Sunday, April 1, 2018

Inspired Exhibit

At the end of February I received an email from David Addington, a former boss of mine and dear friend who is also an ardent supporter of Bible translation. He informed me that he would be coming to Port Moresby in March as part of his work with an organization called Inspired Exhibit. With a stunning display of over 100 rare biblical manuscripts and collateral items, the exhibit chronicles the remarkable story of how the very words of God, written with His own finger on tablets at Mt. Sinai—were carefully copied, preserved, and through great toil and sacrifice have come to our generation, languages, and the tablets we now hold in our hands. He invited me to come to Port Moresby to be a part of the initial meetings to bring this exhibit to Papua New Guinea. So I flew down to Port Moresby to be a part of the meetings and met up with David and Dr. Scott Carroll, an expert in ancient documents who has been involved in putting together some of the largest collections of Biblical manuscripts in the world.

Dr. Scott Carroll (left) and David Addington (center) presenting to government officials at the National Parliament. (You don't see me because I am taking the picture.)
It is not uncommon for Papua New Guineans to assume that the Bible was originally written in English and that Christianity originated in English speaking cultures. Similarly, Papua New Guineans often have questions as to why they should trust the Bible. In fact, during a meeting at the Parliament building, the Clerk of Parliament shared that his own children had recently been questioning the reliability of the Bible. But the government officials were quite impressed when Dr. Carroll unrolled a three hundred year old Torah scroll written on calfskin and showed them the ten commandments written in Hebrew. And everyone was in agreement that when Papua New Guineans see even older manuscripts of the Bible and learn about how the biblical text has been transmitted through time, they will gain appreciation for the fact that the Bible is not an English book that originated in English speaking cultures, but that God is a God of all people regardless of a person's ethnic background or language. Similarly, they will see that the Bible has been faithfully preserved throughout history and is a trustworthy and reliable record of God's message for humanity.

Dr. Carroll pointing out the Ten Commandments written on a three hundred year old Torah scroll.
Not only will the Inspired Exhibit teach people about the history of the Bible and its transmission over time, it will also be an opportunity for Papua New Guineans to learn about Bible translation into their own languages today. The exhibit will include a station for people to listen to the Bible in their own languages and download Scripture text and audio in their own languages. Thus, Papua New Guineans from the more than eight hundred language groups in the country will be encouraged to become an ongoing to part of the preservation and transmission of Scripture.

Connecting with church leaders and government officials in Port Moresby.
The exhibit is tentatively scheduled for sometime between March and June 2019 in Port Moresby, Lae, and Mt. Hagen, the latter of which is just a two-hour drive from Enga. Please pray for all the many details to come together for this exhibit to take place, which will be a great boon not only to Bible translation efforts but to the Christian faith here in Papua New Guinea.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Gospel of John

A couple of weeks ago we finished our consultant check of the Gospel of John. This was the first book that we have checked since moving to a more literal translation approach. It was also the first check in which we were able to include a woman in the checking process. The results were very promising. Both of the people who came to check the work consistently understood the literal translation, including the underlying spiritual meanings. Lovey Reto, the woman who joined us, was particularly helpful in providing feedback into the translation. We hope that we may be able to involve her in checking books with groups of women in the village since the majority of church members in Enga are women. Please pray that Lovey would be available to help us and that we would get helpful feedback from groups of women to counterbalance the mostly male input that we get from the translation team.

Having a laugh while checking the Gospel of John
The Beatitudes
In September, I explained in detail our decision to shift to a more literal translation style by examining Matthew 5:3, which says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the Kingdom of Heaven." The Enga translation at that time was more of a dynamic translation and read, "God blesses the people who are poor in spirit and want him to help them. Those blessed ones will be in his kingdom." Not satisfied with the approach we had taken to this verse, we decided that we were going to attempt a more literal translation. This is what we have come up with: "God blesses the people who are like poor. Does poor here mean “humble”?—that’s how we translated our literal KK. The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those blessed ones." This is a much more literal translation of the text, but it still sounds very good and poetic in Enga. You will notice that we had to make a couple of minor adjustments to conform to Enga ways of speaking, but, for the most part, it captures the literal meaning of the text in a way that sounds good in Enga. Please pray that God would continue to help us find the balance between translating literally and translating in a way that sounds good and makes sense in Enga.

Future Plans
Later this month we head back out to Enga for nine weeks to finish revising the last half of Matthew to bring it into alignment with our more literal approach to translation. We will also make minor adjustments to the Gospel of John that we discovered in the consultant checking process. Finally, we will review my advisor notes for the book of Acts. After we have reviewed those notes, I will back-translate Acts in preparation for a consultant check of that book. Translation work is moving along very well. The team, working in three groups of two, is nearly finished drafting Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 2 Corinthians. After that, only the book of Ephesians will be left to draft, and then the New Testament drafting process will be complete. There is still much work to be done in checking and correcting these drafts, but finishing the New Testament drafting process is a milestone that we look forward to with much anticipation and excitement! Please pray that nothing would hinder our work. Thank you so much for your ongoing prayer and support which enables us to complete this work.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Engan Proverbs

