Celebrating the American Sign Language Bible translation

And praying for more laborers to translate the Scriptures

February 22, 2021

For a long time, I had misconceptions about challenges for the deaf concerning Bible reading. Honestly, I had never taken the time to ask someone who suffers with permanent hearing loss about their experience. If I had, I may have learned that the Deaf face unique challenges such as difficulty finding accommodating workplaces, higher rates of depression, and maybe the thing that would have surprised me the most is the fact that many deaf people struggle to read because of the inability to hear the sounds words make. Imagine reading this sentence without the ability to sound out the words in your mind. You would be dependent on memorizing random letters in specific arrangements and assigning meaning to them. This is why American Sign Language (ASL) truly is a unique and vital tool utilized by millions of people in our country today.

I regularly lead tours at Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. Maybe my favorite stop on the tour is the Illuminations room. On the History of the Bible floor there is a display featuring Bibles from many different translations. These are not English translations, though, except for one. In this room, there are hundreds of translations of various languages from around the world. Yet, on the other side of the room you will find yourself surrounded by empty Bibles. These are representative of entire languages that do not have a usable translation of the Scriptures. Until recently, American Sign Language, while not a written language, would have fallen in this category of not having a full Bible translation.

Duane King, a minister in the Independent Christian Church, became burdened for the hearing impaired in his community. In 1970, King began to recognize that the inability to hear often keeps the deaf from attending church. King began learning sign language to reach this overlooked, vulnerable group and began signing from an English Bible translation. Eventually, King recognized this was not good enough, that American Sign Language was its own language and needed its own translation. This began the Deaf Missions Bible project, which featured the work more than 50 translators with competency in both biblical languages and ASL.

Praying for the harvest

The bottom line of my previous ignorance is that I lacked the sight to see the Deaf. And if I’m honest, I often lack that same sight to see the unreached people groups around the world, not to mention the people around me that have not responded to the gospel. Language barriers are a poor excuse for indifference, especially when I am forced to reckon with my failures to share the gospel with fellow English speakers.

In Matthew 9, Jesus looks out over a sea of people as he ministered throughout Galilee. His response was to turn to his disciples and say, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Perhaps you are like me. As I read these words of Jesus, I expect him to say, “So, what are you standing around for? Let’s get busy helping these people!” But as he often does, Jesus’ response is unexpected. He commands the disciples, “Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” When we consider the unreached, our Messiah has commanded us to first pray for God to raise up laborers to send out. 

In light of this, would you join me by taking a moment to pray for these three things?

  1. May God raise up laborers to serve the Deaf community. The data is overwhelming. Less than 5% of deaf persons have a personal relationship with Jesus and well over 80% have no contact with a church. We need more gospel Christians willing to engage this people group.
  2. May God raise up more laborers to translate the Scriptures. There are still thousands of languages—written and sign—that do not have a single verse of Scripture translated into their heart language.
  3. May God raise up laborers to reach the nations. There are still thousands of unreached people groups around the world. This does not just mean “lost” people. Unreached means there is not a viable number of Christians to share the gospel with all the people who make up this group.

Each year, there is a special celebration to rejoice in new Bible translations in the Illuminations room at Museum of the Bible. Empty Bibles that once sat on a shelf marked “In Progress” are moved to a shelf showing translations in process. 2020 marked the year that the entire Bible was finally translated into American Sign Language. This was a monumental accomplishment worthy of celebration. But the work is far from over. There are well over 100 different sign languages in use around the world. Some of them are in regions that are difficult to reach. But God did not command us to make disciples where it was easy or convenient. We are called to do the work required to make disciples of all peoples. God willing we will soon see a time when no person lacks access to the Scriptures translated into their own language.

Michael McAfee

Michael McAfee is the President and Co-Founder of Inspire Experiences. Michael also serves part-time as the Teaching Pastor at Council Road Baptist Church, where he met his wife Lauren in Sunday School 25 years ago. Michael and Lauren co-authored a book on next gen Bible engagement titled Not What You Think. Michael … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24