For years, Bible translation stories went something like this: A Western couple would approach a translation organization about their calling to translate the Bible. The couple would embark on a multiyear process of raising support and an even longer process of language learning. They would study linguistics for at least two years. Then, after arriving in the country, they would study a regional trade language. Then they would begin to learn the local language. When they became fluent, the translation process could start.

“From vision to verse, it was a six-to eight-year process,” said David Thomas, the American Bible Society’s managing director of translation.

Some are trying new approaches to speed this long process up. In 2015, Wycliffe Associates announced that a team had been able to translate almost half of the New Testament in two weeks by working on the text simultaneously instead of sequentially and forgoing training on translation principles. The new process seemed promising, but a peer review challenged the accuracy of the translation.

The bigger factor has been new technology and increased collaboration. For example, Every Tribe Every Nation, a coalition of the biggest Bible translation organizations, has developed a digital library with more than 2,000 texts in 1,400 languages to aid translation.

Perhaps most significantly, the digital developments in Bible translation have empowered local churches around the world to seize the initiative. Instead of waiting for Westerners, these Christians have started pushing forward with what Thomas calls a “holy impatience.” They’ve taken more control, fueling the growth of a church-centered translation movement.

“Churches are saying, ...

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