The first time that I visited the Enga Cultural Center, I was fascinated as I read some of the traditional Engan proverbs on display. The short, pithy sayings communicate truths not only about traditional life in Enga, but also about life in general. Let me give you some examples. The proverb, “With words alone nothing is done,” communicates the reality that “talk is cheap,” and action is required to actually get anything accomplished. The proverb, “When an opossum is sitting in the tree, don’t say that you are going to eat it,” is similar to our saying, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” and communicates that it is not wise to make plans that are based on something that hasn’t actually happened yet. The proverb, “Pigs are bound with rope; men are bound with words,” reminds me of the saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” and communicates that words can be more powerful than brute strength when it comes to dealing with people. 
Some Engan proverbs on display at the Enga Cultural Center
While I am always interested to ponder these proverbs whenever I am in the cultural center, there are two proverbs that I am drawn to more than all the others. The first is, “The small tongue kindles a big fire.” What is fascinating about this proverb is its similarity to James 3:5, which says, “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” The second proverb is equally fascinating; it says, “What you do for someone else; that also he does to you.” This sounds like a paraphrase of the golden rule in Matthew 7:12, which states, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” It seems that even before missionaries ever arrived in Enga, God was already revealing His truth to the people. And just as Jesus came to bring fulfillment to the Law and the Prophets, my prayer is that the people of Enga will see that that traditional wisdom and sayings that God gave them in the past also find their fulfillment in Jesus and the good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

More Engan Proverbs
Since I have whet your appetite for traditional Engan proverbs, let me share a few more with you. Like many Enga proverbs, the saying, “When you see the sun, don’t put out the fire,” has a surface-level meaning as well as a hidden meaning. The surface-level meaning is this: just because the sun has risen in the morning doesn’t mean that you won’t still need a fire to cook with and to keep warm by at night. The hidden meaning is similar to our expression, “The grass is always greener on the other side,” and basically means, “When you see something that appears better than what you have, don’t underestimate what you have and leave it for what appears to be better.”

Another proverb states, “Once you have split a taro, you cannot put it back together.” Often when people share food like a taro, they do so by splitting it in half and handing a portion to someone else. But once you have split the taro apart, you obviously cannot put it back together. The hidden meaning of this proverb speaks to relationships and suggests that once a relationship is broken, it cannot be mended. Sharing food is indicative of good relationships, and so this proverb is particularly apropos.

Another proverb communicates a similar message; it states, “You can put an ax back, but you can’t put words back.” The idea is that a person can always return an ax to his belt, where he normally keeps it, but once he has spoken words, he cannot take the words and put them back in his mouth. This proverb reminds people of the importance of thinking before they speak.

The proverb, “Don’t try to knock down a hawk while looking at its shadow,” communicates the necessity of looking at the heart of a matter and not just the surface. The proverb, “An earthworm that crawls around is destined to die,” indicates that a person should not wander around aimlessly. And the proverb, “A sprouting bean seed will always climb a bean stick,” is a hidden way to say, “If you incite trouble, it will always stay with you.” 

An earthworm that crawls around is destined to die
God created the entire world as an expression of his personality, and as we study creation we learn about God’s character. As Romans 1:20 says, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world.” How thankful we are that God has prepared the Enga people in advance to receive the one who is the exact imprint of God’s very nature!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Lead Us Not Into Mistranslation

Recently Pope Francis suggested on Italian television that the English translation of the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation” (Mat 6:13; Luk 11:4) “is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation.” He went on to say that, “It is Satan who leads us into temptation; that is his department.” As a result, Pope Francis suggested changing the English translation of the Lord’s Prayer to “Do not let us fall into temptation.”

The problem with the Pope’s suggestion is that the Greek text of Matthew 6:13 and Luke 11:4 is quite clear, and the traditional rendering “lead us not into temptation” is a faithful and literal translation of the text. “Lead us not into temptation” is exactly what the Greek text says. It is a request to God on the part of the one praying that God not lead us into temptation. Interestingly, the Greek word translated as ‘temptation’ can also be translated as ‘test’ or ‘trial’.

Pope Francis’s comments highlight a common question that we Bible translators ask ourselves—do we translate what the text actually says, or do we translate what we think the text should say? The temptation is great to translate what we think the text should say rather than translating what the text actually says. But there is great danger in doing so, because we begin to insert our own ideas and interpretations into the text, obscuring what the text actually says and promoting our own particular brand of theology. Now, it is impossible to avoid all interpretation in the process of translation, but interpretation should generally be avoided if at all possible.

Incidentally, a couple of years ago before Pope Francis made his comments about the Lord’s Prayer, someone suggested to me that we should do the exact same thing in Enga. The Enga translation of the Lord’s Prayer says, “Do not bring us and go into the tempations to do bad.” That is a very literal translation that captures well the meaning of the Greek text. But someone suggested that we should change our translation to “Don’t abandon us, telling us to go into the temptations to do bad.” The person who made this suggestion, like Pope Francis, wished to defend God’s character as someone who does not tempt to sin. However, after considering the suggested translation, we decided to stick with our more literal translation.

The problem is that we often do not have the perspective that we need to see the bigger picture of the biblical narrative and the nuances of the text. Pope Francis is correct that God himself does not tempt us to sin, and that temptation is the devil’s department. However, the Lord’s Prayer does not suggest that God himself tempts us. Rather it suggests that God can lead us into temptation, just like the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The Spirit did not do the tempting, He just did the leading. God can lead us into a time of temptation, but He Himself doesn’t tempt us.

The point is that we should not seek out opportunities to be tempted. We should avoid temptation and actively ask God not to lead us into temptation. Yet we must also recognize that God, in His sovereignty, may at times choose to lead into temptation, just as the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted.

No, the Lord’s Prayer does not need to be corrected. And that is the lesson we Bible translators must learn: When the Scripture seems like it needs to be corrected, it is a good indicator that it is actually our understanding of God that needs to be corrected.