I invited my friend and colleague Hart Wiens to write a guest post showing yet another way in which God is using modern high technology to accelerate and improve Bible translation around the world. Jesus was no doubt pleased to see His prayer for unity answered in the way two major organizations worked together on this. Hart is Director of Scripture Translations, Canadian Bible Society.
New Bible Translation Tools for a New Generation
“I think the ParaTExt software is simply incredible. I am constantly amazed at how powerful it is, how fast it is, and how much easier it makes it to do my Bible translation project. ParaTExt is simply brilliant.”
Those words from Matt and Christy Taylor, SIL translators serving in Papua New Guinea, are typical of the user response to the computer tools we deliver to translators around the world. How different is their reality to the tools we carried to our field assignment in the Philippines 40 years ago – a manual typewriter, pencils, reference books and lots of carbon paper and whiteout. We had to retype our work multiple times and used a big table for all the reference books we needed to consult. We repeatedly heard tragic stories of manuscripts being lost, burned, or eaten by termites, sometimes after years of grueling effort.
God’s Gift to Accelerate Bible Translation
Today translators open their computers and on the screen they see a suite of software with multiple windows which all scroll together as they move from one verse to another. Built into our software is an entire library of Bible versions, commentaries, lexicons and other resources which they can display for use in their research even as they enter their translation in a separate window. All their work is saved on a central server in “the cloud” and they can share their work with colleagues in separate locations with the simple click of a button. If the computer is lost, stolen, or damaged, their work is still secure and can easily be recovered. The translated Scriptures are stored in a standard format which makes it relatively easy to convert the files to “typeset” page setup, ready for printing or even for immediate delivery to readers through new media such as e-books and smart phones.
God Uses His People to Develop His Gift
The software is called ParaTExt and is delivered and supported through the computer resource department of SIL, Wycliffe’s field partner, and through the United Bible Societies’ Institute for Computer Assisted Publishing (ICAP). The delivery and support of these tools is one of many ways in which the Bible Societies and SIL partner in the ministry of Bible translation. SIL recognized the immense potential of computers to support Bible translation, when it launched an ambitious project in the 1980s to produce a comprehensive suite of software to support all aspects of SIL field work. For many reasons the project took longer than anticipated, especially for the tools to support Bible translation. Since this was a priority for the Bible Societies, UBS launched a separate project to produce a suite of tools modeled on an early prototype built by Dr.Reinierde Blois, a Bible Society consultant serving in Africa.
A Software Marriage Made in Heaven
When the first version of this program was launched in 1997, it was an immediate and unexpected hit. Very quickly the demand for this software had outstripped the capacity of the Bible Societies to support its users. For some years SIL continued to work on a parallel tool called the Translation Editor (TE), to address needs that were not covered in the early versions of ParaTExt, but the rapid development and increasing ability of ParaTExt to meet their needs, eventually resulted in an agreement to merge the two programs. This agreement to partner was due to the persistence of visionary leadership and the gracious response of SIL software development staff who set aside their tool in order to partner for the greater good of God’s Kingdom.
National Bible translators, many of them translating the Bible into their own mother-tongue, are effusive in their praise:
From Indonesia: Since we started using the latest version of ParaTExt our translation work became integrated and easier for our mother tongue translators and for us as overseers.
From India: The ParaTExt 7 software is a great blessing and help. We wish we had known about it several years ago. That would have reduced our workload immensely.
From Georgia, Eurasia: ParaTExt provides the best translation tools ever on our computers.
From Cameroon, Africa: I want to thank you for ParaTExt 7.1. I hope to use it successfully for Bible Translation into Mfumte language.