A parable taken the wrong way

Posted on Posted in Translation

By Chris Urton

Luke 16:1-8

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

3 The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg- 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

5 So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

6 ‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.

The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’

7 Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.

He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

8 The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed in to eternal dwellings.”

After a week of sitting down in the conference room getting the book of Luke in the Sob language consultant checked, we came to chapter 16 and The Parable of The Shrewd Manager. This parable is difficult for many English speakers because Jesus uses the example of a dishonest person as a way we are to make friends. This issue was totally irrelevant to the Sob language checkers; they had a harder time understanding a different part of the parable.

When we got to verses 5-7 explaining what the manager was going to do, the problem became evident. Ari read the verses in the Sob language and three women (Rosa, Dangmet, and Rahel) from the Sob language group translated it back into Tok Pisin. Our consultant, Martha Wade, listened carefully to their translation. Then to make sure it was being conveyed properly she asked them to dramatize it. It was through this drama that we found the problem.

Martha asked each one of them after the drama how much was owed and each participant left out of their response that the new debt was a reduced value from the original debt. They thought the manager was adding onto their debts because the manager only said to write a new number. He did not tell them explicitly to cancel the old debt. Due to this, the Sob checkers did not understand why these people would then act favorably toward the manager. We found out that in their area you have to explicitly say that you get rid of the original debt and write down a new debt for a smaller value. Once we got those verses revised the parable could be understood properly.


Chris serves as advisor to the Sob language group and as a translation consultant.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This blog is kept spam free by WP-SpamFree.