About a decade ago, Matt Williams was preparing to teach an advanced class on Galatians at a Bible institute in Barcelona, when he ran into a big problem. After an extensive search for the right textbook, he realized there wasn’t a single Spanish-language commentary suitable for helping his students dig into the biblical text.
“The best I could find was a devotional commentary — which you don’t want for a master’s level class — and then a German, very liberal commentary,” said Williams, who now serves as an associate professor of biblical and theological studies at Biola. “It hit me hard at that point: Spain, and the Spanish world, really doesn’t have these kinds of books.”
The experience triggered an idea. The following summer, after finding a publisher, recruiting a translator and receiving a few significant donations, Williams launched an ambitious project to translate key biblical commentaries and theological works into Spanish — with F.F. Bruce’s commentary on Galatians being among the first.
In the decade since, Williams and a team back in Spain have translated more than 40 books, including such significant works as Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology and George Eldon Ladd’s A Theology of the New Testament, with many more on the way. Currently, the team is in the process of translating Zondervan’s entire NIV Application Commentary series on the New Testament — a massive undertaking.
The goal of it all, Williams said, is to provide pastors and Christian educators in Spain and Latin America with solid, reliable material that will help them understand and teach the Bible better.
“I look around and there’s just absolutely nothing like it,” he said. “Most Spanish publishing companies publish the ‘10 Steps to a Better Christian Life’-type devotional books, and every now and then they’ll publish an academic, biblical or theological book. But nobody’s doing anything like this. It’s pretty fun.”
The project seems unlikely for a man who didn’t even know how to speak Spanish just 15 years ago.
In 1996, after completing a Ph.D. at Trinity International University in Illinois, Williams and his wife answered the call to serve as missionaries in Spain, where just 0.2 percent of the population is made up of evangelical Christians, he said. (The country has a lower concentration of evangelical Christians than any other non-Muslim country in the world.) After studying Spain’s culture, history and language at the University of Barcelona, Williams began to teach at the Spanish Bible Institute and Theological Seminary in Barcelona. That’s when the dire need for evangelical literature in Spanish became obvious to him, and the ambitious translation work began.
Now, as general editor of two series of Spanish books — Colección Teológica Contemporánea from Spanish publisher Clie and Biblioteca Teológica Vida from Zondervan — Williams partners with his publishers to select books, oversees a small team of translators, reviews the accuracy of the translations and assists in marketing efforts. (All this while teaching New Testament classes at Biola, where he was named professor of the year by students in 2004.)
For now, the project has no end in sight. Next up is a translation of N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian and more volumes in the NIV commentary series.
Williams said he’s been grateful for the vision of the two publishers who have taken on the project, knowing that while the books aren’t going to become bestsellers, they have the potential to make a huge impact in people’s understanding of the Bible.
“You’re never going to get a lot of sales, but — and that’s a big but — if you can train a pastor with good academic stuff and he gives it to his congregation, you’ve now reached 50 or 200 or 500,” he said. “With one sale, you can impact hundreds of people.”