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“A Life Transformed by God’s Word”: John Piper on William Tyndale /

On October 6, 1536, William Tyndale was executed for translating the Bible from the original languages into modern English. He was accused of “always singing a single note”: God’s Word in the vernacular. For that he was exiled, betrayed, strangled and burned. Many of Tyndale’s words and phrases remain in use today, 480 years later. This is the legacy of your English Bible.

I was reminded of Tyndale this week. So I remembered a message I heard John Piper give about him when I was preparing to go abroad for the sake of God’s Word. Piper presented Tyndale’s life as worthy of imitation, in taking seriously the call to study God’s Word and to translate it. He challenged thousands of young adults to be involved in Bible translation. I share with you what was challenging and confirming to me.

“William Tyndale: A Life Transformed By God’s Word”
Message by John Piper, May 26, 2008, New Attitude Conference, Louisville, KY

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This Week’s Workshop for Translation Helpers /

We held a workshop this week for Bible translation helpers — five men from three of the language groups here. They told us about their efforts since we last met to start church-based Bible studies with their first drafts and grow the church. Then we carefully taught our topics of the week: “spiritual foundations” (the gospel and Christ-like growth) and “biblical survey,” (the history of the Book, its cultural context, and how it all points to Christ). We’re equipping men who must grow in their understanding of the gospel and ability to handle the Word. They leave to lead their own teams of translators and churches in hard places.

Two stories from the week…

We gave the Bible overview as background for meaningful New Testament translation (and one group is translating the Old Testament now). These brothers were walking through the Bible like in a fog and didn’t know that they were missing so much about Christ. We teachers can’t assume any knowledge. We didn’t think to point out that the Old Testament people of Israel were the same group as the New Testament Jews. When they realized this on our last day together, I imagine all the stories, pictures and allusions came back to mind and understanding dawned on them. They remarked then that they felt like they’d taken a tour to ancient Israel and back.

We also taught that becoming like Christ means that suffering, which was a part of his life, will also be a part of ours. We shared examples. One of these brothers, named “Truth,” told me his story. Truth started to believe in Christ as a high school student. His community was unhappy with his decision to leave their traditions and pressured his family to stop him. His parents forcibly kicked him out of the house. His father threw an axe at him. He fled with his clothes and books to the jungle and cried out to God. In his village he found other abandoned believers and lived with them for three years. He continued to study and pray for his family. His siblings now follow Christ. Truth went on to further studies at Bible college and has started work as a leader in his village’s church and a translator for his language community.

Church Collaboration in Translation This Week /

Translation helpers from 6 language groups came to a workshop here this week. The training focused on a method to involve churches in another part of the translation process. We’ve already experimented with church participation in a translation of Luke, a “crowd-sourced” rough draft. Drafts like this get heavily reviewed and revised but do wonders to promote community ownership and Scripture engagement.

It seems that when you work with translators from different backgrounds and multiple translation agencies, along with outside funders and demanding schedules, the local church gets overlooked.

This time around, we’re sending out the helpers to check their next drafts in the churches, in Bible study. The Bible study method follows common practices in the field: a prepared facilitator asking a fixed set of questions, and encouraging participation and obedience. The method has shortcomings, but it’s appropriate in this situation. This is an effort to test newly translated Scriptures in a way they’re meant to be used. It introduces change with less variables by using an existing method. Scripture testing goes beyond a linguistic check of comprehension to Scripture use and a pursuit of transformation in the community. Brilliant! Call that a win for both Bible translation and church planting.

Over the next month, the translation helpers will start multi-church collaboration teams to see movement of the Scriptures among the churches.

From Don Richardson’s “Lords of the Earth” /

Don Richardson wrote in Lords of the Earth a popular-level biography of Stanley Dale. He was a remarkable missionary, who, with his wife, Pat, and their four children, served among the remote tribes of New Guinea in the mid-20th century.

Stanley considered Bible translation and church planting among the unreached worth every last effort. He believed, in Richardson’s words, the first was a “sacred obligation,” and the second, “the most meaningful wonder on earth.”

The experience of contemporary missionaries, as well as his own study of the history of the Christian church, convinced Stanley that translating the Scriptures into every man’s mother tongue was a sacred obligation.

In a sermon delivered in 1950, Stanley proclaimed, “Four hundred years ago, William Tyndale was strangled and burned for giving the English people their own Bible. But as a result of his labors, English plough-boys came to know the gospel better in some instances than bishops in their cloisters! Tyndale could lay down his life a happy man!

“And so today also hundreds of young men and women count it worth any sacrifice of time, money, or life itself to give God’s Word to all of earth’s tribes in their own languages… Restless millions await the Word that makes all things new.” …

With Pat by his side, he would put both his faith in God and his theories of missionary practice to the test against who knows what odds. With every last sinew, he must struggle against those odds until the most meaningful wonder on earth, a New Testament church, shone forth in the most unlikely setting on earth, the stone-age hell of interior Dutch New Guinea!

