Archive for April, 2016

A friend of mine, Dr. Mark L. Ward, Jr, recently drew my attention to a blog post by Doug Wilson in which Doug stated:

We are accustomed to say things like “something got lost in the translation,” which it frequently does. But can anything ever be gained? Let me pose a question for you all, without attempting to answer it myself. Having done so, I will simply recommend that you get this book if the subject fascinates you at all.

Here is my question. Suppose you take an average Greek-speaking Christian in Asia Minor about 200 A.D., and you give him a copy of the book of Ephesians in Greek, which he reads ten times. Now take a modern Christian who knows both English and French. Give him ten different translations of the book of Ephesians, 7 in English and 3 in French. He reads each one of them once through. Who now has a better grasp of the message of Ephesians?

I merely pose the question and run away.

Mark decided to boldly respond to this question, and here’s how he began his response:

I am so torn here, but if a clever and provocative person were to make me cross my heart, hope to die, and choose who would know Ephesians better, I’d have to vote for the guy who reads multiple Bible translations in English and French. He will understand Ephesians, um, 23% better than the guy who just reads it in Greek.

Dr. Jim West responded to Mark’s post with a contrary view:

There is no advantage whatsoever to reading the Bible in translation OVER reading the Bible in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  Translations are interpretations and commentary both at the same time.  Reading 10 or 15 or 20 translations is reading 10 or 15 or 20 interpretations, none of which may really catch the tone, sense, and spirit of the author.

So, is Mark correct, or is Jim correct? I suppose that question cannot be definitively answered, since responses can only be on the level of opinions and not a definitive judicial ruling. But for what it’s worth here are my thoughts as the head consultant of a Bible society who still feels green behind the ears, even though I’ve been in this ministry for almost 10 years.

I would actually favor the native Greek speaker over the modern Christian who can read the Bible in French and English, assuming both are equally literate (which would have been a rare situation since the majority in the ancient world were illiterate). The first reason I favor the former is that the native Greek speaker has an intuitive feel for his language that would give him immediate access to the message conveyed through the Greek text. Assuming he was as schooled in Greek as the hypothetical modern Christian in French and English, the Greek guy would be able to easily sort through the grammatical structure, discourse elements, and vocabulary choices of the text, giving him direct understanding of the main themes and sub-themes. He would have an intuitive feel for the context to more easily sort through the various options (though even he would not have understood everything perfectly, since it’s not simply a knowledge of Greek that gives a person complete understanding of the Greek text).

The second reason is that the Greek guy is more proximate in time and space to Paul, the author of Ephesians. He would have had immediate understanding of the cultural and historical connections in the text. He would not have needed to run to his Bible dictionaries or encyclopedias to comprehend, for example, the great rift between Jews and Gentiles in those ancient centuries. Instead, Paul’s message of peace and unity in chapter 2 would have immediate relevance to him.

Mark notes that when you are reading in your native language, you often skip over things because of familiarity, but that when you read different translations and hear people read them, you hear differing expressions and feelings. These differences create “contrasts” that force you to look more carefully at the text. While this is definitely true, there is still nothing like the immediate access that a native speaker of Greek has to the Greek text. And just because it’s his native language doesn’t mean he won’t read carefully. On the other hand, while a native speaker of English or French may be forced to read more carefully by his comparing of differing translations, he still doesn’t gain the immediate access to the actual Greek text. His access is mediated through the English or French translation.

However, I think that Jim shifted the emphasis away from Mark’s main point when he writes:

It is wrong headed and inaccurate in the extreme to suggest that translations can ever be held superior to or even equal to the original texts.

It seems as if Jim thinks Mark is “denouncing the originals” by emphasizing the value of comparing translations. But for some reason, he quotes something from Luther who is denouncing those who criticized his German translation, as if Mark was doing the same to the original texts. Clearly, Mark wasn’t doing that.

