Translating forgiveness

Posted on Posted in Translation

By Martha Wade

During a recent checking session with the Sob language group, we kept having trouble accurately translating numerical concepts. After quickly resolving several issues, we ran into Luke 17:4 in which Jesus said, “If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” (NIV). The first draft ended up with seven accounts of theft occurring before the thief decides to repent. After repeatedly acting out different variants of the draft translation, we finally found a translation that communicated accurately, though it was definitely a long translation. In the current draft, the entire series of events is described three times, i.e., a man sins, repents, and the person forgives him. Then the entire series of events is repeated a second time. Then it is repeated a third time. By that time everyone knows the series of events, and the translation concludes by saying that it was done repeatedly like that until the seventh series of events was finished. Success!

After sighing in relief at a draft that communicated accurately, I asked the Sob speakers what they thought of what Jesus said about forgiving the same person over and over. They did not respond as emphatically as the Apal speakers, who thought the sinner should be beaten instead of forgiven. But like the Apal speakers, they thought that this was not a wise thing to do because it just encourages the person to keep sinning since he knows he will be forgiven.

Translating a verse accurately is important, but it is only the first step to allowing the scripture to have an impact on your actions. I know that well. I understand the verse and am thankful that God repeatedly forgives me, but when young men repeatedly do bad things in the village, I have a hard time repeatedly forgiving them. Pray that the verses that I check in various languages will not only be accurate, but will also have an impact on their lives.

Martha is the advisor for the Apal translation project and also serves the PNG branch as a translation consultant. 

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