NEW ORLEANS (BP) — In the world today, billions of people have a written text of Scripture in their language, but cannot read, while 180 million people have no Scripture in their language. Not the New Testament. Not one of the Gospels. Not one word.
All of those people need the Bible translated, whether into a written text or into stories which can be transmitted orally.
With that global need in view, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary hosted a “Bible Translation as Missions” colloquium featuring presentations and question-and-answer sessions with eight scholars representing organizations engaged in Bible translation for the sake of Christian missions.
“One goal of the colloquium was to educate people about the nature and status of Bible translation work globally,” said Adam Harwood, professor of theology at NOBTS and director of the school’s Baptist Center for Theological and Mission, which co-sponsored the Oct. 20 event. “We also wanted to connect individuals interested in translating the Bible for the purpose of Christian missions with experts in the field.”
Speakers included Bill Warren, a former professor and missionary to Colombia who is now professor of New Testament and Greek at NOBTS and director of the seminary’s H. Milton Haggard Center for New Testament Textual Studies; Michael Walrod, founder and past president of The Canada Institute of Linguistics; Dave Brunn, international translation consultant for New Tribes Mission; Grant Lovejoy, director of orality strategies for the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board; Bryan Harmelink, international translation coordinator for Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) International; Perry Oakes, Bible translator for Wycliffe Associates; Larry Jones, senior vice president of Bible translation for The Seed Company; and Charles White, professor of Christian thought and history at Spring Arbor University.
In his presentation, Bill Warren surveyed the history of the texts and translations. Drawing on his expertise in textual criticism, he highlighted some of the latest developments among the Hebrew and Greek critical editions and how they relate to Bible translation.
Michael Walrod, drawing examples from his time on the mission field serving the Ga’dang people in the Philippines, addressed discourse analysis and its value for translating and interpreting the Bible.
Dave Brunn served as a missionary-translator in Papua New Guinea for 21 years. During that time, he facilitated the translation of the New Testament into the Lamogai language. In his presentation, Brunn drew from his work in the book “One Bible, Many Versions: Are All Translations Created Equal?” to demonstrate that presumably literal translations (such as the ESV and NASB) sometimes employ the same dynamic equivalence standards as translations like the NIV and NLT. Conversely, dynamic equivalence translations at times employ literal translation standards.
Grant Lovejoy reported that the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board is engaged with the 175 people groups that have no Scripture in their language, with 90 to 95 percent of those languages also having no alphabet. Thus, missionaries must use non-print (oral, audio and video) resources to communicate the message of the Bible. In his presentation, Lovejoy focused on sound methods for Bible storytelling in these cultures.
Bryan Harmelink addressed the historical, cultural and hermeneutical issues of transmitting a message through a text. In 1997, Harmelink worked with a team of translators in Chile who published the Mapuche New Testament.
Some in the field of Bible translation are working on an “open source” model to help spur translation and Bible storying development, with Perry Oakes profiling Open Bible Stories, a free collection of 50 Bible stories in five major languages, online at unfoldingword.org. This new strategy is designed empower church networks worldwide to create free, unrestricted biblical content, translation training and translation tools available in additional languages. Open Bible Stories goes through a three-step process of authentication to ensure that the content is biblical and linguistically sound. Oakes said the goal is to have “adequate biblical content” in every language and for every people group within 10 years.
Larry Jones, who served 27 years in Asia both in Bible translation ministry to the Yawa people of Indonesia and in missionary leadership, described the changing relationship between Bible societies and the church. That relationship, he said, is shifting from vendor-customer to Bible societies assisting the church in its mission to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Jones also profiled the Guest Bible Scholar Program, which involves theologically and exegetically competent, non-linguist volunteers in the Bible translation process.
Charles White, an exegetical consultant in the Guest Bible Scholar Program on translations of the New Testament in four African languages, led colloquium attendees in an exercise in checking an English back-translation. White also challenged participants to consider the fact that abundant biblical knowledge and resources entails great responsibility to serve those who do not have the Bible in their language.
The colloquium, the first of its kind at NOBTS, was sponsored by three of the seminary’s research centers: the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry, the Global Missions Center, and the Center for New Testament Textual Studies.
Video recordings of the event will be available online. Those who are interested in viewing the recording should request the link to Bible Translation as Missions via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Harwood said he hopes NOBTS will host another similar event during the fall of 2016.