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  • Matt Windsor

Steps to Translating the Bible

Often people are curious about the process of translating the Bible. How does a community go from nothing to a published New Testament in their own language? Typically a language project includes a lot of community planning and training before any translation takes place. But once it comes to dealing with the actual text, here are some of the common steps that help ensure the final translation is clear, accurate, and natural (in loose order):

Exegesis (interpretation): The translation team studies the meaning of the Biblical text together, using multiple versions, commentaries, and other available resources.

Draft 1: A local translator makes an initial draft as a starting point, and enters it into a translation software program. Sometimes this draft can be done collaboratively on an overhead, or even recorded orally from a storyteller with a powerful memory.

Team Checks: The other members of the translation team read over the draft, making comments and suggestions, reviewing questions of interpretation with exegetical advisers.

Key Biblical Terms: The team needs to consider carefully how to translate specific cultural or religious practices of Israel, such as “atonement”, or other important thematic concepts like “forgiveness.”

Community testing: The translation is read aloud to community members to test how natural it sounds in the language, and comprehension questions can be used to ensure the translation is clear, meaning it doesn’t inadvertently communicate a wrong meaning. This step is important for catching misunderstandings.

Back-translation: A separate translator makes a literal translation from the local language back into a national trade language like English. This step helps ensure the translation isn’t missing anything it needs to stay accurate to the meaning of the original text.

Consultant check: A translation consultant from Wycliffe or the Canadian Bible Society works with the team to test for faithfulness to the original Greek or Hebrew text.

Distribution to reviewers: If multiple denominations or dialects are involved, it is helpful to receive feedback from members of all the groups invested in the translation. For example, the Naskapi translation team did a final review with the elders of Kawawa, who represent the traditional authority on matters of Naskapi language.

After the translation team cycles through these steps, some more than once, the translation can be typeset for publication and an audio version can be recorded.

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