Bible Translation — The Necessity of Translation

“That Book in Your Hand”

If “That Book in Your Hand” is a translation, you want to have confidence in it.  We’re looking at the principle of Bible translation itself — God’s idea, or man’s?  We’ve already seen that God approves translation.  Now, we’ll look at the necessity of translation.

People speak different languages, so translation is necessary.  That’s entirely logical.  But since this series is on Bibliology, a theology of Scripture, we start with what God Himself has said.  Then, we can apply logic as appropriate.  If we use God’s Word to establish our doctrine and practice, we might even learn something about Him along the way.


Sermons on the nature of the Bible (Bibliology):

  1. The inspiration of the Scriptures, their divine nature, from II Timothy 3:16.
  2. The moving of the Spirit in giving us the Scriptures, from II Peter 1:19-21.
  3. The inerrancy of God’s Word (its complete reliability).
  4. The preservation of God’s Word.
  5. The illumination of the Scriptures, the work of the Holy Spirit in helping us to understand spiritual truths.
  6. The perspicuity of Scripture — the Scriptures can be understood and rightly interpreted.
  7. The canon of Scripture — this wasn’t a sermon, but it belongs in this study on Bibliology
  8. The unity of Scripture — it is one Book by one Author with one unifying message.
  9. The sufficiency of Scripture — the Bible is complete, and provides all we need to bring us to salvation and to guide us in a God-honouring life.

Previous post on Bible translations:

  • Scripture translation is approved by God, as we can see by the use of languages in the Bible and the use of translated Old Testament passages in the New Testament.

Languages — God’s Idea

Genesis 11:7

Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.

The story of the Tower of Babel is well-known.  To frustrate man’s rebellion after the flood, God “confounded” or confused their language, establishing different languages to scatter people throughout the world into different nations.

We don’t know how many languages there were.  Many of today’s languages apparently derived from parent languages, and perhaps there were only a few languages after the Tower of Babel.  Whether today’s languages were created by God or developed under His providence from languages He created, languages are His invention.

Languages — For All of History

Revelation 7:9

After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;

This is one of multiple end-time passages which refer to people “of all tongues” (languages).  There is no Scriptural indication that diversity of languages is going to end while the world exists, and abundant evidence that it is here to stay.

Languages — No General Miraculous Solution

I Corinthians 12:8-11

8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:
11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

Setting aside for another day the modern controversy over tongues, the Scripture is clear that, at least during the time of the epistle to Corinthians, God was giving the miraculous ability to speak and to interpret / translate languages (“tongues”).

It is also clear that this gift is not to all, for Paul says the Spirit gives different spiritual gifts as He wills.  God did not give every believer miraculous ability to speak and understand foreign languages, as we can see in this passage (and by looking at believers around us).  Neither in the world at large, nor among His people, has He chosen to miraculously remove the “problem” of different languages so people can communicate freely.

Side note:  This is hardly surprising.  Rarely has the Lord used miracles for things we can handle without miraculous intervention.  People can learn languages — all it takes is work, and the Lord doesn’t encourage laziness.  In general, if the Lord were to give a miraculous ability to speak and understand foreign languages, we would expect it to be for situations when the work of learning the language isn’t practical.  That’s the way He usually works.  He doesn’t usually just hand us money to support our families.  The general pattern is that He makes it possible for us to work.

God Sent the Gospel for People of All Languages

Mark 16:15

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

Matthew 28:19

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations….

Our Lord is not the God of one nation or one people, but of all nations throughout all the world.  He commanded His people to take the good news of Jesus Christ everywhere, and that includes going to people of all languages.

The Gospel is Communicated by the Scripture

Romans 10:17

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Faith comes by hearing the Word of God.  A Gospel presentation must be Scriptural.  It is the Word of God, not human logic, skilled oratory, or clever presentations, that penetrates the heart and turns a soul to the Saviour, as we see in Hebrews:

Hebrews 4:12

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

But if it is the Word of God which touches the heart and communicates the Gospel, and the message of salvation is to go to people of all languages, then the Scriptures must go to people of all languages.  We see this more directly in the following passage:

Romans 16:25-27

25 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,
26 But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:
16:27 To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.

I’ve cited this passage before in reference to Bible translation.  It is by the Scriptures that the Gospel is made manifest to the nations — and the nations speak different languages.  If they are going to hear the Gospel, and it comes by the Scriptures, they either have to hear translated Scripture or learn Hebrew and Greek.

The Great Commission doesn’t mention the need to teach Biblical languages to the lost as a precursor to giving the Gospel.  The Philippian jailer wasn’t told to learn Hebrew when he asked how to be saved.  Knowledge of Greek and Hebrew is not a prerequisite for salvation.  The Holy Spirit didn’t give all believers the gift of tongues (as we saw above), nor was evangelism the primary purpose for which the gift was given, anyway (I Corinthians 14:21-22).

  • If God is revealing the Gospel by the Scriptures to all nations (and He is)…
  • If the Scriptures were given in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek (and they are)…
  • If we are His agents in that process (and we are)…
  • If we are to take the Gospel to all nations (and we are)…
  • If not all nations speak Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek (and they don’t)…
  • If He hasn’t miraculously solved the language barrier (and He hasn’t)…


A translation is necessary when taking the Gospel to those who don’t know Biblical Hebrew and Greek, which means virtually everyone in the world today.

It’s Actually God’s Pattern

We shouldn’t be surprised that a translation is a necessary part of God’s plan for the spread of the Gospel.  It fits with everything else God does, because in His love and mercy, He comes to lost sinners where they are.

  • He loved us where we were, in sin and rebellion.  He didn’t wait until we were holy to love us and make provision for us.
  • He didn’t wait for us to decide we needed Him, He reached out to us first.
  • He didn’t wait until we were spiritual, but sent His Son as a man, reaching us where we are as flesh and blood, becoming “God with us.”
  • He didn’t demand that people to come to a central location, He sent His servants into all the world to find people where they are with His message.

There are no prerequisites, no advance requirements, to the Gospel.  You don’t have to be good, you don’t have to show that you love God first, you don’t have to understand spiritual things, you don’t have to go anywhere in particular — and you don’t need to know a particular language.

Luke 19:10

For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

He loved us, and came to seek and save.  He came to a sinful world, because that is where we were.  He came as a man, because humanity is where we were.  He sends His messengers with the Gospel to where people are — and He sends His Word in the language they speak.

Bible translation simply continues His pattern.  It is a reminder of the greatest translation of all, when God translated Himself into humanity, coming to humanity in terms we could understand, to seek and to save lost sinners.  His choice to reach out through translation demonstrates, yet again, His glorious grace.

About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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1 Response to Bible Translation — The Necessity of Translation

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