Long Distance Bible Translation Checking

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Working Through Matthew While on Furlough

Very recently, one of my colleagues from Pioneer Bible Translators has taken a furlough leave from Papua New Guinea to come back to the States to visit with family and friends and her supporting churches.  As she mentions below, often when a missionary leaves the field for an extended period of time, the work of translation being done by the national people can come to a grinding halt.

This furlough break has been different this time as we have found an effective way for others to help with the project who then send electronic updates of the changes, and there is a means by which Comments, Notes and Questions can be sent back and forth by Internet connection.  It isn’t quite a “real time” event, but close to it.  Thank goodness for the electronic age in which we live.

Below is a little snapshot of what can come up during a Bible translation checking session.  What you will note as you read her story about the checking of the translation is that there are often many little changes that are made to help a story flow along more smoothly and to make logically coherent and understandable.  But there are still those few times when significant changes are also needed to be made.  Enjoy her story.

                                

“Why did they do that?  Was that change really necessary?”  I thought to myself as I looked at the revised text of Matthew 3:4.  The more I looked, the more I began to see the possibilities and soon I was chuckling at the image of John the Baptist in the rough draft.  The poor guy was eating one grasshopper and one bee egg [the cultural equivalent of honey in our language] – or at least the text didn’t specifically say that he was filling up on grasshoppers and bee eggs. 

The national translators had noticed this and decided that John probably would have eaten lots of grasshoppers and bee eggs to keep from starving and so they added little words that indicate that the items were both plural.  A minor change, but a good one since John’s diet was strange enough without being limited to one of each item.

    

In Mat 3:12, the poor thresher of lots of grain was left putting only one seed into the house for storing grain.  The national translators could not imagine someone doing all that work for one seed, so they changed it to putting seeds (plural) into the house for storing grain – again a wise choice.  

In a similar way, in Mat 6:30, the national translators caught the fact that Jesus was telling the people not to think about one set of clothing – that would have definitely been a bad scene with everyone fighting to get one thing.  Instead he was telling all of them not to think about all kinds of clothing – definitely better when a plural marker is used on the object. 

In Mat 7:17, however, they had changed a plural verb form to a singular and I wanted to say, “Why did they do that?” but I knew that I would find a logical reason – Jesus was just using one tree as the example and not talking about all kinds of trees.

    

I was relieved to see that there was finally a real content change in Mat 7:15 (changing “hair” to “skin”) rather than changing a singular to a plural or a plural to a singular.  The change from “pig sheep hair (singular)” to “pig sheep skin (singular)”, however, made me want to ask, “Why did you do that?”  

After further analysis (trying to envision what it would look like), however, I quickly decided that a wolf would be much better disguised by putting on the full skin of a sheep than by putting on one hair of a sheep or even a handful of wool and trying to disguise himself with it – picture a wolf in a little tutu of wool. 

After trying to envision things from their perspective, I decided to accept that change and many other changes they had made.  I did, though, reject some of the revisions as inaccurate and sent them back to the drawing board to “try, try again” on those passages.

    

Normally when I am back here in the USA, all translation and literacy work comes to a grinding halt, but this time has been different.  One of our other PBT translators just completed a 3 week work session with the our  translation team in which we shared the data regularly via a computer program that allows us to send and receive changes easily.  

I would write questions to her and she would write answers and more questions to me that I would then try to answer.  It generally worked well because while they were working, I was sleeping and vice-versa.  It still feels like “magic” to me because I remember the days of typewriters and carbon paper.  Praise God with me for technology that allows us to interact with work sessions on the other side of the world.

* If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

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God Bless Papua New Guineans

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Matthew 5:1 – 12

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying:

                “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…..

These are the opening words to probably the most famous teaching of Jesus, the “Beatitudes”.  Jesus outlines for people of all ages and all ethnic groups the kind of character qualities that are displayed by those who are truly God’s people.  They are humble people and merciful to others.  They keep the peace between people and they demonstrate righteous living.

