Translating for Transformation: The Missional Impulse of Translation

EMQ » April–June 2023 » Volume 59 Issue 2

Ethiopia: Wycliffe Ethiopia member Getachew Yohannes holds up several booklets on a variety of topics that have been translated into the Basketo language as part of the translation program. Photo by Adam Jeske. Courtesy of WGA.

Summary: Missions includes church planting, evangelism, reconciliation, and much more. Bible translation programs aim to do all of these things, yet they can be seen as periphery to real mission work. Does Bible translation have a missional impulse that is essential to long-term transformation of individuals and communities?

By Paul K. Kimbi

Many Bible translation organizations have the word transformation directly mentioned or implied in their vision statements. By this, they express their desire to see the transformation of individuals and communities in the work they do. Bible translation, therefore, has the goal to initiate spiritual (and social) returns on communities where it is done.

A broad definition of missions which includes “witness, justice, healing, reconciliation, liberation, peace, evangelism, fellowship, church planting, contextualization and much more.”[1]  Bible translation aims at all of these things in the long run, and is therefore clearly missional.

Nevertheless, Bible translation has been perceived by many simply as the retelling of the biblical text from one language to another. Quality in Bible translation frequently gets limited to a focus on the clarity, accuracy, and naturalness of the translated text. However, a quality Bible translation program that is also missional, must go beyond the quality of the text to include the quality of the translation process.

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