Translating living letters

In 2 Cor. 3:1-2 Paul talks about not needing letters of recommendation because the Corinthian believers are letters that bear witness to the Spirit of God working in people’s hearts through his ministry.

Over at the LivingLetters blog I have posted several times in the last week about the process of Bible translation in our multi-language project in Papua New Guinea. My wife also has a number of posts that relate to our life in PNG and our desire to translate the good message of hope and trust in God in our everyday lives.

We pray that our lives would be living letters of recommendation for the people who have trained us up in the faith. Also, that our written translations would not just be letters on the page but words of life for those whom we serve. May these friends be living letters that testify to the work of the Spirit in our ministry.

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PNG Languages Website

PNG LanguagesPapua New Guinea (PNG) is the most linguistically complex nation in the world with over 800 languages among multiple language families and language isolates. SIL has been carrying out linguistic research in cooperation with the PNG Department of Education since 1956. Check out the research results of SIL PNG here at the PNG Languages Website. New resources are always being added, including unpublished hard-to-find print materials from as far back as the 1960s.

The maps on this site illustrate the great language diversity in Papua New Guinea shown against a very basic topographic color pattern.

We Need Bible Translation Work

Today, someone found my blog by searching the web for this combination of terms…

“we need Bible translation work”

Well, whoever you are, I’d have to say I agree. In the Sepik region alone of Papua New Guinea–where I work–there are 181 languages, but only 18 with adequate Scripture. There are 38 active translation projects, 15 language groups awaiting personnel, and 98 that still need just to be surveyed to determine language viability and translation need.

Worldwide, there are over 600 languages that are waiting for personnel to begin Bible translation. But an additional 2668 languages still need assessment to determine the translation need.

So yes, we need Bible translation work.

Jesus Ran Away

Written around May 2,

and finally posted…

This past week I have been going through the final checking process for the Gospel of Luke in four related languages in Papua New Guinea. Here is one of the most interesting translation problems that we were able to resolve so far…

In Luke 5:15-16 here is what the NASB says:

“But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.”

Clearly, the intended meaning of the imperfect verbs is that these are things that were repeatedly happening throughout a period of time (including the news spreading, the crowds gathering, and Jesus slipping away). The implied information must be that Jesus would actually teach and heal the people when they came to him before he slipped away for prayer. However, in all four of the translations that we are checking, they understood this passage to mean that the people were coming to Jesus to be healed, but he wasn’t there when they sought him out because he had run away from them to be by himself and pray!

It’s not surprising that they would have this interpretation, since the second sentence begins with an adversative conjunction. Even most English versions begin vs. 16 with ‘but’, which certainly may suggest the faulty reading. But ‘but’ may often over-translate the Greek connective DE, which is better seen as the normative connecting particle for narrative when there is a shift in the subject. Expressing any more contrast begins to err in this passage.

“And from time to time he would withdraw to remote places for prayer.” (REB)

“So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” (NKJV)

The implied information is expressed well in these translations without ‘but’…

“And from time to time he would withdraw to remote places for prayer.” (REB)

“So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” (NKJV)

“As often as possible Jesus withdrew to out-of-the-way places for prayer.” (The Message)

Other versions include the word ‘often’, so their use of ‘but’ does not give the wrong impression (NASB, NIV, NLT, NCV, CEV).

Also, consider these excellent renditions…

“However, he continued his habit of retiring to deserted places and praying.” (ISV, Version 1.1)

“Yet Jesus himself frequently withdrew to the wilderness and prayed.” (NET)

Several versions present the faulty possible interpretation that Jesus was nowhere to be found when the people were seeking him out…

“But so much the more the report went abroad concerning him; and great multitudes gathered to hear and to be healed of their infirmities. But he withdrew to the wilderness and prayed.” (RSV)

Compare the KJV, Darby, Young, ASV, Phillips, Wuest, TEV, NAB, NRSV, GW, and ESV, which also leave the interpretive possibility open that Jesus would hide from the crowds.

Jesus didn’t run away from the crowds of people when they were coming to hear him and to be healed by him. But he did often withdraw from them to be alone with his Father in prayer.

Remote Blogging by Email

Kakaka

After my multiple posts in January about posting via Flickr to WordPress using email, I must apologize for never putting this method to use. I seem to have disappeared from blogdom without a word of explanation. I did try once to post via email during these last few months, but the Flickr requirement of including a picture seems to have messed me up. Since I connect to email in our remote village through a high frequency radio connection, attachments normally get separated from the message body.

