Jesus was walking through Capernaum when he was suddenly approached by a high-ranking Roman officer. This man of status humbled himself and pleaded with Jesus on behalf of his personal servant who was on the brink of death. Believing that just one word from Jesus could make his servant well, this officer implored him to have mercy and heal him.
Jesus looked at this Gentile ruler and then turned to the religious, but loveless Jews around him and said,
"I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" Matthew 8:11-12.
I imagine the mouths of the Jews hit the floor as they listened to Jesus say that people from outside of Israel would be with their ancestors while they themselves, the “true" heirs, would be thrown outside the banquet and into a place of suffering.
2,000 years later, in the month of December 2017, a Congolese man, a Cameroonian woman, and an American woman sat together and talked for hours about this passage, reveling in the fact that they were the fulfillment of it. They were the Gentiles who were from the “east” and “west” who belonged with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the banquet halls of Heaven, all because of Jesus.
This recent process of study and translation of the Centurion’s Servant (Matthew 8:5-13) whet our appetite for the translation of the Word of God into the Bakoum language. The hours that were poured into translating this simple passage also sobered us as we realized anew how much work we have cut out for us.
Many have asked us about the process of translation, so we thought we would devote this newsletter to describing what we have been taught in a recent class we took called The Theory and Practice of Translation. We intend to use these principles as a guide and adjust them as needed in our specific context.
Let the reader understand.
I (Stacey) don’t know if other people’s children are like mine, but if I ask them what a movie is about, often times they will give me surface level details but will miss the entire plot line. For instance, my daughters can describe the beauty of the princesses’ dresses in the movie Frozen but totally miss the fact that one sister gave her life for the other out of love. They can quote word-for-word some of the songs in the movie but be clueless about what the songs mean. They have a shallow comprehension of the movie unless someone comes alongside them and explains the various relationships between the characters and the various themes.
Just as my children spit back surface level details and miss the main points, so ill-trained translation teams can spit back what they hear in one language into another while not understanding the text at all. This is not something that we want to happen for the Bakoum. We want our team to understand the Bible in order to translate it well into their local language. We want the Bakoum we will be working with to understand what grapes actually are, the differences between Jews and Gentiles, and the difference between a Pharisee and Sadducee. When excellent comprehension is achieved, excellent translation will be produced. Therefore, the following stages are necessary:
Exegesis and Drafting – Exegesis is a scholarly study of a source text. This is where several commentaries are consulted, the structure of the original text is examined, and various translation issues are thought through (i.e. words with no equivalent in the culture, dealing with metaphors when the comparison is lost in translation, etc.). It is easy to spend a half a day just on studying one verse. It is during this stage that we would teach our Bakoum co-translators how to use Bible dictionaries, we have purchased Bible picture books to show them images of what is described in the text, and so on. When comprehension is reached, then the translator will write down the story. This is called a draft. This draft is worked and reworked among the translation team. Once a more-final version of the draft is achieved, it is then ready for comprehension checking.
Comprehension Checking – This stage is where the draft is taken and read by three different members of the Bakoum community. Questions are drawn up ahead of time to test their comprehension. There are overview questions (i.e. ‘Tell me the main point of the story’), non-thematic questions (i.e. ‘Who came up to Jesus when he entered into Capernaum?’), thematic questions (i.e. ‘What do you think Jesus meant when he said that people would come from ‘the east and the west?’), and genre questions (i.e. ‘Do you think this story is true? Why or why not?’). Based on the responses of those being asked the questions, the draft is revised to ensure clarity and naturalness.
During this process, a check can be done where someone looks at the Greek text and ensures that every concept present in the text is present in the translation. If there are concepts missing, then they must be added, and if there are additional concepts that would not be in the minds of the original audience when reading the Greek, these concepts must be removed.
Once a polished draft is completed, a consultant, one who has experience with the languages in the region and with Bible translation, comes to check the draft. Being an expert of the Scriptures and the culture, he/she knows what key questions to ask to ensure a faithful translation.
The above process is somewhat of an oversimplification and yet I hope that it gives an idea of what the translation process will look like. We went through these steps in our translation class as we met with speakers of other languages in the Dallas area.
For those of you who want an even deeper understanding of the complexities of the translation process, I would recommend the book One Bible, Many Versions: Are All Translations Created Equal? by Dave Brunn.
The Bible is just paper to the illiterate.
In a different class, we completed our first draft of our Bakoum transition literacy primer! This is a primer that teaches the Bakoum who can read French how to read Bakoum. There are not many who are literate in French, but our prayer is that with this primer and literacy classes, those who can read in French will learn to read in Bakoum and become our first literacy teachers, and possibly our future authors for the Bakoum. Without literacy, the Bible is nothing more than paper to those who do not know how to read it.
This upcoming semester, Dave and I will be working full time on our Master’s theses. Dave will be studying the various past tense verb tenses within Bakoum stories and I will be studying the tone of the language. At the end of this semester, we hope to have a relatively solidified system of writing along with a preliminary grammar of the language. We are hoping to graduate on June 5th, spend June 6-July 4th in Louisville then stay in Colorado until July 20th when we plan to fly out to Cameroon (all very tentative).
Dave and Stacey in a Q&A session at The Master's Seminary.