My visit to the Belfast offices of the Wycliffe Bible Translators revealed that there are many people, from many nations, who are fully committed to the task of translating the Bible into the mother tongue of millions of people in our world. Their strap line is “The Bible: the Story everybody needs”, and they are enthusiastic about bringing that story to everyone.
There are around 6,900 languages in use in the world today. Of these, almost 2,500 have part or all of the Bible available to them. But that still leaves a massive number of people waiting to hear God’s Word in their own language. Translation still needs to begin in over 2,200 languages, and those languages represent more than 300 million people. And Wycliffe have set themselves the audacious goal of preparing a Bible translation in every language that needs it by 2025.
Wycliffe Bible Translators take their name from John Wycliffe (mid-1320s – 31 December 1384) who was an English theologian, lay preacher, and university teacher during the 14th century. Wycliffe was also an early advocate for translation of the Bible into the common tongue. He completed his translation directly from the Vulgate into vernacular English in 1382. It is probable that he personally translated the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; and it is also possible that he translated the entire New Testament, while his associates translated the Old Testament. Additional updated versions of the Bible were completed by Wycliffe’s assistant, John Purvey and others in 1388 and 1395.
What made my visit to Wycliffe Bible Translators so energising and interesting was the way the Wycliffe members understand the Bible as story. The Bible is full of stories.
“There once was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job.” Job 1:1
“Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus.” Luke 2:1
“There came a man sent from God whose name was John.” John 1:6
“Jesus said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among robbers.”” Luke 10:30
In the Bible, God is telling the world a story. It is a story that begins in eternity past and stretches into eternity future. It came to a great climax two thousand years ago when God entered into his creation in a new way.
As human beings we love stories. We are born into stories; we are raised in stories; and we live and die in stories. And when we have to answer big questions in life like “Who am I? What should I do? Why am I here? What happens to me when I die”, we often reflect on a story. The foundational story is God’s love for his creation and how he is bringing it to shalom, to peace, harmony, health and wholeness.
One of the best ways of thinking about the Christian faith, and of what it means to live a life of faith, is to think of it as a story in which we are characters. Our task and calling in life could be understood as being a character in the greatest story ever told. It is what we were created for.
By telling this great Story in a language that people can understand, Wycliffe Bible Translators are not only contributing to the advancement of Christ’s kingdom across the world, but they are also reminding us, who have had a copy of the Story Book in our native language for many centuries, that we still need to hear the Story and find our place in it.