Bible group illumiNations Alliance has just launched what is being touted as the “world’s largest translation effort”—a campaign to translate the Bible into every language in the next 12 years.
One billion people still don’t have access to a Bible in their own language, according to illumiNations. These people speak more than half of the world’s 7,000+ languages.
But illumiNations aims to change that. If successful, the “Translating the Bible for All” campaign will result in a Bible in every language in the world by 2033.
The campaign set the date at 2033 because it was a significant date in the history of the church, said John Chestnut, CEO and President of Wycliffe Bible Translators, a major partner of illumiNations. It’s the 2000-year anniversary of Jesus’s resurrection.
IllumiNations is a fundraising branch of the Bible translation group, Every Tribe Every Nation and doesn’t translate Bibles itself. Instead, it raises and distributes funds to Bible translators, like Wycliffe Bible Translators. All funds given to illumiNations by individual donors and churches for the Translating the Bible campaign will go to partner agencies for Bible translation projects, said Wycliffe’s John Chestnut.
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Some have questioned whether it makes sense to translate the Bible into every language, since most all people speak one of the languages in which the Bible is currently available. Plus, about 90% of the world’s smallest languages are likely to disappear in the next century, according to The Language Conservancy.
Yet Chestnut said: “We reject the idea that some don’t deserve access to Scripture in the language they know best. All human beings, no matter the size of their language group, deserve access to the Word of God in the language they understand best. There is no asterisk on the Great Commission that exempts groups that are small or hard to get to.”
Video testimonies on illumiNations website show the impact Bible translations have on the lives of Christians.
“Before my mother died, I was able to read her Psalm 139 in Yupik,” said Walkie, an Alaskan Yupik speaker. “And she said, ‘Oh! So that is what it means to us!’”
“Reading the Bible in Choctaw, it takes on a completely new meaning,” Choctaw speaker Elsie said to the project. “You become fully aware of the Bible’s message. You understand it on a deeper level, and you can feel your connection with God.”
Before the 1980s, it took up to 30 years to complete a translation, according to the American Bible Society (ABS). But due to computers, the time it takes to translate was cut to about three years in 2010.
The ambitious goal of a Bible in every language by 2033 relies on technological innovations that have massively increased the speed of Bible translation.
These advances have helped keep Bible translation continue despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Chestnut said. He added that digital infrastructure and support from local churches have proven crucial. Still, the pandemic has set back translation efforts in parts of the world with bad Internet access.
Most of the people without a Bible in their own language live in Asia and Africa, according to the illumiNations website. Many of them are Christians, but have never had the opportunity to read the Bible.
“While it’s difficult to put a price tag on life transformation, illumiNations wants to help investors understand the monumental task of making God’s Word available to all people,” the group’s website reads.
Bible translation costs can vary, but usually cost about $35 per verse. In a complete Bible, there are 31,102 verses, which costs a little over $1 million to translate.
Christians have enthusiastically helped translation projects so far. One women’s conference raised over $1.6 million toward one Bible translation for an Ethiopian language and another language spoken in another country where churches meet in secret.
Jackson Elliott is a Christian journalist trained at Northwestern University. He has worked at The Daily Signal, The Inlander, and The Christian Post, covering topics ranging from D.C. politics to prison ministry. His interests include the Bible, philosophy, theology, Russian literature, and Irish music.