In recent years, there has been unprecedented growth of the global church. The expansion of the church into previously unengaged people groups has created an increasing demand for translation of God’s Word into the heart languages of these groups. In response to this growing need, local churches are beginning to take responsibility for their own translation needs. Together, initiatives of this type are converging into a global movement of Church-Centric Bible Translation (CCBT).
This document describes the context for this emerging movement, the objective toward which it strives, and the values on which it is built. It also describes the role of the forum that is collaborating together to serve the movement.
Context and Perspective
There are 7,099 languages spoken today and the Bible has been translated into 636 of them.1 This means that nearly 1.5 billion people in the world do not yet have the privilege of having the whole counsel of God in their heart language. A translation of the New Testament is available in another 1,442 languages, which leaves over 5,000 languages without.
Leaders of the church around the world are beginning to assess and communicate their own needs for Bible translation in the languages spoken in their congregations. The need that is consistently expressed is for a translation of the whole Bible in every language. In the words of one of these leaders:
I believe everyone has the right to have the full Bible in their heart language irrespective of their population size, because all scriptures have been given by the inspiration of our Lord for the whole of mankind. Everyone, everywhere should have full access to the Bible, even if there is only one person who speaks their language, for God cares for the last of the least.2
A Great Need
In addition to the need for the full Bible in every language, church leaders are encountering other needs they also desire to address:
- The church in many language communities speaks different dialects and cannot be adequately served by a single translation of the Bible—they often need a translation in each dialect.
- The majority of people in the world are not able to use a text Bible effectively (if at all) and need audio recordings of the Bible in their language.
- Many existing translations of the Bible were completed decades ago and are no longer usable by the church that speaks the language without revision. This is frequently due to changes in the language since the translation was published, but is also sometimes due to problems in the translations.
- People in church networks that have translations of the Bible frequently need study notes in the same language in order to help believers understand complex passages.
- Church leaders all over the world want their Bible translations to also be available as Greek and Hebrew interlinear Bibles, together with lexicons and other original language resources.
- Many church leaders want the freedom to be able to create and distribute discipleship resources that incorporate the Bible translation in their language (e.g., commentaries, study guides, etc.) without legal restrictions hindering them from using and distributing the resources as they need.
A Sense of Urgency
The combined Bible translation need of the global church across all languages, dialects, and media formats is vast—possibly in excess of ten thousand projects.3 But as great as this need is, it is small in comparison to the size and zeal of the global church. In many nations, there is an increasing sense of urgency that has led church leaders in hundreds of languages to begin to work together to meet the need. Local bodies of Christ in many parts of the world are collaborating across denominational lines toward the common goal of creating trustworthy translations of the Bible in each of their own languages, and it is clear that God is blessing these efforts.
Church Planting and Theological Education
The church-centric Bible translation movement is part of broader missiological trends that include church-planting movements (CPM) and church-based theological education (CBTE), leadership development and discipleship training. The church in many regions of the world is discovering what can happen when they take responsibility for making the Bible available and effective in their own heart language. Frequently, these churches find that equipping themselves with the Bible and other biblical resources becomes the basis for planting new churches as well as for more lasting spiritual formation.
By taking the responsibility and exercising their authority for Bible translation in their heart language, churches involved with CCBT are participating in a global trend that is accelerating church-planting, encouraging leadership training and fostering grass-roots discipleship which in turn help produce healthy churches and sustainable growth.
Objectives and Intentions
The intent of the Church-centric Bible translation movement is to equip the global church for Bible translation as an important aspect of achieving the objective of the Great Commission task of making disciples in every people group.
Establish the Church in Every People Group
The CCBT movement recognizes that its essential missiological objective is the establishing of the church in every people group and language. Specifically, this refers to planting churches where sound doctrine is preserved (1 Timothy 1:3-5, Titus 1:5-9) through the teaching of contextualized theology by leaders who are theologically grounded and spiritually mature (2 Timothy 2:15). For this to be possible in every people group, it is essential that the church have access to the Bible in their own language and in accessible formats.
Equip the Church with the Bible in Every Language
In order for a global movement of Church-centric Bible translation to be sustainable, the global church must be equipped with essential resources in the context of a strategy that accounts for every language. Church networks are collaborating together to provide biblical content, translation tools, and technology tools under open licenses in the ~50 Languages of Wider Communication that cover 100% of the global church through patterns of multilingualism (the Gateway Languages).4 In this way, every element of the church in each people group is provided with essential biblical resources in a language they understand and that they have the freedom to use for Bible translation and creation of other biblical resources in their own languages.
Equip the Church for Spiritual Formation and Discipleship
Bible translation is an essential means by which the objective of making disciples of every people group is achieved. Once local churches are established and equipped for Bible translation, it is expected that they will build on that foundation to create their own contextualized theological and discipleship training resources that contribute to their own spiritual formation and the planting of new churches. Using new formats of distribution, such as audio or print-on-demand, it is now possible for churches to have reliable and affordable biblical resources available for worship, leadership training and the spiritual formation of its members in a time frame never before possible.
Values and Motives
We advocate for a model of Bible translation that is comprehensive, church-centric, community-owned, technology-assisted, quality-assured, open and free.
- Comprehensive – The task of making disciples in every nation, tribe, people, and language (Matthew 28:19-20, Revelation 7:9) requires that the whole Bible be adequately accessible to all nations, in every language and dialect (unless determined otherwise by the respective lingual church), and in whatever formats are needed for effective use by those who speak the language. The CCBT model is highly scalable, because it utilizes tools and resources that are readily available and free for use, and equips local churches to help in the process.
