This week, guest speaker Keith Patman from Wycliffe Bible Translators shared what it looks like to translate the Bible into other languages.
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good morning thanks so much for having me here this morning my name is keith patman i serve with wycliffe bible translators in uh well i've been serving since 1982 in 1987 my wife and i with our two children moved to cameroon which is on the west coast of africa west central africa and we lived in the town of ombessa and learned and worked in the local language there which is called nugunu one of 279 languages in that little country the size of the state of california my kids loved growing up in an african village they still talk about it even now as adults with kids of their own and my daughter actually got to go back when i went for the dedication of the new testament in new gunu in 20 2017. she had not been back there in 22 years and that little girl on the left who was her best friend was now all grown up and they they they uh reunited and just uh she she was just so excited to be there i served now from the united states based here in the u.s and serving bible translation teams throughout the west and central parts of africa the countries where french is the language of wider communication and i'll be sharing a little bit more about that as we go along um but let me introduce you first to william cameron townsend in 1934 he started what would become the greatest bible translation movement in history he started a little community of missionaries to learn linguistics in order to be able to analyze unwritten languages he kind of got this vision as he served as a young person in guatemala and met people who spoke languages that weren't even written in which the bible did not exist they had no access to the scriptures in spanish which is what he was teaching and preaching in and so he got this vision for translating the scripture into all these unwritten languages sil was the little training school he began it stood for summer institute of linguistics now it stands for sil and out of that grew wycliffe bible translators as a way to bring uh the national church the sending church in and send missionaries out and pray for them and support them and many other organizations have now uh started up some of them affiliated with wycliffe and sil others independent including hundreds in countries all over the world where they are producing their own national translators cameron townsend by the way is the one in the middle in that picture when you look at that you may think well i could never go to a people who are so strange and distant from me and learn a language like that and translate the bible well maybe not but what i really want you to hear this morning is that you are a bible translator um it's for all of us as christians and i don't want this just to be an informative message about a certain type of of missionary activity but i want you to go home really with that in mind so let's open with a word of prayer lord we thank you for your word we thank you that we have it in the language that speaks to our hearts and that we're so blessed by it and we want to lift up to you uh those in the many languages around the world who are still waiting to hear your word we pray that you will connect us more firmly with them and help us to reach out to them and we join in worshiping you this morning with all our brothers and sisters around the world who are already singing your praises today in languages around the world thank you for making us a part of that great multitude and we pray that you will guide us through your word and through your spirit this morning we pray in jesus name amen so let's think a little bit about how you are a bible translator can everybody read that on the screen good because i can't but i've got it right here um so this is from paul's letter to the colossians and could we read this responsively i'll read the lines in regular print if you'll read with me the lines in bold print therefore as god's chosen people holy and dearly loved clothe yourselves with compassion kindness humility gentleness and patience bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone forgive as the lord forgave you and over all these virtues put on love which binds them all together in perfect unity let the peace of christ rule in your hearts since as members of one body you were called to peace and be thankful let the message of christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms hymns and songs from the spirit singing to god with gratitude in your hearts and whatever you do whether in word or deed do it all in the name of the lord jesus giving thanks to god the father through him so you may remember the old saying you're the only bible that some people may ever read and that's what this passage from paul is really all about that's why this instruction of his is so important this is what god wants us to look like as his people his church and as individual christians so that our lives and our life as a community speak compellingly and beautifully to the watching world and of course we do fail don't we uh in carrying that out but we should always be striving through the whole the power of the holy spirit to be that kind of people to be that kind of church uh so that others read in us as as their read us like a book and see the character of christ in us and the love of god in verse 16 he tells us let the message of christ dwell among you richly that is let the word of christ be our very dna uh the essence of our life so his truth and grace shine out generously that word richly could be translated generously from our lives as the church and as individuals that's what the calling of every christian to be a bible translator really means we translate god's message to those around us who are watching uh and i'm gonna share a little bit more this morning about the more literal sense of being a bible translator and i want you to know that even though we yes we all are bible translators in that sense of letting christ's message shine out through our lives who knows god may be calling some of you to be bible translators in a more literal sense so you will find either on your seat you may be sitting on a opportunity of a lifetime right now either on your seat