Scripture Translation presents unique challenges

July 16th, 2020 by Global Teams

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Many people groups that are experiencing new movements to Christ still lack a useable scripture translation. One of our Global Teams field partners is working on translating the Old and New Testaments into the “heart language” of a people group in a remote, rural location in South Asia. In a recent newsletter, he described how his team is handling two linguistic problems.

One of the greatest challenges our team faced in the past few years is what to call the “epistles” written by the apostles to the early churches. This Biblical term is taken by many languages straight from Greek. Epi- basically means “to,” and the rest comes from the verb “send.” But to call these “letters” in Ducho* would bring the writing down to the level of everyday personal communication. For some time, we were using a Ducho word that means “explanation of beliefs.” This gave readers a more detailed notion of the contents and nature of these “letters.” However… our national partners from a Muslim background found the term awkward and intimidating. A few Islamic terms used to refer to holy writings were considered, but since those writings are presented as direct quotations of God (like much of the Old Testament), the team agreed that those terms don’t match what was written by the apostles in the New Testament. Finally, a solution was found that everyone feels okay with— “document of guidance.”
As our country remains in lockdown, this task has taken me away from close collaboration with our national partners, except for the occasional conversation with Anne*, who lives in the States. She is always a pleasure to work with and really loves to find the right turn of phrase. She helped me find a more presentable way to express part of 2 Corinthians 5:4: “We do not wish to be unclothed, but instead to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling.“ I saw that the team’s draft used a word for “unclothed” which refers to something vulgar in everyday speech. These kinds of words cannot be used in our translation because they would make it unsuitable for public reading and family. Anne agreed, and she came up with three solutions which I then shared with the Professor. He liked the one which means “in a state of being unveiled.” As you know, “veiling” is quite common and decent in the culture of our audience, so this edit is appropriate for them.

*Names changed.

This field partner noted, “We have thousands of discussions underway like this.” You can read more about Global Teams’ translation ministries here:

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