The Bible has led the best-seller list since its release. Someone has always wanted it and has, at times, been willing to pay a very dear price for it. It is said that a hand-written copy of the Wycliffe Bible cost the equivalent of a year’s labor! Can you imagine anyone spending $60,000 for a Bible today? Throughout the world, people without a Bible vastly outnumber those who have it. You may have three or four Bibles! There may be more Bibles in your house than in some entire cities!
There are multitudes who have not even a verse of the Bible simply because no one has ever translated it into their language. The number of speakers may be ten thousand or ten million, but nobody quotes John 3:16 in it! Languages have diversified since the tower of Babel until today they number 7,100. No one has paid the price—admittedly a high price every time—to put God’s Word into approximately 4,000, or 56%, of these tongues. Someone must translate it for them. Why have the hundreds of thousands of gospel-preaching churches in the world not produced 4,000 Bible translators to accomplish this task? Perhaps these churches have never been informed of the need or challenged to meet it. Oh, but this ignorance and lack of concern could not possibly exist in the fundamental, Bible-believing, missionary-minded churches of America, could it? Let’s find out. With your pastor’s permission, take a survey of church members and ask how many languages are spoken today and how many of these languages have at least some part of the Bible. Ask how often they pray for laborers for the unreached, Bibleless people groups of the world. To further test your church’s concern level for Bibleless people groups, check to see how many of your missionaries are in some way involved in Bible translation or what percentage of the mission budget goes to Bible translation. To further prove the pathetic priority level given to Bible translation in our circles, contact every fundamental Baptist college you know and ask them if they have courses in linguistics and Bible translation. Either we change the way we do missions, or 56% of the world’s language groups will live and die without the Bible and the salvation it offers.
Another category of Bibleless people are those with languages that have small portions of scripture and a work in progress. Workers involved in the translation know that such a thing as a Bible exists, but the group, as a whole, knows nothing of it. The people do not, for the most part, have God’s Word, but they have hope of getting it. Unfortunately, (in our opinion) most of this work in progress is being done by people translating from the Critical Text using a method known as dynamic equivalence. The result is usually a paraphrase more like the Living Bible than a formal translation such as our Authorized Version. Let’s pray that more works will be established by Bible-believing missionary/translators using the correct text and method and an adequate number of trained native helpers.
Some languages have a well-translated Bible, perhaps translated two hundred years ago. However, it is not in use and is probably out of print. The language may have changed so drastically that the grammar, vocabulary, and orthography would not be recognized or accepted by its speakers today. The people may not even know of its existence. These are also Bibleless people. However, they are not completely hopeless. Someone could learn this language in its modern form, and using this antiquated Bible as a basis, produce a good, usable revision. Not everyone can endure the hardships of pioneer Bible translation work, but surely someone could handle a project such as this. Can the Lord find ten righteous people out of ten thousand Independent Baptist churches to go after ten such languages?
There is another very large group of people living and dying without the Bible, but they do not have to. Their languages have the Scriptures, but they don’t. Many of them don’t know what a Bible is or understand why they need one. There is likely no where to buy a Bible, even if they could afford it. Theoretically, there is hope for these people; practically, they are not much better off than the native who speaks an unwritten language with no Scripture. If, however, someone would pass by their houses, distributing Scriptures, they would no longer be Bibleless. Around 1970, God began raising up local church Bible publishing ministries. Missionary representatives raise funds from churches to purchase paper and equipment to print Scripture portions. Missionary printers put God’s Word on the paper—whole Bibles, New Testaments, or John-Romans booklets. If the ministry has sophisticated equipment, it binds, trims, and boxes these portions. Otherwise, this work is done by volunteers. The cost of supplies is great, as is the cost of shipping the Scriptures to the foreign field. On the field, there must be a like-minded man who is willing to receive and distribute them. The portions are free, and most people, even many Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Communists, Catholics, etc., would gladly receive a Scripture portion. These portions must be smuggled into some places, but the honorable ministry of Bible smuggling has been practiced for centuries. (It would be wonderful if there were someone in every place to teach these scriptures; hundreds of thousands of workers are needed.) Local church Bible publishing is a wonderful ministry in which many churches can cooperate. Unfortunately, this work is being done in a very small number of languages. With enough men and money, this could change.
Yes, most of the 7.5 billion souls on this planet are living and dying without the written Word of God, and it is not God’s will (1 Timothy 2:4)! The question is whether you and I are personally doing something about it. Could you live among a remote tribe in Indonesia, learn the language, reduce it to writing, and then get a Bible translation work in progress? Could you learn a new language and then guide a group of workers in revising an archaic Bible? Could you put your time and resources into a local church Bible ministry and raise funds for paper or join a group that is distributing Scripture portions on the streets of a foreign country? Wouldn’t you like to go to Heaven knowing that you put the world’s most precious treasure in the hands of a Bibleless soul?