Why are there so many versions of the Bible?

facts and figures

Status of Bible translations worldwide

Despite the global restrictions caused by the corona pandemic, translation projects were completed in 66 languages ​​last year, 46 of which included an initial translation of the Bible. The United Bible Societies (UBS) announced this in their statistics on Bible translation for the end of 2020. These include individual biblical books, editions of the New Testament and full Bibles. The complete Bible can be read in 704 languages.

According to UBS, around 6.1 billion people have access to the Old and New Testaments in their mother tongue. The New Testament has now been translated into a further 1,571 languages, at least some biblical writings in 1,160 languages. This means that there is at least one book of the Bible in 3,435 languages. The Bible Societies assume around 7,360 languages ​​worldwide, including around 245 sign languages ​​for the deaf. This means that there are around 4,000 languages ​​in which no book of the Bible has been translated.

"Looking back on two centuries of biblical activity and 75 years of working together in the world association, we thank God for his blessing that he has bestowed on our mission to make the Bible available to everyone," says UBS Director General Michael Perreau. "Every translation that is completed enables more people to access God's Word, which can bring comfort and hope." This is particularly important now in the global crisis, said Perreau.

In 2020, the World Federation of Bible Societies published new editions of the Bible, the New Testament or individual scriptures in 66 translation projects. In 46 of these, initial translations were made in a new language. These include, for example, the completion of the New Testament in the indigenous language Hano of the island state of Vanuatu and the first complete Bible in Dagaare, a West African language with a total of over a million speakers in Ghana and Burkina Faso.

How many people can read the Bible in their mother tongue?

With the Bible (Old and New Testament) fully translated into 704 languages, an estimated 79 percent of people worldwide can be reached in their mother tongue. These figures are based on information from ethnologue.com, the most reliable source for the number of speakers of a language. However, this website only has a total of 7.2 billion speakers worldwide, significantly less than the figure of the world population as of December 31, 2020 (7.8 billion). However, it can be assumed that the speakers that were not recorded are distributed among the various languages ​​in such a way that the percentages essentially apply.

The complete Bible for 78.8 percent of all people is already a good success. But there is still a lot of translation work to be done. Around 11.4 percent of mankind only have the New Testament and a further 6.2 percent only have individual biblical books in their language. About 3.6 percent of all people cannot read or hear any part of the Bible in their mother tongue.

An estimated 21 percent of the 7.8 billion people worldwide do not yet have a complete Bible in their mother tongue (around 1.7 billion people). Over the next 20 years, the aim is to translate the Bible into another 1,200 languages ​​through translation projects. The figures are collected by various organizations.

Languages ​​develop over time and it can be difficult for the younger generation to understand older Bible translations. This is why new translations and revisions for classical Bible languages ​​remain important for the Bible Societies. In 2020, 21 such projects published new editions in languages ​​spoken by around 694 million people. These include B. a Bible in modern Ukrainian and the revision of the Spanish Reina Valera translation.

Biblical books have also been translated for 16 sign languages. They are used by around 2.1 million deaf people. A milestone is the completion of the first complete Bible in sign language (American Sign Language).

Five languages ​​received the full Braille Bible, three of them for the first time, and Braille parts were published in two more. A total of 48 languages ​​now have the full Bible in Braille. Braille gives people with visual impairments access to the Holy Scriptures and comprises around 40 volumes.

In order to be able to successfully complete projects of the Bible translation, further strong commitment of donors is required. In Germany, this work is mainly supported by donors from the World Bible Aid of the German Bible Society.

The German Bible Society is a member of the World Association of Bible Societies, the largest translation agency in the world. The world association has 148 Bible societies and is active in more than 240 countries and territories. Tasks are the translation, production and dissemination of the Holy Scriptures: The world association has published three quarters of the worldwide completely translated Bibles (Old and New Testament). The following rules apply: It is always translated from the original text. Trained native speakers ensure the best possible translation. And it is only translated at the request and initiative of the recipient. It takes a few months to translate a book of the Bible; It takes a group of translators around twelve years to write the entire Bible.

In the German language, the complete Bible is available in over 35 translation variants, from versions close to the original text to slang translations. This is a very comfortable situation that only exists in English. Only in very few other languages ​​is there more than one translation. Many Christians in South America, Africa and Asia are happy when at least one book of the Bible is translated into their mother tongue.