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The Advent of Oral Bible Translation

A man uses Render during an Oral Bible Translation project in Mexico.

‍The mission of Faith Comes By Hearing revolves around making God’s Word accessible to everyone. This commitment drives them to tirelessly expand the reach of Scripture’s life-saving message. They achieve this by producing Audio Bibles in various languages and making them freely available.

Research shows that seventy percent of the global population primarily learns through listening. This majority, particularly in oral cultures without written systems, grasps the essence of the Bible most effectively when they hear it spoken aloud. As a result, in these oral communities, faith is nurtured and propagated through the act of hearing.

Textless Bible Recording

The journey towards Oral Bible Translation (OBT) was paved with prayer and contemplation. Faith Comes By Hearing’s leadership, moved by their concern for minority language speakers rooted in completely oral traditions, felt a deep desire to ensure that Scripture reaches them. This heartfelt commitment led them to join hands with respected Bible translation partners to devise effective strategies.

Simultaneously, a student at Dallas International University was delving into the topic of Bible translation for oral cultures as part of her thesis. Her findings offered valuable insights for recording Scripture in languages devoid of written texts.

The thesis introduced an intriguing concept: non-readers could translate from an audible reference language using gestures and visual aids. Guided by experts in Bible and language translation, community members could internalize Scripture and produce accurate, natural-sounding passages in their heart language.

Faith Comes By Hearing reached out to the thesis author and engaged in further study, which led to practical discussions with their partners on methodology. This collaborative effort gave rise to an operational structure and a mechanism for OBT.

“Render,” an OBT Software

In 2015, Faith Comes By Hearing, in collaboration with Seed Company and Pioneer Bible Translators, developed user-friendly software called “Render” to facilitate OBT. Render’s icon-based interface empowered language communities to engage in translation, eliminating the need for literacy or technical expertise. Loaded with Scripture in the reference language, Render enabled oral communities to listen, translate, and record Bible passages. It also streamlined the review and approval process by professionals in Bible and language translation.

Through experimental OBT teams in Uganda and Indonesia, Render underwent refinement over the following two years. The inaugural project was launched in 2017, granting half a million minority language speakers in Brazil access to God’s Word.

Immediate Access to Scripture

The impact of OBT was swift, as it swiftly introduced more language communities to the Scriptures. With Render’s built-in review and correction features, approved portions of the Bible were shared in villages almost immediately. This dynamic approach brought the Bible to life for project teams, leading to emotional and spiritual connections as they internalized and translated the Scriptures.

In Indonesia, four men from an oral community undertook the translation of Luke’s Gospel. As they delved into the description of Christ’s suffering before His crucifixion, their team leader expounded, “Jesus wasn’t just distressed due to His impending physical suffering; He bore the weight of the world’s sins and faced separation from His Father.” The realization of Christ’s profound pain moved the men to tears. One of them finally spoke, saying, “We must translate so that others can comprehend.”

One Hundred Languages and Counting

The wave of success surrounding OBT rapidly established it as a pivotal method in the realm of Bible translation. Within a few years of the inaugural project in Brazil, a hundred oral people groups gained access to God’s Word through OBT.

From 2017 to 2019, OBT summits brought together strategic leaders, influencers, and practitioners to address future needs and collaborate on solutions. Regional initiatives were born to train and equip leaders in the field.

Identifying approximately 2,100 distinct languages lacking Scripture and ongoing translation efforts, the Bible translation community recognized the vital role of OBT. Leaders in the Great Commission initiatives believed that two-thirds of the remaining Bible translation requirements worldwide could only be met through OBT strategies.

OBT and Vision 2033

OBT aligns Faith Comes By Hearing with their Vision 2033 objective: to record Scripture in every language requiring it by 2033. This ambitious goal necessitates partnership and support. The director of Faith Comes By Hearing’s OBT initiative envisions a future where more minority language communities can access the benefits of OBT and partake in Bible translation. Through OBT, even the most remote language groups gain access to God’s Word, and the responsibility of translating Scripture is entrusted to those who hunger to hear it in their language.

OBT remains the focal point of attention in the realm of Bible translation. The demand for projects is high. Evidently, God is stirring the hearts of people in oral cultures across the globe to receive His truth and draw closer to Him.

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