Sunday, September 1, 2019

Difficult Words: Perfect

This is the second newsletter in a series discussing difficult words to translate. Last month, we looked at the word holy and concluded that it did not mean morally good but set apart for God. This month we will look at the word perfect.

Just like the word holy, the word perfect is one that always makes me cringe a bit because I know that there is not going to be any easy, straightforward way to translate it into Enga. The Greek word that is often translated as perfect is teleios. Like most words, the range of meaning of the Greek is not quite the same as the range of meaning in English. In English the word perfect carries the idea of something that is done without any mistakes. A perfect grade is one in which the student scores 100% and does not get any of the answers wrong. But the connotation of the Greek word teleios has much more to do with the idea of being complete than it does with the idea of not making any mistakes. So it would refer more to the idea of a student completing every assignment required for a particular class than it would to the idea that the assignments were completed without any mistakes.

A great example to illustrate the difference between the idea of completeness as opposed to the idea of not making any mistakes is Matthew 5:48 in which Jesus exhorts his disciples, saying, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” When we approach this command from the perspective of the English connotation of the word perfect, we think that Jesus is commanding us to never make even the slightest mistake as we go about our walk of faith. If that is indeed what Jesus is saying, then it is an impossible command. But I don’t think the Lord Jesus is in the business of giving us commands that he knows we are incapable of ever following.

However, when we consider the Greek connotation of the word teleios, we see a different emphasis emerging, especially as we look at the greater context of the passage. The greater context of Matthew 5:43-48 clarifies that Jesus is telling us, as his disciples, to love our enemies. And he encourages us to do so by reminding us that our Father in heaven “makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” In other words, the emphasis is on the fact that God is complete in showing his love. He doesn’t show love only to the good and the just; he shows love to the evil and the unjust as well. He does not neglect to love anyone; he is complete in how he loves people.

Jesus further illustrates this point by telling us that if we only love those who love us, we are no better than tax collectors. Rather we are to be complete in showing love, not only to our friends, but also to our enemies. Jesus is not commanding us never to make a mistake in our attempts to love others. Rather, he is commanding us to be complete by not neglecting anyone, but rather showing love even to our enemies.

So how do we translate Jesus’s command to be perfect/complete in a language like Enga, which does not have an abstract noun for perfection or completeness? It is a challenge to do so. In our first attempt to translate Matthew 5:48, we came up with the following:

Your Father who stands in the sky loves bad people and good people alike; therefore live in such a way that you love [people] doing likewise.

That was a good translation in terms of capturing the heart of what it means to be perfect or complete, but we felt that it inserted too much interpretation into the text so that we were no longer translating the text but explaining it. Sometimes this is a necessary step in the translation process so that you can truly understand the heart of the message. But we were not content to stick with an explanation rather than a translation, so we went back to the drawing board, considering how we might translate more literally while also capturing the idea of completeness rather than the idea of not making mistakes. This is our revised translation:

Your Father who stands on top of the sky lives in such a way that he does not neglect any of the straight ways, but rather he holds to them; therefore live in such a way that you are doing the same.

The idea is that God is complete in the sense that he does not neglect any good thing that he should do. He is complete in doing all that he should do. Therefore, we should behave in the same way, not neglecting to do all that we should do. It doesn’t mean that we are commanded never to make a mistake, but it does mean that we commanded not to be incomplete in how we carry out the commandments of God. To be sure, God does not make any mistakes, but the heart of Jesus's command is for us to strive to be complete in our love.

May we be complete in loving others, extending our love even to our enemies.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Difficult Words: Holy

I always cringe a little bit whenever we have to translate the word holy into Enga. Without a doubt the word holy has been the most difficult word for us to translate. The Enga people have traditionally understood the word holy to mean very good, which is simply a misunderstanding of the true meaning of the word. I suspect that many English speakers also do not quite grasp the meaning of the word holy, believing perhaps that the word means something like very good with respect to a person’s moral conduct.

