Thursday, 23 March 2017

Scripture Engagement and Language Development

In Wycliffe/SIL we talk a lot about how Bible translation can contribute towards language development. For minority languages this is true. That is not the main motivation behind our involvement in BT ministry though. Most of us want to see lives and communities impacted by the gospel. So we have a scripture engagement end in sight - changed lives! We have overlapping SE and LD goals that we can neatly label holistic mission, especially when literacy is part of the programme. Isn't it time we acknowledged holistic mission as our main raison d'être? This might help many of our partners see that we share a common vision. Here's a visual journey through my thinking:

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

A Flow Chart for Bible Translation (a Relevance Theory Approach)

Here is a flow chart that explains the process often used to produce a draft when using a relevance theory approach:

*Make sure your translation committee makes the decision as to what kind of translation they want.

See here for information on what a domesticated translation is.

The chart looks something like this:

Text                                   Communicated Ideas                  Context
A sower went out to sow  A farmer went out to sow grain   People scattered/threw seed

The text has very little information, but behind it is the idea that seed was scatted by throwing it from a bag carried round the farmer's shoulder. This could be explained in the para-textual helps if you are in a project that is more foreignized than domesticated.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016


We have a lot of teaching in our churches these days about how we are accepted. That's great.

In Bible translation we used to talk about accurate, clear and natural translations. More recently we have started adding a fourth criteria for a good translation: acceptable. What does that mean? It means a translation that is acceptable to the audience it was intended for. Now that raises a lot of questions - what if we have two audiences, a primary and a secondary audience? How do we work out what these audiences are like? What does that mean in practice? Let's take each in turn:

  1. Primary and secondary audiences are important to define. The primary audience is the main audience you're translating for. The secondary is one that might have some influence. For instance if you are working in an area where most people are Muslims, you might have the majority Muslims as your primary audience, and believers in Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah) who gather in small groups as your secondary audience. 
  2. To work out what the audiences are like we need to study their worldview. This is a step we often skip but it is worth filling out a form like this one: worldview form before we start translation. For mother tongue translators it is often enough simply to state which audience they are translating for, and minute (record) that decision in writing in the project brief.
  3. In practice when we are choosing Key Terms we will be thinking of their appropriateness for the primary and secondary audiences. In the example above, where the primary audience is Muslim, we don't completely neglect the secondary audience, as they need to accept the translation too, at least as one they would give to their friends and neighbours. It also affects lots of other things - the style (more formally equivalent or more meaning-based) and register (high or low) of the translation - the media that is used to distribute it (oral, audio, video, print...) and the packaging used for that distribution, when necessary. It will also affect which portions of Scripture you translate first, and distribute first, and what they are called ('Torah' or 'Pentateuch'? 'Zebbur' or 'Psalms'?).
So there is a lot to think about in terms of making a translation acceptable. Broadly speaking that whole area is called 'Scripture Engagement' and has been studied for some decades now. Hopefully translation work will be more effective as a result! We pray that may be the case...

Project brief: a document used to define the audiences and state what they are like, as well as discuss who the primary stakeholders in the project are, and what the goal of the project is.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Oral Bible

Many people in the world have an oral communication preference.
The good thing is that the Word is alive. It’s living and active. 'For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.' Heb 4:12-13

It was originally communicated orally:

God spoke the world into being. Gen 1:2-3
  • Wisdom is personified as a woman (hokmah is fem.) calling out from the heights. Pro 9:3 Wisdom - often in short, pithy proverbs. Useful for teaching whom? Your children. E.g. 19:20
  • The prophets spoke God’s word (in oral form) Amo 1:1-2. It was a vision, written down.
  • Jesus is God’s word in human form Jhn 1:14 making his home among us. Also alive. He communicated orally. What he said in the form of parables (stories) and teaching was recorded in writing.
This means that when we focus on oral storying we are doing something very biblical, and not at all alien to the authors of Scripture. 

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Did Moses Know Who He Was?

