A Report of Our Translation Forum

Posted on: 
October 29, 2021

This was a stimulating week for All-Nations members pursuing Bible translation. We hosted a forum for them to learn from others and discuss a number of philosophical and practical issues in translating the Bible.

A recent Bible translation conference provided the impetus for this. We were able to gather and watch selected presentations from that conference, and discuss issues that were raised in each presentation. Some of our members were here in person, and others participated remotely.

What gets talked about at such a gathering?

Well, perhaps a session title would help give a sense. The longest title for a session we watched was this: "The Hermeneutical Burden of Making it Possible for the Modern Reader to Enter into the Literary World Created by the Original Author." If you follow the thought behind that title, you see that this pretty quickly gets into deep issues regarding what it means for a translated text to bridge the gap from the culture in which the text was written to the culture of the people being translated for. These aren't easy issues! In fact, the presenter spent the whole session looking at one New Testament word and its various uses, attempting to understand what cultural sense was being conveyed by the choice of this word in specific situations. This example served as a case study for the issue raised in the title.

Another was called "God’s Eternal Truth Expressed in Contextual Bible Translation." The key word here is "contextual." What adaptations can be made in translating certain terms to help people of a vastly different culture "get the picture"? As you may expect, we're generally on the conservative side of this debate. The presentation was almost too broad to be useful, making the claim, for example, that translation itself is contextualization. While this may be true in some sense, it leaves us with no clear guide for determining parameters for acceptable vs. unacceptable contextualization. On the other hand, we agreed with a number of the author's examples. If a culture has no sheep, can we translation John the Baptist's proclamation as, "Behold the Piglet of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"? This messes with the biblical understanding of the significance of both sheep and (unclean) pigs, and should never be done.

Here is a sampling of additional topics we covered in discussions:

  • How to translate some of the shocking and seemingly vulgar language used in Scripture
  • Discourse Analysis: evaluating and understanding a text at higher levels, e.g., paragraph structure, change of subject. This is helpful with both biblical texts and in evaluating how the language works that you hope to translate into.
  • A presenter's suggestion about how Jesus' name should be translated in Islamic contexts
  • Tools for exegesis: figuring out the best way to express a passage that could be translated several different ways. This is complex because many Hebrew and Greek terms have multiple possible meanings.
  • Comparing procedures being used by our members who are already working in translation (Mixtec, Madara, and Mayangna projects)
  • Acceptability: whether it's ever okay to use a less accurate term in a translation because of what people are used to or expect. This is often an issue when the people have been exposed to a certain term in another language.

Bible translation is a complex task. Faithfulness in this work is our goal. We appreciate your prayers.

Learn about being a Bible translator

  • “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17
  • “Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witness of these things.” Luke 24:47, 48
  • “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” Matthew 28:19
  • “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:3
  • “That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the Gospel.” Ephesians 3:6
  • “That they all may be one; as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that You sent Me.” John 17:21
  • “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’?” Mark 11:17
  • “Ask of me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance.” Psalm 2:8
  • “Behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes.” Revelation 7:9
  • “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified.” 2 Thessalonians 3:1
  • “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16
  • “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105
  • “As cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a far country.” Proverbs 25:25
  • “More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.” Psalm 19:10
  • “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You.” Psalm 22:27
  • “Truly, as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.” Numbers 14:21
  • “Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. For the LORD is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods.” Psalm 96:3, 4
  • “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” Habakkuk 2:14
  • “That all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other.” 1 Kings 8:60
  • “For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations.” Malachi 1:11
  • “All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name.” Psalm 86:9
  • “For as the earth brings forth its bud, as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.” Isaiah 61:11
  • "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" Psalm 46:10
  • "This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." 1 Timothy 2:3, 4
  • "You are worthy. . .; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God." Revelation 5:9, 10