The Extraordinary Story Of Bible Translation Around The World

A young boy stands by a display featuring Bible stories translated into Chinese at the Xinhua bookstore in Beijing.Reuters

Most people are unlikely to pick up a copy of a Shakespeare play at the newsagents to help them while away a long train journey or flight. Despite this, 'the Bard' is still regarded by many as the greatest writer that these islands have ever produced. What is less well known, is that Shakespeare's plays and poetry are well received around the world. If you are so inclined, you can find translations of Hamlet in 75 different languages – including Klingon!

However, in terms of international popularity, the venerable Bard is challenged by a comparative newcomer. There are more than 70 official translations of JK Rowling's Harry Potter books, with a significant number of unauthorised versions available in yet more languages. If you want to know what the Japanese is for 'muggle' or to discover how to write Latin sounding spells in real Latin, the books are out there.

However, Shakespeare and JK Rowling are miles behind the UN Declaration of Human Rights which is available in 370 different languages from Abkhaz to Zulu.

These are all worthy efforts, but the real champion of international availability is the Bible. This month, Wycliffe Bible Translators released the latest Scripture access statistics which tell a truly amazing story.

The bottom line figure is that there are passages of the Bible available in 3,223 different languages. This includes 636 languages which have a complete Bible and 1,442 more with a whole New Testament.

However, there is more to the story than printed Bibles. Over the last year, You Version added the thousandth language to its mobile Bible app. Faith Comes By Hearing has also produced audio Scriptures in more than 1,000 languages. The JESUS Film, which is based on the text of Luke's Gospel, is the most widely translated and distributed movie that the world has ever seen – currently it is available in more than 1,460 languages.

In a highly literate society like the UK, we might see audio Bibles and films as a bit of a luxury. However, many of the world's cultures are oral, and audio and video recordings are vital if they are to understand the story of the Bible. Additionally, a smartphone app and files that can be shared by Bluetooth are a much more discrete way of carrying a Bible in situations where actually having a printed book might be dangerous.

In the English-speaking world, we have more different translations of the Bible than we know what to do with. You don't have to look very far on the internet to find supporters of the various versions arguing the merits of their particular favourite. Meanwhile, around the world, translators are quietly translating the Scriptures into ever more languages. This is a truly international, cooperative venture that we should be proud of.

Today, Wycliffe, the various Bible Societies and local Christians around the globe are working to translate the Bible into more than 2,400 languages. Harry Potter and Shakespeare would be jealous, but this is a story that many Christians in the UK don't even know about.