Have you ever wanted to try your hand at being a Bible translation consultant? Here's your chance!
For the past few weeks, I've been working through a Nigerian translation draft of some dense Hebrew passages. Below is part of one verse... what would you do?
One of These Things is Not Like the Other...
The English back translation of their draft says:
"His life was killed in the middle of the river."
And you can skip the seminary course -- my literal English translation of the Hebrew for this phrase is:
"[he] was cut from the land living."
By now, you know that back translations aren't always as far-fetched as they first appear. A good consultant will ask questions, not tell translators what to do. What questions do you have? What would you ask the team in order to understand their rendering?
Need some more context? This is part of Isaiah 53:8, a Messianic prophecy about the coming Savior. We're nearing Good Friday and Easter in a few weeks, and we all (translators included) know the crucifixion did not take place in the middle of any rivers. This team does not know Hebrew, but they use the Hausa and English translations in drafting their own. Here, you have all the other English translations at your disposal - where did this translation come from?
And the Answer Is...
It came from the English New Living Translation. The NLT uses paraphrased English that is especially easy to understand. And in the NLT, this verse says:
Aha! What NLT translators thought of as a good paraphrased metaphor for an early death, the Nigerian translators took literally: he was killed in the middle of a river.
So now that you know the source, what questions would you ask the translation team? Sometimes this is the trickiest part for me. Once you see where the interpretation went off the rails, a good consultant needs to ask open-ended questions to guide the translators through the different texts rather than blurting out, "Do it this way!"
By comparing the translation draft to the original Hebrew and looking at what other translators have done, we can discuss what the meaning of the verse is and how best to communicate that in their language. But sometimes, phrasing what I want to say as a relevant question is more difficult than studying the texts!
It helps to remember that while Bible translation consultants bring expertise in biblical languages, exegesis, and linguistics, the translators themselves have more extensive knowledge of their language, people group (target audience), and cultural background. We need to work together with our different skill sets in order to produce a good Bible translation, which means asking questions and discussing translation issues rather than telling each other the "right way" to translate the Bible.
Thank you for your prayers and support for myself, Bible translation consultants, and translation teams around the world as we work together to bring God's Word to every language.