The Bible exists because God is a missionary God. Each book of the Bible was written out of God’s missionary motives and to serve God’s mission to redeem and remake creation. This has been God’s mission from the beginning: to bring light and life to every corner of the world, no matter how remote. As Christopher Wright says in The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, “The writings that now comprise our Bible are the product of and witness to the ultimate mission of God.”
The Bible is the revelation of God’s mission. But it is also the primary tool of missions.
Think of it this way: Just as it is nearly impossible to build a house without a hammer, so any work of evangelism, church planting, or discipleship is impossible without God’s Word translated into the local language.
William Carey, the father of Protestant missions, made Bible translation central to his work in India. He was convinced that no indigenous church would take root and flourish unless people could hear God’s message in the language spoken around their dinner tables.
And Bible translation continues to be a pressing need in modern missions. Even after centuries of missions activity, hundreds of millions of people are blocked from having a relationship with their Creator because the Scriptures do not exist in a form they can understand.
There are almost 7,000 known languages in use today and yet the complete Bible has only been translated into 500 of them. Another 2,300 languages have access to the New Testament or portions of Scripture in their mother-tongue. Currently, nearly 2,200 languages across 131 countries have active Bible translation and linguistic development underway. But people from the remaining 1,900 languages are still waiting for a translation project to begin.
Much work has been done in the last twenty years to make the Scriptures available to all. Across the globe, commitment to working together across organizational and denominational lines and effective use of technology has hastened the translation process. More and more, mother-tongue speakers are equipped and empowered to do the translation work for their own communities. By God’s grace, it appears that every tribe and tongue will have access to God’s Word in their own language in our lifetime.
As we dig into Matthew’s Gospel at Urbana 15, you’re likely to come to a fuller understanding of God and his mission. You’re likely to move closer to understanding your next step in responding to God’s call on your life. No matter what part God has for you in his global mission—whether you’ll be one of the people working in various ways to translate God’s Word, or whether your role will have little to do with translation work—knowing the Bible is key to knowing God’s character and his purposes. Come study it with us at Urbana 15.
Photo by Craig Combs, courtesy of Wycliffe Bible Translators