It was a privilege to have Kyle Davis, founder of Bible Translation Fellowship, come to TMS and engage with students about the present state of Bible translation and the opportunities for them to use their training in this strategic ministry.
Please tell us a little about yourself and Bible Translation Fellowship.
Bible Translation Fellowship (BTF) began when my wife and I were trying to go overseas, and the Lord continued to hinder that. And I found, just incidentally, in my relationships both in the church and in Christian schools, that there was a lot of ignorance about the need for Bible translation.
A couple years ago, for example, a survey was done that found that about 80% of Americans believe the Bible already exists in every language in the world. So, Bible Translation Fellowship started to advocate for the need for churches to pray, to support, to equip, and to raise up more translators.
And second, I found that even in my time in good colleges and seminaries, professors were encouraging students to think about the normal opportunities for ministry—pastoral ministry or missions. If you got further into the biblical languages, professors might encourage students to think about teaching Greek or Hebrew. There really wasn’t much talk about Bible translation.There are a vast amount of translated Scriptures just sitting, waiting for a consultant.
So, we’re also trying to encourage and advocate that people with training in hermeneutics, theology, biblical studies, and biblical languages would serve on translation committees. It doesn’t mean you give up your time in pastoral ministry, but that part of your time would be checking, reviewing, and serving on a translation committee with your skill set.
BTF then exists to try to connect the dots between three areas: first, church planting and strengthening—the ministry of the local church; second, Bible translation, which is often unfortunately disconnected from the ministry of the local church; and third, theological education.
Today we tend to think of Bible translation as a highly specialized role. Could you expand on the connection between Bible translation and the local church that needs to be strengthened?
If you think back to the Protestant Reformation, the people doing translation were pastors and scholars who were also churchmen. They were concerned because the people they were preaching and teaching to didn’t have the Scriptures in a language they could understand. Their concern was for the church, as opposed to merely for the production of a translation.
So historically, there has been more cohesion between the translated product—a New Testament or Bible—and its use in the life and ministry of a local church.
As far as why there’s been this division, I think there are a few reasons. One is the hyper-specialization in our age, which is across every discipline. You become a doctor. What kind? You become a biblical scholar. In what? New Testament or Old Testament? So, in this hyper-specialized age, you have a lack of integration between what the church is doing and how Bible translation fits into that.
But we need cohesion and a clear focus on the long-term goal of a healthy church. If we don’t have this, then we come up with vague goals like “cultural transformation.” How does that actually happen? It just gets very vague if we don’t clearly define the end goal of establishing healthy churches who have God’s Word in their own language.
What is a translation consultant? And what is the present need for them?
Translating the Bible is a lengthy process. And most translators do not start with Greek and Hebrew. They start with English or French, or whatever the language of the country is. So, in Cameroon, for instance, French is a national language. Most translators in Cameroon are not translating directly from Greek and Hebrew, but from French. Towards the end of the process, you have a translation consultant check the work.
The consultant is equipped in Greek or Hebrew and relies on various exegetical helps. At the final stages of the process, consultants check the translation for accuracy and consistency. But there is a significant shortage at the consultant level.
To become an exegetical consultant, it used to be you needed to have translated the whole New Testament into one language, and then you could assist other translations. And then they couldn’t find enough people. So, then it was, you needed to have translated for eight years. Yet there are still not enough qualified people to serve. There is a great need for consultants.
So, there are a vast amount of translated Scriptures just sitting, waiting for a consultant to do this reviewing and checking process. There’s just not enough people.
Kyle Davis is the founder of Bible Translation Fellowship. He has served in various capacities in the church and traveled widely to train pastors. Kyle holds a M.A. in Bible Translation and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Hermeneutics.
If you enjoyed this conversation with Kyle Davis, keep your eye out for part two on our blog!