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Not All Bible Translations Are Created Equal

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Our world today is driven by instant gratification. Yet, our God-granted purpose compels us to act in ways that oppose the fleeting satisfactions this world has to offer in order to create lasting fulfillment and eternal reward for the things we do. 

When it comes to translating the Word of God into new languages, our challenge is to consider the importance of this concept, focusing on the people receiving this Word, the language that connects with their hearts and the attention to detail through the process. How will the new translation be received by those it has been prepared for? Will it be truly understood? Is it an authentic representation of their language? Have we honored this unreached people group, their language and their culture with the process? 

Scripture is inerrant, authoritative, sharper than a double-edged sword and God-breathed. The original combined text was carefully, thoughtfully, prayerfully and accurately canonized and anyone translating or distributing this perfect text today, carries that same weight of responsibility.  

Why Do We Translate the Bible? 

As humans, we are task-oriented and driven by the important things that we do and accomplish. If we forgo purpose in action, then we must ask ourselves why we do anything at all. My background in marketing taught me to continually ask myself, “So what?” for all my marketing claims and captions. This question has become a backdrop to so many other choices throughout my life.  

Purpose is how we operate, and there is a purpose for everything we do. We must have a good reason for every action we take and every word that comes out of our mouths. If we are doing things just to say that we’ve done them, then we are missing the point. It is the same with the Word of God; it should never be our endgame to translate the Bible simply to say that we’ve done it. The Holy Word of God is not a checked box.  

Rather, the Bible always has to do with people and the Kingdom of God. The objective is that people connect with Jesus. Those of us in the awesome ministry of Bible translation have this as our exciting driving force. What a privilege to be tools in God’s hands, bridging the gap between the precious Word of God and those who have never heard it before. 

‘Used’ Versus ‘Usable’ Translations 

If we aren’t careful, we can find ourselves focused on translations that are commonly “used,” rather than those that are actually “usable.” In other words, a translation that is “usable” needs to accurately communicate Truth to the reader using precise vocabulary and phrasing that coincides with the lingual facets, accents and encompassing nuances of the receiving language.  

When we produce new Bible translations for people groups who have yet to hear the Gospel message, are we considering if it is actually usable?  

When Jesus speaks to us, He sounds like us. He speaks to us in our hearts. In the same way, when we read his Word, it speaks to us in ways that resonate with us, moving us to action and touching our hearts, speaking to the depths of our souls, as we recognize what it means to be known and understood by God. It is important to ensure that the Bible speaks to everyone in this way.  

Cutting These Corners Isn’t Just Lazy—It’s Harmful.  

If the objective is to produce as many passable translated Bibles as possible, how will these translations ever end up in the hands of the people they are supposed to reach? 

Take Iran for example. With more than 39 languages spoken throughout the nation, there are countless Iranian people groups who have never received the Gospel message at all, let alone in a tongue that speaks to their hearts. Sadly, today there are translations of Iran’s ethnic languages that have not been received by their intended audiences because they are not authentic representations of their spoken language—languages that are fiercely loved and revered amidst political pressure to be replaced with Farsi, the national language of Iran. Therefore, these inadequate versions will inevitably fail to resonate with their hearts on any level and prove to be harmful, as many of these people then write-off God’s Word altogether.