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Who Guards the Translation? October 13, 2017

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approved-bibleCC0When translating the Bible you want to get it right, and often translation agencies won’t sign off on a translation until it has been through a thorough process of checking. Ideally this is more about guiding than guarding and seen as beneficial and encouraging.

Here are some “Bible Translation Fails” and then the question: who decides whether a translation is a good one and how do they do it?

There was of course the misprinted “Wicked Bible” of 1631 containing the commandment “Thou shalt commit adultery” . (one copy sold for £31,250). Opinion is divided as to whether the printing error was a genuine mistake or sabotage by a rival printer.

There was the heavily over-contextualised Cotton Patch Gospel paraphrase which has Jesus born in Georgia and replaces St Pauls letter to the Romans with his “Letter to Washington”.

There was also the story of missionaries who, “Lacking adequate language preparation” translated “Enter the Kingdom of Heaven” as , “Go sit on a stick.”

There are also failures in understanding such as the people asked to explain a verse written in Swahili who thought it said “Jesus ordered his teachers to plant milk“. Nothing wrong with the Swahili except that the people asked to explain the verse didn’t speak Swahili as well as their pastor thought they did.

Stories also exist of people getting confused not by the words but by their expectations and a mismatch of what they picture in their head. eg Peter going up onto his roof to pray seems a bit strange if you have a sloping thatched roof, or translating Luke 11:11, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead”, for a people who avoid eating the local fish but do eat snakes.

I’ve been telling the “plant milk” and “fish/snake” stories since I heard them twenty years ago.

The “Go sit on a stick.” example was in a book by Lamin Sanneh but used earlier by Eugene Nida in the 1950’s. I found it quoted in the Chicago Tribune under the heading, “Humor, Chaos, in New Bible Translations

and in Nida’s own words,

“Every missionary realizes how easy it is to make silly and embarrassing mistakes in speaking a foreign language. But perhaps none has been more shocked than one missionary who discovered that in one of his favorite sermons about “going to heaven,” he pronounced the words so incorrectly that the people thought he was telling them “to go sit on a stick.”
Eugene Nida, 1953

Being able to get back to original or early sources is an important part of ensuring accuracy and some of today’s translations are supported by archeological findings of very early copies of the Bible plus the versions that have been passed down and received as part of church tradition.

Obviously knowing the language you are translating from and translating into is important.

It’s also helpful to know the culture and context of the original and of the modern recipients, so that whatever the words themselves might say the intended and received meaning can also be explored.

Back in the 1950’s Nida explored many of the common errors made by western missionaries. The people were generally not willing to criticize the missionary ” but did sometimes voice their frustration with comments such as “God surely didn’t learn our language very well.”

For these reasons the major Bible translation organisations have a long history of training translators well and of ensuring that quality is maintained by having thorough checking processes and qualified translation consultants.

But there is a problem. There aren’t always enough experienced translation consultants to go around and translations can be held up.

Technology is a help both in terms of software that helps analyse text and technology that helps people connect by video, voice and text across continents. For all the advances in technology a key skill is still how the consultant relates to the people she or he serves.

It’s important that the translated Bible be clear, natural, and accurate. But quality is still not a guarantee of acceptance. Increasingly the local church has a higher stake in deciding when the translation is ready to be released.

As early as 1958 meetings were convened to look at how translated scriptures were actually being used and what could be learned from work that had already happened.

If translation checking came of age in the 1950’s it would perhaps still be another 20 years before more in depth research really started into Scripture use (now commonly termed “Scripture Engagement”

Today’s consultants help people engage with an ever widening set of ideas and resources and specialists in anthropology, sociolinguists, arts and ‘ethnodoxolgy‘, Scripture engagement, and now some specialising in new forms of digital engagement.


For more details on some of these specialisations and of their impact explore your local Wycliffe website. There are over 100 organisations in the Wycliffe Global Alliance so I’m just adding specifics links to a few of the ones with material in English, others are linked to from wycliffe.net (which has lots of material of it’s own in lots of languages)

 

 


Version 0.9 Oct 13, 2027
This blog post has not been checked by an outside consultant

It may contain typos, errors and omissions. Being in digital form, it may be updated.