In addition, Jim has overstated his point when he writes:

Only those who read the biblical text in the original and can make sense of it are worth hearing as expositors of it.  Those who rely on translations alone, no matter how many, are simply parrots repeating they know not what.

I would agree that it would be much better to hear a native speaker of Koine Greek expound the Greek text, but until the dead can learn how to speak again, that will never happen. Therefore, we are left with non-Koine-Greek expositors for our understanding of the Greek text. Thankfully, some have become experts in Greek and can help us understand the complex constructions and ancient vocabulary, but very few of these probably arrive at the intuitive understanding of the language that the native Greek speaker had in the 2nd century. And in my experience, very few Greek experts also make good preachers! I would go so far as to say that I’d much rather listen to a seasoned expositor who had walked close to God for years, who doesn’t know Greek, than any Greek expert who spent most of his time in his books and very little time on his knees.

Having said that, I’m definitely not encouraging ignoring Greek in favor of just praying through a passage. Every advantage is gained by studying out the Greek grammar, discourse, and vocabulary in order to understand the meaning of the text. But since few preachers have time to become Greek experts or to research every detail of a passage, they can still arrive at a good understanding of a passage by comparing multiple translations. And as Doug (and Mark) hinted at, new insights can be gained when you can read the text in multiple languages, besides Greek and English. As I work through the French Bible in my consulting in Africa and Haiti, I am often surprised by how the French versions take a passage. But then as I study it out, I find that the French tradition of interpretation is as legitimate as the English interpretation (surprise, surprise!).

A careful reading of the apostle John’s and the apostle Peter’s texts shows that they weren’t Greek experts, but I doubt any of us would refuse to hear their preaching! In Christ’s providential guidance of the church through the ages, He has chosen to communicate His Word to His church primarily through translations, since most preachers through the ages have had to access God’s Word through their native language (which was not Greek for most). But the godly preachers who can only understand the text through translations are definitely worth reading!

This discussion underscores the importance of using accurate translations, though. And it also highlights the sober responsibility that we who produce translations have of making sure we get it right! At Bibles International, that’s exactly what we try to do by God’s grace.

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On Friday night I drove down to Indy to pick up Oksana, and I was quite thankful that the Lord brought her safely back into my arms! She had hardly slept the whole week, since her focus was on helping her family mourn the loss of her nephew, Roma. Her flight connections were definitely not as ideal as on the way to Ukraine, but the Lord knew she needed almost perfect connections more on the way there than on the way back, so it was OK. She had to ask a lot of questions to get through Chicago’s ORD, but she eventually made it.

After a night’s sleep in a less-than-ideal hotel, we headed up to Clinton Township for a weekend with Pastor Wagner and Macomb Baptist Church. I had been there 4 years ago, so it was good to get back and see these dear people. Mrs. Wagner came up with the idea last time to give the church members experience in translation. They had to try to translate a Bible verse into a different language using that language’s dictionary, and then I checked their translations with Google Translate. Needless to say, they were quite convinced of how hard it is to do Bible translation, and they realized the wisdom in having mother-tongue translators do the work, as we do at BI. So, it was neat for me to see their heart for Bible translation. This was once again evident on this visit…but this time I had my wife with me! 🙂 We hope Macomb Baptist becomes long-term partners with us in ministry!

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Oksana and I really looked forward to getting back to our supporting church in Indianapolis–Colonial Hills Baptist Church. I presented my ministry there in 2010 at a missions conference, and Oksana had never been there. We were busy packing for the visit last Friday night, when Oksana got a call from her sister at 9:30 pm. That was a very odd time for her to call, since she’s 7 hours ahead of Oksana, so immediately Oksana was concerned. She thought it was going to be news that her dad had passed away, because he’s getting quite weak. But instead, she heard that her 17-year-old nephew, Roma, had died in his sleep. What a shock! It hit Oksana extremely hard, because she thought there was no hope he was in heaven. She couldn’t stop crying that night and hardly slept all night. I also had a very difficult night of sleep.

