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Luther’s translation of the Bible into German spurred on Bible translation in Europe, especially in French, Dutch and English.

Following my post yesterday, I want to flag up what Wycliffe Bible Translators UK and Ireland have blogged about Luther and his impact on Bible translation.

 

Martin Luther (b. November 10, 1483 – d. February 18, 1546), is most famous for nailing his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg – 500 years ago this year – which many people cite as the primary starting point of the Reformation.

Yet Luther’s later work translating the Bible was also fundamental to the Reformation.

Luther loved the Bible but knew that, at the time, the Bible was not accessible to everyone. So he concluded that a new translation, in the common language of the German people was necessary.

His focus as he worked on the translation was to enable the ‘tailors and shoemakers, yea, even women and ignorant persons’ to be able to read God’s word for themselves. Indeed, he was so committed to the ordinariness of the language in the translation, he would take trips into local towns and villages to listen to the way people spoke.

Luther’s translation marked a shift in the church’s approach to the Bible, as Philip Schaff notes:

“The Bible ceased to be a foreign book in a foreign tongue, and became far more clear and dear to the common people. Hereafter the Reformation depended no longer on the works of the Reformers, but on the book of God, which everybody could read for himself as his daily guide in spiritual life.”

It spurred on Bible translation in Europe, especially in French, Dutch and English.

The Bible translation work of people like Luther and Tyndale were crucial in enabling people in many countries to read the Bible in their own languages, not to mention the spread of education and literacy.

Yet now over 1.5 billion people – more than the entire world population when Luther was alive – still do not have the Bible in the language they speak and understand best. Wycliffe Bible Translators is working so that all peoples around the world can engage with the Bible in the language they most understand.

Wycliffe is using messages like the one below to point out the continuing need for Bible translation – click on the image to find out more about #endbiblepoverty today

Go to the Wycliffe UK Blog and read some great stories  – and to the Wycliffe website to watch some videos – about the impact of Bible translation 500 years after Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg church door.

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Today marks the 500th anniversary of what is said to be the start of The Reformation – the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenburg.

So much has been written about this in recent days and weeks.

From just one source Christianity Today I found these headlines:

Martin Luther: Passionate reformer

Changing the Tempo of Worship: For a thousand years of Christian worship, lay people had rarely sung. Then came Luther.

Unstoppable: Even as a sick man, Martin Luther accomplished more than most healthy people.

The Bible Translation That Rocked the World: Luther’s Bible introduced mass media, unified a nation, and set the standard for future translations.

This third one goes on to say:

Martin Luther was many things: preacher, teacher, orator, translator, theologian, composer, and family man. He came to symbolize everything the Protestant Reformation stood for.

But perhaps Luther’s greatest achievement was the German Bible. No other work has had as strong an impact on a nation’s development and heritage as has this Book.

In Luther’s time, the German language consisted of several regional dialects (all similar to the tongue spoken in the courts of the Hapsburg and Luxemburg emperors). How were these scattered dialects united into one modern language? The rise of the middle class, the growth of trade, and the invention of the printing press all played a part. But the key factor was Luther’s Bible.

But my final headline is even more dramatic, more far reaching than the impact on Germany:

The Most Dangerous Thing Luther Did: And other facts about Bible translation that transformed the world.

Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible into German

It’s worth reading this whole article but here are a few extracts…

At the very beginning of the Reformation, the principal Bible available was the Latin Vulgate, the Bible Jerome had originally produced in Latin in A.D. 380… The Bible was not a book the general public was familiar with. It was not a book most individuals or families could own. There were pulpit Bibles usually chained to the pulpit; there were manuscripts of Bibles in monasteries; there were Bibles owned by kings and the socially elite. But the Bible was not a book possessed by many.

Furthermore, it was rare to find a Bible in the language of the people.

Then the story is widened to translations of the Bible in other languages, like English – and pays a fitting tribute to my early Bible translation hero William Tyndale…

Perhaps the most poignant tale of this era is that of William Tyndale. Tyndale lived from 1494–1536 and was martyred for translating the Bible into English. Tyndale, like Luther, translated directly from the Hebrew and the Greek… He actually only finished the New Testament, completing about half of his Old Testament translation before his death. His was the first mass-produced Bible in English.

Tyndale originally sought permission from Bishop Tunstall of London to produce this work but was told that it was forbidden, indeed heretical, and so Tyndale went to the Continent to get the job done. A partial edition was printed in 1525 (just three years after Luther) in Cologne, but spies betrayed Tyndale to the authorities and, ironically, he fled to Worms, the very city where Luther was brought before a diet and tried.