 

 

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More on Maps: What3Words , StreetView and Zuckerberg October 11, 2017

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As I prepared this post news came across my Facebook feed of Mark Zuckerberg’s virtual visit to Puerto Rico. His aim was to show how amazing his new technology is and, as he stated after getting some flack for the images of his cartoon avatar amidst scenes of devastation, to also show it’s capacity to inspire empathy.

“One of the most powerful features of VR is empathy. My goal here was to show how VR can raise awareness and help us see what’s happening in different parts of the world. I also wanted to share the news of our partnership with the Red Cross to help with the recovery. Reading some of the comments, I realize this wasn’t clear, and I’m sorry to anyone this offended.” – Mark Zuckerberg

 

My own reply is likely to get lost in the global discussion but I made it anyway

“Thanks Mark. I really do believe that VR can assist empathy but it brings with it the risk of virtual empathy and desensitisation. I’ve only spent a couple of minutes immersed in Google Earth via an Oculus Rift but yes you feel like you are there and it’s powerful, but how long until it just feels as normal as TV and you channel hop from experience to experience. The technology is amazing. The possibilities are amazing. But real empathy will cause us not just to teleport in and out of situations but to truly stand alongside people so that we are not just there as invisible ghosts feeding off their emotion, but supporting them as friends and advocates.”

Later in the day I saw this amazing 360 video from the BBC of Radhika and Yashoda heading to school in from a “remote Himalayan village” that doesn’t yet have Google streetmap, or a bridge to cross the river. (more on their inspiring story here)

I don’t have a spare £500 for the latest VR headsets but I have been touring the world via my screen lately. It wasn’t hard to find their village and with a bit of work I could probably have found the exact point where they cross the river.

Streetview without the streets

I also learned that for the last few years anyone can add their own pictures to Google Streetview, and even go where there are no streets. These ‘photospheres’ can be taken on many of the newer smartphones without the need for a more special camera or a Google camera van, and can be viewed on VR headsets, phones, tablets, smart TVs and even laptops and PCs.

Here’s a link to a spot somewhere in the Philippines that someone has shared:

Buscalan

And for anyone looking at this from the Philippines here’s a British view to compare it to.

Dovedale

There are lots of places around the globe to take in the view and it’s hard to remember all those grid references.

What 3 Words

Everywhere on the planet can be mapped in 3×3 metre squares using different sets of 3 words. This is transforming postal services in Mongolia and Côte d’Ivoire , and is a great improvement in places that don’t have postcodes, house numbers (or sometimes even street names) .

I won’t pinpoint where my office desk is but I think https://map.what3words.com/curries.stockpile.ranted may pinpoint the spot I proposed to my wife 15 years ago, and steps.march.froze is probably the place in the church we stood to say our vows.

The front door of our current church is at pose.shins.ritual, and map.what3words.com/empathy.tourist.teleport will leave you drifting a long way from land the middle of the Indian Ocean.

I’m impressed that the company didn’t just restrict the service to English but recognise what the critics are saying about the service being in the hands of a single company rather than open source.

Whether you travel virtually to another part of the globe and empathise, observe or pray; whether you get to see some distant location in person; or whether you are already in someone else’s distant location it’s good to be able to share the experience with others.

I’m looking forward to a few more immersive tours of place people call home, and I hope I don’t cease to lose my sense of wonder.

 

Who guards the faith? October 6, 2017

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Councils, Conferences and Creeds

Icon depicting the Emperor Constantine and the bishops of the First Council of Nicaea (325) holding the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed of 381 (photo Public Domain)

We now live in a world of fake news and bias reporting. This isn’t new, its just that we talk about it a bit more. We also live in a world where there are a lot of different ideas about what Christianity is, not just about style and structure but about some deeper ideas, attitudes and practice.

This isn’t new either.

As Christianity spread it came into contact with new contexts and new ideas. The question of ‘whose religion’, or ‘whose version of the religion’ was true was an important one in an empire which risked fragmentation and in a church which risked distortions of the message, false gospels, and false churches.

New understanding of the faith are not just judged on their interpretation of scripture but on how they line up with agreed standard interpretation around key areas.

In the book of Acts and the Epistles the battle lines are drawn up first against the Judaisers and then against gnostics who believe they have additional secret knowledge.

