How do Bible translators pick the next language to work on?

By September 24, 2019

International (MNN) — Have you ever wondered how Bible translation ministries pick the next language they’re going to work on? There’s more to it than just marking off a checklist.

DOOR International has worked on sign language Bible translations for the Deaf for 13 years. Rob Myers, President and CEO of DOOR, says before they begin translating Scripture in another sign language, they first survey the local Deaf communities and find out what kind of reach that sign language has.

“We want to make sure that when we make a decision to help a community do a translation, that it’s going to be as effective as possible and it’s going to reach the largest number of people that it can.”

(Photo courtesy of DOOR International)

Myers says, “We have to be strategic in terms of: Where should that translation start? And how is it going to be most effective in the community?”

When DOOR surveys a Deaf community requesting a Bible translation, they don’t just focus on that one area; they also survey the surrounding regions and learn about the neighboring Deaf communities.

Some sign languages are small and cover just one region. Other sign languages are larger, encompassing several regions and communities. Myers says in those cases, it’s best to start Bible translation work with the larger sign language.

“We have one country where the translation in that country is actually allowing Scripture access not just to the people in that country, but to the people in 15 other countries…. So rather than just giving access to about one million people, that translation actually gives access to about 2.5 million people.”

In this case, DOOR was able to discover the sign language with the greatest impact for Bible translation because of their survey work.

“We brought some of those different communities together and we found out that if we had started in one of those other countries and tried to bring it to that larger country, it would not have been accepted at all. Whereas if we start in the larger country and then bring it to some of the other countries, that translation would be accepted.”

(Photo courtesy of DOOR International)

When it comes to sign language Bible translation in the Deaf community, the need is urgent.

There are over 350 sign languages in the world today, and not one of them has a completed Bible translation. Only 30 sign languages have even a portion of Scripture available.

Encouragingly, Myers says, “About 60 [sign] languages actually have some sort of active work that’s happening right now. But there are a ton of languages that still don’t have any work that has happened yet.”

You can come alongside DOOR’s Bible translation work through giving, and through prayer.

Please ask the Lord to bless Deaf believers working on sign language Bible translations so their communities may learn about Jesus. Pray for unreached, unengaged Deaf communities to know the love of their Heavenly Father.



Header photo courtesy of DOOR International.

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