King Ahasuerus had an important message that he wanted sent to every person in his vast kingdom. “For he sent letters into all the king’s provinces, into every province according to the writing thereof, and to every people after their language, that every man should bear rule in his own house, and that it should be published according to the language of every people” (Esther 1:22). The King of kings has an even more important message, one that He wants to reach “…every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;” (Rev. 5:9). He has committed that message to you and me—how are we doing at putting it in the writing and language of every people? I believe that we can learn some good lessons from a pagan king.
This Persian king had one hundred twenty-seven provinces that covered a vast area from India to Ethiopia (Esther 8:9). This must have included hundreds of different languages. It was important to the king to communicate a message to every soul in his world. The principle of communication places the burden of the message on the speaker more than on the hearer. Ahasuerus did not say, “If they want to hear the message, let them learn my language.” He said, “Put it in the writing (orthography) and language of every people group.” Would to God we cared that much about the gospel of Christ! We accomplish what we deem important; and we get what we want. When we wanted Baptist colleges, we got them. When we wanted Christian day schools, we trained the teachers and made the sacrifices to start the schools. Some even went to jail for this cause. To prove that we don’t care much about Bibleless people groups I ask, “How many of our Baptist colleges train linguists and Bible translators?”
The Persians had trained scribes (translators) ready to convert the words of the king into the speech of every person in the kingdom (Esther 8:9). This is the principle of equality. Dr. D.M. Fraser, the founder of the Bearing Precious Seed ministry, taught us that the commandment to love thy neighbor means that if I have a Bible, I should do what is necessary to see that my neighbor has one, too. Christ also believes in this equal access to the message of salvation. He said to go to all nations and to every creature. Brother Fraser also taught us that our doctrine is what we do, not just what we profess to believe. If that is true, there are a lot of us who, based on our praying, giving, and going, hold the doctrine of inequality. We give the Word of God to those who speak English and a few other major trade languages.
The king spoke the decree and wrote it in his language. This was the original. It was authentic and authoritative. But what about the many translations of this message? Were they inferior in any way? I think not. No doubt they were correct, formal translations of the original. The original words were correctly put into the grammatical and syntactical structure of each language, and the result was that each translation said what the king had breathed out. Surely each translation was checked to insure that the message received matched the original message without any addition, subtraction, or change; and that the translated message was clear to each group. I cannot imagine that anyone received a paraphrase or explanation of what the message meant. They were sure that what they held in their hands were the king’s words written in their language. No one said, “This is just a translation. I want to read it in the original Persian.” The translation was just as authentic as the original and carried the very same authority.
As things stand right now, we Baptists have been put to shame by a hot-tempered, unsaved, pagan king. Let’s learn from this Persian monarch: Everyone in the kingdom needs to read the words in his own language. This vital work of translation must be done by trained, competent people who know three things: 1) the source language and culture, 2) the receptor language and culture, and 3) sound principles of translation and communication.
Notice that the king was not concerned about the cost of this project. If our Baptist churches were to get serious about obeying the will of our King and give His word to the thousands of language groups that sit in total darkness, the cost would be in the millions. But money is not the problem; we always have money for the things that are important to us. The real price will be paid in the blood, sweat, and tears of Baptist missionaries. “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few” (Matthew 9:37).
Baptist Bible Translators Institute is a specialized school in Bowie, Texas, that for thirty-six years has dedicated itself to prepare Baptist missionaries to learn new tongues, reduce them to writing, and translate the Scriptures.