But the word holy does not mean very good; it means set apart. For example, if you have a certain set of dishes that you only use for special occasions, in a sense those dishes are holy because they are set apart for a special use; you don’t use them for everyday meals. In the New Testament the word holy means something or someone that is set apart for God’s purposes. For example, the Ark of the Covenant was a box or chest that was set apart for a very special purpose. It was not to be used to store just any items, but only the two tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were written, as well as the jar of manna and the staff of Aaron that had budded. To show that this particular box or chest was set apart for God’s purposes, it was kept in the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle, which only the High Priest could enter, and only once a year on the Day of Atonement. There is no sense in which a box or chest can be morally good, but it can be set apart for God’s purposes. Just as an object can be set apart for God’s purposes, so also can a place, as we have just seen with the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle, which represented the presence of Yahweh with the people of Israel. Now a person can also be holy, meaning that he or she is set apart or dedicated to the purposes of God. In fact the word saint is the same word as holy in Greek and is related to the English word sanctified, which simply means that a person is set apart for God. It does not mean that a person is morally good (although we rightly expect people who are set apart for God to be morally good as well).

The Ark of the Covenant in the Most Holy Place
By far the easiest category of uses of the word holy to translate is places because Enga has traditional spiritual houses. So when holy is used to describe a place we can translate it as nee nyetae, which means a special place that has restricted access. Incidentally we found this to be a helpful word to translate temple. Before, the Enga people were translating temple as the big worship house. But when I asked the translation team what sort of things happened in the big worship house, they said that people would sing songs and listen to a sermon, and they said that everyone had access to such a place. But none of that is the case with the temple in Jerusalem, which was restricted to the priests, and so we translated temple as God’s restricted access house, which communicated much more clearly the sanctity (i.e. set-apartness) of the temple.

But objects, people, and abstract concepts (like holy commandment) cannot be described by the words restricted access. The words restricted access can only apply to places. So to describe objects, people, and abstract concepts as holy we must somehow indicate that they are reserved for God. The best way that we have found to do this is to say that they are Gotenya latae, which means that they are in the state of having been said to belong to God. It is not just that they belong to God but that they have been designated as such. This translation generally works well, although sometimes we have to make some minor adjustments.

God is holy because he is set apart from evil
By far the most difficult context in which to translate holy is when it refers to God himself. For example, in 1 Peter 1:16 God is quoted as saying, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” Well we can’t say that God is set apart for God; it doesn’t make any sense. But what we can say is that God is set apart from evil. So we translated this particular verse as “There is no sin upon me; therefore live in such a way so as to avoid having any sin upon yourselves.” Alternatively we can describe God as being holy by saying, “There is no one like him.” God is in a category by himself, and in that sense he is set apart.

May each one of us realize that we are called to be set apart for God’s purposes, and may we dedicate ourselves to serving him alone!

Monday, July 1, 2019

Up In The Air

As this email is being delivered to your inbox, we are flying over the Mediterranean Sea, traveling from Doha, Qatar to Boston, Massachusetts (assuming no delays in our travel plans that is). Once we land in Boston, we will have a short layover before catching a flight to Pittsburgh, where we will meet my (Adam’s) parents at the airport. Furlough has begun!

Flying over the Mediterranean Sea
Actually, we aren’t supposed to call it furlough anymore. We are supposed to call it Home Assignment. And there is good reason for that as I will continue working on the Enga translation of the New Testament even while we are back in America. Thanks to technological advances and Internet capabilities, I will actually keep in regular touch with the translation team as we send and receive our translation files back and forth across the world. During our Home Assignment, I plan to finish my Advisor Checks for the remaining books of the New Testament, and I hope to back-translate many of those same books into English in preparation for final consultant checks when we return to Papua New Guinea next year. After all of the consultant checks are done, we will begin making final preparations for recording and printing the Enga New Testament!

Some of you may be wondering if our financial situation changes at all while we are on Home Assignment. It does not. So please continue to send your financial gifts in the same way that you have been sending them. And please be advised that even when we are in America, we are still required to raise the same amount of funds to continue with this work. So thank you for your continued giving and for your prayers.

