On November 11, 1914, Eugene Nida was born in Oklahoma City. He was to have more impact on Bible translation than any other person in the 20th century.

Eugene Nida

After graduating from the University of California, he was exposed to Bible translation at Camp Wycliffe, a training program for Bible translators run by the founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators. He stayed in Bible translation, but worked with the American Bible Society. However, he became a founding member of Wycliffe Bible Translators when it was formed a few years later.

If you read the Bible, or hear it read from the pulpit, you have probably encountered Eugene Nida. This is because Nida pioneered the theory of translation which is used, even if in modified form, in many modern translations. The principles of that theory have guided Bible translators across the world in making translations that are understandable to people in the most varied languages and cultures.

More than a theorist, he wrote practical books about communicating the Gospel across cultures. He also developed practical techniques. For example, he developed a method of breaking words down into components of meaning. The word bachelor can be broken down into the components male + unmarried. This method is widely used to find the best translation when doing the very first translation into a language. It is particularly useful for translating key terms such as faith, sin and salvation. Methods he pioneered lead to translations which better conveyed the true meaning of the text, avoiding problems such as that of I John 5:12 in the Luganda translation which many take to mean that a person who dies without a male child will not have eternal life. If you are on Facebook, see this described by Enoch Wandera.

My reading of I Cor 12:28 is that God gives specially gifted people to his church.

First, God chose some people to be apostles and prophets and teachers for the church. But he also chose some to work miracles or heal the sick or help others or be leaders or speak different kinds of languages.

There was an explosion in Bible translation in the 20th century. The number of languages with some translation in print went from about 500 to over 2200 during that century – rate of a new language every three weeks! And that was when Nida graduated suma cum laude from university, went on to get a doctorate in linguistics and entered the field of Bible translation. Thousands of missionary translators were fanning out across the globe and the Bible . They needed training and some guiding principles. his writing, teaching and theories provided that. I believe that he clearly was God’s gift to his church to support the rapid expansion of Bible translation. His gifted life is yet another sign that God is creating an unprecedented, worldwide push to translate the Bible into all languages. While Nida’s story is not exciting, without it many of the exciting stories of Bible translation would not have happened.

Dr. Nida passed away in 2011.

If you liked this, you might also like Who would have guessed?, Not just anyone can translate, or Another kind of KP.

7 thoughts on “Nida

  1. Ed, nice piece about Gene Nida. He was a good friend of my parents. I think they taught together at Bacone Indian College in Oklahoma in the 1930s or maybe they went to U of OK for grad school at the same time. When we lived in NY, I remember my folks visited and we took them for a visit over to Connecticut (Greenwich?) where he lived, semi-retired. I knew he was involved in American Bible Society, but had no idea he was one of the founders of Wycliffe. Thanks — John


    John W Dolan, Ph.D.

    LC Resources Inc.

    15664 SE Woodland Hts

    Amity, OR 97101


    ask about our LC training classes



    • It’s a small world! I think that it was Nida’s contact with Townsend that started him in his career of Bible translation – with the American Bible Society as it turned out. But his impact was, and is, much bigger than the American Bible Society.


  2. I was privileged to meet Dr. Nida at a Linguistic Society of America conference where he spoke while on furlough from my Wycliffe assignment. He was so very kind to visit with me and inquired about how some of my associates he knew from a workshop he had led were doing in the Philippines.


  3. Very timely! In our CareGroup we were in that passage ! John 5:1-12. So I was able to comment about needing a male child to gain eternal life in the translation to the Lagunda language. We thank you for all you do to bring God’s Word to others in their own tongue. (Without changing the meaning too much.) Maxine


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