Before I went overseas, I thought of a Bible translator as a foreigner who goes to live among a people group for 30 or 40 years, learns the language and then translates the Bible with the help of a few nationals. And until more recently, this probably would have been a fairly accurate description. But God has been doing a new thing. Today the national people we go to serve are able and eager to take a larger role in bringing God’s Word to their own communities in their own language.
A translation team is usually made up of four mother tongue translators. They are often pastors and are experts in their language. They understand the local context and culture, have relationships with the church and unbelieving communities, and can produce natural speech without agonizing over the correct verb conjugation (or continuing on, oblivious of mistakes, like I often do!).
When the translation team completes a draft, they go through several steps of revision and send it out for community testing. After all of this initial feedback is incorporated, a translation consultant meets with the team to help them further revise the text. A consultant checks the accuracy from the Greek or Hebrew, making sure nothing has been added or left out and that the meaning will be clear. They are a resource for the team as they try to understand the original meaning and render this in their own language.
So, what are the kinds of things a translation consultant looks for?
- Key terms. How easy it would be if all languages had an obvious equivalent for every word! Many times there is no apparent translation for the Hebrew/Greek concept. Other times there are too many options! (For a few examples, check out previous posts: Was Jesus hungover? or They put Jesus in a WHAT? or White as Snow)
- Parallel passages. If the same story is recorded in multiple gospels, do the two translations reflect the same similarities and differences as the original text?
- Discourse features. Is it clear and easy to understand? If it’s poetry, is it written like poetry? If it’s narrative, is it written like narrative?
- Spelling, punctuation, formatting, etc.
And much much more! This is a non-exhaustive list from my very limited experience. In future blog posts I hope to give more examples of these translation challenges in action. Stay tuned…