Now … on to that first slice of America bacon!

American bacon

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Twenty-Four More Days

Twenty-four more days until we wake up early, get into a van for a bumpy ten-minute ride to the airstrip, and climb into a ten-passenger Kodiak airplane that will take us to, what I consider, another dimension. Transitioning from life in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to life in the US is no easy thing.

Our conversations around the dinner table are filled with chatter about all the amazing things we will get to experience, like our favourite foods, smooth roads, and fast internet. But our conversations often get confused when we use the phrase “going home.” For Adam and I, “going home” means going to the US, and for the kids, it means going to PNG. In those moments I am brought back to reality and remember that furlough isn’t all about great pizza and YouTube videos. I remember that even though the kids got to see New York City, Washington D.C., and Niagra Falls during our furlough in 2015, Bella asked almost on a daily basis, “When are we going home?” And I am reminded that every time we visited new people—and we did that a lot—Asher held my hand for the first twenty-four hours. So even though I am ready and thrilled to go on furlough, I am going into it with a bit of apprehension.

The first time we went back to the States in 2015, we did a lot of things wrong, and we weren’t mentally prepared. We ignored all the advice to stop somewhere to rest and buffer the transition between PNG and the US. We had lots of immediate plans to see friends and family, and we couldn’t wait to do all the fun things like go to restaurants, the zoo, the beach, shopping—the list was endless. The great land of America was waiting for us with all its food, folks, and fun. But that wasn’t exactly how it went. We were exhausted from jet lag, Bella arrived with lice, Asher got a fever, the air conditioning in the mall made us freeze to death. Our kids thought we were lying to them about their bedtime because they didn’t believe it could be light at eight o’clock at night, and we had such a hard time finding shoes for the kids that they ended up going to the beach in tennis shoes—in October, three months after we arrived in the US! One time, the kids freaked out when they saw a squirrel at a park and tried to climb a tree to catch it, only to be told that they weren’t allowed to climb the tree. Couldn’t climb a tree? What planet were they on?

These are small things really, and mostly make for funny stories, but there were big things too. People, friends, family, church—it had all changed. We had changed and no longer looked at the world the same. Needless to say, our 2015 furlough wasn’t the Disneyland experience we thought it would be. I could debrief about that for hours, but that is the past. We learned from it, and now we are looking forward to what is next, hopefully a bit more prepared.

Our first stop will be in Singapore to rest and have some very needed family time. We arrive in Pittsburgh on July 1, and our kids are very excited to see their grandparents. This time we have no big plans for the first couple of weeks—just settling in, and of course, dentist appointments. Settling in means getting a car, ordering homeschool curriculum, and if Bella has her way, shopping for new clothes. I just keep telling her to hold on, and that no one is noticing the holes in her clothes. We can’t wait to drive on smooth roads, be anonymous, and eat amazing ice cream. But we still have a ways to go before we get there. The next twenty-four days will be a whirlwind of cleaning and packing up our house. I am finding this to be nearly impossible to do while still having to do the everyday things like making dinner, picking up after everyone, and dealing with school events and homework. Please pray that I would manage my time well and have extra energy.

We will also be saying good bye to many friends, some of them for two years, and some we will not see again because they are leaving PNG permanently. This never gets any easier. My heart is heavy when I think of all the goodbyes my kids have had to endure. These are the days when I question and doubt everything. But I know and believe that we have not come here in vain, so I have to continue to believe that God will protect the hearts and minds of my children. 

Jacob, Bella, Martha, Adam, and Asher Boyd
Recently, while reading Hebrews 4, I was struck with how many times the word rest is used. This passage is warning us that we should not fail to believe and receive the promise of entering God’s rest.

