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Posts Tagged ‘history’

By Bill Gardner with Richard Gretsky

Many people think that Bible translation has been a recent phenomenon that really only started in the last 150 years or so. But the reality of Bible translation’s history might surprise you.

Bible Translation Through the Ages - John Wycliffe

Bible translation actually began even before Jesus was born! Around 200 B.C. many Jews were living in Egypt where they no longer fluently spoke Hebrew or Aramaic, but instead spoke Greek as their mother tongue. (Egypt had been conquered by Alexander the Great.) Since the Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew with a few sections in Aramaic, they decided to translate it into Greek, beginning with the Torah (the five books of Moses). This Greek Old Testament became known as the Septuagint, and was used widely among Jews and then among Christians. In fact many of the quotes in the New Testament are from the Greek Old Testament.

At first the early Christian church used the Greek Old and New Testaments. But after a couple centuries, people decided they needed the Bible in their own languages, so the whole Bible was eventually translated into some of the most widely spoken languages in the world (i.e. Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Gothic, Ethiopic, etc).1 But as those languages changed over time (e.g., Latin became various Romance languages like French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish), their translations became archaic, “holy” translations, which most people no longer understood at all.

After another 1,000 years a second major wave of Bible translation happened, around the time of the Reformation. While John Wycliffe had earlier translated the Bible from Latin into English, William Tyndale and Myles Coverdale translated the Bible into early modern English from Greek and Hebrew. Around that time, Martin Luther did the same for German and others did so for Spanish, Portuguese, French, etc.2 With the invention of the printing press in the early 1400s, people could more easily access, read and understand the Bible. It led to transformation in individuals, communities and societies all across Europe.

The third major wave of Bible translation began about 200 years ago. During the 19th century, God’s Word was translated into almost 500 languages all across the world.1 The 20th century saw the birth of Wycliffe Bible Translators and other Bible translation organizations, and significantly saw more than 1,000 new Bible translations. And the pace of Bible translation has continued to increase during the 21st century.

Bible Translation through the Ages - Africa

Today, we have the honor and privilege to participate in a movement that God has been orchestrating for centuries. By serving, praying, and fiscally supporting the work of Bible translation, we truly make a difference.

Let’s all work together so that soon all people groups can hear God speak to them in their own language.
[1] Silzer, Peter. “An Overview of Bible Translation Through History.” Lecture, Biola University, La Mirada, 2005.

2 Scriptures of the World: A Compilation of the 1,946 Languages in Which at Least One Book of the Bible Has Been Published since the Bible Was First Printed by Johann Gutenberg. London: United Bible Societies, 1990. 41.

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By Hannah Weiand

Where in the World - Pair (Elyse Patten)

A key thing to note is that Wycliffe USA is just one of many organizations working in partnership around the world to make Bible translation happen. Many of these organization are part of the Wycliffe Global Alliance, which includes more than 45 Wycliffe member organizations and more than 60 partner organizations serving in more than 93 countries. For perspective, there are only 197 countries in the entire world, so together we’re working in nearly half of them! You can see the list of organizations within the Wycliffe Global Alliance here.

One interesting feature of the Alliance’s website is a tool that lists the languages of the world, by country, and whether or not they have any Scripture. Although it doesn’t specifically tell you where personnel are working, it can give you a broader scope of the work that is both being done and still needs to be done. So if you have a specific country in mind, and want to know if Bible translation is being done there, this tool can help.

This post is part of our Wycliffe 101 series. Click here to read the previous post, or here to start at the beginning.

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By Lindsay Benton

Lindsay is a recent Liberty University graduate and a former Wycliffe USA summer intern.

Many of us have heard the story of Wycliffe founder William Cameron Townsend—also known as Uncle Cam—who traveled the villages of Guatemala attempting to sell Spanish Bibles in the early 1900s. Uncle Cam soon discovered that many Guatemalans couldn’t understand these Bibles, because their primary language was Cakchiquel, which had never been written down and didn’t have a translation of the Scriptures. This hit home for Uncle Cam. If the Guatemalan people could not understand the Bible in their primary language, then they could not read or hear about the grace of God in sending His son Jesus Christ to save sinners.

