Bible-less Languages

Since Tyndale’s 1526 New Testament, there have been, according to one source, roughly 900 printed English Bible versions.  As English speaking Christians, we have an overwhelming amount of choice when it comes to the Bible:

  •  Various translation philosophies to pick from (formal equivalence, functional equivalence, “optimal equivalence”, paraphrase)
  • Numerous modern translations (NIV, ESV, NKJV, NRSV, NASB, NLT, HCSB, CEV, etc.)
  • Multiple available formats (double column, single column, reference, plain text, and even the “renaissance ideal of the perfect page” 🙂 )
  • Loads of specialized Bibles (study Bibles, daily reading Bibles, teen girl Bibles, army man Bibles, busy person Bibles, non-busy person Bibles, underwater Bibles, etc.)
  • And for readers of this blog, we also have loads of binding options, including paperback, hardcover, imitation leather, pigskin, lambskin, calfskin, goatskin, kangaroo skin, etc. (I have yet to see one in shark-skin, tiger-skin, Bald Eagle-skin, or panda-skin, but one can dream! Chill out PETA, I’m kidding. I’m just glad there is no hot pink ratskin Bible, shout out to J. Mark Bertrand!).
  • We even get caught up on things as trivial as, “how long are the ribbon markers and how much yapp is there?” etc. etc.

The publication of the English Bible has become a booming industry, or by a more cynical account, a three ring circus of color and variations.

For some perspective, take a look at this image:

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You saw correct:  There are 1,859 language groups waiting to receive the translated Word! Forget binding material and ribbon length, they just don’t have it. Period. And especially so in Papua New Guinea, the Indonesian archipelago, Central and East Asia, and Central Africa and Nigeria. In Wycliffe’s words:

Just under 1,860 languages do not have the New Testament or Old Testament in their language. As many as 180 million speak languages in which no Bible translation work has even begun. These people do not have even one verse of the Bible in their own language. Many of these language communities have oral cultures and many have no writing system for their language.

I’m at a workshop put on by Wycliffe Bible Translators right now, looking at my goatskin Allan ESV, and I’m sobered. I know Hebrew and Greek. I have so many of the aforementioned Bibles. I’m part of the three ring circus. And now I must be a part of getting the word into some of the most Bible-less languages of the world.

Will you join me? You can send, or you can even go. (And you don’t need Hebrew or Greek or a plane ticket to “go” by the way, lest you use that as an excuse). Aside from these two, the only other option is rebellion. After all, we know God’s will regarding those ethnolinguistic peoples who have never heard (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, read Matthew 24:14 and 28:18-20, and Revelation 5:9 and 7:9).


If you want to support this kind of work, please contact me. I am preparing to move to Asia and use my training and gifts for Bible translation. But I have a ways to go in developing partners who will give monthly toward my family’s income.


Wycliffe Bible Translators has a compelling and audacious goal called “Vision 2025”, described as follows: “To see Bible translation in progress, in every language that needs it, by the year 2025.”  See this excellent interview on CT.

Click here to either download or receive Wycliffe’s monthly “Finish Line” prayer guides, which will help you pray as translation projects near completion.

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8 thoughts on “Bible-less Languages

  1. Hello Jeff,
    Sobering indeed. I very recently had a telephone texting discussion with someone who has a deep appreciation and knowledge of high end Bibles. I didn’t even know they existed until last month, only because I was changing translations (ESV to NASB). I couldn’t find a decent copy that could stand the test of time so I started investigating. Hence, I discovered Cambridge, Schuyler and R.L. Allan. All very well made Bibles and very high end. I bought a brown calfskin Cambridge Clarion for $138. I’m almost scared to handle it. Well, it seemed to have given me a little bit of the “fever.” I have continued to research these high end Bibles on blogs and YouTube reviews. I even started researching for my next high end Bible purchase, and I don’t even have the money. Oh my. So today I was “talking” about Bibles with my wife (I was doing the talking, she was rolling her eyes) and in the background I hear my unsaved son say I have Bible idolatry! Very sobering. And then I receive your blog in my email. Hmmm… Ok, Lord, I’m listening. There is nothing wrong with a high end Bible. I now have one. It will probably be the only one I purchase. I just can’t justify spending anymore money when there are people who don’t own one or have one in their native tongue! We are very spoiled here in the U.S. I think we all could stand to go outside the camp and pour out the mercy that has been so graciously poured out on us. May our hearts be undone, as was Isaiah’s, so we can answer His call; “Here am I. Send me!”

    1. Hey J. Matt! Thanks for commenting, and well said. For the record, I don’t think its wrong to own expensive Bibles by any means, even multiple ones. People have hobbies that cost far more. But there’s a fine line between healthy hobby and idolatrous obsession, and we can easily blur that line and slip into something distracting and damaging. Meanwhile, Bible-less peoples wait.

      1. Hey Jeff,
        I agree wholeheartedly with you. I know my heart and how quick it can be to run to the arms of another lover, even if it is a good thing! Please don’t get me wrong, I still have a “dream” Bible. I’m just not going to daydream about it! Very well said, “healthy hobby and idolatrous obsession.” May the Holy Spirit search the tents of our hearts to see if there are any hidden idols in the sand! Love the blog my friend!

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