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Blog / Wycliffe Associates—Helping to Translate the Bible Where Persecution of Christians Is Severe: An Interview with Bruce Smith

Wycliffe Associates—Helping to Translate the Bible Where Persecution of Christians Is Severe: An Interview with Bruce Smith

Bruce SmithThe hard work of Scripture translation has been ongoing for more than 2,000 years. Translation is the communication of the meaning of a source-language text into a target-language text. As anyone who speaks more than one language knows, it takes perseverance and dedication to become so fluent that the original meaning is not lost in translation.

Bible Gateway interviewed Bruce Smith, president & CEO, about the work of Wycliffe Associates (@WycliffeAssoc) in the midst of Christian persecution.

Explain the work of Wycliffe Associates and how it differs from Wycliffe Bible Translators.Click to visit Wycliffe Associates website

Bruce Smith: Wycliffe Associates accelerates Bible translation by freely providing open-license biblical resources, innovative training, and technical resources to serve local churches as stewards of God’s Word in their language. We see local churches as God’s instruments for spiritual impact in their communities—including Bible translation. Wycliffe Associates supports only Bible translations that use literal common language terms for Father and Son of God.

You announced the launch over the course of 30 days of at least 10 new Bible translation projects where persecution of Christians is severe. Are these projects now underway? And why are you concentrating your efforts in these dangerous areas?

Bruce Smith: These projects are now underway. All of Wycliffe Associates’ support for Bible translation is in response to requests from local churches. The churches in these dangerous areas are thirsty for God’s Word and are ready, willing, and able to face the challenges in their arena in order to get Scripture to their people. They are unwilling for another generation to die without hope; without understanding the eternal salvation of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for them. Our response is in response to their urgency.

Browse resources in the Bible Gateway Store on the subject of Christian persecution.
Also see our Blog posts, I Am N: An Interview with Cole Richards and Jason Peters
International Day(s) of Prayer for the Persecuted Church and
Bible Translation Organizations

Click to enlarge Scripture & Language Statistics 2015

Explain what MAST (Mobilized Assistance Supporting Translation) is.

Bruce Smith: MAST is an innovative Bible translation method that enables the local church to draft and quality-check scriptures in a very short time period. It developed from educational and language-learning principles applied with local Christians working in Bible translation. Traditional Bible translations typically involve a few people working for many years, while MAST involves many people working for just weeks or months. Church leaders, elders, and community members work together as a team to quality-check scriptures immediately as they’re drafted. The pace of translation progress in MAST is primarily a function of the number of church translators involved in the process. Small translation teams using MAST are drafting and checking the entire New Testament in about one year. Larger translation teams using MAST have reduced the time required to months or even weeks.

Why has it become controversial?

Bruce Smith: Many New Testaments translated by foreign missionaries have required more than 25 years to complete. In recent years some New Testament translations have been accomplished in around 10 years by relying on local translators who already know the language and culture. These translations are typically based on a linguistic research model that significantly lengthens the timeline. MAST is controversial because it recognizes the authority and ability of the local church to steward God’s Word for themselves, and it enables churches to accomplish in weeks or months what required foreigners years or decades to accomplish.

Click to enlarge 2015 map of the number of languages needing Bible translation where no program is in place

What does it mean to be a Mother Tongue Translator?

Bruce Smith: A mother-tongue translator translates Scripture from an existing Bible translation into the language he or she spoke first as a child. Other-tongue translators translate from a Bible translation in their own first language into a language they are just beginning to learn.

What does it mean to “translate the books of the Bible in parallel”?

Bruce Smith: Traditional Bible translation engages a few translators working through the verse, passage, book, and Testament in series. They all work on the same verse together, one at a time. The MAST method has translators working simultaneously, in parallel, on different passages. While one translator is working on Matthew chapters 1-9 other translators on the team will be working on Matthew chapters 10-18 and 19-27. With larger translation teams while some groups are working on the Gospels others are working on Paul’s epistles, John’s books, and other New Testament books.

How do you respond to those who say this method results in major inconsistencies in style and terminology?

Bruce Smith: Experience is showing that MAST actually improves consistency in terminology because a much broader cross-section of the church and community are involved in the translation.

Why is speed of Bible translation so important?

