Hey! Not So Fast

Posted on Posted in Translation
by William Butler from The Storyboard – Summer 2003

It had been a long week of village checking and I was tired. As we approached the final section of Colossians, 4:10-18, I was ready to burn right through these verses just as fast as possible and be finished with our work. I had already looked at the verses carefully. I had a few questions to ask but there were no doctrinal issues at stake and the verses repeated the same greetings several times, so it should be an easy job to finish quickly.

Oh, Brother

I held on to this silly notion until we got to the middle of verse 10: “Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, also sends greeting”(NIV). For “cousin” Samuel had used the word “donghang,” the singular form of the word we had used for “brothers” in other places in the book. However, the checking committee rejected the singular form being used in that way. They insisted that a proper kinship term be used. That is where our problem began. There is no Banaro term that means the same as “cousin.” In the Banaro system, all your uncles and aunts are called by the kinship term for “father” and “mother”. Therefore, it is only logical that their children, your first cousins, are referred to by the same term as “brother” and “sister.” And guess what you call their children? “Son” and “daughter”! So you see there isn’t any room in the system for cousins, as the English word is used.

Somewhere in the discussion I remembered that we weren’t translating from English but Greek, so I looked up the Greek word that is translated cousin in English, hoping to find some help. The Greek word is more specific than the English word, specifying a first cousin. Therefore, we needed to use the correct Banaro term for a first cousin: “brother.” Not so hard, eh?

But in Banaro there is no general kinship term for brother. Age rank is important in the culture so one must specify older brother or younger brother. Considering that Barnabas seemed to take Mark under his wing and Mark’s action in turning back on the journey he started out on with Paul and Barnabas, we decided that Mark was likely younger. He is, therefore, “Barnabas’s younger brother.” You have to realize that when a Banaro person reads this he will not automatically assume that Barnabas and Mark are siblings of the same parents but will consider the wide range of relationships covered by this term in their culture. We will also have a footnote trying to further define the kinship relationship that likely existed between the two men.

Sweating out a tough passage

Coming or Going?

Having resolved that matter I was ready to roll now. And we did—all the way to the very next sentence! The translation stated: “You have already heard the talk that he (Mark) is coming to you.” This followed both the English and Pidgin translations, but the checkers did not like it. From the perspective of Paul, as he was writing the letter, Mark would be moving away from him and toward the Colossians so he would be “going” to the Colossians. So to produce an accurate meaning in Banaro, we had to change the “coming” to “going.”

I have often said that in Banaro it is hard to know whether you are coming or going. Now you know why!

Jesus, Paul’s colleague

We finished that verse without any more problems, but verse 11 presented a problem for me. The translation introduced the next person as “a ground (earthly) man whose name is Jesus, whose other name is Justus.” “Ground man” is a term that we have used previously to refer to people of the earth, usually with the connotation of “sinful people.” I could not figure out why Samuel had characterized a companion of Paul in this way so I asked the checkers, “Why is the word ‘ground’ in there?” I got a look that said, “Are you really that stupid?” then the explanation, “The man’s name is Jesus. If we don’t tell people that he is a ‘ground man,’ people will be confused and think that Paul is talking about Jesus, God’s son.” Okay, I never thought about it that way but it does make sense.

Forwards or backwards?

Having introduced all of his Jewish co-workers, Paul closes the list with a summary statement in the middle of verse 11: “These are the only Jews among my fellow workers” (NIV). Samuel had translated that, “Among the Jewish people, these alone help me in the work….” It seemed to be an equivalent expression until I asked the checkers, “Who is Paul talking about?” They said, “We don’t know.” Thinking they had forgotten the foreign sounding names, I asked Samuel to re-read verses 10-11. Still they couldn’t answer the question. When I asked why, I was told, “You haven’t read that part yet!” Looking more carefully at the text, I saw the problem. Samuel had followed the English a little too closely and created a problem in Banaro. In English, we can use “these” to point us to things we have already talked about or to point us to things we have not yet talked about. Here “these” is used to point back to Aristarkus, Mark, and Jesus (Justus), Paul’s Jewish colleagues. However, the Banaro equivalent to “these” can only point forward. Unless we made a change in the translation, readers would understand that Epaphras and Luke, who are the next people mentioned in the text, were the Jewish colleagues Paul was talking about. Since we didn’t want that to happen, we changed Banaro “these” to “those,” the proper way of referring to people who have already appeared in the story.
Your or ours?

In verse 12 we ran into another problem created by the nature of the Banaro language. The text says, “Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ, sends greetings” (NIV). It was the “who is one of you” phrase that gave us trouble. Samuel had translated it, “Another man is Epaphras. He also is your man.” The “also” refers back to a similar note about Onesimus in verse 9; “your man” was meant to indicate that he was from Colossi.

For the possessive pronoun “your (plural)” Samuel had used the correct form “nuna.” However, when I asked the checkers to translate the sentence into the Pidgin language, they consistently used the Pidgin pronoun that means “our (inclusive)”, that is, both the speaker (Paul) and the hearers (the Colossians). How did “your man” become “our man”? In Banaro “nuna” can mean either “your (plural)” or “our (inclusive)”. Only the context determines to whom the pronoun refers. In this case, in the context of Paul listing his colleagues, the checkers assumed that he was introducing Epaphras as another of “his men.” The context was insufficient to point them to the correct meaning for the word. To clarify that “nuna” should be understood as “your” here, we added two words that mean “a Colossi native.” So now the translation is understood as “he is one of your men, a Colossi native.”

Just what did Paul write?

At that point we did really begin to move along, not discovering any other problems until we got to verse 18, where Paul takes the pen from his scribe to write greetings in his own handwriting. The first part of that verse says, “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand” (NIV). The translation said, “I am Paul. I myself by my hand am writing this paper to you.” It was fine except that everyone understood that “this paper” referred to the letter in its entirety, not what the original meant to say. To clarify the meaning, we stated that part of the verse this way, “I myself by my hand am writing to you the last talk that is on this paper here.” Then everyone understood that Paul was only writing the last little bit with his own hand.

Whew! Finally we reached the end. I was glad. But I was also glad that we had carefully checked those closing verses. The changes we had made did not affect any doctrine or any weightier matters of the Scriptures, but they brought the message of the Banaro translation into line with the meaning of the original text while following the rules of the Banaro language.

The next time I think some Scripture will be easy to check, I’ll remember this experience. I really doubt that checking any Scripture is easy, whether it is at the beginning, the end, or somewhere in the middle. There is a potential for miscommunication and inaccuracy in even the most straightforward verses. It takes time to bring those problems to light.

William and Robin Butler arrived in 1979 to work with the people of the Waran language group.

Leave a Reply

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

This blog is kept spam free by WP-SpamFree.