A Shelf Full of Bibles: Translation by the Numbers

February 22, 2019

This morning, I picked one of my eight Bibles off my shelf to read.  One of them is for church, another for study, and one I bought because I liked its red cover.  And then the others are just there.

I have more Bibles on my shelf than most people and the majority of the world’s languages, and here are the numbers to prove it.

There are 7.6 billion people alive today.1 China and India are the two countries with the largest population in the world, and they have approximately 1.4 billion unreached people between just the two of them.2

 

There are 1.5 billion people in the world today who do not have access to a complete Bible in their heart language. Most have only the New Testament; others have selected portions or stories from the Bible in their language.3

 

There are currently 250 million people without a verse of the Bible in their language.4 These people await translators who will come into their people groups, learn their language, often create and teach the people a written language, and then translate the Bible into that written language.

 


The world has 7,361 living languages today. Asia has the most languages spoken, with 2,301; Africa follows closely, with 2,138.5

 

683 is the number of languages that have a complete Bible. This is just under 10% of the world’s languages.

 

The role of translation consultants is essential to the process of Bible translation – and there are only 284 of them. When a committee has finished a draft of translation, they cannot publish it until a consultant approves the quality and accuracy of their work. Because of the low number of translation consultants, there are many translations that are waiting to be checked.

 


There are (at least) 100 English translations of the Bible in print today.6 The struggle for the English speaker is not finding a Bible, but choosing which translation to read.

 

The average length it takes to translate the Bible is 15.79 years, but the process can take up to 30 years or even longer. Why does it take so long?  Translating the Bible involves national support, language acquisition, cultural understanding, often the development and teaching of a written language, the translation of the entire Bible, and having each portion of the Bible checked and approved by a consultant.7

 

Only 14% of American adults read their Bible daily, and about 1 in 5 Americans has ever read it from cover to cover.8

 

How many Bibles do you have at home? The average American household has 3 Bibles.  What would happen to our nation if these Bibles were picked up and read?

 

We each have one life to live for our Lord.  How can you use your gifts, passions, and time to help the nations know and worship Christ?

 

Notes

1 “World Population,” Worldometers.  http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/

2 “Countries,” Joshua Project.  https://joshuaproject.net/countries/

3 “Scripture and Language Statistics 2018,” Wycliffe Global Alliance. http://www.wycliffe.net/statistics

4 “Our Impact,” Wycliffe. https://www.wycliffe.org.uk/about/our-impact/

5 “The world’s languages, in seven maps and charts,” Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/the-worlds-languages-in-seven-maps-and-charts-a6791871.html

6 “Why are There so Many Versions of the Bible in English,” Bible. https://get.bible/blog/post/why-are-there-so-many-versions-of-the-bible-in-english

7 Matthias Gerner, “Why Worldwide Bible Translation Grows Exponentially,” Journal of Religious History, (2017): 17.

8 “Research,” Lifeway. https://lifewayresearch.com/2017/04/25/lifeway-research-americans-are-fond-of-the-bible-dont-actually-read-it/


J. Jack Smith avatar
J. Jack Smith is a current M.Div. student at The Master's Seminary and assists Dr. Shryock at the Tyndale Center for Bible Translation.

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