“God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it.” - Heb. 4:1 (NLT)

The passage continues for several verses to speak of God’s rest. All I could think was, this is part of the good news! How had I never noticed this before? We are called to believe and obey the commandments of Jesus, and one of the results is entering his rest. And rest is what I need. God is the calm in the storm. He is my rest. It has been a long time since I have slept through the night. I find myself awake with my head spinning with worry. This is the direct result of not trusting that God can take care of all of my needs. Believing that in my head and living it out are two different things. When I find myself awake at night, I am slowly remembering to pray and surrender instead of worry. I am learning to remember that I can choose to enter God’s rest. I don’t always do a great job of this, but I know that renewing your mind is not an overnight process. Today I hold on to the hope of this promise, and I will choose to trust that God will walk with us during this transition, and this furlough. Lord, thank you that the promise of entering your rest still stands, and may I tremble with fear that I might fail to experience it.

Please be praying that we will say good goodbyes and have the closure here that will allow us to be mentally and emotionally healthy to thrive during our upcoming furlough.

We still need housing in or near Sylmar, CA, from mid-December to the beginning of July 2020. I know it is a long shot, but I have seen God do way bigger things than this, and so we are continuing to pray and trust that God will provide the right place for us.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Had They Seen Or Heard?

When Jesus began his ministry on earth, people were trying to figure out who he was. Mark 6:14-16 says:

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” (ESV)

Now it is clear that Herod had only heard about Jesus, but what about the other people? Had they formed their conclusions after seeing Jesus perform miracles with their own eyes, or had they formed their opinions only after hearing about the miracles that Jesus had done? For English translations, the answer to that question does not matter. But in Enga the answer to that question is an important detail that cannot be ignored.

When drawing conclusions in Enga, a person has to state whether the evidence for the conclusion is visual or non-visual. So, for example, with King Herod, it is clear that his conclusion that Jesus was John the Baptist was based on non-visual evidence, namely, the reports that he had been hearing. But what about the other people who concluded that Jesus was Elijah or one of the prophets? Were their conclusions based on seeing Jesus in action or were their conclusions based only on reports that they had heard about Jesus. The text of Scripture doesn’t tell us, but in Enga, we are required to answer this question. So we decided that the reports of others were based on visual evidence, assuming that the reports had come, at least initially, from people who had been eye-witnesses of Jesus’ miraculous works.

Sometimes translation work can be quite difficult! And I base that conclusion on firsthand visual evidence.

On what basis did people form their conclusions about who Jesus was?
Translation Progress
We are currently in Enga Province for our final visit with the translation team before heading home for furlough on July 1. Over the last three months, we have made steady progress in the translation work. We completed our consultant check of Acts and 1-3 John. I also back-translated Hebrews, James, 1-2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation and made final edits with the team to prepare those books for consultant check. In addition, we completed the necessary checks to prepare Romans for back-translation. I have also reviewed our translation of Mark, which was the first book that we translated. Often translators find that there are many improvements that they can make to the first book they translated, since their knowledge of the language and translation skills improve over time. I have found that to be the case as well. But thankfully most of the changes that I have noted for Mark are quite minor and should not be difficult to update with the team.

Furlough Preparation
Please keep us in prayer as we prepare for our upcoming year-long furlough. We are thankful that we have found someone to watch our dog for us while we are away, and we are hoping to be able to rent out our house while we are gone. So please pray that we would find renters. From July to November 2019, we will be with my (Adam’s) parents north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In December we will travel cross-country to Southern California to be near Martha’s family, where we will remain until the end of our furlough in June 2020. Please pray that God would provide a good place for us to stay very close to Martha’s dad in Sylmar. Housing can be quite expensive and difficult to find in Southern California, so please do pray for us that God will provide in such a way that we can regularly and easily visit Martha’s dad, sister, and niece.

Dr. Michel Kenmogne, SIL Executive Director
Your Language Matters!
We were blessed at our biannual conference in March to hear from Dr. Michel Kenmogne, the Executive Director of SIL International. SIL is Wycliffe’s partnering organization that we work with on the ground here in Papua New Guinea. We invite you to watch a short video from Dr. Kenmogne called Your Language Matters! In the video you will hear a sample of various languages around the world, and Dr. Kenmogne will explain why a person’s mother tongue is so important. You can watch the video at

Monday, April 1, 2019

Lake of Fire

Recently the Enga Bible translation team and I were reviewing our draft of the book of Revelation. And while Revelation is full of symbolism and imagery that can be quite difficult to interpret, it is actually not all that difficult to translate. But we did run into some difficulties here and there. One of the difficulties that we faced was the translation of the term lake of fire. Of course the lake of fire is the ultimate destination of the devil, the beast, and the false prophet, along with all of those whose names are not found written in the book of life (see Revelation 20:10-15).

