Jesus Wasn’t Wearing a GPS Device
A translator did finally ask me a question during the translation workshop, but I wasn’t ready for it. The translator was looking at the story of the baptism of Jesus, and he said, “When the Holy Spirit came down on Jesus like a dove, where was Jesus?”
I thought, really? That’s what you want to know? But I was trying to be a good missionary and I didn’t say that. I shrugged and said, “He was in the water.” Then I thought I probably ought to be a good translation advisor, and I should check it to make sure.
I brought up the Greek text and looked at Mark 1:10, which has: “ἀναβαίνων ἐκ τοῦ ὕδατος”. Now, there’s nothing like reading a story in another language to make it pop out in a different light. I read it again and checked some references. As far as I could see, Jesus wasn’t standing in the water as I had thought. He was coming up out of the water to the shore.
Feeling a little sheepish, I told the translators. The translators took the correction in stride, but a translator asked me to clarify what I meant. That was no surprise. The Pidgin word for “in” is also used for “out”, “on”, and nearly any other preposition you can think of. Nor does Pidgin have anything like English “-ing” to indicate continuing action like “coming” or “going.”
A mental block stopped me from remembering the Pidgin word for “walk”, even though I knew it, so I used two fingers to illustrate. I stood the two fingers on the table top. “Jesus wasn’t in the water,” I said. Then I moved a book over that was lying on the table and stood my fingers on the top of that. “He wasn’t on the shore.” I moved my fingers back to the table top and walked them out to the book.
“Ah,” one of them said, “Em wakabaut.” Jesus was walking out of the water.
“Yes.” That’s what I thought it meant.
Later that night, I talked to another missionary about it. She interpreted the verse to mean that Jesus’ head and upper body came up out of the water. That implies the rest of his body was still in the water when the Spirit came. “I never thought of that before,” I said. Sigh. I had to double-check the story again.
The next morning I remembered that I should have checked how the Arops understood the meaning of the verse. Arop is one of the ten languages in the project. They translate first and the other nine languages follow their lead. If I thought the text has a different meaning than the Arops did, I needed to discuss it with them, rather than telling the translators to translate contrary to them. This practice can prevent a significant amount of conflict in the team.
I opened my the translation software and looked at the Pidgin translation the Arops had done: “Na Jisas i lusim wara na i kam antap…” I breathed a sigh of relief. It means, “And Jesus left the water and he came on top…” We all agreed about the meaning.
For many years people have asked me about the accuracy of our Bible translations. They were concerned with the integrity of the Bible, and rightly so. Well, a wise man once said that he who is faithful in little will be faithful in much. Yes, the translator wanted to know a little detail about where Jesus was located when the Spirit came. I expect he will be faithful in the rest of his translation as well.
Picture from: Our Day In the Light of Prophecy; W. A. Spicer; Southern Publishing Association, Nashville, Tennessee; 1917. Public Domain.