Thankfully, around 3:45 am, Oksana remembered that the Lord had worked in Roma’s heart at a camp a little over a year ago. He even prayed with his grandmother (Oksana’s mom) after he returned and then showed a desire to be at church. Sadly, these changes faded and he went back to his normal self–just a carefree, somewhat reckless, guy who really enjoyed working out, thought very highly of his friends and their approval, and was just an average teenage with a messy room but a big smile.

Oksana said she was impressed to see so many friends and classmates come to the funeral service, that was held in a courtyard outside her sister’s apartment building. The director of the school cancelled class for the day and required some of the older classes to attend. Many people–both in school and among the medical community–were shocked to see such a strong boy lose his life at such a young age. Apparently, he overtaxed his already weak heart with his exercise, and his one remaining kidney wasn’t working too well. So, his aortic valve burst while he was sleeping. No matter how hard his father or the emergency staff tried to revive him, there was no hope. They found out later that his body had filled with blood immediately.

When death hits you this close, you feel the reality of death like never before. Death is coming upon us all, but for some, it will come suddenly. And for all, it’s final. We will never see Roma’s big smile again.


Instead, we can only pray for the family, especially for the parents as they grieve this huge loss. We can also pray that God will use it to grip the hearts of his unsaved family–his father, his younger brother, his younger sister, his maternal grandfather (Oksana’s dad) and his paternal grandparents. We are thankful that Oksana’s former pastor was able to preach a strong message on the gospel at the funeral service on Tuesday.

We can also learn the lesson of how fragile life truly is and how we must be ready at any moment to meet our Maker.

Oksana and I are thankful that God provided extremely inexpensive airline tickets (though we ordered them just a day before she left) and that He provided the funds for the tickets through a friend and through the love gift from Colonial Hills. Since we were heading to Indy already, we checked on prices out of that city and found them better than any other city I checked into: Grand Rapids, Chicago, and Detroit. Plus, God gave Oksana perfect connections–she just had to walk down the hall a few gates for each connecting flight. God manifested His presence throughout!

So, I went to Colonial Hills by myself last Sunday, just as I did in 2010. But this time, my heart was heavy with longing to have my wife at my side but also for the grief that she and her family were going through. But God carried me through! I had such an encouraging time with Pastor Phelps and his church. It’s exciting to see what God is doing there, including among the Burmese church that is starting up in their youth building. And the good part about Oksana’s having to miss is that the Lord is providing another opportunity next month for her to go back!

Next weekend we’ll go to Macomb Baptist Church in Clinton Township, MI. I was there in April 2012 and saw a real heart for the ministry of Bible translation, so I look forward to what the Lord will do this weekend. I’m praying we can become ministry partners! “On the way” to Clinton Township, I’ll have to drive down to Indy on Friday so I can pick up a very tired Oksana. Pray for her to recover quickly from a very grueling week.

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Oksana and I are thankful for all the travel safety the Lord gave us as we visited churches in PA, VA, and NC the past two weeks. We arrived safely back home. We traveled at least 2,500 miles, and I am thankful that the Lord gave me the idea to rent a car for this trip. We ended up saving around $300 or more by using Enterprise’s car rather than our own, since the SMR (standard mileage rate) is $0.54 per mile. With gas prices being so low, especially where we went, it was cheaper to pay for the rental and the fill-ups.

We had a wonderful time at Sweethaven B/C, Tabernacle B/C, and Yates-Thagard B/C. For each church we had an evening service in which to present, so I let Oksana share her testimony for part of it and then gave a ministry report for the rest. I hadn’t been to any of these churches for over 5 years, so it was hard to condense that much ministry into just 15-20 minutes! At Yates-Thagard I also shared a devotional about “positive answers to prayer”–i.e., there are prayers we can pray which we can be confident that God will say “yes” to exactly what we ask for.

