The Historical Mandate for Bible Translation

The Historical Mandate for Bible Translation

From where did the idea come that everyone needs the Bible in their own language?

The Historical Mandate for Bible Translation

Bible translation is not commanded in the Bible. As disciples of Jesus, we are clearly instructed to “make disciples” as part of what we do here on earth:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” —Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)

Bible translation is implied, as it is difficult (if not impossible) to be a disciple (meaning “learner”) without having the textbook. Being able to read and study the Bible in one’s heart language is an important part of becoming a mature disciple of Christ.

The so-called modern Bible translation movement may be reasonably considered to have started in England in 1802.1 In a meeting of multiple denominations (that usually disagreed vehemently with each other), the greater Church in England resolved to form a society to meet the need for more Bibles. While the intent of the meeting was to meet the need for Bibles in Wales, the result was the formation of the British and Foreign Bible Society with the following mandate:

  1. provide faithful Bible translations
  2. without denominational slant
  3. at the lowest possible cost

The greater Church in many other countries has ratified the same mandate all over the world since then. While at first focused exclusively on distribution, translation soon became a critical first step. The Bible Societies self-coordinated under the banner of the United Bible Societies.

Eventually, many other organizations were formed to help meet the same need. The vast majority of them have self-coordinated as the Forum of Bible Agencies, which was started by the UBS to help them coordinate Bible translation globally. The mandate given to them (and by extension every Bible translation organization) is still valid. The Church has never rescinded the mandate to Bible translation organizations.

The “free and open” movement2 has always been about accomplishing this mandate and picking up where some Bible Societies have failed in the mandate of the greater Church, with a particular focus on improving the “distribution” in every language “at the lowest possible cost.”


  1. Robertson, E. H. (1996). Taking the Word to the world: 50 years of the United Bible Societies. Nashville, Tenn.: T. Nelson Publishers.
  2. Schaff, P. (1908). Bible Reading by the Laity, Restrictions on. New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. II: Basilica - Chambers. Retrieved from,%20Restrictions%20on


  1. The so-called “free and open movement” is described in The Christian Commons and a real-world implementation of the concept is being collaboratively built at

  2. The events of that meeting are recounted in (Schaff, 1908) and (Robertson, 1996)