I was recently at a men’s breakfast where the speaker announced that Moses' (not Charlton Heston, btw) main problem was that he didn’t know who he was, and that if we don’t know who we are we won’t be able to serve God either. I doubt that was the case, at least with Moses. When he says this to God:

“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” Exodus 3:11 (ESV)

he is using a rhetorical question. It means, roughly speaking, ‘I am not the one to go and… ’. It’s not that he didn’t know who he was, but that he thought he wasn’t worthy. Reading chapters 1-2 would have helped the speaker know that Moses, though he had grown up in the royal household of the Pharaoh of Egypt, knew he was a Hebrew, and had killed an Egyptian.

Our problem is that we read the Bible through the lens of modern psychology, Freud in particular. If only we would get into the Hebrew mindset rather than Freud’s, we would do much better interpreting the Bible.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

How to Run an Oral Gathering of Believers (Church)

Recently we visited a church and tried to run a meeting without printed words, or rather a meeting with oral worship. Here's some advice on how to run such a gathering:

  • Sing songs that everyone knows without printed or projected words
  • Any videos used need to have audio as well as subtitles, or better still no text or subtitles for the audio
  • Bible stories are told from the heart - not memorised from a Bible but crafted naturally (try listening to several audio versions, or watching several videos to help you remember all the points, then retell it in your own way and record yourself on your smart phone as you do so)
  • Get people to retell the story in their own way in pairs (if someone is really talented at this they might volunteer to tell it to the whole group?)
  • Ask people who they are planning to tell the story to by the next gathering
  • The sermon doesn't use a PowerPoint, or if it does make sure you don't have any words in it
  • If you're in a liturgical church stream try to use only parts of the liturgy that people know from heart
This may seem to be a bit artificial but there are several benefits:
  1. It helps us imagine the way church works in much of the two-thirds (developing) world
  2. It makes our gatherings more attractive to those within our society who are oral-preference rather than highly literate (being handed a pile of books as you enter church is largely a thing of the past, which is a good thing, but we still have printed notices, or banner notices on screens, and project words for most activities) i.e. it provides a bridge for people to cross to greater understanding of the good news - which is what it's all about
If you would like extra help with this try contacting someone in Wycliffe Bible Translators for some advice. Or reply to me below:


Thursday, 26 May 2016

An Idiot's Guide to Hope - Part 2

Last time we looked at what the Hebrews hoped for. And for what Jesus' followers hoped for. Today we're going to look at what we hope for.

What Do We Hope For?

If we answer honestly many of us hope for all kinds of material possessions (houses, cars, holidays) and success for ourselves and for our children. This is natural, but the Bible teaches us to hope for other things:
  • Reconciliation between God and all things on earth and heaven has already taken place through the cross, but we need to continue in our hope of the good news we have heard (Col 1)
  • Jesus inaugurated God’s Kingdom, but we have yet to see it fully consummated. We long for that, and pray for it (Mat 6:10)
  • We, along with all creation, long for the redemption of our bodies (Rom 8:18-25). We will have new, resurrection bodies in the future (1Co 15)
  • That God’s mission to the world, the nations, might be fulfilled under Jesus’ authority as he sends us out (Mat 28:18-20; Rev 7:9). And then the end will come (Mat 24:14)

An Idiot’s Guide to Hope – Part 1

What Did the Hebrews Hope For?

Abraham hoped for a son. And for many descendants. And for the land. Did he ever see the land he hoped for? Only one field of it, with a cave to bury his wife in (and for him to be buried in, when that time came). His hope was a future hope.

The Israelites hope for a king like David to come. Kings were chosen by anointing them with oil. A mashiyakh was an anointed, or chosen person. A king who would act as a just servant (Isa 42:1-9) and yet be the one in the apocalyptic vision Daniel had about the son of man (Dan 7:9-28).

The Jews in exile hoped for restoration – not just to be able to return to Jerusalem and Judah, but restoration of the covenant, that they would once again be able to live in peace as God’s chosen people, who were called to be a kingdom of priests, and light to the nations.

What Did Jesus’ Followers Hope For?

The deliverance and restoration of the kingdom of Israel (Luk 24:21; Act 1:6).

