Category Archives: Bible Translation

Are we gospelly?

Sometimes we may think we have thought of something for the first time and it turns out that someone else got in there before us. In Bible translation work nowadays we are committed to using local languages to express Biblical concepts, but in modern English a lot of our key Biblical terms are very Latinate: jusitification, sanctification, redemption, resurrection. It almost looks as though, when Christianity was taking hold in Britain that English wasn’t seen to be sufficient to express these ideas. Or was it?

I’ve been having a look at Christian vocabulary in Old English and that really doesn’t seem to be the case at all. (Old English was spoken for over six centuries and the precursor of Modern English, with some Latin, French and other languages thrown in along the way.) Old English, a bit like modern German, could easily make new words by combining old ones; and it seems that Christians of the time often used words that were already in the language to express Christian ideas in ways that would be clearly understood. Then somewhere along the line people lost their nerve, decided that English really wasn’t the proper way to talk about these things and we have been left with Latin ever since.

Have a look at the table below.

Latin Modern English Old English Modernised Old English
resurrectio resurrection ærist rising
justificare justify rihtwísian righting (we still have the word ‘righteous’ from the same root)
redimere redeem/redemption liesan/alisedness   abycgan loose/release, buy
sanctificare sanctify gehalgian to make holy (holy and hallow are both from Old English)
incarnatio incarnation  inflæscnes infleshness (or perhaps inbody-ing)
trinitas trinity þriness (thriness) threeness
gratia grace giefnes/gifnes giveness (the Old English word is closely related to ‘forgiveness’ and ‘gift’)

Now some Old English words have stuck. We still talk about church (cirice), but something to do with the church is ‘ecclesiastical’ and not ‘churchly’ (in Old English they had ciriclec). We have ‘heaven’ (heofon), ‘sin’ (synn), ‘holy’ (halig), ‘forgiveness’ (forgifnes) and ‘worship’ (weorþscipe – a noun denoting something with worthiness or excellence), and ‘God’ (God).

And, of course, we still have ‘Gospel’. The Old English for that was ‘Godspell’, made of god (‘good’) and spell (‘news, account or story’). But nowadays we have an ‘evangelist’ rather than a ‘gospeller’ (godspellere). The ‘gospeller’ might go around ‘gospelling’ (godspellian).

So many of our Christian terms are fairly meaningless for the unchurched in modern Britain. Most people don’t think of ‘undeserved favour’ when they hear the word ‘grace’, for example. Perhaps it’s time to take a leaf out the Anglo-Saxons’ book and consider how we can express the good news in really down-to-earth language, in English as well as in many languages throughout the world where the speakers don’t yet have Scriptures or key Biblical terms. That’s one way for us to be ‘gospelly’ (godspellic).

12 years 4 months + 19 days since we were commissioned

It’s 12 years, 4 months and 19 days since we were commissioned in the Buchanan Street building just before we headed to Kenya. Much has changed since then hasn’t it? We went to Nairobi to begin 2 very useful years of study and training in Bible translation. We were overjoyed when Rebekah joined us after a year, putting paid to Julie’s study plans. Rebekah was 9 months old when we came back to Glasgow. Elizabeth’s arrival slightly delayed our departure for Nigeria but finally with a 2 year old and 6 month old in tow, we headed out in February 2011, arriving as unpredictable elections loomed. We always remember those who came to see us off at the airport (along with all our baggage). We felt very loved. We looked forward to the ministry that we had ahead of us but it was hard to leave friends and family behind. Especially church family.

Julie’s first visit to Nigeria in December 2007
The sermon from our 1st July 2007 Commissioning service. Full reading etc here.

Every so often we listen to that commissioning service from 1st of July 2007 and we’re inspired by our pastor Willie’s message that day. We had been looking at what a true missionary church is, and looking at 2 Timothy 4, Willie said a true missionary church actually prepares and sends missionaries. It would have been very easy for the church in Antioch and in Ephesus and elsewhere to turn in on themselves, leaving outreach to far-flung places to a later time, perhaps when everything was more stable. But no, Acts makes it clear that Jesus wanted his followers to go into every nook and cranny of the world, no longer just waiting in Jerusalem for people from all nations to come by, but going out. And when the first apostles seemed to neglect that, then God forced them out with a bit of persecution and then the prompting of the Holy Spirit to propel Paul and Barnabas on several surprising trips.

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Discourse Analysis and Translation: an introduction

I’ve been doing lots of ‘discourse’ study recently and some people have asked how they can find out more about it.

The people to read:

My summary:

It’s all about the wood and the trees, but especially the wood.

We all know the meaning of a sentence is greater than the sum of its words, and there’s more to the packaging of words together than syntax. We know you can’t safely match a word in one language with one word in another, or to do that with syntactic constructions.

Choice implies meaning: What we want to do instead is understand the choices an author had, and reconstruct why the chose the options they had rather than another. Every language has its own mix of syntactic requirements and permitted ‘stylistic variation’. We vary the style to help our hearers or readers understand well what we’re trying to say, how the parts connect, what our main point is and what’s part of the background or the basis.

