More About Cool Computer Programs & Bible Translation

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Technology & Bible Translation – Pt. 2

Last week I gave you some of the interesting background of how the advance of technology and the computer age we live in has helped the cause of Bible translation work.  Isn’t it incredible to think that only a few decades ago, translators had to write all of their language data on 3″ x 5″ recipe cards and file them in their appropriate shoebox.  Read about that here.

Now it is impossible to think that we can do language learning and translation work without the use of a computer.  Even by 1997, when I started learning the village language in that remote location in Papua New Guinea, we had brought along with us solar panels and deep cell batteries to run my computer in the village.  Thank goodness for the advance technology of laptops though, because that first IBM desktop was a real bear to get to and set up in our village.

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Back to the present now, I had started to tell you in the last article about a very cool program called “Paratext”.  Remember all those windows that were open in the one program?  I had Greek or Hebrew in two windows, English Bibles and commentary helps in a few more.  I would look at the Tok Pisin (PNG trade language) in another, and then a few more held the vernacular village language of the text I was going to do the consultant check on.  I’ll show you again what it looks like:

Paratext Windows (800x450)

So at any given time, I usually have about four languages going on inside all these windows.  It would take a lot of time (or sentences) to explain everything that I can do with this program.  But let me give you a peek into one corner, and show you what I do.  I will open up the Hebrew language corner where I am working on the Psalms.

The first thing I want to show you, even though you probably don’t know Hebrew, is what amazing things you can learn when you can read the Bible in the original language that it was written in.  (The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the New Testament was written in Greek.)  I will paste the blown up picture of the Hebrew-English Interlinear text.  It looks like this:

Psalm 121 in Paratext Hebrew (800x427)

Underneath the Hebrew text you get a grammatical breakdown of the words in green, and then an English word gloss for the Hebrew word in the light purple.  I highlighted one word in yellow.  One of the interesting things about Hebrew is that most of its vocabulary is based on a three consonantal root form.  This particular root (שׁמר) has the basic meaning of “to guard, to watch over, to protect” .

This passage is from Psalm 121 which starts with a statement and then a question in verse one, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains.  Where does my help come from?”  That was a good question back in the time of the Israelite kings, because there was a great deal of worshipping of idols and false gods going on back then.  And many of them had shrines up on top of the mountains.

Do you see the answer in the next line, which is the first purple line above?  (Remember to read Hebrew from right to left.)  The psalmist was very confident that his help would come from the LORD, the One who made the heavens and the earth.  He goes on to write further about his God, and he used this Hebrew root of (שׁמר) three times in verses 3, 4, and 5.  (Can you see them?)

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This verbal form is called a “participle”, which is often used to help describe someone or something.  The literal translation for this Hebrew root in the participle form would be “the One who protects”.  The psalmist was confident that YHWH was the One true God, above all other gods, who could protect him.  This is good, but it gets better.

It is one thing to believe that God is capable of protecting those who trust in Him.  It is another thing to state emphatically that He will indeed protect you in times of trouble.  And this is what the psalmist does in verses 7 and 8.  He again used the same Hebrew verbal root, but in these verses (and three times) he put it in a future tense, what is called the “Imperfect” form.

You can see this twice in the picture above in verse 7.  It looks like this:  יִשְׁמָר.  There is an extra consonant on front, and it can be translated as “He will protect/watch over”.  No longer is the LORD simply described as the One who is able to protect, but now with bold confidence, the psalmist tells his readers, Yes, in fact He WILL protect those who trust in Him.

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Isn’t that so cool what you can learn about God when you are able to read the Scriptures in its original language?  I’m glad that I do know a lot about basic biblical Hebrew.  But imagine if I didn’t know that much about it, but still had a program like Paratext that is able to analyze a lot of the language for me.  A whole world of meaning is opened up when we have great computer programs like these to help us to read and understand the Bible.

I wish that I could let all of you who read this to be able to have this program I use.  But a program like Paratext is given out primarily to those involved in active Bible translation projects.  If you are really interested in this though, you can do an internet search for Greek-English Interlinear or Hebrew-English Interlinear Bibles online and find lots of helps.

One good site is http://interlinearbible.org/ which will allow you to choose either the Hebrew Old Testament, or the Greek New Testament.  We are so very fortunate to have so much available to us electronically.  I will have more to say in the future.

