Open source Arabic Bible fuels new translation work

By March 12, 2020

Middle East (MNN) — Arabic is the fifth-most spoken language in the world, and it’s the official language in most Middle Eastern countries. The “umbrella” Arabic language breaks down further into dialects that vary by country and sometimes community, which complicates Bible translation work.

(Photo courtesy of Biblica)

For example, people in Iraq often speak Iraqi Arabic and Egyptian Arabic in Egypt, while those in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine speak Levantine Arabic. See a list of common Arabic dialects here. Furthermore, the vast majority of people in these countries are Muslim.

Senior Vice President of Global Ministry, Laura Fisher, says Biblica is teaming up with believers throughout the Middle East to reach people in their heart language – whatever version of Arabic it may be.

“[In] some of these minority language groups the translations will be done in a church-centric focus. So, it’s local churches that are going to be doing translation work,” Fisher says.

“The whole goal is so that people can read God’s Word in a language that they understand in their heart and mind.”

The pros and cons of Creative Commons

Bible translation is hard work in places resistant to the Gospel. Getting licensing and legal requirements isn’t always feasible. “There’s always copyrights involved in every translation that’s done,” Fisher explains.

“What we really want to do is remove the roadblocks for people that were trying to follow the rules and yet couldn’t afford [a license], or were afraid of what [obtaining] a license might entail.”

Fisher says by releasing their Arabic Bible under a Creative Commons license, Biblica provides believers with the tools they need to start translation work.  See the resources available on Biblica’s Open.Bible website.

“God freely gave us His Word and we would like to, where we can, freely give it as well.”

Right now, two partners – unnamed for security purposes – are translating God’s Word into Arabic dialects. “One is going to take the Arabic (source text) and translate it into 30 different dialects,” Fisher says. “Another group is going to start with 64 (dialects).”

When possible, Biblica wants to provide Bible translation teams with another critical tool. “We’ve also talked about [providing] our Translators’ Notes so that they can understand why a certain word was chosen,” Fisher explains.

“That helps them, if [a] word is not existing in their language, to understand a better word that could be utilized.”

Innovation is not without some level of risk. Releasing biblical text on an open-source platform means publishers could change what God’s Word says and release a new “Bible” with unbiblical wording. However, “under the Creative Commons licensing, it requires that you indicate if there is a change,” Fisher says.

“We’ll try to monitor as best we can but the biggest benefit is the exponential growth and acceleration of the translation of minority languages that has grabbed our hearts in our imaginations.”

Next steps

Now that you know, how will you respond? Prayer is of utmost importance. “Prayer would be hugely beneficial. Some (translators) are in very, very, very difficult, dark, dangerous situations,” Fisher says.

“Even possessing biblical text is against the law; it could endanger their life. Praying for their protection as they go about translation work is enormous.”

(Photo courtesy of Biblica)

Funding is a critical need, too. Locally-based and church-centric work lowers but doesn’t remove the costs of translating God’s Word. Support Bible translation work in the Middle East here.

“These teams, they still need financial support to do this work,” Fisher says. “It does add up when you start talking about 100 languages and, typically, you’re going to have a translation team of anywhere from five to 10 members.”



Header image courtesy of Biblica via Facebook.

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