FAQ: Why Translate the Bible for Oral Cultures?

There are many “orality movements” in missions circle today which emphasize the oral transmission of Bible stories. We think all of that is great, but not to the exclusion of a translated copy of the Word of God. We believe that it is absolutely imperative that every language group should have the entire Bible in their own language for the following reasons:1. God Chose to Write his Message Down 

God could have chosen any medium of communicating his message to the world but, even knowing oral societies exist, he still chose to write his message down. Therefore, Bible Translation honors not only the substance of God’s message, but also the medium in which God communicates his message.

2. The Bible can be Read Aloud 
In the 1st century church, the literate would read epistles to the rest of the congregation. For example, Paul said in 1 Thess 5:27,

“I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.”

This should also be the pattern in churches today – the Word of God should be read aloud for all to hear.3. Without a Copy of the Scriptures, Heresy can Quickly Emerge 

Do you remember playing the game “Telephone” as a child? The idea is that one person will whisper something into the ear of the person sitting next to them, then that person will whisper it into the ear of their neighbor, and so on. Finally the one at the end reveals what he believes the first person said. And then what happens? Everyone giggles because typically the message ends up quite different then what the first person intended because it was passed in between so many people.In the same way, if we are orally transmitting Bible stories from one person to another, it is highly likely that the message will be twisted—especially when it is being transmitted from one unbeliever to another. However, if we are transmitting stories and leaving the local church with a copy of the Scriptures, there is a way for false doctrine to be corrected. Even with the Bible, the church is constantly having to battle against false doctrine—how much more if the church does not have the Bible at all?

4. Christians in Oral Societies Can Understand the Bible 

All who are “taught by God” will understand the Scriptures whether they are an uneducated fisherman, a hunter-gatherer in the rain forest, a 6-year-old little girl, or a business executive. The elect in oral societies will understand God’s Word because the Holy Spirit himself will teach them his word. The fact that one is illiterate does not mean that he cannot understand the Word of God, whether through learning to read or hearing the Word orally.

“But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie–just as it has taught you, abide in him.” 1 John 2:27

After reviewing the reasons for the current orality movement, we have been convinced that presenting the Word of God orally is extremely helpful and needed. However, we do not believe that it is a replacement for the written text of the Bible. God has chosen and commanded that his Word be written down and there are many dangers to not making the written Word available to all. So, we have made it the goal of our lives to take the written Word of God and translate it so that even those currently lacking literacy could be able to one day read it in their own language.


Author: Stacey Hare

Stacey is a servant of Jesus Christ as well as a wife, mom, linguist, and Bible translator among the Kwakum people of Cameroon.