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God Restores My Passion For Missions

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Who Am I?  Part 17

It was during those months of cleaning floors and stairwells on my knees, while I asked God to show me what He wanted me to do with my life, that He used a friend of mine to redirect me.  There had been three significant people in my teens years that had planted and germinated the idea of me becoming a Bible translator.  But it was a college friend of mine who asked me at age 32, “Didn’t you want to be a missionary?” that began the process of me finding my true path and calling in life.  (Read that story here.)

What my friend helped to do was to stir up the embers in my heart of wanting to serve God, and specifically to do so in a cross-cultural way.  It was another college friend who also was living in Prince Edward Island at the time that wondered if I was going to do something about my love and ability to handle languages, and especially the original languages of the Bible, Greek and Hebrew.

In further discussion with my friend, he suggested that I look into Lincoln Christian Seminary (now called Lincoln Christian University).  He knew that there were excellent teachers of Greek and Hebrew there, and he had heard that they sometimes hired language assistants, and suggested that I look into that.  So after a few phone calls, suddenly things were looking up as I began to enroll in LCS, and there was a tentative offer to let me be a Teaching Assistant in the undergraduate Greek class.

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So once again, Jill and I loaded up the kids (now age 2 and 4) and all of our stuff into a U-Haul and headed down to Illinois.  We had fun tenting with our boys as we made our way through the northeastern States.  And Jill passed a nursing exam while we passed through Vermont which would open the door for her to do nursing while we were in Illinois.

We arrived in the middle of summer and got situated in the married student housing complex.  It was less than a 10 minute walk to get to the Seminary.   The difference between getting there in six minutes versus ten minutes was the choice of whether to go through or around the cornfield.  It certainly was interesting to walk through corn stalks that were taller than you were.  By late Fall though, the harvest was in and you could run straight across the dirt field.

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Within days of arriving in Lincoln, I had made contact with the professors of Greek and Hebrew.  I was very disappointed at first to learn that they had already filled the spot of TA’s for the undergraduate Greek class.  But then they asked if I would be interested to help be a TA in the first year Greek class for the Seminary.  Wow!  I couldn’t believe they would give me that opportunity.  Of course I said yes, and I loved being a tutor for my fellow seminarians.

Then I inquired about the Hebrew courses.  It had been 7 years since I’d taken Beginning Hebrew, so I assumed that I would have to repeat the course.  Well, the professor suggested that I take the three weeks or so that I had before classes started and review my Hebrew and try to pass a proficiency test.  So…rather than playing in the park with my boys, or sun tanning with Jill, I dug into some Hebrew text books.

A few weeks later, I took the proficiency test, and to my amazement, I scored very well and was recommended to take a 2nd year-level Hebrew course.  My fascination with the language grew.  I took the Hebrew Readings course in the Fall, and I was ready for more in the Winter.  But they had no 3rd year-level Hebrew.  So I asked to do a one-on-one study with the professor and we met weekly to go through a giant Hebrew grammar.  (Am I a glutton for punishment, or what?)

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Getting back into biblical languages was not the best thing that happened to me while in seminary in Illinois.  Something else even more life changing happened.  Shortly after we started the Fall courses, I had been talking to some other people on campus about my love for the biblical languages and my passion that I had always had to become a career missionary.

Well one person suggested that I needed to meet a certain faculty member, because this man was known to be a Board member of a mission group that specialized in Bible translation.  And so I did go over and meet this man and he told me that he was part of a group called Pioneer Bible Translators.  He told me how it did much of the same work as Wycliffe Bible Translators, but was associated primarily with the church background I had come from.

He then told me that he would be driving down to Texas in November to sit in on the semi-annual Board meeting and asked if I wanted to come for the drive and meet these people.  Jill and I thought this was a great idea.  I had a wonderful time in Dallas at the international office of PBT, and was so impressed with what I saw and heard.  And when I got back to Jill in Illinois (who had been praying and wondering the whole time I was gone), she asked me, “So….what did you think?”  And my answer was, “Start packing!”

Discovering Philippians (1:1-2)

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The Opening Greetings

Last weekend was Easter weekend.   So instead of our Bible study group meeting on Thursday, some took the opportunity on that Easter Thursday to go to a special service to prepare their hearts and minds to reflect upon the greatest historical events, the death of the man-God Jesus on the cross, and the victorious resurrection of our Lord and Risen Savior, Jesus Christ.  Unfortunately I was not able to go.  But I still rejoiced in my heart as I individually had my own time of reflection.