(Some of the links in this post point to Wikipedia articles which can be changed by new editors and aren’t always free from bias and misinformation. Fortunately you can check sources, and look at discussion and history of articles)

The New Testament is not a witness to the fact that both historic faith and the new teachings of Jesus can be embraced by other cultures. They can also be reinterpreted and distorted. The faithful need to know when not to try to ‘pour new wine into old wineskins’ but also when to take a stand against false teaching.

Beyond the Epistles divisions arose about the nature of the trinity and even which books constituted the canon of scripture.

Historic creeds such as the Nicene Creed (depicted above) were formulated to clarify accepted truth and to draw boundaries.

In a much reprinted book on Handbook to Today’s World Religions, Josh Mcdowell repeatedly turned to the Westminster confession as a source of orthodoxy on countering cults. This statement of faith is also seen as a good yardstick by others.

Where do you look for a  clear statements of what you and your church believe?

Unity, is not just about identifying where we all agree but also about how we handle differences.

ea faith and affirmationThe UK Evangelical Alliance has affirmations and actions along with it’s basis of faith, including a statement: “We respect the diversity of culture, experience and doctrinal understanding that God grants to His people, and acknowledge that some differences over issues not essential to salvation may well remain until the end of time.”

Bible translation brings with it risk of the message being changed and of people interpreting it for themselves. The English Authorised Version (also known as The KJV or King James Version) emerged when other versions had been prohibited.

According to a citation on Wikipedia, King James “gave the translators instructions intended to ensure that the new version would conform to the ecclesiology and reflect the episcopal structure of the Church of England and its belief in an ordained clergy.”

The Press office of the Church of England confirms this (or at least read the same wikipedia article).

Fortunately today respectable translators strive to avoid bias in favour of a particular doctrine.

This is not to say that doctrinal issues do not matter but that we should aim to let our understanding come from the Bible rather impose our ideas on the Bible.

This is of course easier said than done.

Even those who shout most loudly about the inerrancy of the Bible are at times forced to admit that the people who read it are sometimes wrong, either in assuming what it meant to the original authors and readers or in how it might be applied in a specific context today.

Ultimately the correct interpretation and application of scripture is not decided by kings, councils, or committees but by God. The God who inspired the original authors knows what he meant and knows what implications are valid. Meanwhile we, like the early church, need to listen in community, and ask God to guide as as we read and apply his word in our context.

 

Further reading:
(Several more to add, this is a blog in process not a final statement)

http://www.missiology.org/mr-38-contextualization-and-syncretism/

http://www.missiology.org/4-worldview-types-and-the-hearing-of-the-gospel/

Scott McKnight (2016), Heresy: Who Decides?  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2016/07/08/heresy-who-decides/

Richards & O’Brien (2012) Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes (you can also listen to a free sample of the audio book)

Mother Tongue Theologies: Poets, Novelists, Non-Western Christianity – ed Darren J. N. Middleton (I’ve only read the online intro but that in itself helps raise issues)

and

Lamin Sanneh, (2004), Whose Religion is Christianity?

Around the world the church is growing. Sometimes it looks like European and American models, sometime something new.

More thoughts coming soon…

Bible Translation: Where we’ve been & where we’re headed next September 27, 2017

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I marvel at where Google earth and streetview can take me. I can stand on roads in places where some of my colleagues went before there were even roads – in days when geography was still a major barrier to the gospel.

GoogleStreetMapSept2017

Click the map to go to Google’s page showing where there cameras have been. There are places today where geography is still a barrier, remote places that Google can only show from above, including some where there still aren’t roads to travel.

But there are also places where the barriers have more to do with safety, security and political or religious opposition.

You can get clues to some of the hard to reach places by looking at where the Google cameras haven’t been able to go yet.

You can also follow the work of organisations such as Open Doors which has worked with persecuted church for 60 years, first in the Communist bloc and then more globally.

For the last 25 years they have been providing data in the form of a World Watch list.

WorldWatchListScreenshot

These are not places in which the gospel has not gone but in which it has gone and is being spread with great sacrifice. Even in places that are not physically easy to access, technology allows inroads to the gospel, and assists in connecting with fellow believers and hearing each others stories.

Radio programs still reach millions, the internet gives some people access to materials but may be blocked, monitored, or simply unavailable or affordable.