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Did you know… William Tyndale

It’s rather easy for us to forget that some things very familiar and obvious to us are not so widely known. So we’re going to start a regular ‘did you know’ section to our newsletter, so you can show off to your friends be well informed.

Did you know, that…

A hundred years or so after John Wycliffe stirred things up with his translation of the Bible into English, a young priest from he English countryside called William Tyndale picked up the baton translating the Bible into English which is much more modern, punchy and accessible to a modern audience than Wycliffe’s. The language had changed a lot, Luther had set a reforming cat among the established church’s pigeons and the printing press enabled his translation to spread far and wide. He was tracked down and murdered before he had finished his translation, but like many reformers he prayed for God to change the hearts of kings and within a few decades his translation was the basis of much of the best parts of the ‘King James’ official translation.

Here’s a fascinating interview with Ben Virgo and Melvyn Bragg who are both fans of Tyndale:

Continue reading Did you know… William Tyndale

Did you know… John Wycliffe

It’s rather easy for us to forget that some things very familiar and obvious to us are not so widely known. So we’re going to start a regular ‘did you know’ section to our newsletter, so you can show off to your friends be well informed.

Did you know, that…

Wycliffe Bible Translators is named after the Yorkshire-born Oxford scholar John Wycliffe. He was born about 700 years ago and has been considered a forerunner of the European reformation. He translated the Bible into English, but since the printing press hadn’t been invented (in Europe) yet, every copy needed to be painstakingly hand-copied. And very few English-speaking people knew how to read or write any language at that time! So Bible translation, preaching and literacy needed to go hand in hand. It’s still true today. But publishing is considerably easier!

Village visit

  • Storytelling and Ishɛ language service in Gari

In late April, four of the Ashɛ translation team were in Gardi — deep inside Ashɛ land — to greet chiefs and others, and to participate in an Ishɛ language service on the Sunday.

While Arams often complains about how things aren’t as they used to be, many children and adults swamped Moses’ house to look at the strange visitors and to listen to the Ishɛ story that we’ve studied together and which Arams told to the attentive audience.

Why discourse study makes great translator training

2018 was something of a departure from normal patterns for Ashe and for me. To the surprise of many, I did almost no checking of translation with Ashe, but focussed on studying 6 Ashe stories – some true, some folk tales. I had reasons to think this was absolutely necessary, and even though it’s taken much longer than I had hoped to get this far, I’m encouraged by the fruit and the potential we are starting to approach to do better Bible translation as a team.

The Frustration of Skipping the Discourse Study

I (David) had checked a lot of the translation of Luke’s gospel in Ishɛ from 2016-2017. We used back translations (explain it in English) to understand what the Ishɛ language was meaning, but often I really wanted to ask questions about translation choices that the translators were not able to answer adequately. All they could do was to say ‘this word in Ishɛ means this in English’. I was never satisfied with that but there was no more we could really do. 

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A Host of Problems

In the course of trying to compare the style of natural storytelling in Koro Wachi language with what’s in the Bible, we looked at a seasonally appropriate passage:

 

“That time, angels that accepted strangers in heaven many appeared and they came with the angels.”

Luke 2:13, the Koro Wachi translation draft, as explained in English.

That’s how the Koro Wachi translator explained the current translation of Luke 2:13. I must admit I was somewhat puzzled as I asked about each word of the Koro translation in turn. It wasn’t what I was quite expecting. Suddenly the penny dropped! Of course! Who welcomes strangers but a generous “host”? And this is what the original Koro Wachi translator understood when he read Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared… in his NIV Bible. If these were heavenly hosts then they must be angels welcoming people to heaven. It all makes some kind of sense.

But of course it’s based on a tragic misunderstanding of the NIV English. Had the original translator looked at the Good News version ‘a great army of heaven’s angels’ then they may have done better, but how were they to know what to choose? Since ‘host’ (one welcoming guests) is a familiar concept and ‘heavenly host’ features in not only the NIV but in the KJV, ASV, ESV, RSV, NRSV, NASB (even the NLT!) why would a bilingual translator who considered himself to know English adequately suspect anything could be wrong?

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In Christ

I had an interesting chat over the summer with someone wrestling with how to communicate ‘in Christ‘ in his location/language. This is an ongoing and troubling translation issue, because clearly ‘in Christ’ is an important topic in Paul’s writing and yet a little difficult to talk about clearly because it’s actually rather odd English.

‘In Christ’ is a somewhat literal rendering of the original Greek ἐν Χριστῳ and quite possibly a Hebrew/Aramaic original concept may underlie it.

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Naboth: A Faithful Farmer in God’s Vineyard

Just under 2 weeks ago we were shocked by the news of a colleague’s sudden death.

Naboth Musa was only 23 years old, but had been a tremendous answer to prayer for the venerable Duya Bible Translation project. Most recently I had helped get him and his colleagues set up to record several books of the New Testament in Duya language ahead of a month of community testing, and he took to it surprisingly quickly.

In the photo above you can see Naboth with his Duya team-mates and their consultant and advisor Mark Gaddis.

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