And so, we did not meet to look into the first chapter of Philippians in greater detail as planned.  Which turned out all right from my perspective as I was not totally ready last week to begin.  It has taken me quite a while to figure out how to go about doing this group Bible study.  And I think I might finally have what I want that will hopefully be helpful to others as I present one way to study Scripture from an inductive and self/group-guided process.

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The process I developed for the study of Scripture has four main components to it.  The four stages for studying Scripture that I will use just happen to match some of the main language software tools I have on my computer, and which I use extensively when I am preparing for my translation consultant checking work.  The following then is a summary and some breakdown of the Four Stages to Doing Inductive Bible Study:

A.  Text Comparison:  the idea here is to take at least two, or up to four, different English Bible versions and read slowly a section (a portion from one section title to the next) to get a grasp of the main ideas of the section, and to see the similarities and the differences between the various translations.

This screen shot is from Logos Bible Software shows four translations of Phil. 1:1-2.

B.  Review the Greek Text:  This step may sound too difficult to the average reader of the Bible, but today there are so many ways to assist people, especially in this electronic age.  Now a person can find an Interlinear Greek to English Bible in book format, but not only is it easier to navigate in a computer program, but usually the Greek words are linked to English study tools such as we will mention in the next stage.  To get an idea of what I am talking about, let me put up another print screen picture.

This screen shot is from a linguistic program called Translators Workshop.

C.  Commentaries and Lexicons:  there are so many, many commentaries on the open market, as well as a good number of Lexicons (another word for dictionaries).  A good idea would be to talk to a sales person at a Christian book store, or to a pastor, or to a Bible college professor to get suggestions as to what commentaries and lexicons would be best suited for you.  And as some of you may have read in my last blog, I now have a way to help readers obtain good books.  (Go back and read that article if you would like my help.)  These are the tools that can help you get into and understand the meaning behind critical key words and phrases in your studies.

D.  Concordances:  and finally this tool can help you a great deal, especially if you are trying to do a word study in Scripture.  A good commentary tells you how many times the word you are studying appears in the Bible, what the references are to each usage of the word, and some even help provide the shades or ranges of meaning of a word, based on biblical context.

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So after reading the opening little paragraph to the book of Philippians (1:1-2), I took these principles of good Bible studying and applied them to this little section.  I read and reread the two verses in th four translation versions that are listed above.  And from that Text Comparison, I gave the section my own title, “Greetings and Blessings to the Philippian Believers“, and I wrote out a summary sentence in my attempt to capture the main idea of this short section.  It goes like this:

Paul and Timothy greet the church at Philippi and extend blessings from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Doing this process of reading a section (now most sections are much longer than this two verse opening section we see here in chapter one), we will generally get a good sense as to what the whole section or main idea is all about.  After all, the people who have introduced the section divisions must have felt there was a good reason as to where they made the divisions.

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But just thinking about what the passage/section is about is not really good enough if we are on a quest for knowledge and understanding of what God’s word says and means.  No, I believe that it is when we try to write out a summary sentence, and to write out a new Section Title, that we have to wrestle with the text until we “get it”.  Then while the moment of clarity of understanding arrives, that is when we need to write our thoughts down.  This reinforces what we just discovered, and it leaves a permanent record of what we have learned to which we can turn to later.

Okay, well, we did not get very far into the book of Philippians, but that is okay.  We are setting down good principles by which we can study and learn from God’s Word.  Next week (Thursday) I will continue with what insights and thoughts I have gained after studying chapter one of Philippians.  I pray you will join me then.  And until then, may God bless you and keep you safe from all harm.


Matthew 24:20 – Be Prepared

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Bible Study Principles

Recently, I was asked to help explain what Matthew 24:20 was talking about, especially the part about hoping not to have to escape “in the winter”.  This verse is usually translated into English along these lines:

“And pray [that your flight will not be] / [that you do not need to run away] in winter or on the Sabbath.”

To be able to understand this phrase, we need to try our best to understand the meaning of the Greek in the original setting.  After we have understood the context within which this phrase was spoken, then we need to seek out what the message is for us today and apply the message to our everyday living.  This may seem to be too great of a challenge for some people, but it need not be so if we apply some basic Bible study principles.

