A Bible translation organization in the US, The Seed Company, has launched a new initiative called The Least of These, for smaller languages. About 500 of the languages of the world have the whole Bible, many more have the New Testament. But 340 million people speaking 2,000 languages do not have even one verse of Scripture in their language. More than 70 percent of the people groups without the Bible have fewer than 10,000 speakers. Amazingly, 600 are spoken by fewer than 1,000 people.
Wait! Translate the Bible for only 10,000 people?! Isn’t that a waste of resources?
That is certainly a fair and important question. Especially as you may have heard that many languages are dying out. Why translate the Bible into a language which shortly will not be spoken any more? But having only a few speakers does not necessarily mean that a language is dying out. Some languages stay alive and vibrant even with few people speaking them.
I might not do a translation in a language with 50,000 speakers that was dying, but I might do one for a language of 10,000 that was growing in numbers. So, the question is not about dying languages, but rather about small but alive languages.
So, back to our question. Translate the Bible for only 10,000 people?! Isn’t that a waste of resources? I will let you answer by asking you two questions.
- If a pastoral couple moved into a town of 10,000 near you without a church, spent 20 years there, and planted a vibrant and growing church, would you say that they wasted their time on a small community?
- If you lived in a town of 10,000 and the only church had no pastor, would you consider it a waste of resources to call a pastor to that church? Even if the church only has 100 believers in it?
If it is legitimate for at least one pastoral couple to serve a town of 10,000 then dedicating one missionary translator couple to serve an ethnic groups of the same size must also be legitimate. Besides, many towns with populations of 10,000 or less in North America have more than one church and one pastor. In addition, the translator would serve in the language group for a limited time, but a town of 10,000 will need a pastor forever.
One of the implications of the Golden Rule is that we should not wish for others what we would not want for ourselves. So, if you would want a full-time pastor if you lived in a town of 10,000, then don’t say of a people group of 10,000 that they don’t need to have someone translate the Bible for them.