Ixil Indians who live in and around the Guatemalan village of Chajul traditionally celebrate their festive January holiday by getting drunk. This year, 185 of them did something different—they got baptized. Over the following three months, 100 more new Ixil believers were added.
After 20 years of apparently fruitless missionary work, civil war had prompted many Ixils to turn to God. The timing was right. Just months before the mass conversion, an Ixil translation of the Gospel of Mark was completed under the auspices of Wycliffe Bible Translators. Now these new believers can read Scripture for themselves.
During the last year, more and more people like the Chajul villagers have had their hunger for the printed Word of God satisfied. And ample evidence suggests a surge in the popularity of the Bible not just overseas, but also here in the United States. In the last year, Bible publishers have contextualized the Bible for children, youth, and other target audiences. They have simplified the Bible and redesigned it graphically to make it “user friendly.” “There has never been a period where so many new products have been introduced into the Bible market,” says Ted Andrew, executive director of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.
Around The World
In May of this year, Kenneth Taylor, author of The Living Bible paraphrase, met with President Daniel arap Moi of Kenya. Moi enthusiastically endorsed the Swahili New Testament that had been translated after the manner of The Living Bible, stating that he had been “blessed by the clarity and simplicity of the translation.”
This year in India, a new Bible was made available in the Punjabi language. And the success of Brazil’s $18 million Scripture distribution campaign encouraged the government of Ecuador to allow 2.5 million New Testaments to be distributed in public schools and universities over the next two years.
Behind the Iron Curtain, the Bible is now being translated or retranslated into more than 30 languages, including Czech, Estonian, Polish, Serbian, and Slovenian. In the last year, Moldavian, a Soviet language spoken by three million people, received its first translation of the Bible. The work was carried out by the Stockholm-based Institute for Bible Translation, which has a goal of providing by 1990 Scripture in all non-Russian Soviet languages spoken by at least one million people. American organizations, such as the Russian Bible Society in Asheville, North Carolina, and Word to Russia in Bryte, California, help support the institute’s work.
Through an agreement with the United Bible Societies (UBS), the Soviet Union in 1985 imported 10,000 Bibles. Soviet watchers say at least twice that many Bibles entered the country unofficially. But, says Anita Deyneka of Wheaton, Illinois-based Slavic Gospel Association, an extreme shortage of Bibles still exists in the Soviet Union, where generous estimates place the Christian population at 80 million. Nevertheless, she says, the situation is improving.
It is also improving in China. Earlier this year UBS, a worldwide partnership of about 100 national Bible societies, gave 100 tons of Bible paper to the Amity Foundation in the People’s Republic of China. The foundation had been established in March by the China Christian Council to promote health, education, and social service projects in the country. Some 100,000 Bibles are expected to be completed by the end of the year to help alleviate China’s Scripture shortage.
These are just samples. Around the globe in the last year, well over 500 million Scripture portions, and about 15 million complete Bibles, were distributed.
Translating: 1,800 Languages And Counting
The difficult work of providing Scripture to the remote corners of the globe has moved forward steadily. In the last year, at least one book of the Bible was translated into more than 20 new languages. The American Bible Society reports that portions of Scripture now exist in languages used by almost 98 percent of the world’s population. Philip Stine, world research coordinator for UBS, says that “Scripture translators have every reason to be proud that the language ‘count’ has reached over 1,800, and that most people now have some access to the Word of God.” But he adds that “if people are really to grow, they need the entire Bible in their own language.”
The task of translating Scripture, especially into obscure tribal languages, can be slow and tedious. But it is indispensable to the goal of letting all the earth hear God’s voice. Last December, Wycliffe translator Joanne Shetler told 18,000 delegates at the Urbana ’84 missions conference that the importance of the task hit her in 1962 when she first became familiar with Wycliffe. She said she had realized that “if you give people God’s Word in their own language, God himself could speak to them directly.” Shetler spent 20 years living among the Balangao mountain tribe in the Philippines and translating the New Testament into their language.
Perhaps only those who have seen the results of translation work can fully appreciate what it means to people to read the Bible in their primary language. David Wambaugh of the International Bible Society (IBS) observes that on the mission field the term for a people’s native language is “the language of the heart.” Says Wambaugh, “When people deal with things spiritual and eternal, they need to use the language of their birth. It is this language that speaks to the heart.”
The trend in Scripture translation is for nationals themselves to translate into their own languages. Simply put, they do a better job. UBS’s Stine observes that there is a big difference between how something could be said and how those who speak the language actually say it. The translation process requires far more than formal scholarly accuracy. It entails knowledge of cultural customs and language idioms. In parts of Africa, for example, the liver, not the heart, is viewed as the seat of emotions. In these places, a Christian strives to love God with all his liver, soul, and mind.
