Bible Translation Explained

One of the most frequently asked questions of Bible Society Australia is: why does it take so long to translate God’s word?  

Translator and Bible Engagement Coordinator David Barnett works with Australia’s First Nations peoples. He breaks down every step of this time-consuming but valuable process.

  1. English Front Translation

The goal of Bible translation is to communicate the same meaning in the target language, as to the original audience of the biblical texts. In this initial step, our teams working with First Nations peoples produce an English translation from which the Indigenous translators can translate into their local language. The Front Translation keeps both the source language (Hebrew or Greek) and the target language in mind. 



  1. First Draft

Using the Front Translation, the Indigenous translators produce an initial draft in their language. Translators can work independently, in pairs or small groups to undertake this stage. Complex genres, such as the poetry of the Prophets or abstract language and concepts found in Job, often require several translators to discuss the text and forge a draft. Once complete, it will be keyboarded, printed, and have a reading check done. 



  1. Second, Third, and Fourth Drafts 

A second translator will look over the First Draft and make changes to improve the naturalness and accuracy of the text. Having multiple people engaged in the drafting process ensures that the resulting draft is the culmination of many people’s efforts, rather than reflecting the perspective of just one individual. This drafting stage irons out any English ‘literalisms’, ensuring the Scriptures sound as natural in the target language as possible. It also checks each draft against the Front Translation to make sure the original meaning is being clearly communicated.  


  1. Group Check 

Once the original translator is happy with the draft, a team of translators will conduct a final group check. Anywhere between three and 10 translators will read through the final draft together and make sure the text ‘flows’ and sounds coherent. Any remaining spelling errors or syntactical idiosyncrasies are usually picked up and fixed at this stage.  



  1. Back Translation 

The final draft is translated back into English as literally as possible. This step is ideally performed by someone not involved in the drafting process. The goal is to represent in English as accurately as possible what the final draft of the target language is saying.  




  1. Consultant Check 

A Translation Consultant ensures the final draft conveys accurately the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek Bible. In this check, the Translation Consultant, an accredited expert in the original biblical languages, asks pertinent questions to the translators to ensure the translation is exegetically sound. Word usage issues may also be raised in this step, as well as questions about lexical choices (correct words).  



  1. Community Check 

In this step, the clarity and naturalness of the translation are checked by Indigenous community members. Men and women from the community who have not been previously involved in the translation project are given the translated Scripture to read. The translation is read, and then the reader is asked detailed open-ended questions about what they have just read. This ensures the translation can be clearly understood by the majority of the community.  



  1. Preparation for Publication 

The final layout and format of the text is prepared for publication. A final spell-check of the text is conducted. Book introductions, outlines, chapter headings, footnotes, maps, and illustrations are added at this stage. The book is then typeset, and decisions about the colour, dimensions and specifications of the book are decided by the translation team.  



  1. Publication and Dedication 

The Bible is published, launched, and made available to the community at an official dedication ceremony. This final event celebrates the many years of hard work that have gone into translating the Scriptures, the partnership between the Indigenous translators and communities and supporting organisations, and is a thanks-giving service to God for his faithfulness and kindness in providing his Word to the local people.


Find out more about our translation work.

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