Fortunately I have “lost” two of the Bibles in my language collection. One was in Thai, received as a gift on a visit to Thailand from an American Business man with a passion for the Gospel. Several years after that trip, the secretary of the church I served was telling me about her new neighbor who’s from Thailand. As they built a relationship and got to know each other eventually the conversation came up about Jesus. Throughout her life she had heard random things about Jesus, but really knew nothing about him, so she asked my secretary if she could get her a Bible in Thai. Coming to me with this request, she was shocked when I pulled a Thai Bible off of my shelf. Her neighbor came to faith in Jesus through that Bible in her native language.
I bought a very expensive Chinese and English Bible on a visit to China. A few years later while talking to one of the CTX international students from China, my wife learned that she was curious about Jesus but didn’t know where to get a Bible in Chinese. So without asking me, my wife gave her my beautiful Bible from China. I was not thrilled at first, and I let my wife know how much that Bible cost me, but then was incredibly humbled a month later when I was able to attend a worship service where she was baptized! She came to faith by the Holy Spirit working through a Bible in her native language.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the Reformation was the Word of God being put into the vernacular- or the natural and native language of the people. Martin Luther, as an enemy of the state, spent years translating the texts, and in so doing helped to mold the German language. Before this monumental undertaking, the common person who did not speak Hebrew, Greek or Latin had to trust that whatever the learned said was in fact what God was saying. One can only imagine the power and control that comes from saying you speak directly for God. The reformation tore down that barrier! Now anyone (who could read- another good argument for the great value of education!) could see for themselves exactly what God was saying in the scriptures.
Very quickly it became more than just reading or hearing. With the Reformation coinciding so beautifully with the advent of the printing press- one could actually even own their own copy of the Holy Scriptures! And to this day the Bible is regarding as the bestselling book of all time. How many copies of the Bible do you actually own?
According to the Wycliffe Global Alliance, portions of the scriptures have currently been translated into 3,223 different languages. While this certainly sounds impressive- there is still much work to be done. It is estimated that 1,700-1,800 languages still have none of the scriptures on their language and that translates to approximately 1.5 billion people with the scriptures in their vernacular.
While it can be very easy to take the fact that we have the Bible in our native language for granted, it’s important to ask: what does hearing God’s word in the “vernacular” mean for us today? Luther strived to make a translation that could be easily understood by everyone. How can we speak the Gospel in the vernacular of the people- in a way that they will easily understand? Perhaps we need to think beyond language and explore culture. Do we share the Gospel the same way in the inner city as we do the small rural town? How do we train workers who will be ministering to senior citizens, and how is that different than ministering to teenagers? Even though they may all speak English- how do ethnic background, socioeconomic status, age, and gender (to name a few) come into play in “vernacular”? How do you feel about some people never actually reading the Bible as a book- but instead as an app on their phone?
As we train Christian Leaders, we must train good exegesis of the scriptures- and second to that must be good exegesis of culture. Or- how can we speak God’s eternal truths into the vernacular of a specific people and culture? May the eternal Truth of Jesus life, death and resurrection be boldly spoken and read in every language to every tribe!