Thinking Out Loud

March 21, 2011

When Bible Translation Has Nothing To Do With Books

I’m a bit of a Bible bigot.

My prejudices have nothing to do with a particular translation.  No, we don’t more of those people running around.  My bias has to do with the form the finished Bible takes.

I asked someone recently what they think the Bible translation process involves.  They gave me the answer I expected, the answer I would have given until just days ago:

  • Missionary translators learn the local language
  • The language is put it written form
  • The native people are taught how to read their own language
  • The New Testament (usually beginning with John’s gospel) is translated into that written language
  • Printed copies of the completed books are given out

Great concept.  Sometimes, that’s how it’s done.  But overall this view has one problem:  It doesn’t match the experience of many people working to bring the story of Jesus to remote tribes.

The problem is with the words: “Read,” “books,” “printed,” “written.”

Many of the world’s peoples are not readers.  It’s not that they are illiterate in the sense that a young man living on the streets of Detroit is not able to read in the middle of a culture full of literates.  It’s not that they are illiterate in the sense of a woman in Atlanta whose makeshift home is insulated with newspapers containing words she cannot understand.

Rather, it’s because, half a world away, theirs is a culture of orality.  No, I’d never heard the word before, either.  Simply put, they are oral learners.

We’re talking about people who would benefit much more from an audio Bible than one bound in bonded leather with gold edged pages.   Think about it: Once translators had acquired the language verbally, they could immediately produce a verbal (spoken) translation of the Bible, and then disseminate it using some kind of playback device.

But how to do that in an age where cassettes break and CD players skip or wear out?

Enter mp3 technology.  The time is right.  The time is now.

And that’s the theory behind MegaVoice.  The term describes

For me, learning about MegaVoice has been a paradigm-shattering experience that has changed everything I’ve believed about how the translation process and the evangelization process works.  I live in a world of text, a world of print media, and the possibility of such a widespread population of oral communicators simply never occurred to me.

So that said, I’m going to come back to MegaVoice again here at some point in the future.  But if you’re one of the needle-in-a-haystack people reading this who is truly challenged by the possibilities this raises, I want to link you a .pdf file of a book, Making Disciples of Oral Learners, originally written as a paper published for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization in Thailand in the fall of 2004, and published in 2005.

When you link to the book, start reading at page 3 and pay particular attention to the part from page 3 to page 30.

And if you’re one of the blessed people who is always looking for a project worthy of financial support, consider directly supporting this ministry.  Whether in print copies or audio copies, the Word of God is still powerful, and doesn’t just “bounce off the walls,” but will accomplish great things in peoples’ lives. (Isaiah 55:11)

A small sampling of the many languages on file in the MegaVoice library


  1. Thank you for bringing this to my attention and awareness. Truly amazing. Incredible, actually.

    Comment by Paul — March 21, 2011 @ 8:53 pm

  2. I am old enough to remember the work of Gospel Recordings. This, with mp3 and solar power holds great opportunities and could hasten the day of His coming as the Gospel reaches more tribes and tongues.

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — March 27, 2011 @ 4:21 pm

  3. Thanks for this, Paul. We’ve recently had an audio production of the New Testament that I worked on in Ivory Coast, it was produced by Faith Comes by Hearing – a great group who are well worth checking out.

    Recently, I gave a public lecture which included a long section on orality, which you might enjoy.

    Comment by Eddie — May 29, 2011 @ 12:56 am

  4. […] producing oral texts for both major and obscure language groups, check out this article about Megavoice. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Leave a […]

    Pingback by Doers…and Not Hearers Only « Christianity 201 — April 29, 2012 @ 5:55 pm

  5. Links to a more recent post with a video from Wycliffe Canada

    Pingback by Getting The Story Out: Bible Translation « Thinking Out Loud — November 11, 2012 @ 11:11 am

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