or somewhere near you maybe you guys might not have them there's some up front here a little brochure and if you look on the boring side of it there's a whole list of all kinds of skills and backgrounds and life experience that can all be used in bible translation believe it or not so think about that people serve from their home countries as well as by going uh to to distant countries and there are more things on the table just outside the door here so help yourself all right so we might ask why translate the bible um let's kind of think about it backwards from the end of history from what god's great redemption story from the garden of eden onward is all culminating in and that is this scene that john portrays for us around the throne of god in heaven after this i saw a vast crowd too great to count from every nation and tribe and people and language standing in front of the throne and before the lamb they were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands and they were shouting with a great roar salvation comes from god our god who sits on the throne and from the lamb so people from every language are going to be there surrounding the throne of god and praising him we'll be among them and here are all these other people from all these other language communities around the throne with us in heaven but many of those languages still don't even know the name of jesus still don't even have a single verse of god's word so if this is what god's redemption story is all moving toward we need to be sure that everybody can hear the message of god the gospel in the language that speaks to their heart the language that they understand most clearly and so let's take a quick look at a little video here that will help us understand about those who still don't have god's word we've become accustomed to a world where all our needs are met where nearly everything we could ever want is literally at our fingertips food water shelter clothing we take some things for granted for us they've always been there but what if we didn't have these things how would it affect our daily lives it's the same with the bible it's our guiding light showing us the only way to live in a right relationship with god but what if it wasn't there what would our lives be like without the bible for millions of people in the world this is still their daily reality there's not a single word of scripture translated into a language they can clearly understand that's why wycliffe exists at this moment all around the world we're working with local churches and communities to speed the light of truth to people still waiting because when people get the bible in their language they can know the life-giving truth of the good news they can fully grasp who god is and what jesus has done for them they can experience the hope and transformation of god's word it's a movement of global proportions and we won't stop until every person on the planet can access the bible in a language and format they can clearly understand you may have noticed some people signing the bible we just celebrated a couple weeks ago the dedication of the entire bible in american sign language the first whole bible in american sign language and i learned that there are about 350 more sign languages around the world that still need scripture so that's part of it so here are some statistics and these are always changing but the latest figures are about 7 378 known languages throughout the world surprisingly only 717 of those languages actually have a whole bible and of course we're among those in english other languages have the new testament or portions of scripture maybe a book or two of the of the bible but when you take all the languages left out of that picture there are at least 1892 of those remaining languages that we know for sure will need a translation so there's still plenty of work to be done and some people ask me um well why not teach them to speak a language where there is a bible you know if there's if they're in an area like we use french in the parts of africa where i work and a lot of people are bilingual in french actually most africans are multi-multi-lingual um but french in in the parts of africa where i work is the language of wider communication that most people use even if you do have access to scripture in another language it doesn't always touch your heart the way hearing it in your own language would but for many many people they just don't have access at all to another language and think about it would you if you didn't know jesus and somebody told you there's this person named jesus that you need to know about and and you need to get right with god by knowing the story of how jesus came to provide salvation and here it's in this book that's written in greek can you learn greek and then you'll be able to read this well yeah some of us do learn greek and it's a wonderful rich source of understanding the truth of god's word but how many people who don't know god at all would take the trouble and how many of us even if we did want with all our hearts to know the lord would uh and and we did study greek would really be able to grasp as much as if we heard it in our own language so it's important for people to hear it in what we call the language of the heart the mother tongue i'll share with you the story oh sorry let me read this first because this is really why we need to translate the bible because how can people call on him to save them unless they believe in him and how can they believe in him and if they have never heard about him and how can they hear about him unless someone tells them and how will anyone go to them without being sent that is why the scriptures say how beautiful are the feet of the messengers who bring good news so here's a little story about the impact of the word of god in the mother tongue this is leonardo bolioki i had the privilege of knowing him for most of the time i lived in cameroon and of working with him and his translation team to help them finish their new testament but for many many years over 35 years leo was in this as a labor of love working a lot of that time on his own because he wanted so much for the yambeta people to uh have the word of god in their own language he suffered a lot um the first time i ever met him was when my family and i arrived