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10 Reasons to Make Scripture Impact a Priority

This is a response to some recent posts about the importance of Bible translation in fulfilling the Great Commission. Yes, there is much truth in that, but more is needed. It really helps to have Scripture impact (or ‘engagement’) the top priority, the ‘car’ as it were, with translation the engine that sits beneath the bonnet. Not all drivers need to know all the details of the engine, but they need to be able to control the vehicle. The most important thing is to be able to get from A to B (see point 2), rather than knowing how the engine works. These are the ten reasons to make Scripture impact a priority:

  1. To help people flourish in their communities. There are all kinds of needs that need to be met for people to flourish. One is clean water. Another is good sanitation. Peace (lack of war), and freedom of religion. Access to education etc. etc. For a community to truly flourish they also need access to the Scriptures in a language (or languages) that they understand and speak(s) to their hearts. This is why SIL exists in the first place – so that people will flourish in their communities using whatever languages they know best.
  2. The main reason we translate the Bible in the first place is so that lives are transformed. Without that transformation, the translation process is, or can be, a waste of time. Fortunately, lives are often changed whilst the Bible is being translated within the team itself (and this is one of the best reasons for beginning a Bible translation programme). This process needs to be broadened to those outside the team, however, for the impact to reach the community itself. This can be done via a large group of reviewers, comprehension checking of the translation, and through having Scripture impact workers active amongst the community.
  3. Because many communities are primarily oral in their communication preference, it makes sense for the Scriptures to be made available in oral (using ‘storying’ approaches) and audio (recordings) formats. The is a way of providing access to the Scriptures, not only in the language (or languages) that is/are understandable, but also in the appropriate format. Using the appropriate format for the Scriptures is one way of helping it make an impact in their lives. This is often forgotten by translation teams, though the Oral Bible Translation movement is helping to redress the balance. By the way, the phrase ‘Word of God’ refers primarily to a) oral messages from God b) Jesus. The Bible contains the word of God, and explains who the Word of God is. It is the word of God in the sense that it is inspired, but it is also the word of humans. The Bible has a divine-human origin. The apostles, prophets and so on were partners with God.
  4. Many people these days are partially or fully bilingual (or multilingual), so having the Scriptures available in a diglot (two languages at once) can really help them, perhaps in a Bible app if its too expensive to make print versions. If they have had education in a language of wider communication, such as French, English, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese or Russian, they can access the Scriptures in print/app format using that language, and listen to it in their own language.
  5. The choice of Scripture portions is an important one. In some parts of the world the ‘Stories of the Prophets’ has been a popular series, starting with Adam and Noah and ending with Jesus the Messiah. This makes the Scriptures relevant, interesting and impactful for those who have a Muslim background. Whatever the audience’s worldview is, this needs to be taken into consideration as Scripture portions are chosen.
  6. Because many New Testaments have been translated, printed and sit on shelves at the back of one denomination of a church in the language area, not being used. This could be because the key terms were poorly chosen, or the church was not involved enough in the translation process. The key terms chosen should be those that are used and acceptable to local believers. Terms such as ‘baptise’, ‘Lord’, and phrases such as ‘Holy Spirit’ can be hard to translate. If the terms are poorly chosen, the Scriptures will not be acceptable to the audience, and the translation will not be used. It will be no good having one term or phrase used orally, and another in the (print) Bible. For this, those working in Scripture impact need good listening ears, to find out what people are actually saying as they explain the Bible, rather than what we would like them to say. Sometimes the translation is rejected for being too literary, or too colloquial, or having too much implicit information made explicit. Likewise comprehension checking is very important and not a stage to be skipped because it is hard to do and takes time out from translation. This checking process helps get the translation out there in draft format and used and made public amongst the people. Sometimes good distribution processes have not been set up, and the translation ends up in the cupboard belonging to one local church, who do not know what to do with it.
  7. Because the great commission (Matt 28:18-20) does not talk about making the Scriptures available. In fact, it does not mention the Scriptures (except for the word ‘commanded’). The focus is on making disciples. We need to concentrate on disciple-making, not just Scripture production. This is much more than evangelism, it includes helping believers to grow in their faith to the point where they can understand the Bible for themselves, and teach it to others (Deut 6).
  8. In many parts of the world there has not been enough focus on contextualisation of the message. As mentioned above, people have different worldviews, and these need to be taken into consideration. Theological colleges, churches, and so on need to be radically different depending where they are in the world. It was a shock to me to attend a church in Pakistan and see men sitting on one side and women on the other. This is normal practice in some parts of Asia. Likewise the music was very different, and played on local instruments such as the harmonium and tabla. Sometimes local practices can be redeemed i.e. adapted so that they fit in with Bible teaching. Others will be full acceptable as they are, or need to be completed rejected. The Culture Meets Scripture courses can help different audiences make those decisions.
  9. The Holy Spirit works through people. It is no good saying, ‘We translate the Bible, and the Holy Spirit does the rest’ (as some have said), when the Holy Spirit works through local believers and through us. That’s one reason SIL is going through a process of localisation as I write this. It is important to have local believers at the centre of the Scripture impact process. They are the ones who will be looking to the Holy Spirit to help. We (outsiders) can act as catalysts to help the process along, though we will try to leave the decision-making to them. Participatory approaches will help with this, as will using an asset-based approach (see my earlier blog on ABBT).
  10. We do not want to neglect the arts. Think of a Bible app. It might contain audio Scriptures with background music. It will have artwork, and perhaps a border round the edge of the Scriptures contained within it. It might have videos inside it, with acting, and the actors will be wearing costumes. The music might be played on local instruments. The way of reading the Scriptures out loud will be dramatic. All of this means using local arts for the extension of God’s Kingdom. Some churches use many local arts in their services. The writing of local biblically-based songs is an important part of this, but there are many other things to think about, such as which instruments should be used. In the Bible many instruments are used (Ps 150), and they are the same ones used to praise idols (Dan 3:5) i.e. it is not about which instrument you use but what you use it for (whom is being praised).

So, there are many reasons to make Scripture impact a priority. Translation is an important part of what is going on, and as one who was involved in a project for twenty years I know it takes a long time, but part of the reason for it taking so long is the need to involve partners, and get their input, and make sure they are happy with what is going on. It is not about speed of production but transformed lives, and that takes time.

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