By Lynn Jones
The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, with a few sections written in Aramaic. The New Testament was written in Greek. Each day the Bible is read and preached in many different languages around the world. This makes translation a very important job in the church.
In September of 1992, I went to Hong Kong for two weeks. I was living in Louisiana at the time, and the Louisiana Baptist Convention had a partnership with the Baptists of Hong Kong. As part of that partnership, I accompanied a group from Louisiana on a two-week preaching mission. During the two weeks that I was there, I had the privilege of preaching in a couple of Chinese-speaking churches–Aberdeen and Christ Church. In both congregations, I had a translator. It was my first experience of preaching through a translator. Doing so required some adjustment in my sense of timing, but I got the hang of it. Before the time was up, I had gotten to the point that I liked it. While the translator was translating what I had said, it gave me the chance to think about what I wanted to say next.
A good translator can help a speaker and sometimes protect a speaker from himself. I heard of a young missionary who had just received his PhD degree and was assigned to a new mission field. When he arrived on the mission field, he was very proud of his degree and of the position to which he had been appointed. During his first week on the field, an older missionary who had served many years in the country, served as his translator when he spoke to a group of church members. As the young missionary stood up to speak, he included a lot of language that he had learned in his doctoral studies, and he also talked about some issues that scholars spend much time debating. He then paused for the old missionary to translate into the native language what he had said. The veteran missionary stepped forward, smiled, and said, “He says he’s real glad to see all of y’all here tonight.”
All of us, regardless of what language we speak, face a translation problem. The problem is not one of translating the gospel into another language; it is the challenge of translating the gospel into action. We can’t just talk about our faith. We need to practice our faith. We can’t just speak in generalities about love. We need to take the love that we have experienced in Christ and translate it into specific acts of kindness and ministry. People understand what we do better than what we say.
Translating our faith into concrete actions is one of the most critical translation jobs of all. It requires commitment and dedication. How is your translation of the faith going? What do people hear and understand from you?
Lynn Jones is a retired pastor who lives in Oxford. He does supply preaching for churches in his area and often serves as an interim pastor. Jones is also an author, has written two books and writes a weekly newspaper column. He may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.