- Church-centric – The lingual church has the primary responsibility to make disciples of the people that speak that language. This responsibility for making disciples therefore entails the responsibility and authority to both determine the Bible translation needs and to translate the Bible into that language to meet those needs. In this model, leaders of a lingual church (see definition) work together to translate the Bible into their own language, to meet their own needs pertaining to evangelism, discipleship, and spiritual formation. Working together with others in the lingual church, the leaders determine when the translation is Scripture, and assume the responsibility for publishing and distribution of the translation. Parachurch translation organizations are able to serve the lingual church with vast resources at their disposal.
- Community-owned – The local church is God’s primary instrument for accomplishing the Great Commission task of making disciples of all nations, and the Bible is God’s essential tool for accomplishing that task. Bible translation as a whole—and the Scripture portions produced through translation—therefore belongs primarily to the local churches that speak the same language (i.e., the lingual church).
- Technology-assisted – The quality, speed, and effectiveness of Bible translation can be increased through the provision and use of free, open source technology tools designed for use by church-appointed Bible translators who are translating into their own language. This may require the development of a fresh set of software tools designed for their unique needs and challenges, and new ways of collaboration between the church and the developers of these tools.
- Quality-assured – The Bible is God’s Word, so utmost care is being taken to ensure high quality translations. Local churches are being equipped with exegetical resources in languages they understand, training in translation and checking principles, and technology tools that facilitate effective checking models and proven processes. From beginning to end, this approach focuses on strengthening the church’s understanding of the biblical texts in order to create good drafts. Then, an iterative process of refining and aligning those drafts to the original texts in light of church-approved translation principles assures excellence in Bible translation. Always determined by the leadership of the church, the result of the process is a trustworthy translation of the Bible that can be fully trusted by the people who speak the language.
- Open and Free – The Bible belongs to the global church, so Bible translations should thus be accessible without legal restrictions that would hinder their free distribution and use by anyone. With thousands of new Bible translations that will need publishing and distribution, the opportunities for Bible societies and other publishers to serve the church is likely to increase greatly as the movement grows. Use of new technologies like print-on-demand and digital publishing can significantly reduce the cost of distribution and create new opportunities for collaboration.
The CCBT Forum
The Church-Centric Bible Translation Forum is a global network of ministry leaders and individuals who have joined together to support the CCBT movement. We envision a paradigm in Bible translation that empowers the church to translate the Bible with excellence into their own languages, then record, distribute, and use the translations freely to meet their own needs, so that God’s Word rapidly becomes available in every language.
Our mission is to support this church-centric Bible translation paradigm through:
- Focused prayer – We pray and seek to foster a movement of prayer for the global church and the CCBT movement, that God may “open to us a door for the word” (Colossians 4:3).
- Advocacy – We support the cause of Bible translation by helping others understand and engage with the church-centric Bible translation model in order to support and strengthen the movement.
- Research – As the CCBT movement progresses, we collaborate with church networks to collectively understand and share best practices, as well as assist in the research and identification of languages and the church networks that speak them.
- Tool and resource development – We partner with networks and organizations that have expertise in biblical languages, computer programming, and theological education with a view to collaborating together in the creation and translation of biblical resources and technology tools that meet the needs of the CCBT movement.
- Equipping and training – At the request of church network leaders, we help train their translation trainers for excellence in all aspects of Bible translation and checking. By training trainers, we intentionally attempt to model biblical principles that lead to exponential growth (cf. 2 Timothy 2:2).
- Mobilization – In addition to inviting others to join the movement and serve it, we help connect church networks and resource partners in order to extend the reach of the global CCBT network. We do this with a particular view to expediting the translation of biblical resources into the Gateway Languages so as to equip the churches that depend on those languages for Bible translation.
God is doing an amazing work as He raises up the global church to translate the Bible into every language. The emerging paradigm of church-centric Bible translation is expanding rapidly, though much work still remains. Find out more about the movement and how you can be part of it online (www.ccbt.bible) or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” —Revelation 7:9–10
Abraham, Dr. Alex. “Paradigm X: The Search for a New Paradigm of Bible Translation to Finish the Task of the Great Commission,” January 2017.
Jore, Timothy. “The Gateway Languages Strategy.” unfoldingWord, July 26, 2017. https://unfoldingword.org/gateway.
Simons, Gary F., and Charles D. Fennig, eds. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Twentieth Edition. Online version. Dallas, TX, 2017. https://www.ethnologue.com/.
Wycliffe Global Alliance. “Scripture & Language Statistics 2016,” October 2016. http://www.wycliffe.net/statistics.
- Gary F. Simons and Charles D. Fennig, eds., Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Twentieth Edition, Online version (Dallas, TX, 2017), https://www.ethnologue.com/; Wycliffe Global Alliance, “Scripture & Language Statistics 2016,” October 2016, http://www.wycliffe.net/statistics. ↩︎
- Dr. Alex Abraham, “Paradigm X: The Search for a New Paradigm of Bible Translation to Finish the Task of the Great Commission,” January 2017. ↩︎
- See Timothy Jore, “The Gateway Languages Strategy” (unfoldingWord, April 27, 2017), https://unfoldingword.org/gateway. ↩︎
- This is explained in detail in “The Gateway Languages Strategy” (unfoldingWord, April 27, 2017), https://unfoldingword.org/gateway. ↩︎