When these powerful words of Jesus get hold of the hearts of men and women, truly amazing transformations in their lives can and will happen.  Below are excerpts from a newsletter from 2010 of some very good friends of mine who have ministered for many years to a tribal group of people up in a mountainous area of Papua New Guinea.

 

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

We are celebrating the increased level of hunger and thirst for God and his ways in the lives of the people. We witnessed that again recently while we were in the village in June and July. We held a third Scripture Use course, this one on money issues such as compensation demands, tithing, and serving God or wealth.

We were blessed to see the Holy Spirit challenging and convicting through His Word, and to hear the deep discussions with resulting commitments. Some declared their intention to give God a tenth of the money made from selling vanilla, coffee and other cash crops, or to share a tenth of their garden produce with church leaders and those in need. Pray for courage for the people to follow the Lord’s leading in these things.

[Editor’s Note: Almost all rural people of PNG are subsistence garden farmers who slash and burn a section of the jungle each year and grow vegetable plants and tubers (yam, taro, potatoes, etc.)  Most days are usually consumed with trying to find enough food to eat for that day.  So for the people to dedicate their meagre garden crops to God and to offer a 10% tithe of their food to church leaders is beyond incredible.  It is a generosity that comes from knowing the love of God in their hearts.]

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“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted

God is at work shining the spotlight of his Word into the lives of these men and women with the resulting conviction of sin. And they are mourning and longing to repent and change. Alfons (not his real name) is one example. During a time of prayer, God brought to his mind the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. He was gripped with the drama of the story of this son coming to his spiritual senses and returning to the father who welcomed him back with celebration.

It was a delight to hear Alfons say, “We need to return to God and His ways. He is waiting, waiting for us to welcome us back”. Alfons helped produce an illustrated Bible story of the prodigal son and is eager to use the story book to teach the Truth of repentance and resulting blessing to the people.

[Editor’s Note: There is nothing so piercing as the death wail that goes forth when someone dies in the village.  It is a shocking reminder to us all that death comes to rip apart people from their loved ones.  What is amazing to me here in PNG is that I have witnessed similar wailing when a person becomes convicted of sin and cries out in repentance to God over the sin that separates them from God.  But the Good News is that this death wail of repentance leads to new life with God for this person.]

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“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

When God is at work challenging and transforming lives, there is also an increase in spiritual warfare. Those who harden their hearts and refuse to obey often persecute those who are following God wholeheartedly. We see that amongst the people here. Daniub (not his real name), our local preacher, asked us to pray for him before we left the village in July.

He is taking a strong stand in following the Lord, challenging people to give up their dependence on the spirits to help them. For example, many nominal Christians still turn to the spirits to seek healing in times of sickness. Daniub has challenged village leaders on this, and some are not happy. Pray for him and other bold Christian leaders as they lead in truth and love.

[Editor’s Note: One of the hardest aspects of our work in bringing the people of PNG into a deep personal walk with Jesus is the wide spread syncretism here.  Although there has been a lot of mission work done in PNG over the past 150 years, Christianity is more of a veneer that coats the surface of their lives, while underneath many of them are still heavily steeped in the practices of animism.

For all who read this article, I ask you to pray for the people of Papua New Guinea, that they would not see Christianity as one more form of magical rituals to perform in order to be safe from the evil spirits that surround them.  Pray that the people will give their hearts to Jesus and let the Truth of God free them from their bondage to sin and to the lies of Satan.]

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Bible Translation Bloopers

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Head Hunting & Pumpkin Heads

There are quite a few steps involved in getting the Bible translated into another language. In between making a rough draft translation and the publication of Scripture are quite a few levels of checking and revising that are needed to be done. As we work with the people who are native speakers of the language, misunderstandings and mistakes can be made.

For this very reason, we must sit down with the national translators and go over the text verse-by-verse. In this checking process, some rather strange and funny translation stories can emerge. Below is one account by one of my colleagues in Papua New Guinea. She was working through the story of the beheading of John the Baptist in the book of Matthew.

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“This is just a general term for cutting. Can we use the special term that we have for cutting around the base of the skull to remove the head?” asked the national translator of the project. I thought about it for a second and didn’t see any major problem with using their special term for the decapitation of John the Baptist – it would definitely make it more vivid.

