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No Text? No Problem. The Advent of Oral Bible Translation

A man uses Render during an Oral Bible Translation project in Mexico.

Everyone needs God’s Word, so Faith Comes By Hearing works hard to expand the audience around Scripture’s life-saving message. How? By recording and freely providing Audio Bibles in the world’s languages.

Seventy percent of the world’s population learn primarily by listening. This oral majority understands the Bible best when they hear it. Consequently, in oral cultures where there is no written system, faith must come through hearing.

Textless Bible Recording

The years leading up to the advent of Oral Bible Translation (OBT) were marked by prayer. In prayer, Faith Comes By Hearing’s leadership felt burdened for minority language speakers raised in completely oral cultures. In prayer, the ministry accepted the challenge to make Scripture accessible. In prayer, we were convinced to strategize alongside respected Bible translation partners.

Meanwhile, a student at Dallas International University drafted her thesis. The subject was Bible translation for oral cultures. Her research provided key pieces in our quest to record Scripture in languages without biblical text.

The thesis proposed that non-readers could translate from an audible reference language using hand motions and props. Guided by experts in Bible and language translation, members of the community could internalize Scripture and produce natural-sounding, accurate Bible passages in their heart language.

Faith Comes By Hearing contacted the author of the thesis. Further study informed practical discussions with our partners about methodology. In collaboration, an operational structure and a vehicle for OBT emerged.

“Render,” an OBT Software

In 2015, Faith Comes By Hearing, together with Seed Company and Pioneer Bible Translators, created user-friendly software to facilitate OBT. Icon-based Render freed the language community to translate. A completely visual interface efficiently led a translation team without dependence on literacy or tech savviness. Loaded with Scripture in the reference language, Render enabled oral people to listen, translate, and record Bible passages. Render also expedited review and approval by professionals in Bible and language translation.

Experimental OBT teams in Uganda and Indonesia refined Render over the next two years. The inaugural project launched in 2017, and half a million minority language speakers in Brazil received access to God’s Word.

Immediate Access to Scripture

OBT rapidly exposed more language communities to God’s Word. With review and correction built into Render, recorded portions were shared in villages as soon as approved. The Bible came to life even faster for project teams. Because the spoken Word has power, many team members were spiritually and emotionally moved as they internalized and translated Scripture.

Four men in an oral community of Indonesia translated Luke’s Gospel. Unpacking the agony of Christ before His crucifixion, their team leader explained, ”Jesus wasn't grieved just because He was about to physically suffer. He was greatly troubled because He was about to bear the sins of the world and be separated from His Father.” Comprehending the weight of Christ’s pain for the first time, the men wept and covered their faces. One finally spoke: “We must translate so others can understand.”   

One Hundred Languages and Counting

OBT took the Bible translation world by storm and quickly became a major player in methodology. In the few years since the first project in Brazil, 100 oral people groups received God’s Word.

From 2017-2019, OBT summits brought together strategic leaders, influencers, and practitioners to ask tough questions about future needs and pursue solutions together. Regional initiatives were birthed to train and equip leaders in the field.

The Bible translation community identified roughly 2,100 unique languages with no available Scripture and no translation currently in process. Leaders of Great Commission initiatives expressed their belief that two-thirds of the world’s remaining Bible translation needs would only be met through OBT strategies.

OBT and Vision 2033

OBT moves Faith Comes By Hearing closer to achieving our Vision 2033 goal—a recording of Scripture in every language that needs it by the year 2033. Your partnership is vital. A gift to Vision 2033 provides God’s audible Word to oral cultures still waiting to hear God speak their language.

When asked about his dream for the future, Faith Comes By Hearing's OBT director replied, "That more of the world's minority language communities can knock on the door of OBT and find representation in Bible translation." Through OBT, no language group is too remote to have access to God's Word, and the work of translating Scripture is placed into the waiting and willing hands of those who still need to hear God speak their language.

The eyes of Bible translation are fixed on OBT. Projects are in high demand. Clearly, God is preparing hearts in oral cultures around the world to hear His truth and come to Him. Read more about OBT and give God’s audible Word to minority language speakers in oral communities worldwide.