Healthy Local Churches Through Bible Translation

22 Minutes

Abstract: In this article, we advocate for the importance of Bible translation as a foundational component of Christian mission work. We begin with a story, followed by a discussion of the importance of Bible translation for healthy local churches, and finish with the steps involved in modern Bible translation projects for minoritized languages.

Keywords: Bible translation, healthy local church, Scripture engagement

Billy’s Story

     Billy served as a missionary to his own people. Foreign missionaries had previously come to his language group, and some churches had been established there, but the Bible was only available in the official language of the country. Billy was one of the fortunate ones of his people group because he had received a relatively good education and could read and write in the official language. He was, therefore, able to read the Bible, and in reading it, he became persuaded that it needed to be translated into his mother tongue as well; that way everyone could read God’s Word and not just the educated wealthy. He felt that if they could all read God’s Word for themselves, they would be protected from false teachings that were infiltrating the churches. So, Billy set to work on translating the New Testament. Unfortunately, word of his work spread to the more influential members of the church community, and they became concerned that such a translation would strip them of their important social status. They convinced the tribal chief to establish a law making it taboo to translate the Bible into the common language. Because of this, Billy had to leave his country in order to continue his translation work.

     In time, Billy translated the New Testament, and pocket-sized copies of it were made. Billy wanted to get these back to his home country and devised a plan for smuggling the small books in. He hid the individual sheets of Scripture between strips of cloth, and in this way, he successfully smuggled in over 3,000 copies of the New Testament. 

     He then began work on the Old Testament and completed the translation of the first five books. By that time, his adversaries were so angered by Billy’s actions that they devised a plan to capture him. They hired someone to go to the country where Billy was in hiding to befriend him and then to betray him. As a result, Billy was captured and put in prison. After about a year in jail, he was tried and convicted of taboo breaking, and was sentenced to be hanged and then burned. Billy’s last words before his death were a prayer to God for the chief of his people. He cried out, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes!”1

     Billy’s prayer was answered about 75 years later, when a new king, King James, commissioned a translation of the Bible from the original languages of Hebrew and Greek into the vulgar language of English. He assembled 54 of the greatest biblical scholars in Great Britain at that time, and in 1611, the King James Version was completed. A review of what those scholars accomplished shows that almost 90 percent of both the New Testament and the first five books of the Old Testament are directly taken from Billy’s own translation from around 1534. Billy, who is better known as William Tyndale, never had the opportunity to see with his own eyes the impact of his work. However, in time, the English became known as “people of the Book” because of their focus on the Bible in the life of a Christian.2

     “Billy” saw the value of God’s Word and was willing to lay down his life to make it available to his people group.

Bible Translation for Healthy Local Churches

     As English speakers, our spiritual health across generations has been transformed by the work of people like William Tyndale, John Wycliffe, and many others who have translated the Bible from the original languages into our mother tongue. Speakers of other languages around the world have also benefited from the sacrificial work of those who translated the Scriptures into their native language.

     Northview Community Church, our home church, is excited about seeing healthy local churches. In fact, this is one of our driving missional goals—to promote healthy local churches across our city, province, country, and around the world. So, what makes a local church a healthy one? According to a Northview podcast from January 9, 2020, entitled “Healthy Churches and Disciples,” a healthy church is one that holds to doctrinal fidelity, has a high view of Scripture, has an outward focus, is open to the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, and is committed to prayer and to worship.3 But there remains a foundational need that must be met if a local church is to be a healthy one: the availability of an accurate translation of God’s Word into a language and in a format that can be clearly understood. The power of God for salvation, sanctification, and perseverance is found in His living Word. 

     The power of God for salvation is found in His living Word. It is there, from Genesis to Revelation, where we see God’s overarching plan for salvation through Jesus Christ revealed. We see Christ’s saving work foreshadowed throughout the Old Testament. We see it when a ram caught in the thicket is provided as a substitution for the life of Isaac (Gen. 22:13). We see it as the blood of a lamb smeared on a doorpost keeps all who are sheltering within safe from the angel of death (Exod. 12:23). We see it in Israel’s great deliverance from slavery to Egypt as they pass through the Red Sea (Exod. 14). Then throughout the Gospels we see Christ’s saving work on full display as his life, death, and resurrection are narrated. The remainder of the New Testament provides a fuller explanation of how God saves through Jesus, of how it is that we are declared righteous because of His righteous life lived (Rom. 5:19), forgiven and cleansed because of His precious blood shed (1 John 1:7), and justified because of His resurrection from the dead (Rom. 4:25).

     The power of God for sanctification is found in His living Word. As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 explains, God’s Word is the tool the Holy Spirit uses to teach and train and correct us so that we are “fully equipped for every good work.”4 As we are continually exposed to God’s pruning Word, our minds are transformed so that we begin to love what God loves and hate what God hates. And our hearts are transformed so that our aim is no longer to please ourselves but to please Christ our Saviour (2 Cor. 5:15). The result of this transformation of our hearts and minds by God’s Word through the Holy Spirit is increased fruitfulness and a growing likeness to Christ demonstrated in our lives. Romans 8:29 describes this transforming sanctification as being conformed to Christ. 

     And the power of God for perseverance is found in His living Word. Hebrews 12:2 says that it was the joy set before Jesus that enabled Him to endure the suffering and shame of the cross. If we are to persevere in endurance as we run the “race marked out for us,” holding fast to our faith in Christ, we must, like Jesus, have our joy set before us, fixed in our vision. And what is our joy as believers? It is Jesus himself, the One who “authors and perfects our faith” (Heb. 12:2). Our joy is in God’s steadfast love toward us, and so we set it before our eyes as Psalm 26:3 says. Our joy is in all that God has promised. How do we set Jesus, God’s steadfast love, and all his unfailing promises continually before our eyes? We do this by setting and keeping God’s Word before us, so that God’s living Word becomes our window into joy and thus our power for perseverance. 