After I gave a slightly hesitant “yes” answer, he went on to explain that their ancestors along with the folks from a neighboring language group used to go up the Ramu River on regular raids taking captives and collecting heads. I had heard about the reputation of this group from another source, but I didn’t realize that the raiding included head-hunting. I think the national translator was a bit tickled by my obvious discomfort.

When I questioned them some more, they assured me that the head-hunting had all ended before World War II. They had just grown up hearing all of the stories and enjoying the notoriety that this had given to their language group. For over four weeks, the translation team and I were cloistered away in the conference room during the work week as we worked our way verse by verse through the book of Matthew.

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On the days in which we ran into major problems and only completed 20 verses, I despaired of ever getting done, but then there were days when we were able to complete 2 chapters. In the process we found lots of “bloopers” both big and small. Here is one of my favorite ones.

When we reached Mat 5.29 — “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also,” — I asked the checkers to demonstrate the verse and they got it right, but they really struggled and kept saying that something was wrong with the translation. Finally, one of the checkers was able to identify the “turn” verb as the source of the problem and the national translator started laughing when he understood the problem.

He then demonstrated by doing a pirouette and said that the person was hit on one side of his face and then did a pirouette and was hit on the other side. Somehow I don’t think the pirouette was part of the original story, though I could imagine Jesus laughing at this version of the story.

Praise God with me that this translation project is now one book closer to having the entire NT checked.

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This past month, I have had the privilege to do the Advisor Check with a different group of national translators on their translation of the book of John. We too spent hour after hour for four weeks looking at the text. We would start at the verse level, then go to the sentence level and phrase level, and then even look intently at individual words and terms.

Things were moving along in our checking, and then something really funny happened. We had already dealt many times with the special term “the Jews”. In John’s Gospel, about half the time this term does refer to the people of the nation, and so we would translate it as “the Juda people”. But the other half of the time, John uses the term to refer to the Jewish authorities.

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To handle this in the pidgin trade language, I had said that this could be translated as “the big men of Juda” or the “head men of Juda”. Well, at one point the team had thought I had doubled this up and had said, “the big head men of Juda”. They hadn’t said anything for a few days, but on one day, one of the men thought about this term and burst out laughing.

This man shared his funny thought with the other men in his village language and then they all burst out laughing. It took them quite a few minutes to stop laughing and finally the one man was able to get control of himself and tell me the joke. This is what he said:

“If we translate this term the way you have described it, when the people hear this, they will wonder, ‘What kind of strange men are these?’ They have never seen people that have really, really big heads!”

When he said that, he put his hands about two feet apart, and then the humour of the joke hit me. If we doubled up the expression with both “big” and “head”, then they would be “big-headed men” and it would conjure up the idea of men walking around with heads the size of large pumpkins.

Needless to say, we changed the translation to say, “the head men of Juda”. Even though the Jewish authorities were the enemies of Jesus, we did not want people to think that they were stranger than they already were. And thankfully the national translator caught this one. That’s why we do all the checking that we do.

God’s Assignment – Part 3

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Expect Great Things From God

This article picks up where I left off a week ago which you can read here.  I felt rather discouraged when I left PNG in October, 2010.  I had thought that our plan for a five-week trip to Papua New Guinea would be sufficient time for us to be able to check the Gospel of Matthew in the W. language.  But with me needing at least 4 days to travel there and 4 more days to come back, plus an adjustment period of a few days, we really only had about three weeks to do the work.

And normally, that would have been plenty of time.  But as I wrote last week, there were the issues of illnesses and deaths that cast quite a shadow over our work and caused us to end our checking sessions earlier than planned.   So we only finished checking 20 chapters of Matthew.  And in light of this, Jill and I started asking ourselves different questions.

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One of the first questions we asked was, “Should I (Norm) try to plan a longer trip so that I can accomplish more, or at least do the same amount of work that I would normally get done after two short trips to PNG?”  It certainly would be financially smarter to do one long trip, rather than two short ones, because of how much airline tickets cost just to get there.

