Bible Translation – the Basics

Bible translation is a complex process! There are 7 steps that each book, chapter, and verse must undergo in the Bible Translation process:

  • Study the Language
  • Draft
  • Team Check
  • Comprehension Check
  • Consultant Check
  • Print
  • Scripture Engagement

The first step is to study the language. The translation team needs to speak the language in order to communicate with people in the area, and also to translate in the most clear and natural way possible. Sometimes the translator must write an alphabet and develop a spelling system along with learning the language! During this phase, the translator also looks for a mother-tongue speaker who can join the translation team to draft, which is the next step.

After the draft is completed, the team works together to check the translation to make sure that it is biblically accurate. The team then checks the translation with other speakers of the language to make sure that it is clear and natural. These other speakers answer questions about the text to test whether or not it is understandable. The team continues to test, revise, and improve the translation until they are ready for an outside consultant to look at it.

The consultant generally has knowledge of the Biblical languages and is able to check to make sure the underlying meaning of the text is being communicated. When both the team and the consultant feel confident in the translation, it moves to printing.

Usually individual books are printed as they are completed, and the whole New Testament is published later. The work is not done after the Scriptures are printed, however.

The final step is Scripture engagement – teaching people how to use and apply God’s words to their lives, and how to spread the gospel message to their neighbors. When the local community is using Scripture to tell others about Jesus, the translation process is finally complete!

For more information see the 2016 Bible Translation Statistics

Translation Facts:

Current world languages: 7,097

  • Languages with some Scripture: 3,223
    • 636 have a complete Bible
    • 1,442 have the New Testament (and some portions)
    • 1,145 have Scripture portions (one or more books)
  • Active translation/language programs in progress: 2,400
  • Languages needing Bible translation work to begin: 1700-1800 (representing around 160 million people)