In a recent blog, I wrote about the book Wide as the Waters, by Benson Bobrick. The subtitle of the book “The story of the English Bible and the revolution it inspired”, captures my conclusion. Translating the Bible into the language of the common man can change political systems, free people from oppression and give people a new way of looking at the world. It does much more than help them in their spiritual lives.
In that blog, I promised to:
“relate how the translation of the Bible into the languages of Ghana has lead to similar developments – making the translation of the Bible into the vernacular a form of political and social empowerment, in addition to its obvious effects on faith.”
I start with the research of Dr. Solomon Sule-Saa. He studied the effects of the translation of the Bible into the Konkomba and Dagomba languages of northern Ghana. Before the translation, both peoples rejected Christianity, seeing it as a faith of outsiders. Numerous attempts to evangelize them failed. But once the Bible was translated, many Konkomba and Dagomba put their trust in Christ. But Dr. Sule-Saa’s research also discovered that the translation broke down relationships of servitude, brought peace to tribal disputes, and give people a sense of identity. Like Bobrick documented for the translation of the Bible into English, the translation of the Bible in northern Ghana started a series of societal and political changes. Of them, Dr. Sule-Saa told me that they create “more positive transformation than all government programs combined and for much less money.”
To facilitate the use of the translated Scriptures, adult literacy programs were run in northern Ghana in the same languages which received a translation of the Bible. An evaluation of the impact of those programs found that:
- People had more initiative
- The children of those who attended literacy classes all attended school
- People developed a sense of self-worth
The evaluation reported that:
Many participants to the focus group discussions gave testimonies of how that self confidence had transformed their lives both at home and in public to enable them undertake activities that they would otherwise have not.
I suspect that the phrase “and in public” means that those who attended literacy classes were more likely to try to make changes in their communities to make them more righteous. Of course, those in the literacy program also read their Bibles. We have many testimonies of faith in Christ and a deeper walk with him as a result. But what interests me here is the literacy program, in the vernacular languages, resulted in societal changes, not just narrowly “religious” and personal changes. This too matches Bobrick’s observations about the impact of the translation of the Bible into English.
Allow me to chide my brothers and sisters in faith who see mission only as personal, spiritual salvation – who seem to be interested solely in how many people put their faith in Christ. God’s action in history shows that it also brings wider changes in society and in politics. God, it seems, has given us his Word not just for personal consolation and faith, but to change this world in ways that match the coming of his Kingdom. I’m in Bible translation because I want marginalized people to have a personal experience of God’s grace and then live in transformed societies that give them opportunity, recognize their value, and make their lives more peaceful, meaningful and productive.