Every week, not only is a new Bible or New Testament translation completed, but work starts on seven new languages! This means the world is witnessing a remarkable acceleration in Bible translation.

Technology – from the printing press of the 15th century to smartphone apps in the 21st century – has always played a huge role in getting the word of God into the hands and hearts of more and more people worldwide.

It is incredibly exciting to see how God is using advances in technology to bring the vision of everyone being able to know Jesus through the Bible closer to reality

Artificial intelligence (AI) tools such as ChatGPT have recently made headlines. And technology development teams serving through Wycliffe and partner organisations are at the forefront in using cutting-edge AI to help local Bible translators produce high-quality translations quicker than ever before. That makes an enormous difference, as Bible translation is urgent work – too many people are still living and dying without the opportunity to know what God says through the Bible.

Here are three ways technology is helping advance Bible translation:

1 – Translation software

The primary software that translation teams around the world use is called Paratext. This innovative software contains the Bible in the original Hebrew and Greek, as well as in multiple other languages. It also includes commentaries and dictionaries that translators can use to research the meaning of the passage they are translating.

The software enables translators to compare the translation they are working on in their language side-by-side with the original language and other translations (see below). It also means that all members of the translation team can work on the passage together in real time, even if they are in different countries and continents.

Ashe Paratext Translation Sideware Using Paratext to translate Luke 14 into Ashe, a language of Nigeria: (L to R) Ashe, a translation from Ashe into English, Greek, English

2 – Translation drafting

The Bible Translator’s Assistant (TBTA) is a machine-assisted program that is being developed and tested around the world. The aim of TBTA is to produce high-quality first drafts so that translation teams can focus on developing them into accurate and natural final drafts.

Teams participating in pilot projects in Kenya have found it has speeded up their work significantly. ‘Today we edited Chapter 1 of Ruth and half of the second chapter,’ one project leader reported. ‘I am hopeful that tomorrow, we will have dealt with the entire book!’

This will mean many more people having the Bible in their language in their lifetime

TBTA has the potential to reduce the usual translation timescale by 30–40%, which could reduce the time needed for a complete translation of the Bible down to as little as 12 years. That would mean many more people having the Bible in their language in their lifetime.

3 – Translation checking

AI teams are also developing the Augmented Quality Assessment (AQuA) tool to help with the accuracy checking process that is a crucial part of all Bible translation projects. Using AI to align the original biblical text in Hebrew or Greek with the draft translation, AQuA produces data about how close the translation is to the original, which can help identify areas for the checking team to focus on.

‘By automating the more tedious aspects of the checking process, we hope that translation teams will have more time to focus on the aspects that truly require their skill and human insight,’ notes Mark Woodward, who works with the AQuA team.

Bridging the gap

Each of these innovations is bridging the gap between ancient Scriptures and modern languages, so that everyone, whatever language they speak, will be able to know Jesus through the Bible in their language. It is incredibly exciting to see how God is using advances in technology to bring that vision closer to reality.

Story by: Alfred Thompson

Date: 18/05/2023

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