Training nationals in translation techniques has not only proved to be more effective, but in most cases it takes much less time and money than it takes for an expatriate to learn a new culture and language.
Perhaps as important as making the Bible available to a remote tribe is the powerful statement such activity makes. Scholars will continue to point to the Bible’s cohesion, its historical accuracy, and its wisdom. But there is no greater testimony to a high view of Scripture than a woman who spends 20 years of her life so that a few thousand people can have access to the Bible. This dedication speaks grandly of the immense, qualitative gulf between the Bible and any other piece of literature. Such commitment to Pilgrim’s Progress or to the works of C. S. Lewis is hard to imagine. Organizations like IBS and UBS are committed to translating Scripture into all the world’s languages, even though some projects would defy the logic of the business world.
Printed In The U.S.A.
The goal of overseas translation and distribution is to make the truth of the Bible accessible to people in their own language and thought forms. The same goal has characterized much recent Bible publishing in the United States.
One way to make the Bible more accessible is to make it less threatening to potential readers and to back it with a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign. This was the strategy behind The Book.
A joint effort of Tyndale House Publishers and the Christian Broadcasting Network, The Book is actually The Living Bible paraphrase with a contemporary design. Since its release just 13 months ago, The Book has sold nearly 1,500,000 copies. For more than a year it has been on the best-seller list of Waldenbooks, where it has been number one on two occasions. Four times it topped B. Dalton Booksellers’ best-seller list.
Tyndale president Mark Taylor said he was pleased but not surprised by the sales. “We had a lot of things going for it, including CBN’s thrust on ‘The 700 Club’ and the advertising. Also, the support we got from independent distributors made The Book show up in some unusual places. I was in a small town in northwest Michigan and saw The Book in a drugstore, right alongside all the usual pornography you see in these stores.”
This summer, Tyndale released The Book for Children, which consists of 200 Bible stories in large print along with colorful illustrations. Before its release, 225,000 copies were sold.
Several publishers have come out with children’s editions of Scripture, but Sweet Publishing’s 1983 release, the pioneering International Children’s Version (New Testament), remains the only translation done with children in mind. Thomas Nelson Publishers this year released a children’s edition as part of its Precious Moments Bible series, featuring the work of Sam Butcher, artist for Precious Moments greeting cards. And Holman Publishers has published the Read-to-me Bible, specially designed for preschoolers.
Both Sweet and Nelson have Bibles similar in concept to The Book. Sweet’s The Word (New Testament only), an upgraded edition of its children’s version, and Nelson’s The Bible came out in 1984. The Bible, which contains answers to often-asked questions about life and religion, has been marketed to churches for use as an evangelistic tool.
Publishers have also packaged the Bible to reach teenage youth. Holman’s DiscipleYouth Bible came out in April, and its 25,000-copy first printing was sold out within two months. Also in the spring, Nelson released The Transformer, a New King James translation interspersed with the commentary of experts, answering 40 questions commonly asked by youth.
Partly as an effort to address America’s rich ethnic diversity, American publishers are mass-producing more and more Bibles in languages other than English:
• Holman has printed eight million New Testaments to be used by Southern Baptist churches in evangelistic work. One million of these were Spanish editions.
• B. B. Kirkbride Bible Company has in the works a German translation of the New International Version. Spanish and French editions are on the drawing board.
• A Spanish edition of The Book is scheduled for release in February. Living Bibles International, which distributes The Living Bible, is currently working with Scripture in more than 100 major languages.
• Miami-based Life Publishers produced in the last year more than 200,000 study Bibles in Spanish for use overseas. Its Brazil office provided some 160,000 Bibles in Portuguese. Because Mexico has limited the importation of goods, Life is working with a publisher in that country to produce Spanish Bibles for Mexicans.
• This month, International Bible Publishing Company, Dallas, Texas, will publish a Bible in simple Chinese. The company has a goal of publishing simple-language Bibles in 31 major languages used by 75 percent of the world’s population. It also hopes to revise existing translations in these languages.
Focus Of Attention
Even though it has been in English for almost 600 years, the Bible remains the best-selling book. According to ECPA statistics, Bible sales were up during calendar year 1984 by almost 20 percent. (Total sales of all products available in Christian bookstores were up only about 10 percent.) Each week thousands of Bibles are purchased in the United States. “There is a very definite resurgence of interest in the Bible in our society,” says Old Testament scholar R. K. Harrison of the University of Toronto.
