Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Translation Process

Any translation goes through several stages before it is published:
  1. Drafting
  2. Team check
  3. Exegetical check
  4. Test & Review
Lastly a consultant meets with the team and discusses any translation issues, making suggestion for changes before it is published.

I'm now going to unpack why each stage is needed and what happens during each stage.

  1. Draft: the translator studies the passage, preferably in the original language, but if not, s/he compares several different versions in several different languages, and makes an oral draft (or sometimes they listen to several different audio versions instead). They do this by closing all their books, if they have any open, then speaking the passage into a recording device (like a smartphone). At least 2-3 verses are drafted at a time, then the translator listens to their recording, and checks they haven't left anything out. They might then keyboard it into their computer, using a program called 'Paratext'. Why do we draft orally? Because a) many cultures are oral in their preference (and much of Scripture was oral too) b) it results in a much more natural translation than other methods, and means that discourse analysis of the receptor language isn't so necessary.
  2. Team Check: the other translators listen to (or read) the translation and make comments on it. This helps make sure that the translators are all using the same key terms, and are reasonable consistent in terms of style and level of their translation. They also need to be on the same page in terms of when to insert footnotes, what kind of glossary entries are needed, and so on. In fact at this stage it's a good time to work on all those para-textual helps. The other translators can also help with naturalness of the translation at this stage, of course.
  3. Exegetical check: if the translator doesn't work from the original languages, then someone needs to carefully read the translation and compare it with the Hebrew/Aramaic/Greek Scriptures to make sure the translation is accurate and communicates the correct meaning. The exegetical advisor may also comment on any key terms and consistency issues, as in stage 2.
  4. Test & Review: the 3rd draft is sent to reviewers, who may be experts in the language or pastors/believers, for them to comment on the draft. This makes the translation more acceptable, both in terms of its orthography, and its theological appropriateness, as well as usefulness for the purpose it was intended for, whether use in church or outreach. It is also taken out into the community for 'testing' - this is where the translation is checked for clarity and comprehensibility. The more testing that can be done the better, and this is great Scripture engagement as well as being an important checking stage. Some hearers may comment on parts of the translation that sound unnatural, or where the translation is woodenly literal, and such problems can be fixed at this stage. The 4th draft is the final draft that is consultant checked...
Finally a consultant meets with the team, whether face-to-face or by Skype, and helps the team improve the translation to the point where it is publishable. This means that before the consultant visits the introduction needs to be written, the glossary updated, and all the maps and pictures got ready. Also the consultant may not know the language, in which case someone (not a translator, preferably), makes a fairly literal back-translation into English, Russian, French, or another language of wider communication, so that the consultant can see where there are idioms and metaphors and ask what those communicate, and also comment on issues of accuracy, good communication (clarity), and so on. After this the translation is published digitally (audio recordings, Bible apps, etc.) and also sometimes in print format.

There are those who say that this can all be sped up in some way, but this usually involves missing out one or more of the above stages, which I hope you can see are all important for good quality translations. How many translators are needed? Probably 2-3 is an ideal number. If you have more then the discussions during the team check stage can take for ever, and lead to a lot of arguments about key terms issues. One organisation I know of is experimenting with using 30 or so translators, which is great for buy in to the translation, but a nightmare in terms of consistency.

The pastors/believers involved in the reviewing process may or may not be members of the translation committee, which meets periodically to decide issues like which portions/passages of Scripture to work on next, how to raise funds to pay the translators, testers, and other team members, and discuss important key terms issues. The exegetical advisor and/or consultant will have input regarding key terms, as its important to know the various ideas communicated in Hebrew/Greek before translating them.

I mentioned discourse analysis above. This is a study of the phrase order used in the language, and of various particles and words that might communicate something at a high level in the language. An example in English is the word 'well' when it begins a sentence. e.g.

   What do you think we should do tomorrow?


An example in Hebrew is the word hine, often translated 'behold' in older translations. It is a discourse marker, highlighting something important about to be said (or seen).

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Folks, it's not a Communication Issue!

We are used to talking about Bible translation in terms of communication. Missiologists talk often talk about 'bridges' used for sharing the good news, which is also a communication metaphor - we have something we want to communicate, but we need a bridge, a way of expressing it, some kind of packaging for it, so that it communicates correctly (or hides whats inside the package, if we interpret the metaphor literally). This is a misunderstanding for two reasons:
  1. It is a false assumption that we have 'correctly' understood the good news. Unfortunately we have only understood a representation of the good news for our own culture. It doesn't matter how we package it, this will be misunderstood or irrelevant to the receptor culture (the primary audience in question). For instance, those in the minority world often explain the good news in terms of our guilt before a just God who has to punish sin, and that He, in Christ, took that punishment on our behalf to make us right with Him. That is the good news for our culture, but doesn't make sense in the honour-shame or power-fear cultures we find in the majority world.
  2. The good news is inherently incarnate, that is it 'becomes flesh' in each culture as that culture wrestles with its message. This means that we don't need to package it, just learn how it is best expressed in that cultural context. For instance in an honour shame culture we need to talk about how God has all the honour, but we have brought shame on him by our behaviour, leading to a break down in relationship. Jesus, as God's perfect representative on earth (his 'Son', bringing all that is God to us in human form), reconciled us with God through is death and resurrection. For a power fear culture we need to talk about how Christ in his earthly ministry defeated the powers of evil (as did the prophets before him, to a lesser extent), and finally won ultimate victory of all evil in rising from the dead, proving that even Death cannot control him. 
This idea is important for any ministry - sharing the good news, Bible studies, producing videos and other media products. If we are sharing good news that is incarnate into the wrong culture, we're not only being culturally insensitive and inappropriate, we are just plain irrelevant in what we do. Those of us in Bible translation might respond by saying, 'Ah, but we are simply providing translated Scripture!' The trouble with that view is that translation involves interpretation, and the very terms we use in those translated Scriptures may carry cultural baggage from the minority world we have come from. Having local mother-tongue translates mitigates this point somewhat, but only if they are not being influenced by teaching from our part of the world, often passed on in seminaries and through Bible teaching in churches. 

