Bible translation innovation: cooperation

By February 10, 2015
(Photo courtesy Wycliffe Associates)

(Photo courtesy Wycliffe Associates)

International (MNN) — On January 12, Mission Network News published an article about Wycliffe Associates entitled “Bible Translation Jumps Ahead By Light Years.”

The gist of the story was about a pilot translation acceleration project tested in South Asia called MAST or Mobilized Assistance Supporting Translation.

Bruce Smith, president and CEO of Wycliffe Associates, shared in that story, “It was really quite a miraculous experience. 13 translators drafted and checked half of the New Testament in just two weeks.”

At the time, he explained it as working in parallel (with teams of more than 13 translators tackling several books at the same time), rather than in series (one large group working on one book at a time).

From his earlier interview, Smith explained that it’s really organizing a “group of people coming together with complementary resources and skill sets to assist a language group as they launch the Bible translation process in their language, and to train them and coach them in a new strategy that accelerates the process of drafting and checking Bible translation.”

This set off a firestorm. Comments from readers questioned Wycliffe Associates’ credibility, accuracy, source text, education, and process. Smith first comments, “The questions in the preceding posts are the very same questions that our team has been asking. The answers have come from a lot of different sources and have often surprised us.” He went on to say, “MAST is our response to the Church who is increasingly unwilling to wait for God’s Word in their language and is looking for ways to accelerate the process of getting translation completed.”

Photo courtesy of Wycliffe Associates

(Photo courtesy of Wycliffe Associates)

That’s not to say there are no translation experts involved. “We are also committed to providing them every possible resource during the process of translation up front so that they have every resource that they need in order to have a high quality outcome.” Plus, “The source text, of course, is always Scripture. Typically, during any translation, several sources of prior translations are consulted in that process. That was certainly the case that I described in South Asia. During the checking process, using these experienced translation consultants, the results were checked against the original languages.”

Having observed the pilot project, Smith added, “During the consultant checking of these five translations, I think everyone was surprised that the quality of the work from the untrained team was equal to the quality of the work by the four teams that had received two weeks of training. The other thing that surprised many of us was the pace at which these teams worked. They were not rushing or frantic. They were focused, reflective, prayerful, and very productive.”

At the end of the first workshop, the translators who had missed the training were so excited to have this first Scripture in their language that they asked if they could return with a larger group to translate more Scripture. In the subsequent months, they recruited a group of 26 multi-lingual mother-tongue *Ng speakers, and Wycliffe Associates adjusted their support plan to involve this larger number of translators.

wassmithSmith witnessed an early Church ethic to this group of workers. As far as attention to details goes, “My observation was that they spent about 25% of their time drafting and 75% of their time checking. This includes checking available reference resources in multiple languages (available in the Paratext software), peer checking, community checking, and finally checking by experienced Bible translation consultants. At the end of two weeks, several of them stayed up all night to print the first copies of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and 1 & 2 Timothy, so they could take them back home.”

What’s the rush? A traditional approach to translation involves a great deal of time spent training, learning, and teaching. Although technology has sped the process, a New Testament translation can still take years, even decades, before it gets into the hands of the people. There’s just not enough time. “It has left thousands of languages without God’s Word in our lifetime, and it is not satisfying to the Church who is dying of thirst for God’s Word.”

The Ng team hopes to finish the early stages of translating the New Testament by April 2015. Smith remarks, “If I can offer a cup of cold water, I will gladly give it–and drill a well for more water. Other language groups are hearing about this parallel translation approach and asking for our help. We are responding.”

Lastly, this story is ultimately about working together, recognizing different strengths and abilities, in the name of Christ. “We readily acknowledge that this is not a global/universal solution that is going to work for every language group. There could be a variety of factors that make it unfeasible in a variety of places. But the early indications are that there are at least dozens–and I think the number will soon be hundreds of languages–that want to incorporate these principles into their translation process in order to get God’s Word sooner instead of later.”


