Aiming at a Moving Target

Nearly 60 years ago I read a book written by some Wycliffe Bible translators called Two-Thousand Tongues to Go. No one back in the late 1950s had any idea that there were more than 7,000 languages spoken in the world, most of which had no part of the Bible translated into them.

During the past six decades, teams of linguistic surveyors discovered hundreds more people groups, speaking thus far unknown languages. At the same time, God was calling thousands of people to get involved in linguistics, literacy and Bible translation.

My wife Jo and I were one such couple. Fifty years ago, Brazil’s Canela people invited us to come and live with them and learn their language. Twenty-two years later we presented the Canela people with a newly published partial Bible in their own language. One done. Who knows how many to go!

The Moving Target
In the past half century, God led more than 1,000 teams of linguists, literacy experts and Bible translators to start their work in those 2,000 languages. Wycliffe through its partner field organization SIL has been the most active organization. But there are a good number of others also translating the Bible. The old goal of 2,000 languages was being whittled down significantly. But all along the way, we felt we were aiming at a moving target. More languages were being discovered, even as other language and translation projects were being completed.

Nearly 20 years ago a new estimate was made, and each year, as projects were completed, the count came down. During these same 20 years, however, organizations using technology and the Internet found it far easier to collaborate in determining translation needs.

The Project

A deaf translator signs a Bible story in the video recording studio as his colleagues look on.

Last year, the calculations showed 1,633 languages to go, but now even this number needs to be changed. is an inter-organizational effort which is rebuilding the statistics from the ground up to have a more comprehensive understanding of the progress and remaining needs for Bible translation. The results of this research are both exciting and daunting.

For instance, partner organizations working with Deaf communities validated 368 sign languages that need to have a Bible translation.  Also 399 more languages were revealed to have no Scripture and no active translation, even though work was recorded as having been started. And more translation projects have recently been completed. After all the adding and subtracting was done the new goal is 2,184 tongues to go.

Down to Zero in Our Lifetime?
As a veteran Bible translator, recruiter and fund-raiser, I want to see those remaining needs drop to zero! In the meantime, Bible translators celebrate the increase in accuracy. After all, accurate facts are essential for strategic planning, and good stewardship of resources. When all the partners know the facts, it is easier to work together effectively and in harmony—something we know our God loves. The target is still there, but it is being whittled down faster than ever before in the history of Bible translation. God the Father is working together with us, His children, to get this task done.

For more by Jack Popjes, visit his blog: Jack’s INsights and OUTbursts