Most people don’t realize there are many languages in the world. English, Chinese and Spanish showing up in the top five isn’t surprising. Would you have guessed Hindi is number three and French is number five? Arabic, Bengali, Russian, Portuguese and Indonesian round out the top 10. There are far more languages in the world than that. In last week’s article, How Many Languages Exist?, I used the estimate of 7,139 languages, from Ethnologue: Languages of the World1.
One of the last commands Jesus gave his disciples was
And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation“. Mark 16:15 ESV
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Acts 1:8 ESV
Going into the world is easy, but proclaiming the gospel is much harder. The Old Testament was primarily written in Hebrew, and the New Testament in Greek. Since most people in the world don’t speak either Hebrew or Greek, that means the Bible needs to be translated to other languages. Even in Israel, the official language is Hebrew, with Arabic being semi-official, and English and Russian are used as unofficial languages because of the number of people who speak them.
Bible translations have been important since the Bible was written. Although the data from these charts from Wiley Online Library ends in 2013, they clearly show the dramatic increase in the number of languages the Bible has been translated into in just the last two hundred years.
According to Wycliffe Global Alliance there are 3415 languages that have at least some part of the Bible translated2:
- 704 Complete Bible
- 1,551 New Testament or more
- 1,160 Selections and stories
That means 3,702 (52%) languages in the world don’t have God’s Word. Most of those are fairly small language groups, but everyone should have access to the Bible in their native language.
Once the Bible is translated, it still has to be distributed, and the Internet can give almost instant access to a Bible. The web site Bible.com, along with the Bible.com mobile app (search for Bible by Life.Church, a.k.a. YouVersion Holy Bible), lists 2,232 versions of the Bible, available in 1,522 languages!3
There are other web sites that have the Bible available digitally in many languages, with the Bible being available on smart phones, tablets and computers in nearly 2,000 languages!
Please pray for the people who are working to translate the Bible into languages which don’t have it yet. Everyone deserves to haven’t God’s Word in their own language.
- McDowell, Josh and McDowell, Sean. Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017) Chapter 1: Uniqueness of the Bible, Section III: Unique in Impact, Unique in its Circulation and Translation. (Amazon)
- Brassington, Peter. How to Find Bibles and Scripture Resources (Wycliffe Global Alliance, November 2020) Accessed 27-Jan-2021.
- Brassington, Peter. New Milestones in Digital Scripture Availability (Wycliffe Global Alliance) Accessed 27-Jan-2021.
- United Bible Societies. Key Facts About the Bible Access (United Bible Societies, 2017) (Web page accessed 22-Nov-2018)
- Wycliffe Global Alliance. 2020 Scripture Access Statistics (Wycliffe Global Alliance, October 2020) Accessed 27-Jan-2021.
- How many languages are there in the world? (Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 2020; website) Accessed 1-Mar-2021.
- Data from October 2020.
- Accessed 13-Feb-2021.