The textile industry and Bible translation came together to produce one of the best and most controversial translations of the Bible. Back when it was illegal to own, buy or sell a Bible in English, a group of believing textile merchants backed an outstanding scholar, William Tyndale, to do a translation into English on the sly. Tyndale had to hide and eventually flee before being caught and executed. Despite the opposition, the financial and other support from the textile merchants never flagged. Their support, as much as Tyndale’s brilliant work and perseverance, was responsible for the widespread impact of the translation.
The unprecedented recent progress in Bible translation has been possible because of the many who have been the patrons of Bible translation for minority peoples. Just as, Jesus himself had financial patrons behind his ministry. Unlike Tyndale’s wealthy patrons, many modern patrons of Bible translation give out of modest means.
A longtime Ghanaian supporter of Bible translation receiving an award
It is unfortunate that the role of the translator or missionary has been elevated above that of supporter or patron. We remember Tyndale, but not the textile merchants. The translations of the Bible which have so benefited the English-speaking world would never have been produced without the dedicated support of their patrons. The same is true for translation in the remaining languages – it won’t happen without the financial support of God’s people. To date, most of the patrons for Bible translation in Ghana have been from North America and Europe. That support was right and good and it needs to continue. But we need to add to it because things have changed. Some in Ghana have the means to provide for the remaining translations in their country, and eventually beyond. So, our work in Ghana includes mobilizing those God is calling to add to the existing patrons for Bible translation in Ghana – Ghanaian churches and individuals.
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A display used to inform Ghanaian Christians about Bible translation into Ghanaian languages
The thing about sidewalks is, they are in the wrong places.
When I am in a suburb in the US, I find myself walking on spacious sidewalks. At intersections I find a cross walk. If there is a traffic light, I also find a button I can push which will give me a “walk” signal and stop cross traffic so that I can cross safely. Not long ago, I crossed a major highway – US 99W – on foot several times. And I did so calmly because I was in a cross walk with the “walk” signal lit.
On the other hand, when I walk in Accra, even in the nicer neighborhoods, there are rarely sidewalks. Worse, ditches, fences, walls, parked cars, and the little kiosks put up by enterprising Africans, too often take up every inch of walking space, so that there is not even the narrowest strop of dirt or grass left. I am forced out into the street next to cars moving at a pretty good clip. So are other pedestrians. In suburbs in the US, I often find that I am the only person using the sidewalks. All those beautiful sidewalks, and so few people using them. On the other hand, pedestrians far outnumber drivers in most African cities. A new highway in Accra was built right through a heavily populated area with inadequate provision for the many pedestrians. Drivers speed along the highway as people try to cross. The unfortunate result is predictable, or at least it should have been. It is always in the news.
In the US, we build sidewalks that are underused while the places that really need them don’t build enough. So, the thing about sidewalks is, they are in the wrong places.
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It’s blackberry season in Southern Oregon. Wild blackberry plants are invasive and difficult to kill, so they are considered a pest. But their berries are delicious. Picking them requires dodging their vicious thorns: not easy to do given the irregular shape and placement of the wild clumps. It is also important to only pick the blackest berries. The reddish-black ones may look ripe, but they will leave a sour taste in your mouth. Don’t even think about biting into a red one!
Which leads me to a fun truth: Blackberries are green when they’re red.
While that is literally true, it is not meant to be taken literally. Some people say that a literal translation of the Bible is best. But all languages joyfully use words in ways that defy literal interpretation and translation. Blackberries being green when they are red is just one little ice crystal on the tip of the iceberg. This fact makes a truly literal translation of the Bible or anything else a bit strange.
For God is my witness, how I long for you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ
That is the translation of Philippians 1:8 in Young’s Literal Translation (highlighting mine). True to the name of his translation, the translator adopted a literal translation of the Greek word σπλάγχνον – “bowels”. Figuratively, it means affection; the Greeks of the time considering that affection came from the bowels, whereas my culture says that it comes from the heart. In some places, strong emotions are said to come from the liver. I have a gut feeling that you might point out that the digestive tract is not absent from the words I use to describe my emotions. But most Bible translators cannot stomach a literal translation of σπλάγχνον. Consider the same verse in the English Standard Version, which calls itself an “essentially literal” translation (highlighting mine).
For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus
When translators belly up to the translation table, they should take into account the ordinary meaning of words, whether literal or figurative. Blackberries, they might well translate, are unripe when they’re red.
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Burkina Faso Village
When we lived in Burkina Faso in the Cerma language, we learned that the greeting for someone you had not seen for some time or someone who had traveled some distance to come see you was “What’s the news?” Whether you had some news or not, the proper response was “No news”, because “news” was by default “bad news”. Even if there was bad news, you still responded “No news”. Then after a while you would say, “Well, there is news after all”, and go on to give the “news”. The news could be the announcement a death in the family or some other tragic event.
If this sounds strange, let me ask you a question. When someone asks “How are you?”, don’t you respond with “Fine” even if everything is not really fine? The response “No news” is really no different. In fact, it might be more honest as everyone knows that “No news” is always the first response and any news will come out later. The response “Fine” carries no such guarantee of future clarification.
Ed learning language, 1978
There are other similarities.We say “No news is good news”. Also, we might ask someone “What’s up?” which has the same intent as the Burkina Faso question “What’s the news.”
The longer I work across cultures, the more I realize that a lot of the really strange things in other cultures are not really all that strange. In fact, under the differences, we human beings are all very much the same.
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