Another question we asked ourselves was, “Would my health hold up and could I manage well if I came to PNG for a longer visit?”  And related to that, “If Jill were not able to get all the time off to be with me on a long trip, could we get enough resources and help from people put in place to allow me to live and work over there without Jill?”

And so we weighed out these questions, while at the same time we considered the requests from the Branch for me to come back in early 2011 to help do the consultant checking on a number of New Testament books.  I was asked to help finish the book of Matthew in the W. language, then check up to as many as five Pauline epistles for a second language, and then the book of Hebrews in a third language.

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My decision was to say “Yes” to all these requests, for I knew how difficult it was to get consultants to do the checking sessions.  But considering that there were only about 13 weeks for me to get my prep work done, and there were 39 chapters to check (mostly epistle material), the chances were slim that I could do all the preparation before I headed over there.  I knew I would have to make some choices based on the priority and checking dates of each project.

So here is what I decided.  Even though it would be the last material checked, I prepared my comments and questions for the first 10 chapters of Hebrews.  It is a very fascinating book, and I really had no idea how difficult and complex it would be.  It took me over a month to prepare these 10 chapters.  I figured that the last three chapters could be worked on once I got to PNG.

Then I switched to doing checking preparation on the other epistles (Eph., Phil., Col., Philemon, and Jude)  for the T. language group.  Now by just looking at my weekly average of doing prep work, I was certain I could do the first three epistles before flying down under.  Philemon and Jude would have to wait until I got into the country to finish them.  And as for Matthew, I knew the translation team quite well by this time, and so I told them that I could work with them without having the written VE (Vernacular-to-Englush) texts.  I would depend on listening well to an oral back-translation of the text.

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And so the checking sessions started on February 3rd with the T. language team.  It was amazing to see how quickly we were able to do the checking of the three larger epistles (Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians).  It took roughly two days to check each book.  Mind you, the average length of all the chapters of these books is about 25 verses.  So that means we were checking on average about 8 verses per hour.

The team wanted to get back a bit early, so we didn’t try to check Jude or Philemon.  They will have to wait till later.  That gave me a two-day rest before working with the W. language team on the last 8 chapters of Matthew.  And again, we did the work in just over 6 days of work.  Did you know that Matthew chapter 26 (75 verses) and chapter 27 (66 verses) are the 2nd and the 5th longest chapters in the New Testament?

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After spending a month in the highlands of PNG, then Jill and I flew down to the main city of Madang on the north shore where our mission office is located.  We enjoyed a few days of rest and a bit of relaxing beside a swimming pool, and then I dove into the checking sessions of Hebrews with the A. language team.  It was delayed slightly, which didn’t surprise me, as it is always so difficult for the nationals to walk, float, drive or even fly out of their villages to get to town.

Since this was the first time I worked with this language group, I allowed up to 12 days to get the entire book checked.  And again, God gave us all the strength, wisdom and insight to check and revise the material in just 8 days.  This allowed me to get some other language catch up work done, and to get rested before I started my long journey back to Canada.

So now we are reflecting on the questions that I wrote about above.  Are longer trips better?  How would I do health-wise?  What should we plan for future trips?  I think you can see that things definitely went well.  And the future holds great promises, of which I will write about next week.  So stay tuned.  🙂


God’s Assignment For Me

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Part One – Translation Advisor

It was just over one year ago, on March 17th, 2010, that I returned to Canada after working with a team of national men in Papua New Guinea on their translation of Matthew.  These men are part of what we call “Group Directed Projects”.  From one perspective, you could say that their project is currently functioning without having an expatriate (“foreign”) missionary directly assigned to work with them.

A more positive way to look at it is to say that with some limited guidance and support, national Papuans are working at getting Bible translation and literacy efforts going for the people of their own language.  By this I mean that our staff in our Madang office will help train them to learn the principles of Bible translation and literacy.  We will also help provide outside Advisors and Translation Consultants to come and look over the text and point out places where corrections or some revisions might be needed to be done.