The last two U.S. Presidents have spoken forthrightly of their high regard for Scripture. President Reagan frequently quotes the Bible in public addresses. At the very least, this reflects, if it does not enhance, the Bible’s reputation in our society.
The Bible also continues to be the focus of regular celebrations and observances. The forty-fifth annual interfaith National Bible Week will take place from November 24 to December 1. Sponsored by the Laymen’s National Bible Committee, Inc., the event is designed to motivate people to read and study the Bible. Since 1966, one day each year has been set aside to honor Scripture translators. This year, September 30 was designated Bible Translation Day.
By presidential declaration, 1983 was the Year of the Bible. Then, in 1984, the Year of the Bible Committee became the Year of the Bible Foundation. Each year the foundation takes on a major project of free Bible distribution. This year’s goal was to deliver a New Testament or an entire Bible to every home in the state of Hawaii—which required copies in the 14 different languages spoken there.
Friends And Foes
In February, the Atlantic ran a cover story that brought more letters to the editor than any other article in the past three years. Newsstand sales of the issue far exceeded normal. The topic? Translating the Bible. C. Michael Curtis, a senior editor of the Atlantic, said the magazine ran this story because they “felt that the Bible is an important book and that it is of interest to a large number of [the Atlantic’s] readers.” Curtis said this was a good editorial judgment.
Not everyone would agree. In April, a group of scholars met at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, ostensibly to discuss historical evidence surrounding Jesus. Free Inquiry magazine was the primary sponsor of the conference. Press material stated that “tens of millions of people are exposed daily to exhortations about religion and the Bible” and alleged that this is causing an “undermining [of] traditional American freedom.” To combat the influence of “fundamentalist and conservative religious believers,” it continued, “it is necessary to question the validity of the Bible openly and publicly.”Free Inquiry also announced that the Academy of Humanism, an international group of 35 scholars and scientists, had formed a Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion (CSER). Its purpose is to “submit religious claims to careful scientific and scholarly investigation and analysis.” The committee’s chairman, Gerald Larue of the University of Southern California, said it is unfortunate that most people are unaware of a “distinguished scholarly tradition … that is skeptical of virtually all claims made on behalf of the Bible or Jesus.” Larue said that “many religious leaders seek, on the basis of their reading of the Bible, to pass moral, social, or political judgments that affect the broader public.”
Those who met in Michigan had no exaggerated notions of the Bible’s influence. They perceived accurately that the Bible is inseparable from Christian practice. And they observed correctly that those who view the Bible as merely imaginative myth are in the minority. Such opposition testifies to the Bible’s influence in our society.
Kudos And Cautions
There can be little doubt that in 1985 the Bible’s reputation is strong in this country and growing worldwide. There is cause to celebrate the prominence of the Bible, cause to commend those whose dreams and hard work have greatly advanced the goal of taking Scripture to the ends of the earth. Yet a massive amount of work remains.
Usually when American evangelicals consider this nation’s prosperity, we think of material goods—like fine food, natural-fiber clothing, and suburban shelter. But for many people, reading a Bible is a greater luxury than a nutritious meal. When Cameron Townsend pioneered the field of Scripture translation in 1916, he estimated that there were about 1,000 languages spoken throughout the world. The most recent estimates put that number at around 5,500, and there are still new languages being discovered. More than 3,600 languages (representing only a small percentage of the world’s population) still have no Scriptures.
Because of the evolution of languages and the advances of scholarship, the translations that have been done need to be revised regularly. And the task of providing even basic resource materials in foreign languages remains colossal.
What is more, there are millions who have had Scripture translated into their primary language, but who are unable to read. During the “Year of the Disabled,” UNESCO cited illiteracy as being among the world’s most serious disabilities. Addressing the dehumanizing problem of illiteracy presents a tremendous opportunity for Christians to serve humanity while witnessing for Christ.
The tasks that remain, says UBS’s Stine, “are tasks of the whole church, not of any one organization.”
But even if everyone in the world had a Bible, the challenge of understanding and obeying it would remain. New Testament scholar Gordon Fee of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary expresses his hope that the increased accessibility of the Bible will not curtail the work of serious Bible study. “Anything that gets the Bible into the hands of people in a good way is a good thing,” he says, “but it’s wrong for people to think the Bible can be made simple in ten easy lessons.” Fee said he hopes that the increased accessibility of Scripture for lay people will not dissuade them from seeking scholarly expertise.
New Testament scholar Donald Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School notes another challenge: “The number of Bible sales has no direct relationship to how the Bible is governing the nation’s life.” He cites Yankelovich polls indicating that despite increased interest in religion and the Bible, the general moral tone in our society has declined.
Says Tyndale’s Mark Taylor: “Ultimately, the objective of a Christian publisher is not just to get the Bible into homes, but to get people to read the Bible.”
