(Editor’s note: we did a follow up to this story on February 10, 2015. If you’d like to read an update on this issue, click here)


International (WAS/MNN) — Wycliffe Associates sets the bar really high when it comes to efficiency in Bible translation work. They’ve taken to heart the ideology of “work smarter, not harder.”

Bruce Smith, president and CEO of Wycliffe Associates describes the MAST (Mobilized Assistance Supporting Translation) pilot program. “What it really means is a group of people coming together with complementary resources and skill sets to assist a language group as they launch the Bible translation process in their language, and to train them and coach them in a new strategy that accelerates the process of drafting and checking Bible translation.”

Huh? Smith explains it this way. “MAST gathers a larger group of people who speak the target language, where the translation for Scripture is aiming, and it organizes them into working in parallel instead of working in sequence.”

The ministry has just completed a test run in Asia where 13 national translators were divided into teams of four. Here’s how it works: “We had a couple dozen people working simultaneously in parallel through Scripture. So, one group would work on Matthew, another group would work on Mark, another group would work on Luke, and so on, so that the progress through the translation happened faster.”

(Stock photo courtesy Wycliffe Associates)

(Stock photo courtesy Wycliffe Associates)

The breakthrough: “It was really quite a miraculous experience. 13 translators drafted and checked half of the New Testament in just two weeks.” Smith says the traditional translation approach used to require foreigners (people from outside the language group) to come in, learn the language, the grammar, and do a linguistic study in order to begin the process of Bible translation. Usually, that involved a team of translators who began in Matthew and worked together through to the book of Revelation. That approach proved costly in terms of time. Once technology opened communications, the rules of the game changed.

“Typically translations have taken 20-30 years in the traditional models. Even in the fastest mother tongue translation models, they’ve been in the 6-8 year time frame.” But, two weeks? Smith notes, “It’s not printed, typeset, and ready for publishing, and everything else; there’s still a fair amount of work to do to get it ready for distribution. But the majority of the work in the translation drafting and checking process was accomplished in a 2-week period of time.”

Keep in mind that this group of Christians, who are in the minority in their nation and suffer ongoing persecution by members of the majority religion, only finished half of the New Testament in the 2-week trial run. “That same group of people will be gathering here in the coming months, with the goal of finishing the New Testament, with the other half of the drafting and checking process taking place in a similar time frame.”

The group hopes to print their first New Testament and also record it in audio by summer 2015. In the Asian nation where these translators live, there are an estimated 30-40 more languages without any of the Bible.

“It’s another move of God toward getting His Word to every language in the world. We’ve been aiming at a Vision 2025 that by the year 2025, every language group in the world that needs Scripture would have it.”

It’s overwhelming, when you consider the possibilities, Smith adds. “These kinds of breakthroughs encourage us that this is really an achievable goal, and it may happen sooner than that date [2025].”

It’s another tool helping the Church BE the church. “It reinforces and affirms the role and the responsibility and authority of the local Church in terms of Bible translation for their own people. That kind of a partnership is really exciting for us. We certainly invite people to participate in prayer and in being involved in serving in some of the teams.”

(Stock photo courtesy Wycliffe Associates)

(Stock photo courtesy Wycliffe Associates)

Twenty-five other groups have asked Wycliffe Associates to facilitate the MAST strategy for their languages, and Wycliffe Associates has made plans to begin additional translations in 2015 using the MAST program. They’ve got their work cut out for them. “We’ve tested this strategy in three locations; two additional ones, as I said, in Asia are underway this week. In the coming year, we have 76 languages that are across Africa and Asia, specifically, that will be using this kind of strategy.”

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