And martyred!

The Bible translation work of people like Luther and Tyndale were crucial in enabling people in many countries to read the Bible in their own languages, not to mention the spread of education and literacy.

And yet today, Wycliffe Bible Translators UK and Ireland are using messages like this to point out the continuing need for Bible translation – click on the image to find out more about #endbiblepoverty today

I have led short term mission trips.

I have coordinated the Wycliffe Bible Translators UK & Ireland short term mission programme.

I have seen short termers become long term with Wycliffe and other organisations.

I know the value of short term mission.

I also know that short term mission trips can be failures and even harmful to the people being visited.

I have organised a debate in my church with the title…

I like to make people think!

So here’s a video entitled The Honest Mission Trip Leader which is

a. very funny

and

b. too close to the truth!

I would love some reactions to the video…

… and if you want to explore good short term opportunities with Wycliffe UK & Ireland, take a look here!

… and I’m just talking about translations of the Bible in English.

English translations of the Bible

The question keeps on popping up.

How many translations of the Bible are there in English?

Answers range from 100 to 450 to 900! I’ve just been Googling, so I have.

Do we need them all? Certainly not!

Why do we have so many? Now, that’s a good question.

Ask the translators who keep on producing so many for us Anglophones. Is someone making some money out of it… but let’s not go there.

Especially when we research the other approx 7,000 languages spoken in the world today and see how many of them have a complete Bible – or a New Testament – or even a single verse of Scripture!

Why not do that research for yourself. I’ll even help you. And I’ll probably blog on this again: the new annual stats should be out soon.

However – 1.5 billion people are still waiting for the Bible in their languages… and us Anglophones, we’re spoilt rotten.

So why this blog at this time? Well, it’s all the fault of The Babylon Bee.

They decided to explain the main differences between popular Bible translations. That was their first mistake – they mentioned only translations of the Bible in English.

Then they said: Have you noticed how many Bible translations are available these days? There are so many to choose from that it can get downright overwhelming. That was their second mistake – they mentioned only translations of the Bible in English.

From then on, it was a very entertaining and satirical review of eight Bible translations – they were all, of course, without exception, translations of the Bible in English.

I thoroughly enjoyed their post, but there was one more mistake. They think that the NIV stands for the Nearly Inspired Version. Well now, everyone where I live knows that it’s really the Northern Ireland Version!

PS Wycliffe Bible Translators UK and Ireland have a new look, a new logo and a new website. Fancy a wee look

 

It was always my intention to become a Guest Bible Scholar after retiring from Wycliffe Bible Translators UK and Ireland on 31 December 2016. The title sounds very grand – Bible Scholar! Never really saw myself as a bible scholar, never mind one in capital letters. But I’ve started!

Paratext screen

Above is a screenshot without which Guest Bible Scholars like myself couldn’t function. It’s a wonderful tool called Paratext. I can see six windows:

  • the passage that I’m working on in an English translation
  • two French translations
  • the Greek / English interlinear
  • some notes written by experienced translators
  • and of course the back translation into French that the translation team in a francophone African country has provided for me to check

I have recently checked 4 New Testament chapters all by myself, passed them on to a second checker – and then they will go to an experienced translation consultant. Hopefully he will give me some encouraging feedback – or sack me!

Why bother? Wouldn’t it be quicker and better if the experienced translation consultant just did it?

Of course it would! If he or she had the time. The problem is that more translation is being done than there are experienced translation consultants to check. There’s a bottleneck in the process… and that’s why I’ve been trained to be an apprentice low level checker of first drafts of translations – with the grand title of Guest Bible Scholar.

Hopefully there will be more blogs about my life as a Guest Bible Scholar…

With colleagues at GBS training August 2016

Postscript: I’m reading a book by Tony Macaulay who grew up in north Belfast in the 1970s during the “Troubles” in N. Ireland, so I am. It’s called “Bread Boy”, so it is. Tony writes in Belfast English, so he does. And that explains the title of this blog, so it does! Have you got that?

#endbiblepoverty

 

Today is International Literacy Day and the 2017 theme is Literacy in a Digital World:

On 8 September, 2017 a global event will be organized at UNESCO’s Headquarters in Paris, with the overall aim to look at what kind of literacy skills people need to navigate increasingly digitally-mediated societies, and to explore effective literacy policies and programmes that can leverage the opportunities that the digital world provides.

