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  • Writer's pictureAngela

When People Took Jesus To Heaven

This blog post is being read by you. Perhaps the first blog post you've ever read which announced your presence in the passive voice.  You may notice that there are some places where the passive voice just doesn't sound right to those of us who are English speakers. For the most part, we like to read and speak in the active voice:

A Person Actioned Something. 

We also like to know who's actioning. It's more satisfying to hear, "Captain Jack commandeered the ship," than, "The ship was commandeered." BY WHOM?? We want to know! (And Captain Jack would also like his due recognition.) This need to know who does what all the time isn't because we're busybodies. That's just how the English language works! But of course, every language is different.

The Ascension of Jesus

Last week I was reading the Waja translation of Acts in search of discourse features. I only made it to verse 2 before an incredulous, "Wait, what?! The English translation of the Waja reads, "Until that day people took him (Jesus) to heaven." My consultant-in-training antennae were up. People took Jesus to heaven?? That can't be right!  The Greek text uses the passive verb, "he was taken up." English speakers might ask, "How?! By whom??" This sounds like a pretty incredible event, we want details! But Greek leaves that information out and though we're curious, the translation still makes sense in English.  Waja is different from both Greek and English: the Waja language doesn't use the passive at all. So their translation reads, "People took him to heaven," with an active verb.

Water is Raining

So this active translation creates a new issue: Why "people?" If we really need a subject, shouldn't it say God took him?! The "people" word in Waja is called a "dummy subject." It's just a pronoun that fills grammatical space in the sentence with no real meaning. English speakers use dummy pronouns all the time, like this:

"It's raining!" 

What's raining? Well, I guess water is raining. But try saying, "Water is raining!" the next time you're making small talk and observe your fellow English speaker's response! 

We use "it" as a dummy pronoun and we all know that water is actually raining. Waja uses "people" instead of "it" in this context. My consultant mentor assured me that "people took Jesus up to heaven" to a Waja speaker means the same thing as "Jesus was taken up to heaven" to an English speaker. Just like English speakers know water is raining, Waja speakers know God is the agent of Jesus' ascension.

The Bible Through English Glasses

I wanted to share this nerdy grammar moment with you to show the importance of taking off our English-speaker glasses when trying to understand another language or culture. Not only does our own language cause us to draw (sometimes incorrect) conclusions about a foreign text, our culture does too.

As part of my own study, I recently read Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes and would recommend it to anyone who wants to better understand the biblical context and the unconscious worldviews we bring to it.

In the meantime, thank you for your prayers for the Holy Spirit's guidance in making the Waja translation clear and accurate. God is the only one I can think of who, like Waja verb forms, is always active! Until All Have Heard (or as a Waja speaker might say, Until People Tell All People), 



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