— Don Richardson, “Chapter 8: The Unforgiving Minute,” Lords of the Earth.

“Bible Translation” and “Church Planting” /

Search the web for “Bible translation” and “church planting” together. If you are looking for articles of thoughtful interaction, you’ll be disappointed. But you will find this article from 2012: “Bible translation vs. Church planting.”

The author concludes well:

The goal of missions is not Bible translation, but the goal of missions cannot be obtained without Bible translation.

Read the article at http://thecripplegate.com/bible-translation-vs-church-planting.

Etching of an elephant shrew with a small proboscis
Peter Mazell, 1793, courtesy of Wellcome Images.
Mascot Mash-up /

Church Planting Bible Translators needs a mascot! One of us once suggested a mash-up of two animals for a logo. But isn’t this the question we’ve been asking: why stitch together two beasts when one beautiful creature will do? Here are seven curious, warm-blooded contenders:

  • There’s the zebra-giraffe, native to the rainforests of Central Africa: the Okapi.
  • Of course, the duck-beaver, the egg-laying, venomous-spurred, electro-sensing icon of Australia: the Platypus.
  • The bear-cat, hailing from South and Southeast Asia and already mascot of several U.S. universities: the Binturong.
  • The elephant-pig, which, according to oriental folklore, eats people’s nightmares: the Tapir.
  • The goat-antelope, national animal of Bhutan and what one biologist likened to a “bee-stung moose”: the Takin.
  • And the snake-anteater, which rolls up its scaly self and withstands lion attacks: the Pangolin.

But perhaps the one that suits CTBP best is the Sengi. This shrew-like mammal has the trunk of an elephant and the bound of a rabbit.

Photo: Joey Makalintal
Photo: Joey Makalintal

The sengi may be the closest thing to what one church planter suggested in jest: an elephabbit (my family preferred the name “rabbiphant” when surveyed over dinner), with rapid reproduction, low maintenance and massive strength.

The reproductive behavior of elephants and rabbits are compared in an analogy used by CPM practitioners: Put two elephants in a room together and in three years you may have one baby elephant; put two rabbits together in a room for the same amount of time… (Small Is Big!: Unleashing the Big Impact of Intentionally Small Churches). The idea is that large, complex things are difficult to reproduce. But this analogy may misconstrue the point of biblical church planting, as BHM wrote at CTBP. Besides, to make such a creature out of elephants and rabbits would be an indignity to both (not to mention the breeder).

Ironically, sengis are classified with elephants, not with shrews and rabbits. But that’s stretching the metaphor far enough.

“Bible Translation as Missions” Colloquium /

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) hosted a colloquium on Bible translation as missions in October 2014.

Baptist Press reported.

NOBTS posted videos of the presentations on it’s YouTube channel and some of the talks were later published in Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry (Spring 2015).

NT Dedication /

At a New Testament dedication for a Himalayan language. This language is the second in the country to receive a NT and it’s this language’s only book. The first believer from this group is here and received the first book. This babu, or ‘father’ in the faith, was baptized in 1957 through the work of Christian medical workers.

I’m humbled and awed at this gift. Being readied to embrace a language and go deep.

Reading “Seed Sowers” by Gwen Toliver /
Seed Sowers cover
Seed Sowers cover

In Seed Sowers: Gospel-Planting Adventures, Gwen Toliver gives a series of well-written and encouraging vignettes about the lives of Bible translators.

Another book I read recently, The Multilingual God by Steve Fortosis, detailed the linguistic task of translators. Toliver’s book provides a look into the physical and spiritual side of the task. Both books are less than 200 pages with many short chapters.

In Seed Sowers, you may find yourself hacking out a trail in Irian Jayan jungles or weeping and praying with village friends over their deathly-ill daughter. The experiences of the translators do not feel distant because the author does not present them as exotic. The message is communicated clearly through the stories: God is with his people — us! — not only as we bring his Word to those without it, but live it out as we do.

Bible Translation Movements: Getting the Job Done Faster? /

Below is an article on “Bible Translation Movements” found at paul-timothy.net. The big idea is that motivation and resources for Bible translation should come from out of a movement of people to Christ. The article can be freely copied. I reproduced the text here because the original page was in PDF format.


Can Bible Translation Movements Get the Job Done Faster?

Copyright © 2008 by Jay Pratt
May be freely copied, translated, posted and distributed.

This article by a long-time mentee of mine deals with a fascinating and little-discussed factor in Church Planting Movement (CPMs), the role of local adaptations of the Bible. As a CP mentor-trainer, you may have to advise those whom you [mentor] on this topic. — George Patterson

The term Bible Translation Movement (BTM) was first described to me by a colleague in a nearby country, where the largest turning of Muslims to Christ in history is happening. What can we learn from what the Lord is doing there? BTMs and CPMs both see rapid multiplication of God’s Word in various languages. Thus, rapid refers not only to numbers of new translations and churches but to rapid obedience to the King. A BTM happens when new churches start to multiply in an unreached people group and new believers and leaders start to translate God’s Word into their own language. Such new believers will also, normally, prove motivated to help translate God’s Word into neighboring languages, which are culturally similar to their own. BTMs are not currently a missiological fad or dream, but they are happening, often in the second generation of new churches.