God put it on Uncle Cam’s heart to live among the people in Guatemala. He was compelled to learn Cakchiquel in hopes of one day translating the New Testament into it. But the process of learning the language, recording it in written form, and translating the Bible was not a short or easy process. Many words and passages in the English Bible, which Uncle Cam was familiar with, had different meanings in the Cakchiquel culture. This did not stop him from dedicating years of his life to build relationship with the people and encourage their understanding of the Bible. “You have to learn the language accurately,” said Uncle Cam. “You can’t hand a book to these tribes and say, ‘This is God’s Word,’ if it’s full of grammatical errors. You’ve got to do a good scientific job. And that takes years—to learn the language and then translate the New Testament.”

John WycliffeIf people in Guatemala did not have Bibles in a language that spoke to their heart, then how many more people groups worldwide did not have a Bible in their heart language? As a result, Uncle Cam organized Wycliffe Bible Translators in 1943, years after he first arrived in Guatemala in 1917. His mission had transformed from selling Bibles to making them available in every language that needed a translation.

The name “Wycliffe” came from the reformation scholar and Oxford professor John Wycliffe. In the 14th century, Wycliffe rebelled against the Roman Catholic Church by translating the Bible in a language the common person could understand. His actions took courage because, at the time, the people of England could only receive the Bible through the priests or read it in the Greek, Hebrew, and Latin languages. The translation came from Latin because it was the only source available to him. Because he translated the Bible into the common language, John Wycliffe was ridiculed by the church even after his death. Religious leaders dug up his remains and burned them as a result of his devotion to Bible translation. One of Wycliffe’s supporters, John Hus, promoted the idea of common persons reading the Bible in a recognizable language. Huss was threatened by the Roman Catholic Church and later burned at the stake in 1415.

John Wycliffe2Because Wycliffe chose to make the Bible available to everyone, he was known for his English Bible translation across Europe. Like current missionaries who serve overseas, sacrificing time and energy while pouring into the lives of unreached people groups, God used men like John Wycliffe and William Cameron Townsend to affect generation upon generation through the power of God’s Word.

Today, Wycliffe has aided Bible translation projects in over two thousand languages. However, there are over nineteen hundred languages that still need a Bible translation project started. Will you join the team at Wycliffe and fulfill the need for Bible translations around the world by praying, going, or partnering with us financially? Help us reach these Bibleless people groups and spread the Word of God to all the nations.

This post is part of our Wycliffe 101 series. Click here to read the previous post, or here to start at the beginning.

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By Bob Creson, Wycliffe USA President/CEO

The hot desert day was over and a small group of Borana people—nomadic cattle herders in Kenya—sat down under the stars to share news and stories. As SIL workers Jim and Dorothea Lander joined them, an elder began to speak.

“Long, long ago,” he said, “the Borana people had a Book of God. We called it our Boogi Waqa and everyone had a copy. We read it often to learn how to please God. But as the years passed, our books began to wear out until eventually only one remained—the prized possession of an old, old grandfather.

“Those were years of drought, and our people relentlessly battled for survival. Day after day the old man and his family took their cattle out on long searches for grass and water. One day they left behind a cow too weak to keep up with them. Nosing around for food while no one watched, she came upon the last Boogi Waqa…and devoured it! When the old man came home that night, he found only a few pieces of leather binding scattered on the ground. Great sadness filled the camp.

Guyo - Borana elder

“That night the old man slept fitfully and dreamt that an angel appeared to him. The angel promised that after many years God would send their book back to them. ‘Watch for a strange man from a faraway country,’ said the angel. ‘When he comes, treat him well, for he will bring back your Boogi Waqa.’

“Many years later, the first missionaries came into Borana land. Some of you remember them. They tried to learn our language, and one of them actually wrote a book he said came from God, but we could not read it.” The elder paused, and then with a long sigh, he concluded: “Now, my children, we still wait for the Boogi Waqa.”