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First, we need to look at the word or phrase itself.  One quick and easy way for people to do this is to take multiple translations and compare them to each other.  We are fortunate to have many English translations today.  In this instance though, after looking on the site www.BibleStudyTools.com , and searching for comparisons of this phrase, I found all 28 English versions use “in winter” and I’m fairly certain the French, Spanish and German translations do as well.

So then I turned to a good Greek Lexicon, a tool where you can look up the basic meaning of Greek words used in Scripture.  My favourite lexicon is Louw & Nida’s “Greek-English Lexicon of the NT Based on Semantic Domains.”  That’s a fancy way of saying, what is the central meaning of a Greek word as compared to other Greek words which have similar usage and meaning?  In this case, we find that there are two closely related ways to translate the Greek word here, either as “winter” or as “bad weather”.

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I checked six different translations of Mt. 24:20 into Papuan languages to see what they did and I found that it was an even split with three of them translating “winter” as “the time of cold” and three of them translating it as “the time of rain/wind”, i.e. “in the rainy season”.  Each translation took into account the “general meaning” of the Greek word and applied it to their culture in appropriate ways.

Interestingly, every one of these Papuan translations clearly kept the Jewish cultural aspect intact when they referred to “or on the Sabbath”.  They translated this as “Sabbath” (i.e. just borrowed the word), or “Jewish day of rest / Jewish day of praying” (i.e. the concept of Sabbath).  So whereas “winter” can be translated and interpreted according to a variety of local cultures today, the “Sabbath” is a Jewish specific cultural idea and must be preserved carefully in all translations regardless of local culture today.

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Now, another important step in good Bible study practices is to look at the biblical context that surrounds a given verse.  Matthew 24:20 is found within the context of Jesus’ answer to the disciples regarding the signs of when the temple would be destroyed, as well as the larger context of chapters 24 and 25 that speak about followers being ready for Jesus’ return at the end of time.

I think this is what makes portions of Mt. 24 and 25 difficult to understand, because within one long speech, Jesus moves his focus from one specific time (i.e. the coming destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD) to a second non-specific time (i.e. the return of Christ).  In wanting to understand the larger context of Mt. 24:20, I looked at a good commentary, such as Leon Morris’ Commentary on Matthew.  He says about these two chapters:

“The last of Jesus’ major discourses in this Gospel is largely concerned with judgment and the conduct expected of the follower of Jesus in view of the coming judgment. There is a problem for the student in that sometimes what Jesus says refers to the coming judgment on Jerusalem, a judgment that was consummated in the destruction of the city in A.D. 70,  and sometimes what he is saying refers to the judgment at the end of the age.

We may well argue that there is a theological unity between the two judgments, and that some of what Jesus says could apply equally well to both. The first of these is a judgment that followed the rejection of Jesus in his earthly ministry, and the second is the judgment that will follow the preaching of the gospel throughout the world.

But we should not approach these chapters with the conviction that everything in them applies to only one of these judgments.  The intermingling of prophecies referring to the events leading up to A.D. 70 with those applying to the end of all things makes this discourse particularly difficult to interpret.

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And so this brings us to the third important principle of good Bible study.  To summarize all that is above, the first question to ask is “What does the text say?”  The second is, “What does the text mean?”  And now thirdly, “What does this text say to me today?”  In other words, what is the message that is God’s message for all people of all times, and how do I apply this message to me today?

We know now that Mt. 24 and 25 are dealing with God’s coming judgment.  At one level it was a message for Jews of the first century, but it is more importantly (within the larger context) a message to all people to be ready for the time when God will put an end to time itself and His Son Jesus will come back to judge all people, punishing those who are not his true followers, and rewarding His true people with the blessings of an eternal heavenly banquet.

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Back to Mt. 24:20, one more specifically first century aspect is that since the Jewish people would not know when this disaster would come, just the fact that it was coming, they were to pray that there would not be any extra difficulty to face on that day such as bad weather or a day that was religiously and ceremonial guarded as the day of rest.

But by application, and by looking at the larger context, especially the parables of ch. 25, Jesus warns all true believers to be vigilant and not be caught off guard when the last final day would come upon mankind.  And so I believe we can say the main message here is this, “Destruction is coming!  Are you ready?”

