I’ve not been blogging very much over the past few weeks, but that hasn’t stopped other people writing lots of good stuff. Here is a bit of a catch up!
As I mentioned yesterday, the World Evangelical Alliance will be taking a long hard look at some of Wycliffe and SIL’s approach to Bible translation in Islamic contexts. While this happens, I won’t be blogging on that subject, but there are a few good links that I need to pick up on from the past few weeks before I let the subject drop altogether.
For anyone who is unaware of the recent controversy, The Bible Society of Canada have made an excellent statement which gives some good background on the issue. To my mind, this is the best one page summary of what is going on that is available. You might also enjoy a short post by Andre Nelson from Houghton College. Simon Cozens, has written with characteristic panache on the linguistic background to the controversy.
The other great example of this is colour terminology. There’s considerable evidence that people with different languages actually perceive colour differently. When you start learning Japanese you will be told that aoi means “blue” and midori means “green”. And then someone else who’s learning Japanese will tell you “Hey, did you know that the Japanese think that green traffic lights are blue, ha ha ha isn’t that stupid?” But of course they don’t. They don’t say that traffic lights are blue, because “blue” is English; they say that traffic lights are aoi. It’s only English speakers who say that traffic lights are blue. Aoi doesn’t really mean “blue”—because words don’t have meanings, they have uses. Aoi is used to refer to light with wavelengths of between roughly 400 and 500 nanometers, while midori is used for light between about 490 and 550nm. Traffic lights really are aoi, but it’s our broken system of translation-as-symbol-substitution that makes us think that Japanese think they’re blue.
With all of the fuss about this issue, it is sometimes difficult to remember that there are hundreds of millions of people around the world, speaking thousands of different languages who have no access to the God’s Word in their own language. I’m not sure what it says about the way that Christians think and act that people have been very quick to seize on a controversy which surrounds a small minority of translation programmes, but seem completely disinterested in the fact that so many people are still without the Bible. Hey Ho!
However, getting back to the central issues of Bible Translation, Hart Wiens of CBS has done an amazing job of illustrating the issues raised in translating that iconic verse John 3:16. Even if you are not interested in Bible translation, this series of articles would make a great Bible study.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3.16 – NRSV)
This word “believes” is a “key term” because of the critical role it plays in communicating the message of the Bible. In the Gospel, belief is the channel through which salvation by grace comes to people (Ephesians 2.8). The Greek root is translated in English as ‘believe’ or ‘faith,’ depending on the version and context. This core word occurs 240 times in the New Testament.
The translator’s challenges are to first is understand the concept the Greek and second, to express it in the language receiving the new translation. It’s critical to go to the source text for key terms, ensuring faithfulness to the original.
The problem with our English verb “to believe” is that for those not very familiar with the Gospel, its meaning may be limited to a dictionary level understanding of accepting something as true. That is belief at the intellectual level. In the context of the Gospel, the original term carried a deeper meaning of acceptance, not just at the head level, but also in the heart. Whenever the original Greek term is used in conjunction with the preposition “in” or “into” as it is in this verse, it carries the meaning of faith or confidence in a person to the extent of acting on that faith.
Philemon Yong asks some interesting questions about the nature and purpose of Bible Translation:
The work of Bible translators around the world is to be applauded. The Bible has been translated into many different languages and as a result, people in their tribes have the Bible in their mother tongue. It is a beautiful thing, for a grandmother, who cannot read, to have a book in her house and have someone read it to her in her own dialect. There is no doubt that this brings them closer to the word of God and creates an even greater interest in seeking to hear more of it. So, the work of Bible translation is to be applauded and encouraged at all costs.
There is a lingering question in my mind, though, when I look at the work of Bible translation and consider its impact on the target people group. Here is my questions: What is the goal of Bible translation? Is it (a) to have a Bible in a particular people group’s mother tongue so that they can read it and hear God’s word in their dialect or (b) is it to have the people in that people group actually understand what is said in the Bible (interpretation) and thereby not only hear God’s word read but understand what God, through the authors of the Bible, intended to communicate, or (c) is it both. The answer to this question will impact the direction taken in the process of Bible translation and will determine where resources are poured.
The decisions made by Bible translations can have long lasting impact:
How do you translate the Greek word ‘ekklesia’, which appears 115 times in the New Testament? The traditionalists, wanting to assert the institution they belonged to at a time of political and theological upheaval argued for ‘church’, emphasising as they did its authority. The radicals, wanting the Reformation to go further than it already had, argued for ‘congregation’ or ‘assembly’, emphasising its relationality. Guess who won? In a pragmatic trade-off, ‘ekklesia’ is translated ‘church’ on 113 of those 115 occasions…
…What difference would it make if we were able to talk of the Christian congregations inEngland, rather than the Church in England, or counted disciples rather than church members? What difference would it make if rather than based in legislation, or ordered by canon, or governed by Annual Assembly, the church was simply, like God’s word, ‘written on the heart’? (Read the whole article.)
Short Term Mission
Jamie, the far from very worst missionary, has a brilliant post which looks at some of the insanity which passes as short term Christian mission. It is well worth reading the whole posts and the comments that follow.
We had zipped on in to the city so my friend could shoot some footage for a documentary, when we ran across a group of young people playing music in front of a fountain and offering passers-by hugs in the name of Jesus.
Yes. Hugs… For Jesus.