on the sil campus in yonde cameroon for our very first time and we got there at night it was just after dark and we stepped onto the campus and outside of one of the apartments there were all these cameroonians seated around on the lawn crying and wailing and some of them rolling around on the ground in a cameroonian morning tradition and i learned that leonard's son had just been killed a few hours earlier in a motorcycle accident and they were showing their grief and leo went through many other very uh terrible losses and um really worked hard and mabel made a lot of sacrifice over those 35 plus years to complete the new testament but he tells the story of what kept him going all that time and it was very early on when he was just doing this on his own and he went to church one easter sunday and in his pocket he had some handwritten pages on which he had translated the story of jesus death and resurrection and he asked the priest if he could get up that morning and read the story in yambeta instead of in french so he had permission to do that he stood up and began to read this story and the further he read the more he noticed around the congregation the older women in particular began to just weep and after the service they all came rushing up to him and they said leonard where did you get that story we've never heard that before and he said well of course you've heard it we read this every easter in church and we hear it many other times during the year and they said no we've never heard that before we never knew god loved us that much and it was because they heard it in their heart language now i've got to say the older women are the generation that was never educated in french when they were children of school age uh it was under the colonial times and and most families couldn't send the daughters to to school they could only afford to send their sons so a lot of those women were really cut off from the scriptures in french as it was read every sunday and they were hearing it for the first time as leo read it and so that's really what kept him going the last time we met him this my wife and me at um the dedication for the new gunu testament the one that i started out working in uh and leo came to celebrate with the new gunu comm community this is uh november 2017 one week before the yambetta community had celebrated their new testament translation so they were rejoicing together two related languages separate but related languages who kind of crossed the finish line together and rejoiced in each other having the word of god for the first time published in their language that was the last time we saw him he was called home to be with the lord just a few months after that but the two yambetta speaking men that he trained as translators and that i worked with alongside of him lazar and raoul will leave konyambetta tomorrow morning and head down to yande to begin translating the old testament the new gunu translation team is going to be there a lot of other teams are coming together for a whole series of workshops to do the old testament so i'm really excited for them and i'm sure leo is smiling from heaven about the progress of the word in his language um so that's a little bit about why we translate the bible but how do we do it how do we go about doing it um sorry let me skip over here let me kind of help us get the picture of how we go about it by reading you some translation examples uh that are not scriptural examples these are actually from tourist places in non-english-speaking countries around the world where people collected these very interesting translations into english for the benefit of english-speaking tourists so here's one from a polish hotel restaurant menu salad a firm's own make limpid red beet soup with cheesy dumplings in the form of a finger roasted duck let loose beef rashers beaten up in the country people's fashion and from the menu of a swiss restaurant our wines leave you nothing to hope for i've got a whole page of them but i'll i'll end with uh my favorite from a car rental agency in tokyo this is the instruction sheet in their rental car when passenger of foot heave in sight toodle the horn trumpet him melodiously at first but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor okay those are in english our language uh why did we laugh what what was the problem with those translations any thoughts they're not clear okay too literal interesting yeah you can kind of picture the translator with his japanese english dictionary they're kind of going word for word right yeah we don't translate that way it's never word for word it's idea for idea truth for truth meaning for meaning um who were the people translating in these examples non-english speakers and that's the key thank you so the translator should always be a mother tongue speaker of the language being translated into okay sorry for the preposition at the end of my sentence that's the whole key mother tongue translators are the key and so the tr the uh my role i should say here i am back before i started dying my hair this color back in 1992 or so sitting around the translation table with the nugunu team my role was not to be the translator because i learned as much nugunu as i could but i was not a mother tongue speaker my role was an advisor and exegete to help them understand the meaning now they could read they they had you know an array of different versions of the bible in french that they would consult um but but they didn't have access to a lot of commentary helps or other things that really help translators uh dig down and get the meaning especially stuff like figurative language becomes very difficult to translate so my role was to advise them to help them understand the meaning and then of course their role as mother tongue speakers of the language was to put it into good new gunu and that's the way we worked together for a number of years and then they carried on on their own for to finish their new testament so my current role is kind of an expansion of that but from my home country here in the u.s i work with a team of others who like me have worked in african languages and we kind of know the structures of say bantu and and other big language families and we're writing these verse by verse guides in french as a tool for mother tongue