  • Willis ott says:

    This is is merely restating the opinions of the developing team. Smith’s opinion will be regarded as propaganda intended to attract funding. I suggest that this new process will gain credibility only when someone who is outside the team evaluates the results and publishes a report. Up to that point, people will regard this as hype.

  • Greg Yoder says:


    Greetings. I hope you’re doing well. We here at Mission Network News are doing all we can to ENCOURAGE the body of Christ to get out of the pew and do something for Christ. While I believe you have passion for Scripture and lost souls, too, I’m confused by your mean-spirited remarks and accusations. For those who don’t have God’s Word and want it, it’s a cherished possession. While you appear to be involved in Bible translation, I would hope you would want to also apply it. Paul was quite clear, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” Your above statement is NOT that. I would have done this privately, but you posted this for the whole world to see. You are making judgement on something you may or may not know the end result. To suggest Bruce Smith is only interested in attracting funding is just wrong and hurtful. He’s given his life to the cause of Christ…especially Bible translation.

    But, Willis, I do appreciate you. I appreciate the fact you’re holding people accountable for the most incredibly important work out there, translating God’s written Word into languages of the unreached. I’m hoping this message will be one to encourage you to be encouraging. Perhaps there is ANOTHER way of doing Bible translation that isn’t familiar to you and is successful. Perhaps God is providing the world with a way of speeding Bible translation so the whole world can either read or hear.

    Again, thank for your passion for Scripture. Let’s be unified, another great truth taken from Scripture.

    In His grip,

    Greg Yoder
    Mission Network News

  • Praise the Lord! I trained with SIL in the 1960’s and worked years on a single translation. The description of your innovation and rapid progress of translation and distribution are wonderful improvements.
    How about the literacy aspect of the work? May God speed you on your
    way, and I’ll keep praying.

  • roland says:

    This is great to hear! I agree that it is important to get the gospel out quickly and efficiently as possible. Praise the Lord for the technology and people to make this happen. Global Recordings looks forward to working together with Wycliffe in any language that has no Christian resources.

  • I think you have jumped to wrong conclusions regarding your statement to Willis. He merely is articulating the fact that in the world of Bible translators, many already scoff at the idea that an accurate translation can be done in such a short time. He knows his colleagues and their responses. He is saying that WA will accomplish a lot among other translators by getting some endorsements outside of WA and their team that is working on this project. He is very pro active in getting translations done as quickly as possible.

  • Geoff says:

    Most of the modern translations of the Bible into English are the work of teams of translators working on separate books rather than one small team working on the whole Bible.

    If the target language has enough speakers willing and able to translate, I see no reason why they should not work divisi.

  • willis Ott says:

    Margaret understood my intent. I am as excited as anyone that some new group is hearing the message from God! (But Young did not mention that any of the Ng group has heard that message. He reported that 48% of NT was written.)
    However, the issue here is whether we Christians should go round shouting, repeating someone else’s slogan, JUST BECAUSE THEY ARE SHOUTING. When ‘Oxiclean’ was first offered on the market, it was hyped. All the promoters said about it was probably true to some extent, but the potential customers perceived much of the hyperbole was unlikely. In today’s world, it seems there is much hype. I suggest that we Christians should not echo someone ‘discovery’ just because we are positive thinkers. We can promote the discovery when it has proven itself.


  • Johanna says:

    Well, I don’t think it’s okay to disrespect a leader of a partner organization. And I don’t think it’s okay for one person’s disrespect to presume to stand in for all those involved. “Smith’s opinion will be regarded…” And neither am I okay being involved in a mission that is being characterized as “many who scoff.”

    As for the review process, it takes time and there is misinformation being spread about it. But beyond that, there are – what one recent writer on the Harvard Business Review explained – two words that kill innovation: Prove it. ( As in, prove it in advance. This project cannot be proven in advance. They must continue to experiment – and I see no problem with letting the wider world understand the experiment and early observations. Ironically regarding this conversation, it strengthens the place of transparency in such a project.