Thus, in the wake of an impressive year, the challenge remains the same—not only to make the Bible accessible, but to strive to reach higher levels of understanding and life-changing obedience. Such striving testifies to the Bible’s uniqueness and authority.
Ten years of hard work reduced to ashes. That’s what Burmese translator Stephen Hre Kio thought when he received word that the entire manuscript of his translation of the Bible into Falam had burned in a fire at the Falam Baptist Association headquarters. Kio prepared to begin all over the task of translating into this northwestern Burmese language.
A few months later, the man who had typed the manuscript produced Kio’s handwritten draft, which he’d been storing at his home. The typist, who had left the country, had not been immediately aware of the disaster. The manuscript had to be retyped, but the results of Kio’s scholarship were preserved.
Today, translators like Kio can rest easier, thanks to modern technology on the mission field. Tools such as word processors and photocopiers promise to erase the potential for such disasters.
Technology has also streamlined dramatically the translation process, virtually eliminating the tedium. Small, battery-powered computers have become standard equipment for translators headed for remote villages.
In 1972, a Wycliffe translator working in West Africa discovered when she was two-thirds of the way through a New Testament translation that she had consistently made a few mistakes throughout. Back then, it took a team of translators several months of proofreading to correct the errors—and then the manuscript had to be retyped. Today, a computer can make the corrections in a single afternoon.
Some languages have unique alphabets, making it impossible for characters to be typed on a conventional typewriter. Letters displayed on a computer screen are nothing more than patterns of dots or pixels. By digitizing the shapes of unusual alphabets (that is, describing them as patterns of pixels) a programmer can make a computer display—and print—almost any written language.
Computer technology may have enabled translators to do in minutes and days what used to take months and years. But technology has not necessarily made the translator’s life any easier.
According to Wycliffe linguistic coordinator Eugene Loos, “Expectations of what the average translator will accomplish have also risen. The host government may want materials such as published texts, language descriptions, anthropological observations, and other by-products of the translator’s study. And scholars in the academic world have their expectations of what linguists working overseas ought to contribute to knowledge of the nature of human language.”
To paraphrase Parkinson’s Law: “A translator’s work expands to fill the computer memory available.”
By Randall L. Frame.
Progress in archaeology is a matter of inches and years—the dust of centuries scraped away from artifacts inch by careful inch, and the smallest hints of the past painstakingly pieced together over many years. Although archaeology usually gives us only a general picture of life in biblical times, several recent discoveries shed light on specific people and events mentioned in the Bible.
Early this year Haifa University’s Adam Zertal reported that an expedition surveying the area around Mount Ebal had excavated “the earliest and most complete Israelite cultic center ever discovered and the prototype of all later ones.” After a dig during the summer of 1984, Zertal and other archaeologists had discovered evidence that this could be the altar Joshua built in connection with the covenant ceremony of blessings and cursings (Josh. 8:30–35; Deut. 27:1–10).
The altar was unearthed on the second terrace from the summit of Mount Ebal. It is isolated from other structures and surrounded by a thin, elliptical wall. A gateway through the wall is beautifully paved with large, flat stones.
Telltale “reed-hole” and “man’s face” decorations on pottery at the site date the altar to the early part of Iron Age I, in which some include the period of the judges. The ten-foot high, rectangular altar was made of large unhewn field stones as prescribed in Deuteronomy 27:5. The frame of stones enclosed deliberately laid strata of earth, ashes, and smaller stones. Animal bones in the ash proved to be from young male bulls, sheep, goats, and fallow deer—all but the last being animals listed in Leviticus for sacrifice. Most of the bones had been burned in open-flame fires.
Almost all Near Eastern altars are ascended by stairs, but the archaeologists uncovered a narrow ramp leading to the top of this altar, indicating a strict adherence to the law in Exodus 20:26 that prohibits steps.
The date, place, and nature of the Mount Ebal altar all point to this as the site where Yahweh’s covenant once thundered down on the hills of Canaan.
Jeremiah’s King Baalis
While excavating Tell el-‘Umeiri in Jordan during the summer of 1984, a team from Andrews University unearthed a small ceramic cone. The flat end of the cone was inscribed with the words “belonging to Milkom-’ur, minister [literally servant] of Ba’al-yasha’.” The style of writing dates this seal impression to ca. 600 B.C.
Project director Lawrence Geraty said, “In these Iron Age seals, the name which follows the one identified as ‘servant of’ is invariably royal.” This royal name Ba’al-yasha’ or Ba’al-yisha’, Geraty explained, “is the first extra-biblical confirmation of the Ammonite king Baalis mentioned in Jeremiah 40:14.”