Monday, 23 May 2016

Community Checking of Scripture Products

You may have heard of Wycliffe Associate USA's attempts to get into the world of Bible translation using a technique they call MAST - mobilized assistance supporting translation. It's not my purpose to critique that approach, as that's already been done by others such as Christianity Today.

Instead I want to talk about one aspect of their approach which I view very positively - that of community checking of the translation. Basically, if the community or a large representative group of it is involved in checking the translation is is far more likely to be used than otherwise. You might be working in a region where there is opposition to the gospel? Well, you can still do community checking, via the local churches in that region. Send your drafts to as many believers as you can! Get feedback, and get people involved (this is often called 'reviewing' but is a kind of check)! It needs to be their translation.

The danger of not involving the community at the checking stage is that when the translation comes out the people the translation is intended for will reject it as 'not ours'.

MAST may be too fast, and a bit slapdash, but it is likely to produce translations that are engaged with, albeit ones that aren't as accurate as others worked on for a longer time with sustained input from well-trained consultants.

Monday, 25 April 2016

What is the Gospel? (Why does it have to be so complicated?)

I've just been reading Tom Wright's new book 'Simply Good News' and have three questions for you.

  1. How much Bible background do people need to have to be able to understand the gospel?
  2. What, exactly, is the good news that we proclaim?
  3. How does this change when we share it cross-culturally? i.e. can it be contextualised, and if so, what are some examples? What is core to the gospel across all cultures? (See Roland Muller, 'Honor & Shame' p102-103 for some ideas.)
These questions bug me when I read books by Tom Wright. All of a sudden the four spiritual laws don't seem to be long enough:
  1. God Loves You!
  2. All of us have done, said or thought things that are wrong. This is called sin, and our sins have separated us from God.
  3. God sent His only Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins.
  4. If you want to accept Christ as your Saviour and turn from your sins, you can ask Him to be your Saviour and Lord by praying a prayer like this: "Lord Jesus, I believe you are the Son of God. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. Please forgive my sins and give me the gift of eternal life. I ask you in to my life and heart to be my Lord and Saviour. I want to serve you always."
So, what do we need to know about creation and covenant? Neither are mentioned in the four laws but Tom Wright makes a big deal about them. There's a useful review of his book here: review.

OK so I'm not going to give any answers here, because I want to generate some discussion.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Reasons for Confidence (1John 3)

We have hope!  (1-3)
This is a difficult passage in many ways – but an encouraging one – if you read it in the right way. What we often do is just read it and say, ‘What does this mean to me, now?’ That’s ok, but not the best. We are usually best advised to start with some background information, then work out what it meant then, and only then what it means now and to me and you personally. So:

John believed that they were at the end of the age. He was expecting the ‘man of lawlessness’ to appear and cause a crisis for believers during which persecution would break out against God’s people.

Also, notice how often the word ‘abide’ (live, remain) occurs. Six times in this passage! And where else have we come across that word? In John 15:1 – ‘I am the true vine and my father is the gardener’. v4 ‘abide in me…’ So I’m going to suggest that that is one of the keys to understanding this passage. We are commanded to abide in Jesus. If we abide in him, what does that look like? It so happens John uses a different metaphor here, but he still repeats the same key word, so he is alluding to John 15.

3:1 The Father loves us!

John introduces a metaphor – we’re born into God’s family. ‘By new birth, we have entered into a new relationship; we have become the children of God…’ (Ladd, 1974, p. 615)

We may or may not have had loving human fathers – but our heavenly father loves us! ‘See what kind of love…’ ESV. It’s surprising! There is a sense of wonder in John’s writing – God has loved us enough to call us, and make us his children! (Not adoption, which is in Paul’s writings).

We know we belong in God’s family. Family characteristics. Not about being red-headed or tall or whatever. It’s about living upright lives.
3:2-3 Our hope: we are children of God, so we will be like him. (This also works with the vine metaphor).