The difficulty in Enga is that there is no traditional concept or imagery of a lake that is made out of fire. Lakes are made out of water, not fire. And there is not even really one word for lake. Instead Enga people literally say water depression. Now the word depression is not referring to an emotional state in which a person is feeling sad, but rather it means “a sunken place or hollow on a surface.” In other words it refers to an area where there is an indentation in the ground. And when the word depression is preceded by the word water, it indicates that the indentation in the ground is filled with water.

So, knowing that the Enga people say water depression to talk about a lake, I of course suggested that we should translate lake of fire by saying fire depression. In other words, a sunken place or indentation on the surface of the earth that is filled with fire instead of water. Well, as often happens when I think that I have made a brilliant suggestion, I was met with blank stares. In Papua New Guinean cultures, people will often not disagree with you directly, but they will show their disagreement by simply ignoring what you say. Not only that, but it can be difficult to articulate why something doesn’t sound quite right. The translators knew that fire depression didn’t sound right, but they might not have been able to articulate right away why that was the case. English speakers also have the same problem. For example, a typical English speaker would immediately be able to recognize that goed is not the past tense of go, but if they had to explain why, they would run into difficulty. (It is because the past tense went is actually from the verb wend as in wend your way through a crowd.) So just as English speakers know when something does not sound right but can’t always explain why, Enga speakers also encounter difficulties in explaining why something sounds wrong, especially since most Enga speakers have never had any formal training in their own language. Well as we continued pondering the best translation, I kept ignoring the nonverbal cues and pushing for fire depression as our answer. Finally, it dawned on our lead translator Maniosa why fire depression did not sound right. He said, “Do you know what a fire depression is? It is the little fire pit that we have in our homes that we cook over.” To give you a better sense of what that looks like, please see the picture below.

A typical Engan fire depression—not really a lake of fire
As you can see, what I was hoping would mean lake of fire actually just meant fire pit. Big difference! So the terminology that I was suggesting would have people envisioning that the lake of fire, which is supposed to be an intimidating image of the ultimate end for untold numbers of those whose names are not written in the book of life, was nothing more than the little fire pit where people cook food in their homes. In fact, if more than one or two people were thrown into a lake of fire like that, they would probably smother the fire and put it out, which is not quite what Jesus had in mind when he talked about the “fire that is not quenched.” So we had to abandon the idea of using the term fire depression and translate lake of fire as the place where big fire continually burns. The idea that this fire is burning in a depression or indentation in the ground had to be left out because that concept created the wrong image of a fire pit where one cooks food in the house. And fire pits are considered to be useful things that help people cook. They are not places of punishment.

I am thankful that I am not alone in doing the work of Bible translation. Rather I am part of a wonderful team, who can correct me when I make bad suggestions. Thankfully there are many times when my suggestions are more helpful. But I am thankful not just for the translation team, but also for you who pray and give to make this work possible. We are all contributing a small part to the work of the Lord in Enga. And it is a work that none of us can do alone. We need each other. So thank you for playing your part so that the translation team and I can play our part.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Consultant Checking 61% Complete

Yesterday we completed a two-week-long consultant check of the books of Acts and 1-3 John. To refresh your memory, a consultant check involves translating our Enga translation back into English and submitting it to an experienced translator who is well-versed in Greek, who then checks the translation for accuracy. The consultant not only reviews the back-translation into English, but also asks two checkers from the language group questions about each verse of the translation to make sure that the translation is communicating clearly and accurately. We were blessed to have with us Pastor Joe Perai and Pastor Timoti Pesone from the Christian Life Church in Enga as our checkers. Now that we have completed the book of Acts and 1-3 John, we have sixty-one percent of the Enga New Testament consultant checked!

