Monday, 18 September 2017

How to Reduce Inequality

How can Scripture Engagement activities reduce inequality within a society? If you Google this question you find that no one is writing on the issue. Either inequality or Scripture engagement will be crossed out. Within SIL the literacy department is more interested in how to reduce inequality. Education is something that can be made available to all, whatever their background.

There is one thing to think about, though. Disadvantaged communities are often lacking Scriptures because:

  • The Scriptures haven't yet been translated into their language
  • Parts of Scripture are available in book format, but the people can't read
  • Parts of Scripture are available in book format, but they haven't been distributed to that village yet
  • Parts of Scripture are available in digital format but people don't have smart phones
  • etc.
An increasing focus on digital engagement doesn't necessarily help, unless careful research shows that e.g. feature phones are to some extent available in rural parts of the country, and people can use them to get hold of Scripture.

The catch-phrase 'Bible Poverty' is sometimes used to promote Bible translation and Scripture engagement work throughout the world. To me this highlights the fact that the economically disadvantaged are often lack Scripture also. What is your church doing to alleviate Bible poverty?

In the developed world what are we doing to make Scripture available to the refugees living amongst us? How can we make these available in a culturally sensitive way?

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Post Millenials

So there's a lot of discussion at the moment about why post-millenials are leaving the church. I'd like to suggest one possible reason, and that's an inappropriate explanation of the gospel. Evangelicals tend towards using a substitutionary atonement theology in their explanations: we're sinners, we deserve God's wrath, Christ took the punishment we deserved, and so on. The trouble with this is that it really doesn't resonate with a post-millenial view of the world. 

Firstly people don't think of themselves as sinners. To believe we are sinners means accepting a world where God is judge, there are clear rules, we have broken them, and that puts us in the dock, as it were. We're like criminals. But millenials don't feel that way.

Another option, according to Jayson Georges' book 3D Gospel, is that people see themselves as shaming their family or peer group or 'clan' (again, a kind of peer group), and that this causes a break in relationship. Certainly feelings of alienation from society are common in the Western world. 

A third option is that people are afraid of spiritual powers of some kind, though in the millenial world these are most likely to be in the realm of fantasy. Zombies are hardly real, one hopes :).

One solution people often experiment with is to make the gospel more me-focused, to fit in with the 'I' world of iPhones, iPads and so on. So Jesus (note the more familial address) died 'just for me'. Well, no, actually, he died for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2). 'Yes, but he would have died just for me', they reply. Well, possibly, but let's get back to reality shall we? And also, why do we have to stick with a paradigm that worked in the 17th century but clearly doesn't work today?

My proposal is that we re-work some of the older (and perhaps better) theologies of the atonement, such as Christus Victor, and the Ransom Model:
  • Christus Victor says that Christ one the victory over Satan and all the powers of evil, the proof of which is his resurrection from the dead. This is a very popular model with Charismatics and Pentecostals, for obvious reasons
  • The Ransom Model says that Christ paid a ransom for us, by dying in our place, and in rising again proved that he could not be held captive. It's not clear who the ransom is paid to (the usual suggestions are that it was paid to Satan, or Death) but it's clear that we were living in darkness, and the ransom paid brought us into the kingdom of light
There may be other models too which could be used. Whatever we do let's steer clear of the 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' mentality which keeps us stuck in a rut.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

On Orality (why oral-literate isn't the only spectrum to think about)

Since Walter Ong's book back in the 80s many have written on the oral-literate spectrum. Maxey, amongst others, correctly criticises the polarising of oral and literate cultures, and points out that it's easy to read 'primitive' for 'oral' and 'developed' for 'literate' - not a divide we want to promote in these post-colonial (or global) days.

I want to bring up another issue. It seems to me that oral-literate is not the only relevant spectrum. We also need to consider mono-cultural to multi-cultural, and monolingual to multilingual spectra. If the people we are working with are fairly mono-cultural this will also affect the way people think. (I was going to say that people are less likely to be able to think the way others think, but in light of recent events such as Brexit, the election of right-wing leaders, and so on, it seems we're pretty poor at that in Western countries too.)

Another important factor is that Western cultures tend to be individualistic and therefore low-context, whereas many other cultures are collectivistic and therefore high-context. High-context cultures are much more likely to take into account the views of their extended family when making decisions. In fact many decisions are made by the community, not the individual. If Westerners ask questions in a high-context culture they will get the 'what we think' answer, not the 'what I think' answer. The response may come from an elder but he or she will have listened to the rest of the community before speaking.

So we need to learn to listen before we speak, as those in high-context cultures do. In fact they have much to teach us, rather than vice versa. Let's not encourage simplistic views of other cultures!