As we moved through the crowded promenade, we could see these Gringos were were out in force, carrying signs (many in English) that said “Free hugs” and “Jesus loves You” and a couple of references to 1Corinthians, the love chapter.
Eventually, one of them found her way over to where we were sitting to offer a Jesus hug. Being a non-toucher, in general, I quickly declined. “No, thank you. I’m….I’m good.” And when my sweet, affection-loving friend finally relented to the poor girl’s persistent (insistent?) offer to give her a hug from Jesus, I knew immediately that I had made the right decision. That chick had my poor friend wrapped up like a cage-fighter when I saw how bad she was pitting-out. We’re talking pit-stains the size of Rhode Island…. For real. Want a hug? And possibly a communicable disease?…*Shudder*By the way, Jesus loves you!
Relations Across the Globe
The idea that people in Costa Rica are somehow in need of hugs and human contact seems more than a little strange. That might be the case in Northern Europe, but surely not in Latin America (not wishing to indulge in too much stereotyping). One of the problems is that missionaries don’t always take time to listen to the people they are supposed to be serving. Mark picks up this them in an excellent post called the importance of listening before doing.
We have come to Tanzania with certain skills, and with an organisation that has certain areas of expertise. While we are convinced of the value of certain things like mother-tongue education, and of churches having the Bible available in local languages, we cannot assume that we therefore know the best way to achieve these things in a particular situation, or even that these things are a priority for a community at this particular moment in time. We need to listen to communities, to their desires, to their ideas, contributing out perspectives and working out together whether our skills and expertise will be able to benefit them in any way. If so, then we need to work closely with them to determine what might be the best way forward. If not, we need to respect their desires and move on.
I think that it’s very easy for us to judge other people, and to sub-consciously regard them as inferior to ourselves. And I think this is particularly easy when we have good intentions of helping others. My challenge for today is to see myself and others as we really are, and to humbly listen to those who are very different to myself.
The Bible and Mission blog has a fantastic story from Nigeria about the way in which getting listening and doing in the right order can be very powerful.
A hard hitting article from the Atlantic magazine looks at the issue of Western intervention around the world from a secular perspective. It makes uncomfortable reading.
How, for example, could a well-meaning American “help” a place like Uganda today? It begins, I believe, with some humility with regards to the people in those places. It begins with some respect for the agency of the people of Uganda in their own lives. A great deal of work had been done, and continues to be done, by Ugandans to improve their own country, and ignorant comments (I’ve seen many) about how “we have to save them because they can’t save themselves” can’t change that fact.
One of the problems of not listening is that we can easily end up thinking that other people have nothing to contribute or teach us; this point of view is contested in an interesting post at Global Theology. Bill Easum takes this a step further with some strong challenges for the Western Church to learn from the rest of the world.
Here’s something to think about. One doesn’t have to good look closely at Western Christianity to tell it is in dire jeopardy. With over 85% of our churches simultaneously declining and aging within 25 years the number Christians in the West will drop by 50%. However, that’s not the real picture. Go many parts of the world and Christianity is exploding with new converts- Korea, China, Fiji, south Africa, India, Nigeria, Indonesia, Philippines, Latin America. Just consider Latin America. In 1900, there were only 50,000 Protestants in Latin America. In the 1980s, they had grown to 50,000,000, and by the year 2000, they reached 137,000,000. The same thing is happening of other parts of the world. God is fulfilling the Great Commission throughout the world – just not here. Ever wonder why?
While on the subject of understanding people’s background. Archdruid Eileen has published an excellent Guide to English Christianity which has been written especially to help people from the USA.
It’s important to remember that the key difference between the church in the US and in England is its relationship to power. In the US, there is no relationship between the church and state, and the church is therefore politically quite powerful. The Church of England actually has a number of seats in the House of Lords (our equivalent of the Senate), while the Governor of the Church of England is the Queen. In any other country, this would give the Church quite unfair advantages in the way of political power. But in England, with our fear of boasting and natural love of the underdog, it’s quite the opposite. The Church of England has no effective power at all, and its natural diffidence means that even “church schools” will have almost no tendency to cause their scholars to grow up as Anglicans. It’s much the same way that we don’t really have “mega-churches”. Why have a church where you can boast about the size of the congregation, rather than one where you can complain it’s so cold that the water in the font has frozen?
I am writing from Mali which has had increasing levels of insecurity since late last year, culminating in a coup d’état on March 21, 2012. I am not going to comment here on what has happened or continues to happen. If you are curious look at the BBC Africa page or Google News and do a search for Mali.
Since late 2009, we have gone through progressive stages of relocating people from the locations best suited for their work and ministry to safer areas. Now we are more or less all in the capital, being told to“shelter in place” by our various embassies. (Has anyone ever successfully “sheltered on the move”?!?) That odd bit of “embassy speak” means we are supposed to stay at home, not go out and respect the curfew – initially a 24-hour curfew and now just 6 pm to 6 a.m.
This week our organization had planned a retreat and a triennial business conference to elect new officers and to look at strategies to best carry out our little corner of God’s work here. And now our conference is cancelled, months of planning laid to waste, as people are scattered across the city (and country), “sheltering in place”.And the question rises, starting as a whimper deep in our guts rising up to something unspoken stuck in our throats: God, how are we supposed to do the work you have called us to do? Circumstances certainly seem to be increasingly limiting, and at the same time opportunities are vast. Why? How?
And finally, John Birch has a nice little cartoon which challenges our attitude to the Bible.