My task last year was to come and work with one team to help them with their translation of the Gospel of Matthew.  The man who had been assigned as their translation Advisor was not available, and so I was asked to step in.  There are quite a few steps involved in the translation process, going from a rough draft of the text all the way to publishing the book of Scripture that you are working on.  It would take me a few articles to outline clearly all of these steps, but in time I should be able to write enough stories to help people understand what is involved.


Now before I tell you more about the checking sessions that I did last year with the AK language, I must share with you what  makes this project very interesting and unique.  Most language projects, and especially the ones in Papua New Guinea, can take years if not decades to get the translation of the New Testament entirely rough drafted.  But incredibly, the AK language project had a complete New Testament drafted in just over a half of a year.

How was this possible, and what does this mean?  Well, this project was not begun by a missionary going to live among them like PBT’s other projects, but rather it was started at the initiative of the people themselves.  And the key to its quick beginning was the fact that is was closely related to another language which lived nearby, the AR language.  And since the AR language group had recently printed New Testament, it was decided to use a computer program called ‘Adapt It’ to try to speed up the translation for the AK group.

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Basically what happens is that first a dictionary is created for both languages while using a third language to be the bridge between the other two.  When the bridge language definition of the AR and the AK language is the same, then we know that we can substitute the AK term at the place where the AR term was used in the verse.  So after building dictionaries for all the languages, then we can figuratively say, “We pour the AR language into the computer and it spits out a rough translation of the text in the AK language.”

That is so cool, isn’t it?  But before we get too excited, there in no possible way in the world that we can have a complete one-to-one word correlation between two languages.  Sometimes we must try to put a tightly bound word phrase, or a figure of speech through this dictionary filter and the result at the end is anything but comprehensible.  So although Adapt-It can produce a rough draft text very quickly, some parts will sound very strange, and other parts will just simply not be understood at all.

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And that is where I came into the project last year.  The AK text of Matthew had been put through the AR filter already, and they saw that there were so many awkward and incomprehensible portions of the text that a second filter pass through was necessary to get a workable text.  Then a couple of the men went through the newly drafted text carefully and cleaned it up as much as they could.  This made the text ready for me to be able to do some basic comprehensive and exegetical checking on it.

To help you distinguish between these two kinds of checks, think of comprehensive checking as asking simple straightforward questions such as “where did Jesus tell Peter to go to find money to pay the temple tax?  What did Peter do?  Where did he find the temple tax?”  These are straight forward questions to help establish the facts of a story.

But what about the more complicated questions like “What is the Temple?  How much is the Temple tax that every one needs to pay?  How did Jesus know where the tax could be found?  What was the value of the coin and its denomination?  How was this a dire threat to the Roman law and  to the Jewish ways and the religious institutions of his day?”  These are the kind of questions that need to be asked by either a Language Advisor or a Translation Consultant to see if the translation is accurate, natural and clear.

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And so for five weeks I worked with the AK people going slowly verse-by-verse in order to identify where there might be some language problems which would then need to be revised.  It was tedious work going as slow as we did.   In this instance, I was playing the role of being a Language Advisor.  There were enough grammar and key term differences between the two languages that we needed to go slowly to  ensure we had a good translation.

I hope from this short article that you can see some of the challenges I face in being a Language Advisor to a foreign language project.  Five weeks to work through Matthew may seem a long time.  And in fact, we only got to finish 20 out of the 28 chapters of the book.  And so the team’s usual Advisor set up one more session with them to be able to finish it.  But praise God, it is now ready to go to the next level, the Consultant check.

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)

Hypocrite! Who Me?

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A Translation Challenge in Matthew

Last week I was working with the W. language team and checking their translation of the final eight chapters of the book of Matthew.  The translation was in very good shape, so we were able to proceed at a pretty good pace.  The goal we had set to be able to check these chapters in eight days was to check an average of 55 verses each day.  On the morning that we were finishing chapter 22 and starting chapter 23, we had checked and revised 44 verses.