bible translators so kind of taking what i did sitting around that translation table putting it in writing for translators in hundreds of other languages in africa uh to to benefit from to help them understand the meaning so that then they can um translate it clearly and naturally in their own language the other end of this process is the checking process and as the translators are are working they'll draft a chapter and then they will take it out into the community and read it to other speakers of the language and ask them some key questions and if there's a misunderstanding somewhere they'll they'll think okay we need to revise that verse so it's it's clearer and then at the end of that whole process say when a whole book of the of the new testament has tran had been translated and it's been tested and revised then a consultant comes in so that's the other part of my work sort of at either end of the process now and up until covet i was traveling a couple times a year to work with different teams in africa to help them revise their their scripture and get it ready for publication and you may wonder if i get i actually speak all those african languages no i don't but the way it works is uh they bring in somebody uh who was not one of the translators and who has never heard it before and we sit down together and they will read a verse and that person will translate what he or she heard into french for my benefit uh if there are mistakes then the mistakes get translated right and so as a consultant i'm looking to to make sure that everything is clear and i'm following along in the greek or in the french versions to to make sure everything is as it should be and to help the team revise whatever needs revising and by the way i've had the privilege of tr of uh mentoring a number of african uh consultants as well and so in countries around the world more and more uh national consultants are being trained and um and that's helping to speed up the work so let's think uh oh by the way about that picture that's that same team that you saw in the earlier slide about 20 years later actually 2014 it was when uh the guy there on on the right in the picture was about to hit the last period on the last word after the last amen in the book of revelation when we finished checking their whole new testament and they all breathed a sigh of relief you can see we had all gotten older by then but that was a great day for them and as i mentioned we had the dedication service for that in 2017. so let's think about what makes a good translation that's my son brett by the way growing up in uh on besa cameroon and that was not a posed picture he actually crawled over and grabbed that book off the shelf so i like to say that he cut his teeth on translation principles a good translation three main characteristics a good translation should be accurate so nothing added to the message and nothing taken away from the message that seems pretty simple but we want the new hearers of the language what we call the target audience to be able to understand exactly what the original hearers or readers understood well sometimes the original hearers were able to to understand implicit information what was not expressed explicitly in the text it was part of their culture so they knew it and sometimes that information needs to be made explicit in the written text in order for the new audience to really understand what the original hearers did so an example of that might be in luke chapter 13 the pharisees come to jesus in jerusalem they tell him you better leave jerusalem because herod is going to try to kill you and jesus answers like this go tell that fox that i will keep on casting out demons and healing people today and tomorrow and the third day i will accomplish my purpose so he uses the word fox obviously metaphorical herod was not really a little animal um and in their culture as far as we can ascertain uh a fox had pretty much the same uh connotations as as we apply to it a sly crafty animal and the original hearers would have immediately applied that that meaning when they heard him call herod a fox okay he's sly and he's crafty that's what jesus is telling us well but how would that come across though in a language where either fox a fox wasn't even known or had a different meaning what if the fox in this culture is the king of the animals or what if the fox is a cowardly animal or who who knows um so you have to clarify what that metaphor really means and a a few possibilities would be make the metaphor the meaning of the metaphor explicit so go tell herod that man who is like a crafty fox you add a little bit of substance to help the hearers understand what the original uh audience understood or you substitute another metaphor another figure of speech from the uh from the target language that has the same meaning maybe a hyena or a jackal instead of a fox go tell that hyena and so on or you could just not use figurative language and translate the meaning directly uh go tell that crafty herod and so on so things like that where we have to in order for the meaning to be fully accurate we don't have we don't stick with the exact same language as in the original by the way that example of herod reminds me when i was working with the nua uh translation team in cameroon i uh they they were reading part of their text and the word politician came out and i said wait a minute what what word was that and turns out the way they say hypocrite in their language is politician go figure so secondly a good translation needs to be clear i'm working right now on the on the translator's notes for the book of acts and uh here's some advice i gave in in chapter 19 verse 8 it says then paul went to the synagogue and preached boldly for the next three months anybody see a problem that might come up there in translation did paul walk into the synagogue and stay there for three months preaching well he did preach all night one time and uticas fell out the window and died but not for three whole months so part of my advice there is when you translate this verse and test it with with your uh audience make sure that they understand that he went into the into the uh synagogue for the first time and preached and then he kept coming back for three months so you know maybe you would say uh paul went