Every Tribe Every Nation, an alliance of philanthropic and Bible agencies, represents groups that have developed more than 85 percent of the Bible translations in the world. It includes the American Bible Society, Biblica, Seed Company, SIL, Wycliffe USA, and the United Bible Societies. After Christianity Todaypublished its article on Mobilized Assistance Supporting Translation (MAST) in its June issue, the alliance sent this statement. See also today’s CT report on the ongoing debate over MAST.
Speed and accuracy. In many areas of life, we are challenged to balance speed and accuracy. An equestrian trying to finish a course in the quickest time with the fewest penalties. The typist who strives for the fastest speed with the fewest errors. Medical researchers searching for the quickest path to a cure with the fewest side effects.
And when it comes to Bible translation, speed and meaningful accuracy are also fundamental principles that undergird the work. We have an incredible sense of urgency to ensure that all people can access the gospel message, but we take very seriously our spiritual responsibility to ensure that each new translation accurately relays the Scripture’s full meaning and spirit of the gospel.
The balancing act of delivering the Bible in a new language as quickly as possible while ensuring this accuracy of God’s Word has always been the challenge for Bible translators. People become Bible translators because they have experienced the power of God’s Word in their own lives and feel called to get the gospel message into the hands and hearts of others. But especially as this work of Bible translation moves closer and closer to local communities, they also recognize that the only thing worse than keeping someone waiting for the Bible in his or her heart language, is a new translation that jeopardizes the clear communication of this same gospel message.
While speed and meaningful accuracy are consistently hard to balance in Bible translation, technology has allowed us to make huge leaps forward in accelerating the process. For decades, translators used to labor in relative isolation over handwritten translations that were vulnerable to theft, fire, or natural disaster. Today’s translators use cutting-edge software that not only safeguards the translation, but also provides immediate access to collaboration tools including historical, archeological, and linguistic information.
Over the last five years as members of the Every Tribe Every Nation alliance, we have had the privilege of serving together, bringing more than 1,100 Scripture portions and versions of the Bible into one, universal Digital Bible Library. This library allows for rapid release of these texts through ministry “library cardholders,” seeking to serve the nearly 5 billion people represented by the languages housed here.
With this technology and the removal of perennial “de-celerants”—which could be as simple as a needed generator or advanced as necessary linguistic training—we’re beginning to see the length of translation projects moving faster. Where the average time for New Testament translation projects 60 years ago was more than 20 years, these projects are now being completed in less than half this time (eight years on average). And this last spring, one African New Testament project cut this time in half again (fewer than four years). While every translation is different, each with unique challenges, it is highly encouraging that this significant acceleration, with verified quality, is now emerging.
All of which points to an even bigger leap forward in Bible translation: collaboration. Over these last five years, the world’s largest Bible translation organizations have joined together each month with partners from the business and philanthropic community around a common mission. Drawing from the best practices for language group readiness, localized project ownership, and proven translation training, we’ve developed a shared approach called A Common Framework for Bible Translation.
Collaboration through this Common Framework opens a pathway for improved efficiency and better stewardship of resources. Participating Bible agencies are coordinating rather than competing. We are combining unprecedented prayer support and leveraging the resources of each organization to work with language communities, all to achieve one shared goal: universal access to God’s Word.
This Common Framework affirms that translation agencies must demonstrate a posture of service toward local leadership. This includes a shift in focus—from completing and delivering a whole Bible to providing first portions to churches throughout the translation cycle. The result is helping people gain faster access to the gospel message without having to wait years and years for a project to end. Urgency of access to usable Scripture is a cry of the growing Church around the world. This Bible translation framework embraces urgency as central but also understands the need to manage the polarity of urgency with accuracy.
One of the big criticisms of critical scientific research is that researchers don’t share information, thus prolonging the process of finding treatments and cures. As leaders of organizations committed to A Common Framework for Bible Translation, we are realizing what can be accomplished when we are willing to lay aside logos and egos and work together toward a common goal.
Though we are leaders of different organizations with different histories and unique cultures, we all want the same thing—people everywhere able to fully engage with God’s Word in their own heart languages. Our prayer is for nothing short of the total eradication of Bible poverty. So stepping forward to serve, and stepping back to let local communities lead, we move forward. Together. Balancing speed and meaningful accuracy, and recognizing that we have never been closer to seeing a powerful dream realized.
Freddy Boswell is CEO of SIL International. Samuel Chiang is CEO of The Seed Company. Bob Creson is president of Wycliffe USA. Carl Moeller is CEO of Biblica. Michael Perreau is director general of United Bible Societies. Roy Peterson is CEO of the American Bible Society.