Wednesday, 26 January 2011

As we translate

As we translate the Old Testament, we are not bringing a message from God for the ‘xyz’ people (contemporary people group). We are, instead, translating a message from God for the Israelite people, and allowing the ‘xyz’ people to listen into that message.

What difference does that make? A fundamental one. It means that we do not have the liberty to change that message. The message remains the same (to rephrase an old song title); it is the hearers who have changed. This can be represented diagrammatically. God (agent) inspires author (instrument) like so:

Author writes [Message A] to Israelite people:

Author =[A]=> Israelites

Translator translates [Message A] so that people group ‘xyz’ can understand it:

Translator =[A’]=> People ‘xyz’

In doing so the [Message A] becomes [Message A’] i.e. it resembles Message A but may have some subtle differences due to the fact that people ‘xyz’ live at a different time and have a varying culture (with its associated language). But, and do notice this, Message A is still fundamentally the same message. We cannot and should not change this message to make it communicate more easily. If there are things that people ‘xyz’ do not understand, because of the time and culture differences I mentioned earlier, we should explain those, but not in the text. To do so would change the message – it would no longer be message A but would be transformed into message B.

Therefore it is important that translators understand that they are not in the business of bringing a message of God for their people, as if they were some kind of prophet. The prophet lived centuries ago in Israel or Judah. The translator is a faithful witness to the oracle that the prophet delivered, they do not themselves receive a message for the people, however inspired they feel in their work and by the words they are translating. That’s why Bible translators need to know the history and culture of the books they are translating. They should be encouraged to dig deep into God’s word and books that explain it, in an effort to be able to read the Old Testament book as if they were one of the original recipients of it in Ancient Israel. Only then can they begin to think how they can express that message in their own language, and to people of their own culture. To give a concrete example, when someone in Ancient Israel received some bad news, they would take off their clothes, put on sackcloth, and sit in dust and ashes to show the fact they were mourning. The translator will realise that people of their culture do not do this, but will still want to talk about sackcloth and ashes in the translation. If necessary they will put in a footnote or write some other kind of explanatory text, saying that Israelites used to practice this when mourning. What the translator cannot do is change the expression of mourning to something from their own culture. This is because to do that would be to change history.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Broken Cisterns

(Jeremiah 2:1-13)

Have you ever tried to make a pool at the seaside? No matter how often the children bring buckets of water from the sea, the water seeps away into the sand.
Broken cisterns. They are no good. Their purpose is to hold water, yet they don’t.

The people of Israel have committed two evils (v13, cf 5, 11):

1. They have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters. It is the Lord who satisfies. We can drink our fill at the fountain He provides. In fact there is no other fountain. Our hearts are restless, till they find their rest in you. He is the centre, the sun in our planetary motion. So Q1 is ‘are you close to the LORD? Do you hear from Him, walk closely with Him?’

2. They hewed out (dug) broken cisterns for themselves. v20-25 paints a pretty vivid picture of what this means. We can’t blame anyone else. When we go away from the Lord we sin. (It’s amazing how children try and blame parents for their bad behaviour. The parents do everything they can for the children. The discipline them for their own good, but when the children are given just a little leeway they go off and do something stupid. They then come home and say, ‘You brought me up to behave like this. It’s your fault.’) No, we alone are responsible for the turning away. These cisterns cannot hold water – the very job they are designed to do, they cannot do. BTW when it rains, who provides the water? Is rain something we can control? Even if you hew out a cistern, you are relying on the Lord’s provision. Though it would be better to go to the fountain. But it’s no good building a cistern if it’s cracked, and the water seeps away.

Yet that is what we do all the time We replace the genuine (presence of the Lord) with the artificial (methods, music and other kinds of madness). No sane person would do this. If you found a source of something good you’d hang onto it. If you found a seam of gold you’d go and buy the land. You’d sell the shirt off your back to buy it, then you’d mine that seam for as long as you could. But we run away, and make something up ourselves. Like a down-and-out who, having found a soup kitchen that opens every day of the week, goes back to foraging in bins because he’s too proud, he doesn’t want to be provided for.

Q2 – is our ministry bringing others closer to Christ? If not, it’s worthless.

Q3 – is our use of time/gifts/money Christ-centred? Even business in the Lord’s work can be me-centred – I need it to feel good about myself. What about time with the Lord?

Let’s all think about our focus – is it on the Lord, or on our own needs and ministries?

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Development - Cultural Sensitivity Needed!

When we were in Central Asia an advisor from the EU was posted there to advise on how to run a butcher's shop. Pretty soon a small shop appeared in the corner of the market, next to all the women's clothes shops and so on, and diagonally opposite the main butcher's area in the market where you could buy huge hunks of meat for a few thousand Manat (a few dollars). The new butcher's shop had little cuts of meat, chops and son on, with plastic signs stuck into them, just like you'd see in Dewhurst's here at home. Within six months of the EU advisor leaving, there were about half as many cuts of meat on display. Within twelve months the shop had shut down.

What lesson can we learn from this? That we need to observe the local culture, and listen carefully to folk as to what they want, before we try to 'improve' things. What we see as an improvement (no messy hacking up of carcasses in front of the customer) may seem like a retrograde step to the local people (small bits of meat they don't have a name for, costing more). This is true of any change we try to introduce. If it is top-down, initiated by Westerners, it is almost bound to fail. If it is bottom-up, initiated by the indegenious people, and owned by them, it will almost certainly succeed. This means we have to let go a bit when we sponsor projects overseas. All too often we have our own agendas, and tie funding to those agendas. Instead we should be finding out what they want, and helping them achieve it. I remember one story from Africa, where the village elders were asked what they most needed to improve their village. A well for clean water? A better road to the market? No, they wanted a football pitch. The next-door village had one, and they were feeling left out. The next-door village could host football games, they couldn't. This meant their prestige was lowered. The football pitch was constructed, the village self-esteem improved, and pretty soon they were working on a well (with outside help) and whatever else was needed to improve their lives at a practical level. Let's talk, let's listen, let's learn!