A Bible translator works in a cross-cultural context to facilitate the translation of the Word of God into the heart language of a local people. The goal of every Bible translation project is to produce a translation that is clear, accurate, natural, and acceptable to the people for whom it is translated. In order for a people group to meaningfully engage with the Bible and be transformed by its message, exegetical accuracy, linguistic naturalness, and cultural sensitivity are vital aspects of a translation.
The process of Bible translation begins with a first draft. This happens when a translator works with a team of mother tongue speakers to render a rough draft of a passage of Scripture into the target language. After drafting, the translation team conducts a series of quality control checks, including exegetical checking and comprehension checking. Exegetical checking involves a thorough analysis of the meaning of each verse within its original context to ensure that the translation accurately expresses that meaning. Comprehension checking takes place when the translator reads and discusses the draft with people from different age groups, genders, and social classes and asks questions about the passage to evaluate how the translation is being understood. Once these checks have taken place, the translation team must edit and recheck as needed. When a translated book nears completion, it is reviewed by an international consultant to approve the translation for publication.
The qualifications of a Bible translator include: respect for all people and cultures, the ability to relate to people of different cultures, a commitment to thorough work, attention to detail, and perseverance and adaptability throughout the long and complex process of translation.
Facilitating a Bible translation project is one of the main responsibilities of the translator. In order to this, he or she should thoroughly learn the local language and culture. In addition, the translator must find, train, and coordinate a team of local partners to work with at every stage of the process. The translator also spearheads problem solving efforts throughout the project, such as during the selection of key biblical terms and in the consistent application of sound translation principles. As a Bible translation project is cooperative by nature, a translator typically plays a critical role in the involvement and collaboration of churches, believers, and local leaders of various denominations.
According to Wycliffe Global Alliance, as of October 2020 there are 6,656 languages in the world that lack a complete Bible translation, and 3,945 languages that do not have a single word of Scripture. That’s a lot of opportunity for work!
Bible translators typically serve with a missionary sending organization that specializes in Bible translation, such as Pioneer Bible Translators, Wycliffe Bible Translators, or SIL International. Other missionary sending organizations may also have openings for translation related positions.
Bible translation requires extensive training in biblical studies, including biblical languages, the historical and cultural context of Scripture, exegetical methods, and textual criticism. Training in applied linguistics is also essential. An undergraduate degree in biblical studies, international missions, linguistics, or anthropology is a good first step in the preparatory process.
In addition to an undergraduate degree, most Bible translators pursue a graduate degree in linguistics or in biblical languages & exegesis. Southern Baptist seminaries can be an avenue of attaining graduate degrees in biblical languages, and at the time of writing The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary even offered a Master of Divinity in Missions & Bible Translation. Courses or degrees in applied linguistics are commonly provided by schools affiliated with SIL International, such as Dallas International University or Canada Institute of Linguistics.
Bible translators work closely with workers in several other fields of international missions, including international church planters, Scripture engagement specialists, and literacy workers. Experienced Bible translators can go on to become international Bible translation consultants, who provide translation teams with guidance, mentorship, and oversight to improve the quality of their translations.