Anyway, here’s where I’ve been…

January-April: My family moved to Madang for these months as I fulfilled the role of Academic Coordinator for all the new members of our organization arriving in the Pacific. Major responsibilities included teaching Tok Pisin (Melanesian Pidgin) and giving other lectures in Anthropology.

May: I barely made it out to our village in order to help do final checking of the Gospel of Luke for 4 related Austronesian languages. This was thoroughly enjoyable, especially working together with another translation consultant through the 24 chapters of this book.

I am now happily reunited with my family, and I am preparing to help check Luke for another group of 4 related languages in mid-July. I am also helping the 3 related languages that I normally advise to prepare their drafts of Luke for checking at the end of July.

In my next post, I’ll include the message that failed to survive the radio transmission earlier this month.

Singing Greek Prayers for Greek Learning

‘Kumbaya’ is that old campfire song that has been sung so much that it tends to usher forth groans. But many Papua New Guineans also know the song, at least in the pidgin version. And so we sing it in Greek as a prayer at least a couple times a day to let Jesus know that his presence is welcome in our study of Greek. He is Lord of the beginning, middle and end, just as we started singing from Revelation 1:8 on the first day of class. And so we also invite Jesus to come and be present with us in our study of Greek:

ἔρχου ὧδε κύριε, (3x)
ὦ Ἰησοῦ κύριε

Come here Lord, (3x)
Oh, Jesus Lord.

Having the guitar close by to sing these songs is a good tool for when we need to maintain our focus on learning Greek as a spiritual discipline. It can be easily forgotten when we’re learning to recognize and write a new alphabet, forcing our tongues to make new sound sequences, and trying to distinguish between all those little diacritical marks that we see in the text.

Luther and Hafemann on Studying Greek

When I first found out that I would be teaching the introductory New Testament Greek course to national Bible translators and pastors in Papua New Guinea this month, I had to write my former Greek teacher, Scott Hafemann, right away. He was the first one who ever thought I would be doing this. Back when I was taking his classes for the Wheaton College Graduate School in 1998-99, I knew I was studying Greek so I could be a better qualified advisor to national Bible translators. But he was confident that I would be training mother tongue translators to use the Greek text for themselves.

So when I wrote to Scott with the news, he immediately made available to me the CD for his soon-to-be-released online course for distance learning through the Semlink Office at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

In the first lesson on the CD, Hafemann reminded me of a quote from Martin Luther that he had recited for us in class in 1999. Luther talks about how important the study of Greek is…

Insofar as we love the gospel, to that same extent, let us study the ancient tongues. And let us notice that without the knowledge of languages we can scarcely preserve the gospel. Languages are the sheath which hides the sword of the Spirit, they are the chest in which this jewel is enclosed, the goblet holding this draught. Where the languages are studied, the proclamation will be fresh and powerful, the scriptures will be searched, and the faith will be constantly rediscovered through ever new words and deeds.

I explained Luther’s images of the sheath, the chest, and the goblet so that my English-as-a-second-language students could fully grasp the word pictures. Papua New Guineans frequently use ‘tok piksa’ in their daily conversations. Judging from the nods and groans that accompanied the teaching, I believe Luther’s message spoke powerfully to the students. One student even came and asked for the quote after class. He got the following quote from Hafemann as a bonus.

Echoing Luther in his online course, Hafemann states:

Our study of the Greek language is not an end in itself, but we study Greek for the sake of knowing scripture, and we know scripture for the sake of understanding God’s self-revelation to us, and we want to understand God’s self-revelation to us that we might live in relationship with him. So Greek for the sake of scripture, scripture for the sake of knowing the Lord, and knowing the Lord for the sake of living in relationship with him. Greek and the gospel: inextricably linked…

It’s a spiritual discipline. Learning Greek is not simply an academic exercise. It’s a calling and it’s a privilege. It is a spiritual exercise like any other spiritual exercise, whether it’s prayer, fasting, worship. I would like you to think about Greek as loving the Lord with your mind in the same way that you engage in loving the Lord with your heart and your soul and your strength in all the other pursuits of your life.

That is what I am asking my Greek students to do here in PNG. Throughout the 6 hours that we have together each day, we intersperse the lectures and group activities with prayer, singing, Christian greetings, and lessons from God’s word that illustrate the Greek material. They are used to hearing explanations of God’s word through two or three subsequent translations, and they said “maybe something has gone missing.” So they are motivated to learn Greek so they can really hear God’s message to them and live in relationship with him.