Outcome: we purify ourselves in the here and now. Those preparing to go abroad usually put in some preparation. You find out about the country you’re visiting, read up on its history, study its culture, learn about the people and the language. You might even learn some phrases so you can survive in that country. What about going to the country called heaven? What can we do to prepare ourselves? Purify ourselves! Become more like him! Make sure our hearts are in the right place!

We don’t sin (4-10)
3:4-9 John contrasts right-living and sin cf Psalm 1. You’re either sitting, standing, walking with bad people or you’re like a tree planted by streams of living water. There is no in-between!

So, do what do we do with the, ‘whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil’ phrase in e.g. v4?
Greek: ὁ ποιῶν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν ἐκ τοῦ διαβόλου ἐστίν[1] ‘the [one] doing the sin is of the devil’ v8a.
Some people say: ‘The verbs are in the present tense throughout, and the meaning may well be that the one who is born again cannot continue to live in sin because a new principle of life has been implanted in him. There must be an obvious change in his conduct.’[2]

Alternatively, Marshall: ‘…our texts express the possibility which is placed before every believer, the possibility of a life free from sin… He is only too well aware of the presence of temptation and of the danger of Christians succumbing to its attraction. Indeed, he protests against any claim by Christians to be free from sin. What he is describing here therefore is the [future hope][3] reality, the possibility that is open to believers, which is both a fact (“he cannot sin”) and conditional (“[if he] lives in him”). It is a reality which is continually threatened by the tensions of living in the sinful world, and yet one which is capable of being realized by faith.’[4] This is an idealistic view. We can, viewed from the point of view of faith, of kingdom possibility, avoid sinning – if we remain attached to the trunk of the vine, drawing our sustenance from there (Jhn 15). Remember, the word abide occurs 6x!

If you know someone who is stuck in some sinful practice point them to Jesus, to a closer walk with God. Meditate on the scriptures. Allow the Holy Spirit to work deep inside. Saying, ‘Stop sinning’ is often counter-productive. Instead, remind them of these verses:

  • 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV) — Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 
  • 1 Peter 1:23 (ESV) — since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;

‘to destroy the devil’s work’ (v8) – this was a popular early church theory of the atonement (Christ the victor), and is much more appealing to many people from a non-Christian background than ideas about substitution. The cross of Christ overcame not just sin but Satan and all evil. Those who live in power-fear cultures (as opposed to honour-shame or right-wrong cultures) really appreciate this truth.

There is no longer any need to fear: charms, curses, the evil eye, and the people who operate in those areas. The son of God came to destroy all those things. They can no longer cause us to fear. 

But also, in terms of John’s argument – we can avoid sinning because Jesus destroyed the devil’s work. Christ is victor. We are part of God’s family, his children, and Jesus is not only our supreme example but the person who we will be like at the 2nd coming (if we aren’t already moving in that direction).

3:10 Instead (of sinning) we are to practice right conduct, and love our brothers and sisters in Christ. Which brings us to the next chunk:

We love our brothers and sisters (11-18)
(an example to avoid, and an example to follow)
3:11-13 An example to avoid: Cain hated his brother. Why? Because Abel’s deeds were upright and his own were evil. That’s why, John says, he killed his own brother, his own flesh and blood.

And that’s why the world hates us – because our behaviour is upright. We shouldn’t put unnecessary barriers in the way of people entering the kingdom. On the other hand there is always going to be opposition to kingdom growth. People who aren’t ready to do business with God aren’t going to want to talk to believers. Why not? Because our lives are upright, and they hate that. I know hate is a strong word, but John is a 1st-century Jew not a 21st-century Brit. He isn’t going to use understatement.

3:14 We can know that we have passed from death to life! Another word of encouragement. Completed, not future. ‘Have passed’.

How do we know it? Because we love our brothers (and sisters) in Christ – including being willing to lay down our lives for each other (v16).

3:15 This is a difficult verse.

