Sometimes the things I’m learning in My Language lead to good theological questions as I try to think about whether a certain term could be used in Bible translation or teaching. Let me give you a few examples. I’d love to hear your thoughts/insights on these theological questions!
I learned two different words for “farmer” recently. One is a farmer who has fields and grows things, and the other is a farmer who raises animals. (But the farmer with fields can also have a few animals, and the farmer with animals can also grow some crops.) Thinking about this, I wondered if the word for “farmer who raises animals” could be somehow changed to express exactly what kind of animal they were raising. Specifically, I was wondering if there was a word for someone who raises sheep, a shepherd.
The best I’ve gotten so far is a “sheep-owner.” There is a suffix that can be added to many different words that means “owner.” For example, if you see someone walking down the street selling bananas, and you want to get her attention and buy some, you shout, “banana-owner!” She’ll (hopefully) hear you, come over, and sell you bananas. And that’s the same word that you could use for a “sheep-owner” or a “cow-owner.”
Now here is the theological question: would this word, “sheep-owner,” be a good term to use for “shepherd” in the Bible? What do we know of the shepherds in the Bible, and especially of the Good Shepherd, that could help us answer that question?
Jesus is also called the Good Teacher. So the other day, as we were talking about students and learning and such, I sought the word for “teacher.” And I found two different words:
1. The French-speaking teacher of children in western-style education. This is a word borrowed from French.
2. The Arabic-speaking teacher of children in the religious practices of the majority religion here. He also teaches at their place of worship. I don’t know if this word is borrowed from another language or not.
So I wonder which word I should use to describe Jesus. Is He like a school teacher, or like a majority religion religious teacher? Or neither? I think I’ll have to learn more about the culture and the connotations associated with both of these words, as well as a teacher at the time of Jesus, before I can choose a word. Lots of learning to do!
Another day I was telling the story of a man who heard a noise outside, saw a snake wrapping itself around a small antelope, took the snake and put it in a bag, and let the small antelope run away (it’s a true story, by the way – it was about a 9 foot python!).
Later, I tried to find a new word: “What did the man do to the small antelope? The man took the snake. The snake did not eat the small antelope. The small antelope ran away. The small antelope was very happy. What did the man do to the small antelope?” In my simple language ability, I was trying to see if there was a word for “save” that would be used in that circumstance. I bet you can understand why I’d want that word!
My language helper ended up giving me an expression: “dɛsɛ trɛ.” (Sorry, I don’t know how to spell it yet. They don’t have an alphabet yet. It’s on the to-do list.) Then he explained the two pieces:
“Trɛ” is a word I had heard the day before when a child who couldn’t quite walk on her own took a few steps, holding onto both of my hands. My language helper wanted her to come to him, so wanted her to let go of my hands and grab his hands. “Trɛ.” “Let go.”
“Dɛsɛ” was a new word for me, so my language helper acted it out for me. He had me hold onto a pen hard, then he tried to wrench it out of my hand. When I could no longer hold onto it, and I had to let him have it, he had “dɛsɛ”d it. So it seems to have some idea of using force to take something/get something.
So when we put “dɛsɛ” together with “trɛ,” it seems to give the idea of using force to get someone to give something up.
What do you think about the theological implications of using such an expression for “salvation” in the New Testament? Honestly, I haven’t thought about it a lot yet, but my first impressions are that it could actually work quite well and be a great picture of the effort Jesus went through to save us. But then I wonder who would be doing the “trɛ”ing, the letting go, here. Would Jesus be pulling us out of the grips of Satan? Of the sin nature? Or out of God’s own condemnation? Not only do I need to understand the expression better in My Language, but I need to study the depths of Scripture so that I don’t accidently teach false doctrine. What do you think about this expression and whether it could be used in translation/teaching?
Today my language helper was telling me a story that his religious teacher (the second type of teacher mentioned above) told while giving a sermon. In it, Satan was active, and at one point Satan called all of his children and asked them to come up with a way to make a godly man pray to him, Satan. It was ultimately one of his youngest children who came up with the answer.
What, Satan has kids? When I heard what the “children of Satan” were doing in the story, it sounded like the work of demons – angels who chose to follow Satan instead of God. So on first glance, though it seems weird, maybe I could translate “demon” as “child of Satan.” But I think that that gets into some very wrong theology, don’t you? Unless, of course, the expression “child of ___” actually has a wider connotation. I’ll have to keep my ears pealed!
(By the way, this is a good reminder to myself why it’s actually really good for me to learn the language, and not just rely on translators. If I asked for a word for “save,” for example, they could give me a word that had connotations that wouldn’t match with those of the Biblical word. By understanding both the language and culture better, I can make sure that the teaching and translation is as clear and accurate as possible.)