Jim and Dorothea were still learning the Borana language, but they understood enough to marvel at the story. A few weeks later, they entertained some Borana men in their home. After dinner and several cups of sweet, creamy tea, a man named Galgalo picked up the Lander children’s English Picture Bible. Galgalo could read it because he’d served in the Kenyan Air Force. He read the story of the Tower of Babel in English, and then told the Borana men what it said in their own language.

Together they looked at the pictures in the Bible and exclaimed, “Look, these men dress just like we do, with flowing clothes and turbans! They pack their camels like we do! And this desert looks just like ours!”

Galgalo turned to Jim and asked, “Is this a Borana book? Is it…could it be…the Boogi Waqa?”

“Yes,” said Jim. “This is the Boogi Waqa.”

Silently the men stared at Jim and Dorothea. Slowly they turned their gaze back to the book. Long into the night they explored the book, examining the pictures and listening to Galgalo read. Eventually they came to a picture of the Israelites sacrificing a lamb, as God had instructed them to do in the Old Testament.

The men told Jim, “Our fathers taught us that the Boogi Waqa told how to sacrifice a lamb, so that God would forgive our sins. And sure enough here it is in this Boogi Waqa! We still do our animal sacrifices, but some of the missionaries say we should stop. Why is that?”

His heart pounding, Jim took the Bible and turned to the tenth chapter of Hebrews. With Galgalo’s help, he explained that God sent his Son, Jesus, to be the perfect sacrifice for sin. They no longer needed to sacrifice lambs each year because now they could find forgiveness of sin and eternal life by putting their trust in Jesus, who died for their sins once for all!

Health concerns later sent the Landers back home, but a Borana man, David Diida, drew on their linguistic research to spearhead a revision of the Bible and a very successful literacy program. Many groups of believers can now read their own Book of God all across Northern Kenya.

Dorothea says, “I believe God placed the Boogi Waqa story in Borana history and preserved it in their oral culture so that many years after the original book disappeared, men would seek after God and find in Him eternal life by reading their new Boogi Waqa.”

God left His footprint in the desert sands of Northern Kenya, and He’s left it in many other cultures around the world. Missionaries often think they are “taking God to the people” they are called to serve. But the truth is, He has already been there, preparing the way.

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PNG Elizabeth

 

Over thirty years ago, these Papua New Guineans performed a traditional sing-sing dance for Queen Elizabeth of England. A sing-sing is a meeting of local people groups who dress up, paint themselves, and dance to honor the distinct heritage of each community.

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By Melissa Chesnut
Did you know there’s a day set apart worldwide to honor the work of Bible translation? Well there is, and we’re excited to tell you about it!

In 1966, Wycliffe founder Cameron Townsend first shared an idea with Oklahoma Senator Fred Harris, his friend of several years.

“September 30 is St. Jerome’s Day,” Cam said. “He’s the first translator of the whole Bible. I thought maybe we could get the House and Senate to pass a resolution calling for the president to proclaim September 30 as Bible Translation Day.”

Harris liked the idea and agreed to propose the resolution in the Senate. Soon Cam received word that the resolution passed!

Bible Translation Day1

On September 30, 1966, a ceremony was held to proclaim that day as Bible Translation Day. Since the Apache New Testament had only recently been completed, Cam decided they should present that translation as part of the ceremony. Senator Harris presided, and Cam arranged for Britton Goode, the Apache who had helped the translators, to present the Scriptures to him and Congressman Ben Reifel. A Sioux Indian from South Dakota, Reifel had witnessed firsthand the impact that owning the Bible in her heart language had on his mother, who spoke only broken English and used the Sioux Bible to teach her children about God.

Several people gave speeches that day, including both Senator Harris and Congressman Reifel. Cam’s speech was, as always, one that left the group in attendance encouraged and inspired.

“We are making history. By God’s grace and with His help, we are taking part in a tremendous enterprise,” said Cam, as he began his speech. “The enterprise is Bible translation; the goal is hearts changed by God and disciples equipped to lead others to Christ. But before any translation can be done, before any change comes in a heart, we must overcome physical and language barriers.