So when we gathered after lunch to continue doing the checking, I was feeling optimistic that we would be able to easily reach our goal, and surpass it.  But then we hit the “Woe” sections of chapter 23 of Matthew.  Seven times Jesus gave a strong warning to the Pharisees and the Scribes, two of the religious groups that existed during the times of Jesus and the New Testament.  And both groups knew all the rituals and regulations of the Jewish religion, but they only gave lip service to God rather than serve Him out of their hearts.

There is no question that these “Woe” sections of Matthew 23 are difficult to translate across different languages.  There are many concepts that are rather foreign to people who are subsistent jungle farmers.  How do we translate “Kingdom”, “temple”, “altar”, “tithing”, “proselytizing”, etc.  We did find ways to handle these difficult concepts, but there is one more term in this section that has caused us to discuss it at length.

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The term I am referring to is the word for “hypocrite”.  I have had the privilege to work with a number of Papuan languages and have checked the books of Matthew and Mark a couple of times.  And I am fascinated by the variety of ways in which different languages can handle the same term or phrase.  And this is definitely one of them.

When translating the term “hypocrite”, I have seen that it usually has to be expressed as an idiom or as a longer descriptive phrase.  For example, I have seen “hypocrite” translated like “the lying person”, “the two-mouthed person”, “the two-tongued person”, “the pretending to worship God person”, and what the W. language decided to use, “the person who lies and says, ‘I am a good person.'”

The common thread here is that a hypocrite is one who basically lies, pretending to be one thing when in fact they are the opposite.  They are people who deceive others by saying one thing, but their behavior shows that their values do not match their behavior.  As the idiom in English says, they in effect speak out of two sides of their mouth, which is very close to the Papuan idiom of being two-tongued or two-mouthed.

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In effect, these are nasty, lying, deceiving people who not only are trying to fool men into believing they are good people, but some are even thinking they are pulling the wool over God’s eyes.  And of all possible kinds of hypocrites, perhaps the worst ones of all are the religious hypocrites.  By their words and actions, they try to elevate themselves as someone better than other religious people, and in the end, they tarnish the name and reputation of God, and the true believers who worship God as He requires, out of a heart of humility and selflessness.

No wonder Jesus used such harsh language against the Pharisees and the Scribes in His day.  Not only should they have known how to properly approach God and worship Him, but these men were the religious teachers of the people.  But Jesus calls them to the carpet to challenge their hypocrisy for what it was, and as He said, they were like “white-washed tombs with nice decorations on the outside, but on the inside they were full of dead men’s bones and all kinds of ritual impurities.”

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And yet, when I really study this word and all that it implies, I need to be careful before I brand someone else with this word–hypocrite.  True, it is very obvious in Scripture that the Pharisees and the Scribes were very bad men, but am I that much different.  In degree, yes.  They were fierce and terrible opponents to Christ, and they ultimately had Jesus crucified out of pure jealousy against Him.

But in nature, I am a sinner just as much as they were.  And am I not guilty in many instances of some level of being a hypocrite.  I tell people I will pray for them, and do I follow-up on my promise to do so?  Not always.  Do I dress in my nicest clothes and put a smile on my face when I go to church, sending the message that I am well-to-do and that my life before God is all in order, when in fact I may be falling apart inside, and having doubts about God’s goodness?

We are encouraged in Scripture to make the most of every opportunity (referring to share Christ), but often I have no desire to talk to the person next to me on the airplane.  Do I turn away and pretend not to notice the poor man coming my way who is asking people for a quarter?  Can I truly call myself a “follower of Jesus”, when I act in so many ways that would be contrary to how Jesus would act?

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These are tough questions that do not have quick easy answers.  Each situation is unique.  But sadly, I think I must say that our modern and comfortable Christianity is something we wear on Sundays, and don’t do much with during the middle of the week to demonstrate we are Christ’s disciples who are carrying out His mandate to “seek and to save the lost”, and “to love our neighbor as ourselves.”

Dear Readers, I know that I, and perhaps you too, still have a lot to learn in the School of Discipleship.  Jesus has set a good example, and He is our Headmaster.  Let the school of humility, selflessness, love for others, and self-sacrifice begin.

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