Digital access comes in many forms and where once the ability to print smaller Bibles was a breakthrough now entire libraries can be carried on an SD card smaller then a finger nail.

But a library is still only of use if the materials are in languages that people can understand and that connect with them.

Materials in the right language can cross barriers of understanding and cultural acceptability.

Last year Wycliffe Global Alliance reported that at least some part of the Bible has been published in over 3,200 languages. This includes traditional printed scripture plus an increasing number of languages in which there are also phone apps, audio scriptures and videos.

Both Faith Comes By Hearing and YouVersion were able to celebrate products in over 1000 languages, and Jesus film had material in over 1400 languages.

By November new figures will be released showing the progress and remaining needs. There is much to marvel at and still much that God is still doing.

 

The Word Comes with Power (and batteries) September 18, 2017

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the_word_came_with_power
still a best seller in Wycliffe USA’s online store or search on Amazon

When I joined Wycliffe at the end of the 1990’s I read a story that has stayed with me – about a community’s first real contact with Americans and more significant than that their first real contact with Jesus.

Some of the people had met foreigners before but no-one had come and lived with them. Jesus was just as foreign and distant to them.

It’s 25 years since “The Word Came with Power” was first published but you can still read the book about how the Balangao’s got the book, including how they first really learnt to pray, after their American (Joanne Shetler) was in a helicopter crash, and some cried out, “don’t let her die, the books not finished yet!”

The book (the New Testament) was finished, and in the process many of the people came to know God.

Times have changed.

A few years ago I reflected on the fact that along with little access to the gospel, the people Joanne went to live with in the 1970’s had little access to healthcare, education, and news of the world outside. Doming, the son of the village elder who ‘adopted’ Joanne as his daughter, also survived the helicopter crash that almost killed Joanne. He went on to become a Bible translator himself. Several years ago I spotted that Doming’s children were on facebook.

I marvelled at the speed of change and the advance of technology, and then remembered that my own father was 14 before they got electricity on his farm, and that for some of my early childhood in the UK we didn’t have a TV, record player or telephone.

balangaoNTappThe Balangao New Testament is now available on a phone app, and I’d guess that most of the Balangaos carry Android phones that could run it as long as they are kept charged. I don’t know how good the wifi is in some of the villages but this version can be easily (and legally) copied phone to phone.

Technology allows for many new things but it also means it could be easy for people to forget the past.

Three short radio interviews I linked to from this blog a mere 9 years ago are no longer online thanks to an update of a website in 2012, but I trust they may still be in an archive somewhere.

In this world of electronic media there is no guarantee that stories will not be lost or buried.

Tell the stories

I hope the stories about the changes throughout the 70’s and 80’s, and about what God was doing in that time, are still told and treasured by the people so that third and fourth generations of Christians can understand the impact of the gospel on their parents and grandparent when they first heard it.

I hope that it still has the same power in the lives of people today and that stories are told of what Jesus did 2000 years ago, 20, 30 and 40 years ago, and what he is doing today.

BBC Pidgin and Pidgin Bibles September 12, 2017

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BBC pidgin news has arrived!

BBCPidgin - Meet the Team

You can click the picture to see an intro video of team with subtitles for those can catch the excitement but miss some of the words, because they don’t speak Pidgin.

Dis link na di home page of BBC News Pidgin wey you fit see all di news tori and gist from Naija, Africa and di whole world. 

PCMTSC

 

 Dis link for Good News in Nigerian Pidgin

 

The new BBC service launched on Aug 14th 2017. As languages, pidgins don’t always get good press, so this is good news, not just for speakers of Nigerian pidgin but for other speakers of other languages that have been looked down on.

Pidgins and Creoles are a vibrant mix of languages that emerge as trade languages taking in words and grammar from major languages (often of a foreign power) and from the local languages. Because of the similarity to the languages on which they are based they are often seen as broken English (or French, Dutch, Portuguese etc) rather than recognised as languages in their own right, and they are usually second languages, lacking the cultural ties and heritage of the main language of a people. But as their use continues they can often become the main language people use especially in urban areas.

They are rarely the language of literature, education and government but are instead the language of the street, of trade and of friendship between people from different backgrounds.

As such it’s no surprise that they can be great languages for the church, and also no surprise that not everyone agrees as to whether they are ‘holy enough’.

