Well, yesterday I was working on a piece where Paul says, “Even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed (literally “a curse he is”, same concept as “evil things devoted to destruction”).” Galatians 1:8 (NASB)
Isn’t that nice and short and succinct? Unfortunately, I can’t put that information into Lusi in quite the same length.
Bible Translation is so much more than taking one word of Greek and substituting in one word of Lusi. Why? Have you ever read anything translated by Google Translate from a non-western culture? Ingrish anyone? There are some things which must cross not only language barriers but cultural barriers. It is not just about finding the right words, but making sure that we are communicating clearly the same message. To communicate God’s Word clearly in another language, sometimes we have to slow down the information rate.
One of the challenging things in translation is that two languages can have two very different ways of handling the same information. Greek is very compact and can carry a lot of information on the word level. Paul can stack concept after concept one right after another. English can do very similar things. However, Lusi is very unpacked language. It doesn’t like stringing long strings of concepts together on top of each other. It’s speakers understand the message best, when only a little bit of new information comes out in each sentence. And the sentences are linked together building on each other. So where Paul can make one very very long sentence in Greek stretching over many verses. Lusi has to break that same information into many shorter sentences.
This past month I worked on exegeting, mother tongue taping, and revising Galatians chapter 1. The good news is that I made it the rest of the way through that chapter. Paul’s head doesn’t always work the way mine does, but I am getting better at seeing the flow of his “arguments” and trying to communicate them in another language. Of course, we are blessed with plenty of helps whenever we get stuck.
Sometimes Paul’s thinking is just really foreign to the Lusi. He makes cultural assumptions, and Lusi speakers make different cultural assumptions. And so I have to slow the information rate down a lot by breaking the argument down into pieces, and explaining things that Paul’s audience would have known or taken for granted. What am I talking about?
So let’s go back to Galatians 1:8, I originally tried something like “Previously, we preached the gospel to you, so today you already know the truth. If later we came and preached a gospel which was different than we had preached previously, then you know that we are separated from God, and will suffer.” (and then repeated the If later an angel came . . . .).
I thought I was doing really good with slowing the information rate down. However, during the Mother Tongue Taping session my Lusi speaker really struggled with the idea that Paul had previously taught them the truth, but then could turn around and teach something different. She wanted to trust whatever Paul had to say, or an angel had to say. In this culture, some people are automatically given authority, and their word is trusted no matter what. They are still trusted even if their word conflicts or contradicts what they previously taught.
So I had to unpack it and slow it down even more, because what Paul was saying is very different than the assumptions that the Lusi make. The next attempt I tried went something like this.
(General principle:) Previously we preached the gospel to you, so you already know the truth.
(Implied information:)You need to compare anyone’s message of “good news” with that gospel.
(Implied information:) If it is different, then it is false. Don’t listen to it.
(Explaining “A curse he is”) If the message is false, then you know that the messenger is evil and is separated from God and will suffer.
(Specific application/ example:) So then, if later we come to you with a different gospel, you need to compare our talk to the gospel you know now. If our talk is different than the true gospel, don’t listen to it. It is false. Consider us evil and separated from God, and that we will suffer.
(Specific application / example:) In the same manner, if an angel from heaven comes to you, and tells you a different gospel, then you need to compare that talk to the gospel you know. If his message is different from the true gospel, don’t listen to it. It is false. Consider him evil and separated from God, and that he will suffer.”
Did you follow all of that? It reads better in Lusi. That is just to give you a taste of what translation into another language is like. You have seen how a sentence in Greek (or English) can end up being a paragraph in Lusi as it is unpacked. Translation is a job of making 1,001 decisions one at at time. Information rate, is just one of those decisions.
Please pray for us as we continue the huge job of translation. We need God’s wisdom as we cannot do this job in and of our own power and will.