What It Takes To Check Translated Scriptures

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This week I am to start the consultant checking of Mborena Kam books of James and Jude.  These happen to be a couple of the hardest books in the New Testament to translate, as there are many places where we really do not know what exactly they are talking about.  That is where commentaries are so helpful.

These two books will be the last books of the NT to check for the Mborena Kam.  Praise God for that.  I think it should only take us about 3 days or so to check the 108 verses.  Then I want to work with the team to help them start to pick maps for the back of the Bible, such as Paul’s three missionary journeys, and a map of the Middle East during the time of Jesus.  Then I want them to choose Bible illustrations for culturally difficult passages.


Take Mark 1:6 as an example, where someone might ask “What is a camel?”  This is important, because John clothed himself in the “hairs of the camel” and so we put a picture of a camel in the text.  Then the team needs to choose a phrase in the Tok Ples (their village language) that helps to describe what the picture is all about.

Another task that I hope to do with the Mborena Kam in this two week period is to work with them on running all of the Scriptural “Checking Tools” which we have.  We are so fortunate to live in this day and age where we have so many powerful computer programs which can assist us in our work in tremendous ways.

I will ask the team to “Run the Basic Checks”.  These checks look at such things as “Are quotation marks being used consistently throughout the NT.”  Often they will find the errors where there is an opening quotation, but they cannot find a closed quotation marker.  And so the verse is marked with a “Missing Component” mark.  Other basic checks are the use of punctuation, Capitalization, paired words, etc.  You’d be amazed at how many times there was an extra space put between the last word of a sentence and the punctuation that closes the sentence.


In addition to spending many hours reading the book verse by verse, holding discussions as to whether something has been added in that should not have been, or something has been left out that needs to be put back in, we often need to do what is called  comprehension checking.  This is where the consultant (me for example) writes up hundreds of notes and questions to ask the team, and waits then to find out what kind of response they will get to the consultant’s question.

Some questions are usually simple ones, comprehension questions, like “Where did Jesus go, was it upstream or downstream.”  (This directional sense is very important in many language groups.)  Some questions simply deal with missing information.  It is not that difficult while one does translation work that your eyes get tired, and they can skip ahead in a verse and leave something out.  These errors are easy to find and fix.


There are other more complex issues to deal with, such as when some extra-biblical material has been added to the text.  Does this material get deleted, simply because we do not find that these words are not found in the original Greek documents.  What we have to realize though, is that these documents of the Bible were written by men from within one ancient cultural world and world view that many of the people to whom they were written, already shared the same culture and worldview.

That leaves the Scriptures to be wide open with misunderstanding for people today, since the understood, implicit information that  the 1st Century Jews and Christian would have, is not understood by us.  And so there are many places where we take this culturally understood implicit information and we bring it up to the surface and make it explicitly clear for any reader of any time or culture.

We also check for consistency among verses with similar wording, and we also look at how consistently the people are using special Key Terms, like priest, Sabbath, temple, prophet, etc.  In many cases, these key terms can be translated in identical ways.  But this will not be the case in many times, since context and work usage is so important.

When the word is used as a subject of the sentence, or the object of the sentence, or has some aspect of possession of another item, then many languages use special suffixes or prefixes to show how the work is being used grammatically.  We need to keep an eye on sentence syntax and grammar to know if the word is spelled right, and is fulfilling its purpose within the sentence.


There are just so many aspects involved in trying to produce the very best translation that is accurate to the original languages of the Bible (Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic), that has gone through translation principles to make it flow in natural village language style, and most importantly, that the message is clear to all those who hear it in their own mother-tongue language.

So please be praying for me and the Mborena Kam team as we finish the last official consultant checked books for their New Testament.  But we are not done yet.  Pray for us as we work through all of the other tools and checks to make sure no Scriptural errors have made it into the final form of their Bible.

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The Eternal Value Of Bible Translation Work

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Consultant checking of translated Scriptures can be tedious work and very exhausting as we look at every word, every phrase and every sentence of every verse, to make sure that it accurately communicates what was written down by the first biblical authors.  For the past three months, I have been checking various books of the Bible for different language groups.  It is exhausting, but also very rewarding.

There are also times when we laugh and when we cry as the message does not communicate, but something else that we did not intend to happen does happen.  A colleague of mine has also just finished a long period of checking a number of New Testament books for her language group.  I hope you enjoy reading the following story.

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“Is he crying?”  I thought to myself as I looked up from writing corrections on our draft of the Gospel of Mark. I confirmed that the man was indeed crying and then the man beside him began crying and wiping his eyes and several of the other guys began wiping their eyes.  By that time, the first man was in the loud crying stage. He came to me, shook hands for a long time and kept saying over and over, “It’s true! It’s true!”

I was so stunned by his response that it took me a few seconds to realize that the verse that had hit him so hard was Mark 13:31, which in Apal translation says, “‘The ground and sky will disappear,’ he said. ‘Given that [but],’ he said. ‘My talk will not disappear,’ he said.”  I assured him that we were working on something of eternal value.  Everything else won’t last, but God’s Word will never disappear. 

Looking at his response, my guess is that he “got it” much better than I did.  This world will end, but God’s Word will never end.  Seeing his positive response to God’s Word in his own language gave me hope and the motivation needed to keep pressing on through the checking of the Gospel of John.  Sometimes I despaired of the translation ever being accurate enough and communicating clearly enough to make it worth printing.

Even after correcting it with a consultant, we were reading through John and I realized that John 11:25 just wouldn’t work because it sounded like the believers who died would stay happily dead forever.  To live eternally is translated as “being good only like that and only like that” and when that was combined with being dead – they were just “good and dead,” i.e., really dead.  Thankfully, that error was relatively easy to correct by adding in that they would rise again and then live eternally.   

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In addition to numerous other bloopers, two of my blooper “albatrosses” resurfaced again after the consultant had already checked and approved the verses.  We had been checking the placement of the sign above Jesus’ head on the cross and I had been a bit dubious when they  had the piece of paper sitting on top of “Jesus” head for a few seconds.  But they had quickly corrected it when I reread the passage. They knew it wasn’t right to put it on top of Jesus’ head. 

I sighed with relief, but something still kept bugging me about it so after the consultant left, I read them the translation of the parallel verse in Mark and one man said, “That is the way it should be in John.  We are missing the piece of wood sticking up behind Jesus’ head in the John translation.  Make it like that!”  So, we revised it and then I asked them one last time about where the angels had sat in the empty tomb.  I knew that we had corrected it so that the angels were no longer sitting on Jesus’ dead body, but there was still something about it that didn’t seem quite right, but I didn’t know what it was.

Finally, one of the guys said, “Well, this says that they sat on the empty spot where Jesus himself had put his own head and the empty spot where Jesus himself had put his own feet.  Did Jesus lie down there on his own after he was dead?”  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  The miracle of the resurrection is one thing, but did we really want the miracle of a dead man putting himself in place in his own tomb?  So, that was quickly revised by simply changing a few endings and then putting third person plural endings on the verbs.    

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Then there is Mark 10:27 in Apal which says, “They did it and Jesus was seeing them and said. ‘Men see and whatever whatever [all kinds of things] are habitually being like a mountain,’ he said. ‘Given that [but], God sees and whatever whatever [all kinds of things] are not habitually being like a mountain,’ he said. That verse has been the one keeping us going.  The checking that needed to be done seemed like a mountain, but now the mountain is gone. 

Thank you for praying with us through the longs months of checking.  As a result, we were able to check 35% of the NT and now 80% of the Apal NT has been consultant checked. Praise God with me.    


God’s Assignment For Me


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.