2021 Scripture Translations Update

In 2021, despite a second year of disruption caused by COVID-19, Bible Societies across the world completed Scripture translations in 90 languages used by 794 million people — just over 10% of the world’s population.

From Mexico to Myanmar, 48 language groups — a total of 11 million people — received first Scripture translations, meaning that they were not previously available in those languages. New or revised translations were completed in another 432 languages used by 783 million people. These provide Scripture access to language communities whose needs are no longer met by previous translations.

“Each one of these translations will touch and transform the lives of individuals, families and communities,” comments UBS Director General Michael Perreau.

“We are so thankful for the translators who have dedicated years of their lives to making Scripture available to their communities, many of them working in very difficult circumstances. We are grateful, too, for donors around the world whose partnership has made it possible for millions more people to access the hope and comfort of God’s Word in these times of great uncertainty.”

UBS Bible Translation update

FIRST TRANSLATIONS IN 48 LANGUAGES

Among the 48 first translations published by Bible Societies last year were three first full Bibles.

MYANMAR

There was both joy and sorrow at the launch of the Bible in Khualsim, a language spoken by 7,000 people in Myanmar. It took place in November on Zoom after 18 months of delay and disruption caused by COVID-19 and the coup in February.

Tragically, translator Rev. Dr Bernard Luai Hre and his son Rev. Van Ceu Aung, who also helped with the translation, both died from the virus just days before copies of the new Bible arrived at their home.

“At the launch the preacher said, ‘Dr Bernard proved by his life that heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s words will never pass away,’” shares Myanmar Bible Society General Secretary Rev. Khoi Lam Thang.

SPAIN/PORTUGAL

The first Asturian Bible was hailed as a historic milestone for the 110,000 Asturian speakers, who mostly live in Spain’s Asturias province, in northwest Spain, and in parts of Portugal. Translated from the original source texts, the Asturian Bible won an award recognising its significant contribution to Asturian culture and language

BANGLADESH

Just before Christmas, hundreds of Santali speakers, who live in remote districts in northwest Bangladesh, danced, sang, and prayed as they celebrated the first Bible in their language. Although 89% of Bangladesh’s population is Muslim, most of the 225,000 Santali people are Christians.

Cartons of New Testaments
Cartons of New Testaments are blessed by the community in the remote village of Ilugwa, Papua, Indonesia.

Eight communities welcomed the first New Testament in their language – five in Africa and three in Asia.

In a far-flung village in Indonesia’s Papua province, hundreds of Walak speakers gathered in September to give thanks for the first New Testament in their language. Riven for generations by war and rivalry, peace came to the community twenty years ago, when the translation project began, and leaders had the chance to encounter short drafts of Scripture in their own language for the first time.

First portions or additional portions of Scripture were also made available in another 37 languages across the world, including five in Mexico and four in Guatemala. As part of an ongoing project to translate the Old Testament, the Kaqchikel Occidental translation team in Guatemala published the books of Judges and Esther.

Dora Marina Cuc Bocel, 41, who leads the translation team, often reads out loud from the completed Scripture portions for her mother and grandmother, who can’t read. “They really pay attention,” says Dora.

“They say to me, ‘Hearing it in Kaqchikel is so beautiful and exciting! We understand it. It’s God speaking to our hearts.’ This motivates me because, just as they are blessed by the Word of God in our language, so many others will also be blessed,” says Dora.

DIGITAL NEW TESTAMENT WELCOMED IN FINLAND

Different generations enjoy reading the new digital translation together.

“The old translation is like an old tube TV – you can still watch it, but the picture is blurry,” says Lauri Thurén, Evangelical Lutheran Professor of Exegesis at the University of Eastern Finland. “The new translation is a high-definition TV – you can see what’s going on all the time.”

He is referring to the Finnish Bible Society’s new, ground-breaking translation of the New Testament, UT2020. Completed in October 2020, the audio New Testament is based on the original Greek text translated into modern Finnish. Aimed at smartphone users of all ages who want to listen to the New Testament, it uses language suitable to a digital audience.

“UT2020 uses language that is both everyday and natural, as well as rich and nuanced”, explains Terhi Huovari, Director of Communications and Fundraising at the Finnish Bible Society, who was the UT2020 project coordinator. “Our aim was that the translation could be read without a dictionary, Google, or the immediate assistance of a theologian,” he says.

“Beautiful, clear Finnish without the old stiffness. A joy to read!” said Eila, 68, one of many readers who sent in feedback on the new translation.

Although Finland is a country with a strong Christian tradition, today only eight percent of the population attend a religious service on a monthly basis or more. Bible Society is hoping this new translation will encourage people to re-engage with the Scriptures.

In 2020, the project featured widely in national media, including TV and radio news, in newspapers and magazines, and on social media. “If you thought the Bible was of no interest to Finns, you were wrong,” one magazine wrote. “UT2020’s reception shows that the Bible is still relevant,” said Finnish Bible Society CEO Rev Dr Markku Kotila. Within two weeks of the launch, the new translation had been accessed 100,000 times on the Bible Society’s website. Three months later, that had tripled.