Bible translation technique meets open source culture

By October 23, 2015
Open Source "Swiss Knife" showing relevant Open movements based on Open Source principles. (Illustration by Open Source Business Foundation via Wikimedia Commons)

Open Source “Swiss Knife” showing relevant Open movements based on Open Source principles.
(Illustration by Open Source Business Foundation via Wikimedia Commons)

International (MNN) — Open source has forever changed the way we create and do business in the Information Age.

Open source began emerging as a concept in the ‘90s as an alternative to expensive and usually exclusive computer software. Collaboration is at the heart of the open source movement: working together, we can achieve more.

As such, open source as a broader concept can be seen throughout modern culture.

Wikipedia allows for the public contribution and exchange of content. SlideShare, acquired by LinkedIn in 2012 and recently re-branded, makes teaching others as easy as hitting “Download.” Even the CIA uses open source when gathering information.

Bible translation

(Photo credit Marc Ewell)

Open source is also changing the world of Bible translation.

“The complete Bible is now available in this ‘unlocked’ version,” announces Wycliffe Associates President Bruce Smith.

“We see this as the process that puts all of the tools that are needed for high-quality Bible translation in the hands of the Church globally.”

Unlocking God’s Word

This week, Wycliffe Associate’s team finished the “Unlocked Literal Bible” — an open-licensed version of the Bible that is intended to provide a “form-centric” understanding of God’s Word.

“The goal here [isn’t just] to create a tool that we like and we’re pretty excited about, but to create a tool that actually gets used every day by translators around the world,” explains Smith.



Putting God’s Word out on the public domain under Creative Commons licensing overcomes a lot of the “behind the scenes” copyright and royalty fee challenges.

Most people aren’t aware safeguards like these actually slow Bible translation down, says Smith.

“Most Bibles [that] we use every day, if you look on the first page or look at the copyright page, you find out who the owner is and what the limitations are for its use,” he explains.

For example, “The NIV text may be quoted in any form (written, visual, electronic or audio), up to and inclusive of five hundred (500) verses without express written permission of the publisher, providing the verses do not amount to a complete book of the Bible nor do the verses quoted account for twenty-five percent (25%) or more of the total text of the work in which they are quoted,” copyright information for the NIV translation reads.

Therefore, to translate God’s Word into a new language using the NIV–or other popular versions like ESV or NKJV, translators must pay a licensing fee.



“[The Unlocked Literal Bible]…explicitly avoids all of those limitations,” Smith says.

“It’s released under Creative Commons…for anyone in the world to use as a translation source text into new languages.”

The Unlocked Literal Bible was created using the American Standard Version, created in the early 1900s, as source material.

“Engagement with the global Church is really the next important step that will help give us the feedback we need to maximize the benefit of these tools.”

‘Viralizing’ Bible translation

Another “next step” for the project is expanding its reach.

“We’ll be immediately working on translating this into about 48 ‘gateway’ languages, which will make this accessible to bi-lingual speakers,” shares Smith.

Since English is only one of two or three languages that Bible translators speak, Smith says it’s important to get the Unlocked Literal Bible into more major languages. From dominant languages like Spanish, Mandarin, or Hindi, Bible translators can put God’s Word into the heart language of their people.

(Photo courtesy of Wycliffe Associates)

(Photo courtesy of Wycliffe Associates)

Applying the open source concept to Bible translation may sound like a great idea. But, with multiple contributors, how can Wycliffe Associates possibly account for accuracy?

Reputation management and contributor profiles are among the tools Wycliffe Associates plans on implementing. Hear more about how Wycliffe Associates is safeguarding Bible translation here.

“There’s no limitation on people improving this product, if they see that there are areas that need improving,” Smith notes.

Help underwrite the costs of providing unrestricted Biblical content in every language and for every people group.

“We certainly covet the prayers and support of everybody who wants to see God’s Word moving forward among the nations.”


  • Pat says:

    Praise to our gracious God Who continues to meet the great challenge of Bible translation in new ways, bringing the goal of “every tribe and tongue” closer and closer! We give praise and thanks and all glory to God!

  • I wonder if you have any resources for translating Bible teaching materials for oral learners into other languages. There is a need for this as well. See our website for what we are all about. International Bible Lessons (soon to become Easy Bible Teaching). Thanks for any translation helps you can provide to get these materials available to those who need them.

  • Bidur says:

    Its a great move towards making God’s Word available to all the interested people, for those who cannot pay for the copyright etc. I am eager to see this project take off in Nepal as well. May God bless all the Wycliffe Team!

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