Checking the books of Acts and 1-3 John
Pastor Joe
One of the things I enjoy about consultant checks is the opportunity to get to know Engan Christians who are not a part of the translation team. It was a delight to spend time with both Pastor Timoti and Pastor Joe. I was particularly impressed by Pastor Joe's life story. He grew up at a time when Enga still had very little influence from the outside world, and he told me that he only began wearing western clothes in 1980. He has no formal education, but he taught himself how to read, starting with the Enga language, and then moving to Tok Pisin, and finally learning how to read in English. As he read the Enga translation during the check, I quickly realized that he was one of the best Enga readers I have ever heard. During our time together, Pastor Timoti kept referring to Pastor Joe as a human Bible concordance, and the consultant was impressed by his Bible knowledge. At one point the consultant tried to keep asking Pastor Joe more and more difficult questions, just to see if he could stump him, but Pastor Joe knew the answers to all his questions. Now, a consultant check is not really about testing the biblical knowledge of men like Joe, but about checking the accuracy of the translation. Nevertheless, it was encouraging to see an Engan Christian who had such a deep desire to immerse himself in the Scriptures. Please pray with me that the Enga translation we are working on will have a role in producing many more people like Pastor Joe who thirst after the things of God. And please join with us in praising the Lord that we now have more than half of the New Testament consultant checked.

Pastor Joe Perai

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Furlough Plans

After a three-year term in Papua New Guinea, we will be returning to America for a one-year furlough this summer. We will depart from Papua New Guinea on June 24 and make our way to Singapore, where we will enjoy a six-day stopover before heading back to America. On July 1, we will fly from Singapore to Pittsburgh, where we will be staying with my (Adam’s) parents until early December. We plan to spend our first two weeks in America just getting adjusted to the time zone and taking care of basic needs like getting a vehicle and phones and going to doctor’s appointments. Then we will be taking a road trip to various places on the East Coast, including Vermont, Boston, New York, Washington DC, and central Pennsylvania. Then, in early December, we will drive cross-country to Southern California, where we will stay until our return to Papua New Guinea at the end of June in 2020.

We would love to see family, friends, and supporters during our time on furlough. We know that many of you have very busy schedules, so please consider this an open invitation to contact us ahead of time so that we can put something on the calendar.

We would also like to ask for your prayers for housing in Southern California from mid-December 2019 until the end of June 2020. We would really like to be close to Martha’s dad in Sylmar, California, but it can be difficult to find short-term rentals at a good price, especially ones that are furnished. If you happen to know of any short-term housing options near Sylmar, please do let us know. Otherwise, please keep us in your prayers that we would find a good place to stay that will enable us to be close to Martha’s family.

During furlough I will still continue on our translation work as we are coming closer and closer to completing the New Testament. Our goal is to finish, record, and publish the New Testament during our next field term, so please pray for endurance. 

The kids have grown a bit since our last furlough!
Translation Progress
Over the last three months we have continued to make good progress on checking the New Testament translation. During our last village stay, we reviewed all of my notes from my advisor check of Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, Jude, Revelation, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. I never expected that we would be able to finish reviewing my notes for all of those books, but we did! Since that time, I have been busy back-translating those books, a tedious process, but a fruitful one that helps me to identify any further edits that need to be made and which also prepares the books for being checked by an outside consultant. In addition, I have prepared my advisor notes for Romans and 1 Corinthians to check with the team. We praise the Lord for enabling us to make great progress! At the same time, we ask for your prayers as the process of checking the translation and creating back-translations into English can be quite tedious and draining.

School Activities
Now that Bella is a sixth grader, she is at the middle school and can participate in school sports, and so we have a very busy household. She is on the girls’ soccer team and continues to play both trombone and piano. After being apart from Jacob for eight weeks during the last school term as he stayed in the youth hostel, we are glad to be together as a family again for this school term. Jacob exceeded all of our expectations and made the A team for basketball this term. He is one of two eighth graders on the team. Besides one tenth grader, the remaining five players on the A team are all juniors and seniors. Jacob also continues to go to the gym regularly and is getting quite strong. Asher is in third grade now and does not have quite as busy a schedule as Jacob and Bella, which gives him a lot of time for playing with his friends. 

