Local language Bible studies at seminary

These days in Nigeria it seems that formal education is pretty much exclusively an English-only affair and seminaries are no exception. So the experimental elective Sociolinguistics for Pastors running in ECWA Theological Seminary Kagoro has sought to shake things up a little. And with the encouragement of Provost and Chaplain, we have tried to encourage the setting up of some local language Bible studies, to complement the existing English language Bible studies.

A survey of languages and interest in local language Bible study led to the formation of around 20 groups, some with large numbers of students, some with just a handful, and leaving others where only 1 or 2 students in the seminary reported ability in that particular language.

The bigger groups include these languages: Gbagyi, Tyap/Kataf, Jju, Koro, Jaba/Hyam, Gworog/Kagoro, Kadara/Adara, Tangale and various Hausa dialects.

There were at least some already translated materials for all of these languages except Kadara, so we connected the groups with existing translation teams where possible or helped students find translations in their languages. Bible.com and bible.is were helpful in this, though some older translations (Gbagyi and Tangale) were not available online yet.

Smaller groups included these languages: Gure/Tugbiri, Eggon, Mada, Ninzo, Nikyob and Kurama.

Some of these communities have completed New Testaments, but others (Tugbiri, Nikyob) have only early work in progress or none at all (Kurama).

As we launched the idea of local language Bible studies, we recognised there were likely to be some difficulties, and so we developed the following guide for non-English Bible Study Groups.

Instructions for non-English Bible Study Groups

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

Why?

The most important reason to study in the vernacular is…

to help each other understand and be changed by the Bible in all areas of our life.

and the second is like it…

to prepare yourself for mission in areas (of life, of the country) where that language is used.

There may be other reasons, but please focus on these two reasons first.

What will we study first?

Luke 22-24 in preparation for Easter and because most communities begin translating Luke.
Then each group is free to choose something interesting to study. It may be more fruitful to choose a book or a large section of a book to study rather than attempting a topical study. This helps you to hear the Bible as it was intended to be heard.

What do we need?

  1. Written or audio recorded translations of Luke 22-24.
  2. The Basic questions below.

The Basic questions

After reading/hearing a large section, ask the big question:

  • What seems most important or most striking about what we just heard?
    Are there any surprises?

Then decide how best to divide the passage into sections.

For each section, ask:

  • What does it say?

    • (Check that you all share an understanding of what is written in the Bible. Don’t assume everyone understands or agrees.)
  • What does that mean?
  • How should that affect our thinking and our living?

    • (What do we learn about God? What is it wise for us to do or think?)

Some suggestions

  1. Keep discussion in the language of the group as much as possible. Use other languages only when needed to communicate clearly, not to impress each other or to pretend you understand.
  2. Read longer sections than you normally study. This helps you to hear everything in proper context and is a good discipline.
  3. Focus on the meaning of the Bible, rather than debating which translation is better.
  4. Use all translations to help you understand the Bible better, but not to impress or boast in front of others.

What if…

…I don’t speak/hear my vernacular/mother tongue:

You might benefit more from joining another language group if you hear that better, including perhaps the Pidgin or Common Hausa groups.

…I don’t read the language well:

You can listen to a recording or make sure a fluent reader reads the passage aloud clearly. Try to follow the printed text.

…our language has no Bible translation

You can refer to other language translations and to biblical languages if that helps you to understand things better, but keep discussion in the group language. Perhaps you might want to think about how to put it in your group’s language.

…the translation seems to have problems or is an early draft

You can refer to other language translations and to biblical languages if that helps you to understand things better, but keep discussion in the group language. If you want to help the translation team improve their work, make a note of possible improvements and an explanation.

Where can we get written or audio translations?

bible.is for languages that already have a published New Testament, including Tyap, Jju, Hausa (audio only), Eggon, Mada, Ninzo, Pidgin.

Other languages will need to contact local Bible translation teams to get the translation, whether a finished product, a trial edition or an early draft. If a team shares a trial edition or an early draft of their work with you, it is good if you pass on any questions or suggestions for improvement that arise.

 

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