Quote: Put otherwise, the person who hates another wants to deprive him of life; such a person clearly does not belong to the realm of life.[5] 

3:16-18 And an example to follow: Jesus. What is love?
  • Love doesn't make the world go 'round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile. Franklin P Jones 
  • Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired. Robert Frost 
  • Life is the flower for which love is the honey. Victor Hugo[6]
  • Love is… laying down your life for your brother or sister. John the Evangelist 
In John 13-18 Jesus basically says, ‘Follow my example and love and serve one another… by dying for one another.’ In some parts of the world this is a reality, but sometimes persecution has the opposite effect:

Those persecuted feel abandoned by God (cf Psa 22) and therefore think they lack something as a believer In fact, the opposite is true: persecution is a sign that you are a believer! This is as long as we avoid any health-and-wealth or ‘prosperity’ theology in our lives. I know a guy involved in Bible Translation who refused to take any anti-malarial medicine, saying that God would protect him. Some don’t take out health insurance, as they say if God is with them they won’t get sick.

God gives us Assurance as we Obey Him (19-24)
3:19-21 God is greater than our heart(s) – If we’re lacking in confidence God can give that to us.

We can have confidence! We don’t need to be ashamed!

‘The NIV obscures the fact that the verb “we know” is in the future tense.’[7] So ESV has ‘we shall know’. Why? Because of the persecution to come. So, ‘When persecution comes, we can still have confidence.’

· Are you ready for the coming persecution? We like to be understated. But the Christian life is never understated. This is one area we need to be counter-cultural! 

3:22-23 Answers to prayer: yes, no, wait. Here it is ‘yes’! As long as we keep God’s commandments (to believe in Jesus Christ God’s son, and love one another) and do what pleases him.

‘Belief in the name of Jesus means believing that his name contains the power which it signifies, so that the question is not simply one of right belief, but of trust in the One who is the object of the Christian confession. A Jesus who is not the Son of God and the Christ would not be able to save the readers from their sins and bring them into the light of God’s presence. A Jesus who is less than the Jesus of the apostolic witness is incapable of doing what that witness ascribes to him: he may be a moral and spiritual guide, but he cannot atone for human sins, give spiritual help in time of temptation, or offer any assurance of eternal life after death.’[8] (Marshall, 1978) cf John 15 – the vine. If we remain attached to the vine, we have sustenance and continue to produce fruit.

Ways to get cut off: Ways to get cut off:
  • Avoid opportunities to have fellowship with other believers
  • Stay away from God’s presence 
  • Listen only to secular music 
  • Read only secular books 
  • Etc.
Let’s stay connected! And prove it by loving our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We have seen that John wants us to be confident, to abide in Jesus and so avoid sinning, to stay close to Christ, and to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, even being willing to die for one another. For us that may seem just a vague, theoretical possibility. In Syria and other parts of the world today it is a reality. Let’s stay close to Him.

(This was a talk given at St Paul's Howell Hill, 13th March, 2016)


[1] Aland, K., Black, M., Martini, C. M., Metzger, B. M., Robinson, M. A., & Wikgren, A. (1993; 2006). The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (with Morphology) (1 Jn 3:8). Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft.
[2] Ladd, G.E. (1974). A Theology of the New Testament (p 614). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
[3] Eschatological
[4] Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Epistles of John (p. 182). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans
Publishing Co. ‘At the same time, however, it is necessary to observe that what is said from the point of view of the realization of God’s promises must be carefully qualified. Paul found it necessary to deal with people in the church at Corinth and Philippi who thought that they were experiencing the life of the Age to Come in all its fulness and could regard themselves as “perfect.” He had in effect to remind them that the Christian lives “between the times,” in the period of overlap between the end of the old age and the beginning of the new, the period when the Christian is still subject to temptation, mortality, and imperfection. Yet in the midst of this situation the Christian can grasp the new life of the Spirit and is being changed into the likeness of Christ; only at the consummation will the process be completed. John shares (not unnaturally) the same basic outlook, as we have already seen (2:8).’

[5] accessed 8th March

[6] Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Epistles of John (p. 192). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[7] Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Epistles of John (pp. 201–202). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[8] Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Epistles of John (p. 197). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Scripture Engagement and Language Development

In Wycliffe/SIL we talk a lot about how Bible translation can contribute towards language development. For minority languages this is true...