into the synagogue and preached boldly every sabbath for the next three months or something like that to make it clear uh pronouns can often trip people up um sometimes we need to to just come out and state the person's name where the original has a pronoun just to make it clear who's doing what and in other languages maybe you need more pronouns and fewer proper nouns a friend or a colleague once told the story and i can't even remember what language this was or even what part of the world but they had translated the creation story from genesis and they went to test it and they read the creation story and the person listening said oh i never realized how many gods there were involved in creating and he said no no no let me read this again and he read it again and the guy said yeah i counted that time seven gods created uh the the world and everything in it and the translator learned after that that in that language you introduce a character one time by name and then after that that character is always referred to with a pronoun and they have a very complex pronoun system in that language so people are able naturally to keep track um so every time the word god came in it was like a new god was being introduced and of course that was a simple thing to fix you just say god the first on the first day and then from then on you use a pronoun and finally a good translation is technically difficult there we go whoops natural and of course the mother tongue speakers of a language are the ones who judge whether it's natural or not but sometimes they need a little coaching a little prompting because often there's a tendency to stick a little too close to the word order and the the grammatical structure of the original and they they unintentionally uh are translating in an unnatural way in their own language it comes out sounding like tootling the horn melodiously or whatever so sometimes they need to be coached a little on that and often when i'm hearing them and i'm following along maybe in a french version i'll say that sounds almost exactly like the wording in such and such a version did you just kind of go word for word or is that really the way you would say it and one of the ways to avoid that problem and to kind of guarantee a more natural sounding translation is to read the passage together in whatever the source language is french or whatever close the text and have them recount it in their own words well you're not going to get it accurate that way but you're going to get a nice natural flow that way and you can record it or write it down as they as they retell it and then you can go back and open up the text and start filling in the gaps and so on but at least they've got it in a natural sounding way right from the start i want to end with this uh slide of a man i've worked with very closely there on your left krepa sinchime uh a speaker of new gunu he was the one who taught my wife and me his language nugunu way back at the beginning and i worked very very closely with him over the years he led the nugunu translation team after my family and i returned to the united states they carried on through the rest of the new testament and then i had the privilege of going back and uh cheering them across the finish line as we work together to um check their uh their new testament before it was published so on the uh when i went back in 2017 for the dedication of the new gunu new testament it was scheduled for a saturday just after thanksgiving um but no yes a saturday but the friday the day right before the dedication crap had this idea that they were going to do a caravan of cars and motorcycles and pickup trucks around all the uh new gunus speaking region and visit all the main villages and he had alerted the chiefs in all these villages to gather a crowd at such and such a time when we would come and um they had this box of nugunu new testaments that they didn't open that day they had a pickup truck full of traditional drummers with their wooden log hollow log drums they had another pickup truck uh full of young ladies who did traditional dance and we'd all pull into a village and the drummers would start drumming and the girls would jump out of the pickup truck and start doing a traditional dance and then they would invite everybody to come the next day to the new testament dedication what surprised me was the very first place we stopped was not a new gunus speaking village it was the village of this man on the right sorry i keep pointing back there you're seeing it here the man on the right ashil who is the main translator in new libya a neighboring language and we stopped in this village because craypound wanted to encourage him they were just getting started on their new testament and krepon was inviting them to come the next day celebrate with the new gunus speaking community as a way of saying one day you're going to be here as well and krepa has taken on that role of encouraging groups around him uh surrounding language groups in their translation efforts here they are praying over the box of new gunu new testaments and saying one day you'll have this too in new libya and it makes me think of this verse that i'd like to end on probably familiar to most of you from isaiah 55 verses 10 and 11 the rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth they cause the grain to grow producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry it is the same with my word says god i send it out and it always produces fruit it will accomplish all i want it to and it will prosper everywhere i send it that's one of the verses that really keeps me going i know there's a guarantee that when god's word goes out he will guarantee the results we often think of god's word as that bread that feeds the hungry and it is it's exactly that it's food for the hungry it feeds our souls but we often miss the fact that it's also seed for the sower seed for the farmer and that's what i think of when i see crepe in this picture encouraging others to translate god's word into their language it's multiplying the effects it's multiplying the kingdom it's really making disciples and that's what it's all about so thank you so much and if you have questions i'm happy to talk to you after the service and do please pick up anything you like on the table outside thank you