While Bible translators should normally have proper theological training, the mentoring relationship that I have with my apprentices remains their only theological education, yet they are leading more of their Buddhist friends and family members to Christ than the salaried, professional church planters working in the same area. These Buddhist-background believers’ BTM started spontaneously as churches were multiplying among receptive people who saw the need for a relevant translation in their own tongue.

Twenty-five years ago, Dr. Viggo Olsen of the Association of Baptist for World Evangelization and his colleagues undertook to retranslate the entire Bible into a Muslim majority dialect. This proved a groundbreaking work of contextualization that helped stimulate an unprecedented CPM in that country. The standard Bible translation had been made in the minority Hindu dialect a century earlier. Today, at least a quarter of a million Muslim-background believers have been baptized across several CPMs where Dr. Olsen’s translation is used. This movement has spilled over the border to every adjacent country. Praise be to the Most High God! Jesus is fulfilling His Mission, sometimes allowing us foreigners to be a part of it.

Most animistic, tribal and illiterate people groups now have Christian churches. The days of a missionary couple venturing into an isolated area to start churches, and spending twenty-five years to translate God’s Word into the local language might be at an end. Most of the remaining, unreached people groups live within reach of national or trade language learning centers.

Something similar to that BTM is happening in Buddhist background CPM that I work with. The new church leaders in this unreached people group did not regard the traditional-language Bible translation as relevant to the Buddhist masses that avoid the minority, predominately tribal churches that are scattered in every corner of our country. Not long after I arrived in the area, a handful of believers from a Buddhist minority people group came to find me. We began to translate gospel tracts and multimedia materials into their language. However, there was no Bible translation with which to disciple new believers among them. So, we told Bible stories and had leaders learn those stories in their local language, but they said this was not enough.

Some “orality” experts writing today have little or no experience with Church Planting Movements. Most of their experience and materials have been written in the contexts of animistic, tribal peoples. They have their own views on Bible “storying” and avoid producing practical, hands-on tools that relate to making disciples of leaders. Some orality specialists teach about the “scarlet tread,” the sacrificial atonement theme in the Bible. My Buddhist friends would say, “You serve a blood thirsty God who demands so much blood!”

The new believers I work with wanted the Word of God written in a language that speaks to the very soul of their Buddhist communities. The main apostle of this movement laughed out load as he and I read the words of Martin Luther, “I do not want a Bible in German. My people need a German Bible.” When I asked him why he laughed, he pointed to a contemporary language version lying on his table. “That is not a Bible in our national majority language, for it is not of our culture. It was not translated by our people but by a foreigner.” I thank God for the traditional scripture translations that He has used to bring many into the Kingdom, and that have helped westernized, tribal churches to communicate and theologize between themselves. The existing translations will never lose their predominance in the established church. However, if churches are to reach both majority and minority Buddhist peoples, they must use other versions and adaptations, as well.

I thought that we had planned for a successful CPM by translating the eminent Train and Multiply leadership training course and Activity Guide written by George Patterson. However, the Buddhist background leaders turn up their noses at the existing Bible translation that these excellent materials were based on. Many of the exercises in those materials that we translated read, for example, “Find in Acts 10, whom Peter brought with him to start the first Roman church.” Well, they could not “find” anything, because they did not have Bibles, and my apprentices would not distribute the Bible in the majority language.

Currently, these new church leaders from a minority people group have formed their own translation committee and are translating from the United Bible Society’s Contemporary English Version into the majority language. They have completed the synoptic gospels and Acts as of first importance for them. New believers and seekers prefer Matthew’s Gospel, after asking for evaluations from their Buddhist family and highly-educated monk friends. In contrast, most international Bible consultant organizations have agreements with the national Bible Society that they will not work on newer translation of the existing Bible.

The minority translators follow Jesus’ example in adapting key terms. For example, Jesus redefined the traditional Jewish terms kingdom (basileia) and God (Theos). Jesus also added meaning to traditional terms. For example, He called Theos “Abba” (Father). Calling the Old Testament God “Father” imported a scandalous new meaning into the Jewish community, which it still has in Muslim cultures. He redefined old key terms by pouring new meaning into words like “Kingdom” through his parables and similes (“The Kingdom of Heaven is like…”).

Many Bible translation consultant groups will not work closely with church planters, for they have written agreements with national traditional churches that they will only work on languages where those churches focus, and will not tamper with traditional key terms and phrases. Over the past five years of watching a minority-people CPM, I meditate daily George Patterson’s words, “Just trust the Holy Spirit in the hearts of obedient believers… Trust the Holy Spirit!” “Help seekers and new believers to obey all of Jesus commands in love.”

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