Monday, January 11, 2010

A Rational Look at the Bible - Part 2

The Uniqueness of the Bible Part 2

In my last article I addressed the uniqueness of the Bible is its continuity. This article will be addressing the Bible’s uniqueness in regards to its circulation and translation. No other book in history even begins to compare to the Scriptures in terms of its total circulation. Also, no other book comes close to compare to the number of translations available with the Bible. Let us look first at the uniqueness of the Bible’s circulation.

We hear about books that reach bestseller lists all of the time, maybe selling close to a couple hundred thousand copies. It is rare to find books that have sold in the millions and even rarer to find one that has sold ten million copies. The Bible, however, has sold copies into the billions. That’s right, billions. More copies have been produced of its entirety as well as selected portions than any other book in history. Some other books may top the Bible in sales in a given month but no other book can compare to the Bibles total circulation.

According to the United Bible Societies’ 1998 Scripture Distribution Report, in that year alone member organizations were responsible for distributing 20.8 million complete Bibles and another 20.1 million testaments. When portions of the Bible (complete books of the Bible) and selections (short extracts of a particular book or topic) are included, the number of distributed copies of the Bible reached 585 million in 1998 alone. Another thing to point out is that these numbers only include the Bibles distributed by the United Bible Society. As the Cambridge History of the Bible states, “No other book has known anything approaching this constant circulation.”

The Bible is also unique in its translation. Most books are never translated into another language. Among the books that are, most of them are translated into only two or three languages. There are hardly any books which see translation figures in the teens. According to the United Bible Societies, the Bible has been translated into more than 2,200 languages. Although this is only about a third of the known languages (6,500), these languages represent communication for over 90 percent of the world’s population. Worldwide, no other book has been translated, retranslated, and paraphrased more than the Bible. And again, these statistics were from over eleven years ago!

The Bible was also one of the first major books translated. In about 250 B.C., the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew to Greek. The name of the translation is called the Septuagint, which means “Seventy” for there were seventy scribes working on its translation. The purpose of the translation is that most of the Jews living in Alexandria could no longer speak or read Hebrew with Greek as their primary language.

Since that time translators have translated both the Old and New Testament into languages that either have or are without a written alphabet. According to Ted Bergman at the Summer Institute of Linguistics, at the rate the Bible is being translated it should be available in just about every language by 2022. That means that we are less than a generation away from seeing the world’s first universally translated text. No other book even comes close to measuring up to the huge standard the Bible has set in its translation, and no other book will. Bible translators are also visiting parts of the world where people’s languages have not been written down and they are helping to bring forth an alphabet for a number of different villages in the remotest parts of the earth.

As we have seen, the Bible is completely unique in its continuity (see Part 1), circulation, and translation. My next three articles will focus on the uniqueness of the Bible in regards to its survival through time, persecution, and criticism. I hope you will come back to read the follow up articles on A Rational Look at the Bible. Thank you.

-Joel Varner