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Dialect Bible Translation… What for? Our first blog.

Our first blog is a look at the relevance of dialect Bible translation from the current perspective of the Western church, specifically the Protestant community. We welcome feedback and constructive criticism.


The relevance of Bible translation from the current perspective of the Western church

What happens to those who die without hearing the Gospel?

What does this question have to do with fundraising and relevance? In the Western world, in the context of the Protestant community, the connection between fundraising and relevance may look like this… 

An over-supply of English Bible translations has led to a devaluing of scripture in the English speaking world, which has led to complacency towards the work of translating the Bible into other languages and dialects, with the consequence that it has become more urgent to meet temporal physical needs than to meet eternal spiritual needs. 

This is a debatable statement, but it’s debate should bring to the surface the question of relevance. Any fundraising should begin with a reality check on the relevance of the project that requires funding. In this generation, it appears that, within the Protestant community, projects of a temporal physical nature (projects that directly address physical needs) may be considered more relevant than projects of an eternal spiritual nature (projects that directly address spiritual needs). Therefore, raising funds for projects that address physical needs may be more natural than raising funds for projects, such as Bible translation, that address eternal spiritual needs but do not address physical needs. Given this, people within the context of the Protestant community should ask the question, ‘What happens to those who die without hearing the Gospel?’

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3.16-18 (NIV)). 

Do we believe this? If so, should we not be compelled to address the question? 

Projects that address physical needs are important. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1.27 (NIV)). Very often, people who address physical needs are intentional about the spiritual result. Meeting temporal needs may well be a bridge to an eternal result. However, it is not always possible or even necessary to address physical needs. In the case of Bible translation, given time and energy constraints there may be no significant effort by the translation team to help with physical needs, and therefore the target people may not benefit physically from the presence of the translation team. Furthermore, with certain people groups, there may be little or no physical need. Tibetans are an example. There is usually help from within the Tibetan world – monasteries may help local Tibetans in need, and there are services in Dharamsala, India for orphans, etc. However, Tibetans are a people with spiritual need – just stand at the gateway of a temple and observe their faces and hands as they move into prayer. Tibetans have no idea who the God of Israel is. The Bible tells them who he is. The Gospel shows the way of salvation, but the Bible is the full story of who this personal God is. Even so, is Bible translation relevant today? An oversupply of English Bibles may be one factor in making the work of translation into the remaining languages and dialects seem to be less relevant (Many homes in North America have multiple translations. Do common things go down in value and uncommon things go up? Imagine if there was no way to purchase Bibles online, and there was only one Bible store in Canada, in downtown Toronto, and one English translation available in that store, and supplies of that translation limited, costly, and restricted by the government). However, there are other factors that play into the relevance issue as it relates specifically to Tibetan Bible translation, such as Western attitudes towards Buddhism. Buddhism is a significant part of the Tibetan worldview. At a superficial glance, Buddhism appears to be an attractive belief, with teachings that appear similar to biblical teachings, such as “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without” (Buddha), and “Love is the absence of judgement” (Dalai Lama). This attraction to Buddhism is an attraction felt by a growing number of people in the west, even within the Protestant community. Buddhism takes the edge off the concern about eternal judgement. 

Positive attitudes towards Buddhism may dull the reality of the spiritual need of Tibetans.

In fact, Buddhism is the greatest opposition to the biblical message. Three core Buddhist doctrines express only part of the full opposition: 1. The doctrine of rebirth (Sanskrit samsara) is the absolute denial of the one death experience (“Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…” (Hebrews 9.27 (NIV))); 2. The doctrine of emptiness (Sanskrit sunyata) is the absolute denial of a Creator God; 3. The doctrine of ‘no soul’ (Sanskrit anatman) is the absolute denial of the soul. As well, there is indirect opposition to the biblical message. Tibetans believe Jesus was an historical figure, but that he was a bodhisattva. A bodhisattva is one who has attained nirvana but has, out of compassion for humanity, delayed entry into nirvana so that he can save suffering beings by showing the way to nirvana (nirvana is a state of freedom from the cycle of rebirth into suffering, an ‘extinction of consciousness’). There have been many bodhisattvas. Albert Einstein said, “The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description. If there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.” At face value, Buddhism may be attractive, but below the surface it is not.

In conclusion, back to the question, ‘What happens to those who die without hearing the Gospel?’ The Bible encompasses the Gospel, and is the full story of who this personal God of Israel is. Translation of this full story into the remaining languages and dialects is a relevant task, a critical task, and therefore a task worthy of the financial and prayer support of the Western church

We welcome your comments and discussion!