The How and Why of Bible Translation

Can you guess how many different languages there are in the world? You’re probably sitting at your computer or with your phone in hand, mentally tallying every language that you know. “Okay, there’s English. And then Spanish. French. German. Italian. Chinese. Latin. Does Pig Latin count? Do I know anyone who speaks Greek or Hebrew? … ”

Here’s the answer: There are around 7,000 different languages in the world. Most people don’t know there are that many languages spoken around the world, so it’ll be equally surprising to discover that more than 5,000 of those languages still have less than a full New Testament. That number represents roughly 600 million people, including 160 million people who don’t have a single word of Scripture in a language they can clearly understand.

And that’s precisely why JAARS, SIL International®, affiliates of Wycliffe Global Alliance, and scores of other organizations exist: to ensure that people around the world have access to God’s Word in the language they understand best.

Why is it so important for people to have the Bible in their own language?

Quite simply, the Bible is God’s love letter—written to us and for us. When the Bible is available to people in the language that speaks directly to their hearts, lives—even entire communities—change as people are drawn into a personal relationship with God. People are freed from addictions. Families are healed. And lives are transformed.

What does JAARS do to help Bible Translation?

Early on, Wycliffe founder Cameron Townsend realized that when missionaries spent weeks trekking through rain forest and over mountains, months building structures to meet their basic housing needs, and years risking their lives and health in remote regions, they had little time left for the translation work God had called them to do. So he started an organization called Jungle Aviation and Radio Service (known today as JAARS) to provide the practical support that makes it possible for translators to travel safely and work more quickly, easily, and accurately.

At first, JAARS concentrated on providing small airplanes and short wave radios. As the work expanded and technology advanced, JAARS expanded too, providing other forms of transportation and communication, along with developing newer and more efficient ways of doing translation work.

Today JAARS focuses on solving logistical issues related to transportation, technology, media and training—and we never stop changing, always seeking the best solutions to support Scripture translation and engagement and practicing the best possible stewardship of the resources God has provided. We seek godly counsel, research, brainstorm with experts, evaluate geography and political climates, forecast changing needs as best we can—and pray, pray, pray!

What can you do to help Bible translation?

We have seen God work for almost 70 years through people like you. More than 700 people help out at the JAARS Center in North Carolina. Some receive their financial support from churches and individual partners. A small number are paid JAARS staff. But nearly half of them are volunteers, working part-time or full-time, seasonally or year-round, applying their training and experience to make Scripture translation possible even in the remotest regions of the world. In addition there are other volunteers, scattered across the US and abroad, who work and pray right where they are to serve God’s purposes as they are called.

There are many unfilled needs waiting for someone like you. To learn more about how God might be calling you, go to