And we know today that as long as we have placed our faith in Christ, then we can be assured that even though we do not know the final day, still we do not need to fear it.  God will say to us, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the Kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”  (Mt. 25:34)

God Triumphs Through Difficult Times

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God Triumphs Through Difficult Times

On June 8, 2010, a letter of invitation was sent asking me to come over to Papua New Guinea to help do the consultant check of Matthew for one of the local language groups.  There had been some discussion about me also doing the consultant check of Hebrews for another group, but dates and circumstances did not allow me to do this on this trip.  Instead, we are anticipating that this may be put into a program plan for a Spring 2011 trip.

During the month of July, I did some initial study of key terms and difficult phrases in Matthew.  This would help me identify potentially difficult parts of Matthew which would need to be examined carefully.  Meanwhile, I was waiting for the VE file of the Matthew translation to be sent to me from PNG.  (A VE is a vernacular to English literal back translation from the village language into English from which I can compare with the Greek NT to spot errors or areas of discussion.)

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At the beginning of August, it was clear that a more pressing matter was arising within the Branch, namely the sudden illness of the Director.  Immediately we began emailing the leadership in PNG and praying as to whether we should actually try to come as planned, or cancel the trip until a later date.  As we dialogued with them, we all came to the decision that we should still come, and trust that we would be able to get some of Matthew checked.

And so I began in mid-August to do intense studies on the Greek text of Matthew, and using a computer program called Paratext, was able to write myself inline text notes.  I noted areas of the Greek text where translation would be difficult or ambiguous, and also made note of various interpretations and cultural issues unique to the biblical era.  These exegetical and cultural notes would help me to evaluate the translation when the back translation was given to me orally, so that even without the written VE, I would be able to spot potential problems and areas needing revision.

Sadly, the Director died on the day I left Canada, and even before we started, we all wondered how this would affect the team and when the memorial for her would take place.  So I went into the sessions expecting that there would be even more delays and interruption.  I think what helped all of us from the beginning was that we all agreed that any verses we could do the consultant check on was still good, and was still moving forward the goal of having the New Testament finished for this language group.

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The date for the memorial was finally set for October 9, the day Jill and I would fly out of PNG, so it did not turn out that we would stop our sessions in the middle of our checking of Matthew.  But then a new area of major concern arose.  Due to a drought and the stagnation of existing water in the region where the national team members lived, scores of them were becoming sick and three people did die during our three weeks of checking.  In addition, the wife and son of the key national translator, were also sent to Wewak for medical attention.  Thankfully, they recovered quickly after getting treatment.

Understandably, this caused the team much distress and concern which made the checking even more difficult.  The final decision by all of us was to end the sessions early and have the men return to the villages so that they might be able to help out and comfort the people during this difficult time.

In spite of all these obstacles that our team faced, it is amazing to look back and see what progress was made and how God’s hand was in all of this.  In 12 days of actual work, we were able to check, correct and revise 20 out of the 28 chapters of Matthew.  We were able to check an average of 56 verses a day, which is pretty good considering the many hard passages of Christ’s teaching.

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Another area for praise is how God sustained us all.  My health was good during the entire time, and I discovered two women in the Center who knew how to do massage therapy so that I could get my legs worked on twice while there.  The massages, along with adequate rest periods each day, allowed me to function with a much lower pain level than I expected.   For this I was very grateful to God, and I am sure the many prayers of God’s people helped to carry me through this trip.

I am also thankful once again that Jill was able to come join me (two weeks later) and then return with me on the trip back to Canada.  She helped me in so many ways to be able to function and live each day over there in PNG.  And she has such a desire to help out, that when a special formatting task was sent up by CD disk from our Publishing Dept on short notice, Jill willingly worked on the computer during my breaks (sharing my computer) and on the weekend to get 166 Shellbooks (literacy picture books with empty text boxes) fully reformatted and ready for use by translators.

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So what is next?  There is already discussion about me and Jill coming in Feb-April of next year.  The book of Hebrews in one language is ready to be checked.  The epistles of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon and Jude in another language are anticipated to be ready.  And there are still the final eight chapters of Matthew to do for this language group.  Translation consultant checking remains a constant area of need in our overseas branches.  I am just happy that I can be involved and do my part to see God’s Word made available to these language groups.

I must also say thank you to all of you who so faithfully pray for us and support our ministry work with Pioneer Bible Translators.  We  could not do this work without you standing behind us.  Above all, we give thanks to God who has equipped us and sustained us to be able to do this good work.

To Him be all the glory,

Norm & Jill Weatherhead