At these churches I wanted to encourage them by noting all the projects that have been completed by BI since I joined in 2007. Since I’m the head consultant, I have a part in each of these 19 projects:

Language Country # Speakers
*Waali Bible Ghana 85,000
*Dagaare NT Ghana 924,000
Kabiyé NT Togo 975,000
*Rito NT Chad 17,000
Quechua NT Peru 1.5 million
Haitian Creole NT w Psa/Prov Haiti 7 million
*Kaulong NT PNG 4,000
Chakma NT India 150,000
*Chiru NT India 7,000
*Inpui Naga NT India 29,000
Manipuri Bible India 1.5 million
Darlong Bible India 6,000
*Ranglong NT India 8,000
Simte NT India 10,000
Tedim Chin NT Myanmar 190,000
Hakha Chin NT Myanmar 100,000
*Bualkhaw NT Myanmar 2,500
Falam Chin NT Myanmar 69,000
Zotung NT Myanmar 40,000

* indicates “first Scriptures” (i.e., the language had nothing of God’s Word before we gave them the NT)

I directly helped with the Kabiyé NT in Togo, the Haitian Creole Psa/Prov in Haiti (not yet published), the Kaulong NT in PNG, the Darlong OT in India, and the Tedim Chin NT in Myanmar. All the rest, I helped “indirectly” as the head consultant (which usually includes working through questions to the primary consultants to make sure the text is truly ready for publication).

The next chart overlaps with the previous one some, but these 16 projects represent those that I did actual workshops on since I joined BI in 2007:

Language Country # Speakers
Kabiyé NT Togo 975,000
Day OT Chad 50,000
Sara Madjingaye OT Chad 183,000
*Neao NT Côte d’Ivoire 293,000
*Kaowlu NT Côte d’Ivoire 25,000
*Dendi OT Benin 160,000
*Songhay NT Mali 200,000
Haitian Creole OT Haiti 7 million
Tagalog NT Philippines 21.5 mil
*Kaulong NT PNG 4,000
Tok Pisin NT PNG 122,000
Tedim Chin NT Myanmar 190,000
*Ranglong OT India 8,000
Darlong OT India 6,000
Simte OT India 10,000
*Metanoia NT (Eurasia) 30,000

* indicates “first Scriptures”

The projects in bold are those that have had something published in that language–the entire Kabiyé NT, 10 books of the Dendi OT, and the entire Darlong Bible.

I thank God for giving me the privilege of helping people around the world gain access to God’s Word in their heart language! Lord willing, I will be able to keep doing this for many years and will see many of these projects come to completion.


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Oksana and I really enjoyed the fellowship and ministry at Walnut Creek Baptist Church last Sunday. We had a great time with Pastor Ayers and his wife as we hung out together on Saturday and Sunday nights. We were also blessed by our conversations with many other people at the church. We got to give a brief report after the Easter breakfast and then just worshiped together the rest of the day. Our only regret is that we get to see supporting churches like Walnut Creek every 4-5 years.

We are thankful we didn’t have to wait that long to see our friends at Victory Baptist in Reading, though. Pastor Conover and his wife graciously invited us to stay with them for a few days on our way through PA and to give a report to the church. They even adjusted the midweek service to be on Tuesday to accommodate our schedule. The last time we were at this church was on our wedding day, July 25, so it was very nice to see these dear people again.

We got to spend time with other friends in Reading and Pottstown before we settled in at Sellersville to connect with pastors in the area. So far, we have been able to set up two meetings at non-supporting churches and have promising contacts with two other pastors.

Now we head south to report to our church in Virginia Beach, VA, and then Carthage, NC, next weekend. We will be at Sweethaven B/C tomorrow and then Tabernacle B/C on Wed. In NC we’ll be at Yates-Thagard B/C. All three are supporting churches, so we look forward to seeing them again after a number of years. Praise God for travel safety and good ministry so far!

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