Yesterday however my Wycliffe Bible Translators colleague Ed Lauber used a story – Your Language Doesn’t Go Far – about a relatively small Ghanaian language to highlight the crucial importance of literacy in every society.

These are the opening paragraphs…

A Christian from a smaller ethnic group in northern Ghana told me that he told the district pastor of his church that he was enrolled in a literacy class in his language. The pastor responded that what he was doing was useless because he could not go far with his small language. If he traveled even a short distance he would quickly be outside the area where the language is spoken, so it would not serve him any more. According to the pastor, he was leaning a skill with very limited range.

Any psychologist will tell you that a person only learns to read once. It’s just like math – if you learn it in any language, you know it. The skill of reading can be transferred to any language with much less time and effort than learning the skill in the first place. So enrolling in a literacy class in any language will give a person a skill they can use in any other language. Being able to read will go a long way, even if the language won’t. So the pastor was focusing on the wrong thing – language instead of literacy.

In the concluding paragraphs, Ed admits that the pastor was true in one sense, in order to get to the bigger picture…

But the pastor’s point about the language is true. The language is only used in one small part of Ghana which is an even smaller part of the world. The usefulness of a language over large geographic areas is important for commerce, politics, etc. Nevertheless, the pastor has another problem. His own language, while many times larger than the smaller language, is a very small language by world standards. Yet he reads the Bible in his language because people who speak a really important language like English or German came to Ghana and did not think his language too small or trivial to translate the Bible and teach people to read. They did not dismiss his language as one that wouldn’t take people far.

It turns out that people often think that languages smaller than theirs are too small to be worth it but their own language is worth it. An ethnocentric viewpoint like that does not square with God’s own sense of mission. He could have easily dismissed us because being human doesn’t take you far in this universe.

I encourage you to read the whole blog. Thanks, Ed!

And happy International Literacy Day!

Image of the Day

SU WordLive’s image of the day

Two Mondays ago I was reading SU WordLive – as I try to do each day: we were starting Proverbs…

Proverbs 1

 1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:

 2 for attaining wisdom and discipline;
for understanding words of insight;

 3 for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life,
doing what is right and just and fair;

 4 for giving prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young-

 5 let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance-

 6 for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise.

With an introduction like that, why wouldn’t I want to read on? I did. I enjoyed the reading. It was encouraging and inspiring and challenging and full of wisdom – and even I, wise in retirement 🙂 – wanted more.

And I got it from Rev Howard Peskett who retired to Penzance in 2006 with his wife Roz, after doing discipleship and ministry training for 20 years in Singapore and 15 years at Trinity College, Bristol. I always perk up when I see that Howard is one of the contributing commentators on SU WordLive.

Here is what he wrote. I love his style and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. If Howard somehow happens to read this blog: “Thank you, Howard!”

‘Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? And where is the knowledge we have lost in information?’1

I begin by thanking God for Solomon, a wise though flawed king. I also thank God for my father and my mother (perhaps long dead), without whom I would not exist, for whatever wisdom I gained from them and especially if they instructed me in God-fearing love and obedience. As I reflect on the (at least fifteen) wisdom nouns in the prologue (vs 1–7) I wonder how my children and grandchildren (if I have any) or the young people for whom this book was written may gain and practise the qualities described here, especially the most fundamental one: an affectionate and awe-filled regard for and obedience to God’s good laws (v 7). Do I myself know this? Show this? Embody this?!

The father’s first lecture is about avoiding gangs, resisting peer pressure – a key skill for young people (and for older people?!). Which way shall I go? Which house shall I enter? Which voice shall I heed? These questions echo throughout Proverbs: one most fundamental question is ‘How do I know what I know and how do I know it is true?’ The father’s teaching, the mother’s graceful garland seem so much less enticing than the gang, the lots, the loot! Verse 17 notes the obvious truth that no bird flies deliberately into the hunter’s net! In this past century we have seen, in different parts of the world, whole nations stampeding into the arms of tyrants! Do I have the guts, the moral courage to stand against collective lunacy, even when pelted with insults, mud and stones?

The father concludes his warning with a blunt, global (‘all’, v 19) statement: ‘The rippers-off will be ripped off!’ (v 19a, literally). Sin has a boomerang quality (See also Proverbs 26:27; 28:10; Psalm 9:16), though I may not see the payback in my lifetime. If the vindication seems delayed, I wait for it.

Howard Peskett

1 From TS Eliot, Choruses from the Rock

 

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