People often think that the Bible should sound like the King James Version, respectful, reverent and distant. Of course 400 years ago the language of the KJV didn’t sound ancient. It was fresh and contemporary and even scandalous to people would had only encountered the Bible in Latin.

It can be worth reflecting on what languages Jesus used. Did he teach people in the language of the government, of the religious leaders, or of the common people?

The New Testament in Nigerian Pidgin, was launched in 2012 and is available on several of the main multilingual Bible sites apps such as Bible.is and YouVersion both in print and audio. There is also a version of the Jesus Film in Nigerian Pidgin.

WESBSCAn audio version in Cameroonian Pidgin is also available and was launched in 2000

Elsewhere in the world there have been versions in Tok Pisin (Papua New Guinea) , Solomon Islands Pidgin, Hawaiian Pidgin (Da Jesus Book), Jamaican Patois, and given that there are over 90 different pidgins and creoles, probably several that I don’t know about. (But might add here when I do).

The Bible is always good news when it is received in languages that people understand and use every day for sharing life. There will be some “feel good” stories on the BBC Pidgin team but much of the news will probably continue to be about lives turned upside down. Good news turns lives from downside to up.

 

Coming soon… Multilingual Worship June 25, 2017

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There are a number of powerful multilingual worship videos where people unite in singing the same song in many different languages. It’s good practice for when you get to heaven.

If you’ve never heard this, listen, and be moved.

– Revelation song in multiple languages.

 

This can be repeated in many large events and even in smaller congregations.

Here’s the same song sung by teens in 14 languages

Katelin Hanson asks whether attempting multilingual worship is worth it. She concludes it is. Would you feel the same if it was you in a new church in a new land? http://churchleaders.com/outreach-missions/outreach-missions-blogs/161669-katelin_hansen_multilingual_worship_is_it_worth_it.html

Worship is not only multilingual, it is multicultural – even when it’s in English!

Think of music that you associate with the Lords Prayer. I introduced a few people to Cliff Richard’s version “the Millennium Prayer” recently and told others about a somewhat slower version sung by Beach Boys (1964).

Personally I prefer this one sung in English by Shreya Kant (live in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh. This song is from the album Thy Kingdom Come where it also available in Urdu and Punjabi.)

I’ll be writing more on this concept later including some tips on how to be more multilingual in your ministry (in simple manageable steps), and seeing what sites and apps exist to help you find good song and strategies.

Stay tuned!

Uncertainty June 9, 2017

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certaintyAfter a very turbulent night we now have a promise of certainty. But a lot of people may not be sure.

In addition to concerns about the UK election and the future governance of our country we’ve been a little preoccupied by the currency market recently and it’s impact on our own family.

Having sold a house in Canada we are buying one in Britain but it’s been hard to know how much our money is worth.

It would have been simpler if we’d lived in Jersey.

JEPvGBP

The exchange rate between the Jersey Pound and the British Pound is pretty even. It’s a bit like trading between French Euros and German Euros.

The exchange rate between the Canadian Dollar and the British Pound on the other hand…

GBPvCAD

Currencies can be quite volatile things and of course it doesn’t just depend on what’s happening in one country.

The price of a house is a lot to gamble. Which way would you have predicted the rates went next? (you can find out here on xe.com/currencycharts/?from=CAD&to=GBP )

We definitely didn’t move our money at the best time but we didn’t move it at the worst, and we’re (probably) not going to lose the house over it.

Our new house is very different from the one we sold in Canada, and very different to what we might afford in London (England), even in another part of our town.

The world is not an even place and there are valid arguments for saying that it shouldn’t be. The challenge is how much inequality and instability is okay?

And how much, when I win out in a deal do I care about those who lose out?

It is possible to have situations where both sides win, but usually where there is a substantial imbalance of power everything else follows. When things are good  the rich benefit a whole lot more than the poor, and when they are bad the better off are usually better equipped to whether the storm.

Certainty isn’t the same as hope. Stability for the economy isn’t the same thing as equality, or even security, for families across the nation.

A lot of people still think the UK election has been about Brexit, the markets and trade with Europe, for others it has been about our schools, our NHS and fairer deals for the many not the few.

What happens next is still a gamble. I’m praying that in the long term we all win.

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