Bible Translation

My wife and I were accepted as members of Wycliffe Bible Translators / Summer Institute of Linguistics in August 1959, the day before we were married in Norman, Oklahoma.  Wycliffe works in countries all over the world. (WBT ) We wanted to join this organization because we both had strong convictions about the importance of the Bible in our lives; as  God's revelation to man, it is the primary means by which we know Jesus Christ. So we understood how valuable it is for people who speak other languages to be able to read it in their own language.

In 1960 we were assigned to do Bible translation for the Blackfoot people of Alberta and Montana.

Our training for this task had involved courses in linguistics, field methods, and literacy. We were expected to begin learning to speak Blackfoot and become familiar with the culture, while analyzing the structure of the language; all preparatory to doing translation.

As a result of our efforts, the Blackfoot Gospel of Mark was published in 1972. Shortly after that, I was reassigned as a linguistic consultant to assist other translators, and the translation project was taken over by Greg and Angela Thomson. Greg  translated the Gospel of John, and it was published by the Canadian Bible Society in 1979. Not long after that, he put the Gospel of John and the book of Acts on cassette tape. They were later put on a CD set. Contact Horace Bullbear, Box 1117, Siksika, Alberta T0J 3W0, CANADA; e-mail:

My most recent Bible translation efforts were directed toward translating the script of the 2 hour "JESUS" video into Blackfoot. Olive Davis and I worked over a three year period translating the script, then revising it so that it would fit when dubbed into the video. Various Blackfoot speakers were recorded speaking the parts for the video, which were then dubbed into the sound track. It has been reproduced, and now is being distributed on a DVD. Contact Dan Kees ( for information about acquiring the DVD.

What is involved in Bible translation

Dr. Kenneth Pike used to relate the following to his students at Wycliffe Bible Translators' Summer Institute of Linguistics. A Christian lady  had heard about the thousands of languages lacking any portion of the Bible in their language. Being convinced of the need  to put the Bible into those languages, she offered to help in the following way: If Wycliffe Bible Translators would send her a dictionary for one of the languages, she would be willing to invest her time in preparing a translation.

Obviously, this woman shared a common misconception of what translation is. She viewed it as a word-for-word process, replacing each source language word with an equivalent target language word. Such a view is wrong on at least three levels. First of all, there is almost never  an equivalent word in a target language for any word in a source language. Second, the grammatical structures of two unrelated languages can be radically different, so that a "literal translation" can be meaningless. Finally, languages are rife with idioms and figures of speech which only a native speaker can use naturally.

While I speak of myself as a translator, most of the translation I have done was a joint effort with fluent speakers of Blackfoot. Even if I had much greater ability to speak Blackfoot than I do, I would not presume to be able to do an idiomatic translation of anything into Blackfoot. One of the requirements of a good translation is that it be natural-sounding; in which case, of course, it will not sound like a translation. Only a fluent native speaker of a language can produce the requisite naturalness.

To be continued...                       [back to HOME page]

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