It was a privilege to have Kyle Davis, founder of Bible Translation Fellowship, come to TMS and engage with students about Bible translation, a strategic ministry with more opportunities than often realized. If you haven’t already, check out part one of this interview.
How should a Bible student think about the ministry of Bible translation?
The concept of a translator at a desk, doing this kind of monotonous, introverted work—I want to explode that. There are so many different skill sets and gifts that go into the whole process, from what happens at the desk, to reviewing the translation and talking with people in the community and testing it, to the typesetting and printing. There is then the need for somebody with a good voice who can read it and someone to record an audio Bible.
So, if you’re saying, “I don’t think I fit the paradigm,” you need to talk to someone to get a better understanding. For example, you can get a PhD now in Bible translation program management. In this role, you would be the manager of the whole process, which requires people skills, business skills, and administrative skills. That person never touches the translation desk.
So, there are all these other skills and roles that are involved in the translation process, if you don’t think that you can play the role of a translator.
And how should a student begin to prepare for Bible translation work?
It’s highly personal. There is the personal side—what you need in terms of your own development as a Christian. There is also the personality issue. Eight out of ten missionaries quit before their first furlough; most often the reason is team dynamics. There is the academic question. The agency. The team.
Are you even joining a team? If you are the only person going to an unreached people group, then you have to have the entire package: Bible translation, church planting, discipleship, evangelism, training of leaders. But if there is a team you can join, why would you get another degree when you can take what you currently have and get some experience to supplement it? Preparation is very personal; it is not one-size-fits-all.The crying need right now in Bible translation is for theologians and exegetes
I talk to students at Bible colleges and seminaries, and they always will ask, “What organization?” I try to encourage them to shift their focus to, “What team?” I would recommend you find an agency or church that has the end goal in sight—a healthy church. Then if you have the skillset to be the translator on a team, you find a team that needs your skills. Find an evangelist-discipler-pastor, and then join forces (or vice versa). That is an easier question to navigate than, “Which organizations are doing it well?”
Looking forward, what are the needs within Bible translation?
The current statistics are that within the next twenty years, every existing translation will need to be revised. Many translations are outdated or were not done well the first time. Languages are dying and shifting.
The primary need is to train nationals to be translating, revising, and using the Scriptures. A first translation will often be a more functional translation. As the church grows, the people will usually grow to desire a more formal Bible.
But the crying need right now in Bible translation is for theologians and exegetes. And the amount of Greek and Hebrew and hermeneutics that you have when you leave seminary is more than enough to get started. There are literally stacks and stacks of first drafts of Scripture that are waiting for someone like you, who knows Greek and Hebrew and has a theological grid and hermeneutics, to come and check.
You can still serve in pastoral ministry, and yet part of your time can be used both training nationals and helping in the translation process by serving on a committee.
Is there any one book that you especially recommend for Bible translation?
Just one? William Carey by S. Pearce Carey is required reading. Everything on William Tyndale and Adoniram Judson would also be essential.
The Reformed Roots of the English New Testament by Irena Backus traces both Calvin’s and Beza’s influence on the English Bible. Many of the translations in the world use the English Bible, so the contributions of Tyndale, Calvin, and Beza live on through the English translations of the Bible.
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.