Bruce Smith: In the words of one national church leader, “While translation gurus, agencies, and theologians argue about who is wrong and right, millions of people in the global south are perishing and walking straight into hell because they’re yet to read, know, and make the decision to receive Jesus Christ as their personal savior, Lord, and be his disciples.”

Wycliffe Associates Achievements
Currently Accelerating the work of Bible translation in 75 countries

In 2015 mobilized 6,279 volunteer and staff members to advance the cause of Bible translation throughout the world in 75 countries

Installed 509 Bible Translation Acceleration Kits (BTAKs) in 46 countries for 806 language communities since started installing BTAKs

103 new translation projects started using Mobilized Assistance Supporting Translation (MAST) workshops since WA started using MAST

Improved hundreds of facilities for Bible translation around the world

How can MAST guarantee Bible translation accuracy if Mother Tongue Translators are not fluent in the biblical languages of Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic?

Bruce Smith: During the past century most Bible translations into minority languages have depended heavily upon Bible translations from majority languages. In this regard MAST begins with the same starting point. Consistency with the original biblical languages is included in the MAST quality-checking process as church leaders, seminary graduates and professors, and denominational authorities are engaged in the checking process.

What is the Wycliffe Global Alliance (WGA) and why didn’t Wycliffe Associates renew its affiliation with it?

Bruce Smith: The Wycliffe Global Alliance is an alliance of organizations that subscribe to the WGA philosophy of Bible translation and partnership principles. Recent changes to the WGA partnership agreement reduced our ability to assure that we do not support Bible translations that use alternative terms for Father and Son of God. For this reason Wycliffe Associates chose not to renew our affiliation with the WGA.

Does that also mean Wycliffe Bible Translators is no longer affiliated with Wycliffe Global Alliance?

Bruce Smith: Information on organizations affiliated with the Wycliffe Global Alliance is available online.

Why is the literal translation of “Father” and “Son of God” not negotiable for you?

Bruce Smith: Wycliffe Associates believes that these literal terms are essential to understanding the trinity. Literal father and son terms exist in every language worldwide, were used by the originally inspired authors of Scripture, and are used by evangelical and orthodox church authorities in all widely accepted Scripture translations.

How does no longer being affiliated with WGA affect WA?

Bruce Smith: Wycliffe Associates remains committed to working in partnership with all WGA partners, and local church partners, that are committed to using literal common language terms for Father and Son of God. This includes the vast majority of all Christian churches and ministries worldwide.

Language/Translation Facts:
Languages currently spoken in the world: 6,887

Languages that need a Bible translation project started: 3,287

Languages that have Scripture: 2,932; of these, 554 have an adequate Bible, 1,333 have an adequate New Testament, and 1,045 have at least one book of the Bible

Total number of languages in which Bible translation is in progress: 2,267

What can the average Christian do to encourage the work of Bible translation?

Bruce Smith: Every Christian can pray, give, or go. Bible translation is part of the spiritual warfare of our lifetimes. Prayer is an essential and integral part of this work. Everyone can pray. Financial resources to support Bible translation come from Christians who choose to prioritize it in their stewardship. God owns “the cattle on a thousand hills,” but he puts some of these in our pastures and gives us responsibility for their stewardship. Everyone can give.

God has also equipped his people with tremendously valuable skills and experience to serve his church. Churches globally are asking for our assistance as they take responsibility for Bible translation. Wycliffe Associates has numerous service opportunities for Christians interested in serving the church. Just give us a call!

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?

Bruce Smith: Bible Gateway is a tremendous online compilation of English-language biblical resources. These are a huge blessing to the online English-speaking community. How can we partner in increasing online and offline biblical resources for non-English speaking communities?

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Bruce Smith: Thanks for the opportunity to elaborate on how God is moving in new ways to speed his Word to the nations!

Bio: As President and CEO of Wycliffe Associates, Dr. Bruce A. Smith has made it his life-long goal to reach as many people as possible with the Gospel through the ministry of Bible translation—affecting hundreds of language groups who still need the Bible translated into their heart language. Bruce and his wife Jan have two daughters, two sons-in-love, and are the proud grandparents of four grandsons.

Filed under Bible, Bible News, Translations