     An accurate translation of God’s Word needs to be available if a church is to be a healthy one, yet research shows that 145 million people worldwide remain without a single word of Scripture available in a language that they understand and that speaks to their hearts. There are 1.5 billion people across the globe without access to a complete Bible. Of the world’s roughly 7,000 languages, 1,800 of them are waiting for a Bible translation project to be started.5

     Since we desire to see healthy local churches developed in Canada and across the globe, it is important to remember the inherent need of a clear and accurate translation of God’s Word into the languages of the world. We are thankful that our church recognizes this need and is a strong supporter of the work of Bible translation around the world. But what are the steps of a Bible translation project today?6 

Bible Translation Steps

     As noted above, there are still many languages of the world for which a Bible translation project has yet to begin, preventing the spiritual growth of the speakers of those languages. Many of these languages are minoritized—that is, they have been marginalized by major languages spoken in the region. As such, many of these languages have no written form—no developed alphabet with which to write down what one is thinking or saying. So, a preliminary step to Bible translation in some cases is the development of an orthography—choosing the appropriate letters of the alphabet based on the sounds of the language, as well as the rules to follow in using those letters.7

     With an orthography in place, translation work can begin.8 The first step is drafting. For this step, it is necessary to understand as accurately as possible the meaning expressed by the texts in the original languages—primarily Hebrew for the Old Testament and Greek for the New Testament. When possible, Bible translation work is done in teams, and the role of one of the team members is that of an exegete—someone who determines the meaning intended in the original text. Another role in the translation team is a linguist, someone who helps with the analysis of the structure of the target language—the language in which translation work is being done. Another role is that of translator.9 Often the translator is a mother tongue speaker of the language who works with the exegete and the linguist in making the draft. Where possible, there is more than one translator as part of the translation team. They typically consult at least two or three translations in a major language of the area (e.g. English, French, Spanish, etc.) to help produce the draft. They may also consult translations in languages genetically related to the target language to see how other translation teams have rendered the text being translated.

     Once the initial draft of a passage of Scripture is done, it goes through a series of tests, reviews, revisions, and checks. One test is a village comprehension test. The idea of this test is to make sure the translation is correctly understood by mother tongue speakers of the language. After reading a passage of Scripture aloud, a member of the translation team will ask those in attendance specific questions about the text to make sure that it conveys the intended meaning. Careful notes are taken based on the responses given, and revisions to the initial draft are made. 

     Where possible, one of the reviews of the translation is carried out by pastors and other significant leaders in the community. Their job is to evaluate the translation in terms of the expression of key biblical concepts and theological implications, which often determine the acceptability of the translation within the church community.

     After the tests, reviews, and revisions are carried out, a back translation of the translated text is produced so that it can be checked by a translation consultant. A back translation is a fairly literal translation of the translated text back into a language that the translation consultant is familiar with.10 This allows the translation consultant, who does not know the target language, to evaluate the accuracy of the translation based on their expertise in the biblical languages and their knowledge of translation principles. Often, the translation consultant will be familiar with translations done in languages genetically related to the target language. 

     With the input from the translation consultant, the translation team revises the translation, carries out further reviews and checks, and then prepares the text for publication and distribution. In some cases, the translated Scriptures will be made available in audio format so that those who do not know how to read or write their own language can still have access to God’s Word.

Scripture Engagement and Next Steps

     Once a portion of Scripture has gone through translation steps like those outlined above, an important role in building healthy local churches is something called Scripture engagement—engaging the language community in activities that are designed to develop habits of using Scripture on a regular basis in various aspects of life, both at home and in the church. We can see this in action at our home church, where the discipleship ministry has developed activities for “pre-believers,” new believers, and maturing believers. The goal in this is for the local church to be a healthy one, making use of the translated Scriptures to become deeply rooted in God’s Word in order to produce abundant fruit for the glory of God.

     If, like us, you have been captivated by the vision for making God’s Word available to all people groups and want to learn more about the work of Bible translation, you can go to If you are interested in pursuing training in Bible translation, you can visit or contact us directly at [email protected].


1 David Daniell, William Tyndale: A Biography (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994), 383.

2 Based on the following biography of William Tyndale’s life: David Daniell, William Tyndale: A Biography (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994).

3 Adam Wormald, Jeff Bucknam, and Stephanie Warne-Lang, “Healthy Churches and Disciples,” produced by Northview Community Church, Extra Podcast, January 9, 2020, audio, 57:50, and-disciples-2/.

4 Unless otherwise stated, all scriptural passages are from the ESV translation.

5 “Why Bible Translation?,” Wycliffe Bible Translators, accessed August 23, 2022,

6 It is important to note that there is a fair bit of variation across Bible translation projects in terms of the processes used.

7 In some instances, translation projects bypass the initial need for a written form of the language by doing oral drafting and oral revision processes.

8 Thanks to our Wycliffe and CanIL colleague, Jeremy Lang, translation consultant, for reviewing and providing input to this section of the article.

9 It is possible for one person to fill more than one of the roles mentioned. An important role not mentioned here is that of a coordinator who guides the translation process and keeps track of progress.

10 In some cases, the translation consultant will make use of an oral back translation provided by an uninitiated speaker of the language—that is, a mother tongue speaker who is unfamiliar with the passage of Scripture under evaluation so that the back translation provided is not influenced by previous knowledge of the text.

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