5.6 billion people now have access to the full Bible in their language, yet more than half of the world’s languages still have no Scripture at all. This is the encouraging and challenging overview of the Bible translation landscape at the start of 2019.
Of the 7,350 languages in the world, the full Bible is now available in 692 languages used by 5.6 billion people. That means around 1.5 billion people do not have the full Bible in their language. However, 1,547 languages used by 805 million people have the New Testament, and shorter portions of Scripture are available in a further 1,123 languages used by 411 million people. That leaves 3,988 languages used by 246 million people without any Scripture.
Nine1 of the languages which received full Bible translations for the first time in 2018 were completed by United Bible Societies (UBS), which places high value on the translation of the full Bible. Together, the nearly 150 Bible Societies which make up UBS have provided just under three quarters of the world’s full Bible translations.
Translations launched by Bible Societies in 2018
In 2018, working closely with churches and partner organisations, Bible Societies continued to make a significant contribution to the global Bible translation landscape, completing Scripture translations in 66 languages used by 440 million people.
44 of those languages, used by over 77 million people, received ‘first’ translations: 9 communities welcomed their first full Bible and 15 got their first New Testament. 20 language groups received their first, or additional, portions of Scripture.
In Eritrea, Letensea, 42, celebrated with thousands of others at the launch of the very first New Testament in their language, Blin. “Today, I have received food that can fill us up more than anything in the world: this new Scripture speaks to our hearts!” she exclaimed.
After the celebration, copies of the new Scripture were loaded onto camels to take to villages and churches in remote areas.
Bible Societies also published new or revised translations for 22 languages used by 363 million people that already have some Scripture, including completion of five full Bibles. These fresh translations will help to ensure that new generations are able to understand and engage with Scripture.
The dedication of the revised Havakinau New Testament in Vanuatu was an emotional moment for a community facing a very challenging time. Volcanic eruptions on their home island of Ambae last year led to their urgent evacuation to other islands, and delayed the launch and distribution of the long-awaited New Testament. Many may not ever be able to return home because the volcano could remain active for the foreseeable future.
People wept as they listened to the new Scripture being read out loud, and they sang and danced as they held their New Testaments and prayed for their future. The revision will help people engage more deeply with the Scripture text, which will help their faith to grow, noted Kathleen Lingi, one of the translators.
Incredible growth of the Digital Bible Library®
The incredible growth of the Digital Bible Library® (DBL) is the result of closer collaboration in recent years between Bible agencies and donors. Set up in 2011, in partnership with the Every Tribe Every Nation alliance (ETEN), it is a repository of digitised Scripture translations by UBS and other Bible translation agencies, which enables standardised storage and more efficient sharing of Scripture. This enables hundreds of millions of people to access the Bible in their own language, no matter where in the world they live, through websites and apps such as Global.Bible and YouVersion.
By the end of 2018, it securely hosted 2,120 texts in 1,430 languages used by 5.5 billion people, including 799 full Bibles in 440 languages. Over 75% of the full Bible texts in DBL are provided by UBS.
The number of audio Scriptures grew to 1,125 in 752 languages spoken by 5.4 billion people. The very first video translation was also uploaded – Mark’s Gospel in Thai Sign Language – and this is an area that is expected to grow in coming years.