Bella playing the trombone
Martha Tutoring
After spending 25 hours over Christmas break watching training videos in the Barton system of reading and spelling, Martha is now tutoring elementary school students who need extra help in those areas. Martha is also a part of the spiritual emphasis committee for our organization’s upcoming biannual conference. This is in addition, of course, to all that she does to keep the household running. So please pray for strength and energy for Martha as she volunteers her time to be a blessing to others in the community.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

What Kind of Animal is the Beast?

Have you ever considered what the “beast” in the book of Revelation looks like? Have you ever considered what kind of animal the “beast” is? Do you even think of the “beast” as an animal, or do you associate the “beast” with a person? And when you think of the “beast,” do you forget, as I do, that Revelation 13 actually describes two beasts?

If you are like me, you have probably never given any consideration to what kind of animal the “beast” is, and you have probably considered the “beast” to be more of a man than an animal. After all, in English we can use the word “beast” to describe a person. For example, we might describe a cruel and inhumane person by saying, “He is such a beast.”

However, the Greek word for “beast,” which is θηρίον (thērion), refers very definitely to animals, particularly wild animals. These animals were created on the sixth day along with the domesticated animals and the things that creep upon the ground. But unlike the domesticated animals such as cows and sheep, and the small animals that creep along the ground such as mice and lizards, the beasts are large, dangerous animals that live in the wild, such as lions and bears. So the word “beast” simply means “wild animal.” 

An artist's rendition of the first beast in Revelation 13
A great advantage of the English language is that it has words like “beast” and “animal” that describe large categories of things. However, languages like Enga do not have large category words like that. When they describe an “animal,” they use the specific word to describe the specific animal that they are talking about. Sometimes such categorical words can be created, by saying things like “things that have four legs” or “things that move” or “things that are alive,” but often such created categorical words do not work well in translation.

Although Enga does not have large categorical words like “animal” or “beast,” words such as “pig” and “dog” do cover smaller categories of animals. For example, the word “pig” describes any four-legged animal that has hoofs of any kind. So when animals such as cows, sheep, and horses where first introduced into Enga, the Enga people called them “pig cows” and “pig sheep” and “pig horses,” with the word “pig” describing what type of animal it was. Similarly, the word “dog” describes not just dogs but also cats, because both animals are similar in that they have four legs and claws and hunt for food. Similarly animals like lions and bears could be described as “dog lions” and “dog bears.”

A fascinating component of language learning is the discovery of how different languages and cultures classify things differently. English speakers would never describe a cat or a lion or a bear as a type of dog, nor would they describe a cow or a sheep or a horse as a type of pig. Nor would English speakers classify mice and lizards in the same category as did speakers of classical Hebrew. The words that we use shape how we see the world and what categories we put things in.

So as I was reviewing the translation team’s draft of the book of Revelation, I was eager to find out what sort of “animal” they would envision the beast to be. Now, different members of the team translated different chapters of Revelation, and so I found out that some of the translators were calling the beast a “wild pig,” while others were calling it a “wild dog.” In researching the “beast” more closely, I discovered that the first beast is described in Revelation 13:2 as being like a leopard and having feet like a bear and a mouth like a lion. That solved the problem right there. According to the Enga system of animal classification, leopards, bears, and lions all fall into the “dog” category, so the beast is obviously a “wild dog.” In English, something that resembles a leopard and bear and a lion defies specific categorization, but in Enga such an animal is clearly a type of dog.

So beware of receiving the mark of the wild dog on your foreheads or your right hands. Actually, since Enga has no word for “hand,” but simply classifies the hand as part of the arm, you should be careful not to get the mark of the wild dog anywhere on your arm at all. And since Enga has no word for “forehead” but simply uses the word “head,” you should also be careful not to get the mark of the wild dog anywhere on your head at all.