Friday, 2 June 2017

The Idiom 'Son of'

Here, just for fun, are some idioms containing the phrase 'son of' in Hebrew:

בְנֵי־הָאֱלֹהִים – ‘sons of the god(s)’ (Gen 6:2) i.e. heavenly beings cf Psa 29:1
וְנֹחַ בֶּן־שֵׁשׁ מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה – ‘Noah was son of six hundred years’ (Gen 7:6) i.e. he was six hundred years old
בְנֵי־קֶדֶם – ‘sons of the East’ (Gen 29:1) i.e. eastern peoples
אֶת־בֶּן הַבָּקָר – ‘son of the herd’ (Lev 1:5) i.e. one [animal] of the herd
וּבְנֵי בְלִיַּעַל – ‘son of worthlessness’ (1Sa 10:27; 1Ki 21:10, 13 cf Dan 11:14) i.e. troublemakers, scoundrels
הָאָדָם בְּנֵי – ‘sons of man’ (1Sa 26:19) i.e. men, humans
לִבְנֵי־חַיִל – ‘sons of strength’ (2Sa 2:7; 13:28; 17:10…) i.e. brave
בְנֵֽי־עַוְלָ֖ה – ‘sons of injustice’ (2Sa 3:34; 7:10 cf Hos 10:9) i.e. criminals
בֶן־מָוֶת – ‘son of death’ (2Sa 12:5) – i.e. someone who deserves to die
אֶחָד מִבְּנֵי הַנְּבִיאִים– ‘one of the sons of the prophets’ (1Ki 20:35) i.e. a member of the prophetic fraternity
הַתַּעֲרֻבוֹת בְּנֵי – ‘sons of the pledges’ (2Ki 14:14) i.e. hostages
הַגּוֹלָה בְנֵי – ‘sons of the exile’ (Ezr 4:1; 6:19,20; 8:35; 10:7,16) i.e. those who had returned from exile
וּבְנֵי־רֶשֶׁף – ‘sons of flame’ (Job 5:7) i.e. sparks
בְנֵי־שָׁחַץ – ‘sons of pride’ (Job 28:8) i.e. proud ones (proud beasts, in this setting)
בְּנֵי־נָבָל גַּם־בְּנֵי בְלִי־שֵׁם– ‘sons of a fool also sons of not a name’ (Job 30:8) i.e. nameless fools
בְּנֵי אֵלִים – ‘sons of the gods’ (Psa 29:1; 89:7) i.e. heavenly beings
גַּם־בְּנֵי אָדָם גַּם־בְּנֵי־אִישׁ – ‘sons of human also sons of man’ (Psa 49:3; 62:10 cf Jer 26:3) i.e. low and high, common and elite
בְּנֵי־עֹנִי – ‘sons of affliction’ (Pro 31:5) i.e. the oppressed
בְּנֵי חֲלוֹף – ‘sons of passing quickly away’ (Pro 31:8) i.e. the destitute
וּבְנֵי־בַיִת – ‘sons of the house’ (Ecc 2:7) i.e. those who were born in [my] house
 וּבְנֵ֣י נֵכָ֔ר – ‘sons of strangeness’ (Isa 61:5 and many other refs.) i.e. foreigners, strangers
בֵית־הָרֵכָבִים בְּנֵי – ‘sons of the house of the Rechabites’ i.e. the Rechabite clan

בְנֵי־הַיִּצְהָר – ‘sons of the fresh oil’ (Zec 4:14) – i.e. people who have been anointed

What phrase could you use in place of 'son(s) of' to make the sentence understandable in your language?

It's interesting to note that even the so-called 'literal' translations (though there is actually no such thing) such as KJV, RSV, ESV replace these idioms with something more idiomatic.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

We are chosen, we are free

Do you know the Tim Hughes song Holding Nothing Back. It goes like this, 'I am chosen I am free'? It should really be, 'We are chosen, we are free.' Why? Because all those verses saying we're chosen are plural. Here are some examples:

What joy for the nation whose God is the LORD, whose people he has chosen as his inheritance. Psalm 33:22

You did not choose me, but I chose you [plural] and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you [plural] whatever you [plural] ask in my name. John 15:16 

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. Ephesian 1:4-5

Since God chose you [plural] to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Colossians 3:12 

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you [plural], because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction... 1Thessalonians 1:4-5

Together they will go to war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will defeat them because he is Lord of all lords and King of all kings. And his called and chosen and faithful ones will be with him.” Revelation 17:14

You [plural] are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God's temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honour. And you [plural] are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What's more, you [plural] are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God... But you [plural] are not like that, for you [plural] are a chosen people. You [plural] are royal priests, a holy nation, God's very own possession. As a result, you [plural] can show others the goodness of God, for he called you [plural] out of the darkness into his wonderful light. 1Peter 2:4-5, 9

Not only that, but we are chosen in Christ, who is the Messiah ('anointed' i.e. chosen one). In other words the fact we are 'united with Christ', as the NLT puts it, means we are chosen.

“Look at my servant, whom I strengthen.
   He is my chosen one, who pleases me.
I have put my Spirit upon him.
   He will bring justice to the nations. . Isaiah 42:1

You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
   I have sworn to David my servant:
‘I will establish your offspring forever,
   and build your throne for all generations.’ ” Psalm 89:3-4 

As the Scriptures say, “I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem, chosen for great honour, and anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” 1Peter 2:6 (see verses 4-5, 9 above)

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Ephesian 1:3 

For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:6 

There are lots of songs about me and I but not so many about us. We are chosen, we are free. Of course we're free to go and bear fruit (Jhn 15:16, Eph 2:10) but, that's the subject for another blog...

NLT - New Living Translation

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:


How to Reduce Inequality

How can Scripture Engagement activities reduce inequality within a society? If you Google this question you find that no one is writing o...