    I am praying the first call to action in this report: Pray for unity in the Church regarding this project. I believe much is at stake – not only this project but the witness we give the world.

  • Willis ott says:

    I’m sorry! I mistakenly named ‘Young’ who did not mention the the Ng group had heard… I was referring to Bruce Smith.

  • del archer says:

    I encourage interested parties to obtain as much information about this process directly from Wycliffe Associates (WA) 800-THE-WORD in eastern time zone. As we’ve learned from other situations, Bible translation doesn’t lend itself well to our “sound bite” society. There are simply too many facets and the matter is immensely significant. Please contact WA and have them provide you with documentation and information. They have it. I’ve got it. I am waiting for my Wycliffe USA colleagues to do their due diligence in evaluating and deciding the merits of these strategies. They are working as diligently as they can, but it takes time and a sufficient body of history in order to properly evaluate. There is simply too much at stake. We ALL want to get this right. 1800+ people groups, close to 200 million souls, are waiting for their first verse of God’s Word. Millions of others have some portions, but the job is far from complete. Please pray for God’s wisdom for all. Thanks.

  • I am shocked at the poor attitudes I see in these comments. They hardly reflect true Christian love and concern and some of these comments are no less than slanderous. I have no idea in Scripture where it says it’s OK for Christians to slander others, but I can point anyone to Scripture where it says we should NOT!

    The world has millions of people that are without the Word of God. WA has developed a system that they hope will become mainstream in the world of Bible translation.

    Translation is a difficult task at best because to do it well, the translators must understand WELL the culture and not just the language to be translated to. Translators are not just language specialists – they are also anthropologists.Very little translation work can be accomplished before the translators can understand the culture and associated language nuances. In almost every case, translators must invent the written symbols to the language. This all times time and only then can a linguistics expert really begin the hard work.

    Roger and Suzanne Doriot ( were in southeast Asia for 35 years. Roger, with a team of people, translated the New Testament into the Nalja language. If you were to talk to Roger, he would tell you that it took them a few years to really understand the language with respect to the culture before they could begin the heavy lifting of doing the translation work. It then took him 30 years to do the job with the limited team and resources that were available to them. They certainly did not have computers until the 1990’s and even then, they did not have the luxury of the recently developed advanced software for accelerating translation.

    The new paradigm is as this article talks about – MTT – Mother Tongue Translation. By using people from the general area, the time required to understand the language and culture is diminished significantly. It could easy take 5 years off a translation program.

    The MAST process only new to to the linguistics experts. Essentially it is a standard project management process that has been used by large industry for many years to expedite development. The high tech industry typically breaks down a project to smaller projects and they assign many parallel teams that are directed by a project manager. The general process can result in a project’s “time to market” very fast. And that’s the point of MAST. By using teams of parallel linguistics specialists, a translation can “get to market” very quickly.

    There are still thousands of languages that have no Bible. The Bible is clear, and the evidence supports, that the workers are few. If some very sharp people, like those at WA, can find ways to expedite translation projects, then more people around the world will have the Bible in their hands quickly.

    Further, WA has an excellent track record for partnering with others. They work with many other organizations that have the same goal and, therefore, they all share what they know. Do not think for one minute that MAST will be “owned and used exclusively” by WA. With time this new process will be used globally.

    Back to my first comment: Who are we to criticize anyone that is doing what they can to get the most important document in history into the hands of people that do not have it? We need to stop following the world’s ways of over-analysing and being side-line critics of the work and “few workers” that are getting it done!

    Folks, these are exciting times! The advances in linguistics in the past few years is astounding. Further, projects like MAST are being developed by trail blazers that are going places human history has never before seen.

    if we are called by Christ to follow him, let’s do it. Let’s start acting like Christians and provide whatever support we can to put God’s Word into the hands of those that have never seen it.

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