China's 'Lucky Knot' Bridge
It is also means that what we need to stop talking about bridges and barriers to sharing the good news. We need to change our way of thinking (as Bob Dylan once sung), and get ourselves a different set of rules ideas. What a tangled web we weave...

Minority world: often called the developed world, or the West

Majority world: often called developing countries, or the two-thirds world

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

How to Carry Out an Eight Conditions Analysis

You might have heard of Wayne Dye's Eight Conditions for Scripture Engagement. How can an analysis of a project be carried out? The simplest way is to use these online Google forms. Here are the steps:
  1. Get your team and partners together.
  2. Have someone teach Wayne Dye's Eight Conditions (or ask everyone to read it beforehand in the LWC)
  3. Fill in the first form.
  4. Give the condition an overall rating out of five. Five is high, one is low.
  5. Fill in the second to eighth forms and give them ratings.
  6. Work out which conditions have the lowest ratings.
  7. Start working to try and bring those conditions up. Work out a Scripture Engagement strategy for that people and adapt your project accordingly.
For ease of use I've posted the links to the forms below, with some instructions:

The Eight Conditions Questionnaire in Eight Parts

The Eight Conditions questionnaire is now online in eight separate parts so you can answers short questionnaires on just one condition at a time. Here are the links:

This means you can take your time filling them in, and not worry about setting aside a couple of hours for the whole 8 conditions form.

A Note to ‘Administrators’

Administrators are those who send out the form for teams to fill in. Please follow these instructions:
  1. Make a copy (click on File) of each form
  2. Assign administrators (decide who you want to see the results - you and who else? -  make them administrators or editors)
  3. Send them out yourself! ‘Send’ the forms out to people you want to fill them in. Then you and any other administrators/editors will be able to see a bar chart of the combined results of all of them, or go through the individual results of each contributor, as you wish. There are a couple of ways to send out Google forms (directly, using a link in an email or on Moodle or whatever), so decide how you want to do that

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Holistic Mission

We often talk about holistic mission. What does that mean? It's about mission to the whole person not just their 'soul' (inner being). There's nothing unspiritual about meeting someone's basic needs for food, clothing and so on. In fact we encouraged to do so.

...learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause. Isaiah 1:17 ESV
We also have Jesus' example to follow:

Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. Luke 8:35 ESV
Both his physical and spiritual needs had been met by Jesus.

Lastly, you might ask how this works in  mission. Those working within a community are often told of needs within that community. How can these be met?

Well, those with medical training can use those skills. Perhaps one of a couple is trained as a doctor, nurse, or midwife? Even some SIL members have that kind of background.

Also we can pray for the sick, make medicine available, or call a medic.

On top of this, some aspects of mission include development work such as education, literacy and providing clean water or sanitation. Or mission workers help local people write booklets to do with preventative medicine. In some parts of the majority world, for instance, HIV/Aids is an issue, and training materials for local workshops help people learn how to avoid contracting or passing on HIV. The Bible can be used to show how marital fidelity is highly valued in biblical communities, and commanded by God, as well as the usual advice on use of prophylactics etc.

SIL is involved in many such activities: education, literacy, trauma healing workshops, HIV/Aids workshops, prayer for the sick, and so on. Our aim is to meet felt needs, not just spiritual, but physical too.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Pithy Perfection

New English translations of the Bible are very popular these days. People often ask me which one is best, or which I prefer. The answer is complicated:

  1. I'm not keen on archaic words in translation, which means I don't use KJV much, or even NIV, which follows it to a certain extent
  2. Sometimes it's good to expand the meaning of the Hebrew or Greek to make it clearer, especially when there is an assumption made because the original audience would have known something that we don't. It should be implicit information though
  3. Genre is often ignored by translations. The Bible is rich and varied. We don't want Proverbs to be like a story or sermon. They're supposed to be short and pithy to have greater impact. Hebrew often skips verbs to achieve that. We may not be able to go that far, but translations should keep proverbs as short as possible. Likewise poetry should have rhythm, alliteration and other poetic features, albeit using the richness of the English language rather than Hebrew. Psalms should be singable, or at least sound beautiful when read out loud
  4. Dynamic (meaning-based) translations don't necessarily have to be low style (colloquial). It depends on the audience, and desired use of the the translation. The REB is an example of a dynamic translation that has good literary style but also sounds good when read out loud
  5. We may not agree with the theological and/or political ('hot' topics) presuppositions of the translators. Key terms like 'atonement' are important and, if poorly chosen, without input from key stakeholders, may cause a translation to be rejected, as the TNIV was when it first came out. People weren't ready for it
All in all we need different translations for different purposes. In English we have the luxury of choosing e.g. ESV for Bible study and NLT for reading narrative, but morphing to NJB for Psalms. How lucky we are! Many people don't have access to even one good translation.

ESV: English Standard Version
KJV: King James Version
NIV: New International Version
NJB: New Jerusalem Bible
NLT: New Living Translation
REB: Revised English Bible
TNIV: Today's NIV

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


So there's a lot of discussion at the moment about why postmillenials 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 postmillenial 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:

Translation Process

Any translation goes through several stages before it is published: Drafting Team check Exegetical check Test & Review Lastly...