The seal indicates that the Ammonite ruler had considerable power and prestige in the area by the sixth century. This further explains Jeremiah’s rebuke of the Ammonites for taking advantage of Judah’s misfortunes by moving into the territory of Gad (Jer. 49).
A survey of the Tell el-‘Umeiri area uncovered many small rectangular Iron Age towers, which command broad views of farm fields. Cisterns, wine presses, and heaps of stones from field cleaning were often found near the towers. These sites provide an illuminating background for Isaiah’s contemporary oracle about a husbandman who built a watchtower for his vineyard (Isa. 5:1–7).
This summer Rudolph Cohen of Israel’s Department of Antiquities and Museums issued a report dating a string of fortresses that once dominated the barren desert landscape in the central Negev. Twenty of these stone fortresses have now been at least partially excavated. Their shared characteristics—fortification walls built of rough-hewn limestone blocks around a central courtyard—indicate they were probably all part of the same defensive network. Each fortress also contained a layer of ash, a sign of fiery destruction.
Cohen believes wheel-house pottery found in the ashes dates the fortresses to the tenth century—the time of King Solomon’s reign (ca. 971–31 B.C.). After Pharaoh Shishak conducted a devastating campaign against Palestine ca. 924 B.C. (see 1 Kings 14:25–26), the central Negev was virtually abandoned.
Excavations of the fortress sites suggest they were occupied for only about 50 years. Therefore, concludes Cohen, they must have been constructed sometime during the tenth century.
If Cohen’s dating proves to be correct, we will have gained a clearer picture of the extent of Solomon’s kingdom.
By Steven Mosley, a screenwriter living in Newbury Park, California.
Evidence from the publishing industry suggests an increasing interest in Bible study among lay people. Ted Andrew, executive director of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, reports that in the latest 12-month period for which statistics are available, Bible commentaries accounted for more than 40 percent of Christian books sold. Another way Bible publishers have met this apparent market demand is with a wide variety of study Bibles:
• Since its 1984 release, Oxford University Press’s Oxford NIV Scofield Study Bible has become its best-selling Bible.
• Sales of AMG Publishers’ Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible have reached the hundreds of thousands since its release last December. The Bible includes Hebrew and Greek dictionaries and provides commentary and cross-references for certain key passages.
• Last month, Zondervan released the NIV Study Bible, the culmination of a seven-year project by many of the same scholars who worked on the NIV translation.
• In July, Thomas Nelson released the New Catholic Study Bible, produced to support renewal and to encourage Bible study in the Catholic church.
• Also in July, Kirkbride came out with the New International Version Study Bible, which includes both the Scofield and Thompson notes. This study Bible is targeted for lay scholars, especially those committed to the Scofield notes.
• Last month, Moody Press released The Discovery Bible (New Testament only), the goal of which is to help readers recover what was lost in the translation from Greek to English. Its approach is unique—color and numerical codes accompany the text to indicate such things as verb tense and word emphasis. For example, in John 15:10, which reads, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love” (NASB), a symbol appears by the word kept. A code informs the reader that the Greek word for kept refers not just to something that happened in the past, but to something whose results continue in the present. Thus, readers gain many of the benefits of studying Greek without having to learn the language.
• The Narrated Bible from Harvest House Publishers simplifies Scripture for new readers. This Bible is a New International Version with the books of the Bible put into chronological order according to the events they discuss. The Psalms have been reorganized by theme, and the four Gospels have been integrated into a single account. Each major section is preceded by narrative that sets Scripture in cultural and historical context. Organized into 365 reading units, The Narrated Bible can be conveniently used for daily devotions.
Two study Bibles for youth will soon be available:
• Tyndale has in the works a “Life Application” study Bible scheduled for release in 1987. The Bible, which is being pursued jointly with Youth for Christ, will contain explicit notes of guidance for youth on how to apply Scripture in daily living.
• Next spring Zondervan, in cooperation with CAMPUS LIFE magazine, will release its own study Bible for youth. This NIV Bible, being prepared by Philip Yancey and Tim Stafford, is intended to make Scripture relevant and practical, particularly for high school and college aged students.
The world of high tech has made its own contribution to Bible study:
• Bible Research Systems of Austin, Texas, has put both the King James and New International versions on floppy disks. With the right software, owners of THE WORD processor can readily access lists of words and word combinations found in the Bible, complete with chapter and verse citations. Special software finds and defines the Greek on which the English translation is based.
• Word Publishing, with its compuBIBLE, and Omega software, with the Scripture Scanner, have also put the KJV on floppy disk.
By Randall L. Frame.
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