“The language barrier is difficult to overcome. But it must be done. The Holy Spirit, speaking through John says, ‘After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb’ (Revelation 7:9, NIV). We believe God has called us to help make this verse come true. …

“This is not an impossible task. If it were, God would not have given it to us. But it is difficult. It takes hard work, dedication, perseverance, and commitment. Teachers at Wycliffe’s schools have helped thousands of students learn translation and literacy principles, but we lack people who are willing to go. Many don’t realize how Bible translation is still needed around the world.”bible Translation Day2

In the years since Cam first started Wycliffe, 518 language groups have received the entire Bible and 1,275 have the New Testament in the language they understand best. Additionally, over 1,500 Bible translation projects are currently in process.

Today, Wycliffe continues to carry on the tradition of celebrating Bible Translation Day. With unwavering focus towards the unfinished task at hand, Wycliffe seeks to pursue the goal that Cam so eloquently laid out in his speech—that of bringing the translated Word of God into every language that still needs it.

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By Melissa Chesnut

Each year, National Hispanic Heritage month (September 15–October 15) honors the histories and cultures of Hispanic nations and remembers the anniversaries of the independence of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Chile. This four-part “Throwback Thursday” series will focus on different aspects of Wycliffe’s work among Hispanic countries and language communities.

Read Part 1: A Man with a Vision

The Gospel has a way of changing people in amazing ways, and sometimes it starts in places you wouldn’t expect!

During his early travels, Cam Townsend met a man named Silverio Lopez. Silverio was one of the few Cakchiquel Indians who could understand and read a little Spanish. When he was working in Guatemala City, he bought a Spanish Bible. But it was filled with so many words and phrases he didn’t know that he couldn’t understand it! Frustrated, he put the book away and forgot all about it.

Soon Silverio had to return to his village home because one of his children died and another was very sick. Desperate to help his child, Silverio visited the village shaman. The shaman blamed the sickness on the spirits of dead ancestors, and told Silverio to buy candles and put them before an image in the Antigua church. Silverio followed the shaman’s orders, but was soon in heavy debt.

One day Silverio found a scrap of paper on the road. He picked it up and read, “My Father’s house should be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.” When he got home, he looked up the verse in the Bible. Convicted by what the Bible said, Silverio decided to stop paying the shaman and to quit taking candles to the church. Instead, he went to the doctor and bought medicine that soon cured his daughter’s stomach. Then he went to the Antigua church and talked to the Guatemalan pastor, who told him how to believe in Jesus.

320_CAK_ManReadingBible_3Silverio surrendered his life to Christ and soon became an evangelist to his own people! Just six months after accepting Jesus, Silverio had already led forty Cakchiquel Indians to Christ.  His life was so drastically changed that he couldn’t help but share his newfound love with everyone he met, and his passion continued to spread.

Silverio wasn’t the only person Cam met whose life was changed in a big way. One day Cam met a shoemaker who had once been a drunkard, but who had abandoned the bottle for Jesus. “Before I was a believer, I was thrown in jail sixty-three times for drunkenness,” he told Cam. “Now I’ve been behind bars three times for preaching the Gospel.”

Cam also met a Cakchiquel Indian man who had gone to the president of Guatemala to complain about Cam’s work among his people. When the president met the man, he asked the man if he could read. The man said yes, so the president handed him a copy of the Cakchiquel New Testament that Cam had given him.

After reading a few lines, the man looked up in amazement. “This is wonderful! God speaks our language! Where can I get a copy of this book?”

The president told him, “From the people you were complaining about.”

The man returned home, bought the Bible in his own language, and became a believer. Someone later told Cam, “Now he goes everywhere, telling people that the president evangelized him.”

People like Cam, Silverio, the shoemaker, and even the president of Guatemala didn’t let the change stop with them. They didn’t keep their passion and excitement to themselves, but rather shared with the people in their lives about Jesus. Because they took bold steps of faith, they were able to touch the lives of many people.

Change can start with just one person!

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