A Christian organisation has calculated that the speakers of 1,967 languages do not have a Bible translation available to them. The cost of addressing this issue would be less than The Avengers movie grossed worldwide last year.

The Christian Post blog has put together an infographic based on Wycliffe Bible Translators estimate that 209 million people across the globe do not have access to a Bible. With nearly 7,000 languages spoken, the people who speak 28 per cent of these languages are unable to read the book in their mother tongue. To get translated Bibles to the 209 million people who need them is something of a challenge.

But what is the cost? 

In order to fund this project, Wycliffe estimates $500 million (£325 million) is needed to start each translation in the necessary languages. Of course, this is a huge sum, but the infographic shows that it is also less than the amount Americans spend on Big Macs each year ($2.3 billion annually).

The Bible recently became the top-selling book in Norway as a result of a new translation. Although the country has among the smallest group of followers of organised religion in Europe, the text became the best-selling book of the year in 2012. Selling 160,000 copies, the Norwegian Bible Society translation outsold EL James’ racy hit Fifty Shades of Grey.

According to the Huffington Post, the promotional campaign for the translated religious text helped increase its demand. Young readers could choose a copy with a pink leather or blue denim cover, and adults had a choice of covers featuring elegant, specially-created designs.

Wycliffe was founded by William Cameron Townsend in 1942 following his missionary to Guatemala where he stayed with the Cakchiquel Indians. While preaching Christianity there, he was approached by some of the local men who said they were concerned God did not speak the same language as them. Townsend agreed, and so vowed to work towards making a Bible available in every world language.

It’s all down to interpretation

Bible translations are not all identical. As with any translation, the target language affects the end result, as some words do not have an equivalent in that language. Meanwhile, the fact it was written so long ago, in a language that has since fallen out of use, been revived again and evolved over hundreds of years means that translating the original text of the Bible involves a fair degree of interpretation.

For instance, Renaissance-era paintings and sculptures of Moses often depict him as having horns growing from his head. This is the result of an earlier mistranslation in the Bible. Indeed, it was the patron saint of translation himself, St Jerome, who made the possible error.

In the original Hebrew text, Moses is described as coming down Mount Sinai with an expression of “karan”, which means shining or radiant. However, the word is based on the Hebrew word for ‘horn’ and St Jerome translated it as such, believing it to be a metaphor for ‘glorified’. Whether later artists like Michelangelo read the description literally or metaphorically, Moses was portrayed with horns for many centuries after.

Another possible Bible mistranslation is that of “thou shalt not covet”. Biblical scholar Dr Joel Hoffman claims that the word in original Hebrew means “take”, which is a physical action rather than a thought, as the word ‘covet’ seems to suggest. This would mean that the real commandment contained within the Bible is that while you might covet your neighbour’s wife, manservant or ox, you should not take them.