Understanding the Word

by Rachel

One thing that I particularly enjoy about learning a new language is the ability to read/understand the Bible in a different translation.  To read the entirety of the Bible actually requires quite a high level of language acquisition (which I have not achieved), but small passages are within my grasp in both French and Kirundi.  I’ve found that the slight difference in translation...not a word for word translation but a real meaning for real meaning...actually can sometime shed new light on a familiar passage, much like reading the Message vs the NIV for example.

Because we only have three months to begin our Kirundi language study, I have resorted to some “memorized monologues.”  I would like to be able to pray with patients, at least a little, and so have been working on the Aaronic blessing from Numbers (May the Lord bless you and keep you...) and also the Lord’s Prayer.  My language partner helped me translate the Lord’s Prayer and one phrase in particular struck me:  “Uduhe ivyo kurya dukwiranye uyu musi.”  This correlates to the English line of “Give us this day our daily bread.”  But actually, the word read is nowhere in the Kirundi version.  This makes sense, since many Burundians don’t eat bread.  Instead, the phrase literally means, “give us this to eat which is sufficient for us today.”  I like that difference.  It’s not very different, but the subtle change helps me remember that what I’m asking God for isn’t bread.  I’m not asking for a feast.  I’m asking Him to provide enough.  Enough to sustain me, enough to make it through another day.

The differences show up in French as well, in the Bible as well as in praise songs.  Proverbs refer to the name of God as a strong tower.  But in Paul Baloche’s Ton Nom he translates “Your name is a strong and mighty tower” as “Ton nom, comme un tour au quatre vents.”  This literally means Your name, like a tower of the four winds.  Our teacher explained it is a tower that is assaulted on all sides by the winds, but stands firm and strong.

Eric went over Philippians 2 with his language partner and got some other interesting insights.  Paul describes Jesus in verse 7 as “making himself nothing, taking the form of a servant.”  The French version actually uses the verb, se depouiller (not one I am familiar with) which means, to skin, strip, deprive, dispossess, or denude...himself.  Literally, Jesus skinned himself.  Deprived himself.  Stripped himself of his royalty to be sent to earth and be a servant.  The meanings are technically the same between languages, but the nuance for me helps to shed new light on an important idea.

There’s something truly important about reading the Bible in your own “heart language” for the best understanding.  And there are passages that I love that just don’t seem right if I read them in a different translation.  But it’s great to think that God’s word is living and active and ever so applicable to all peoples of the world, and I love getting to see a small glimpse of that through my ever ongoing language studies.

1 comment:

tscarlet said...

How cool! We have lately been doing our Bible reading using a Bible app that easily switches versions, and we have been enjoying some similar new light on familiar passages. This is something to look forward to in our language studies ahead of us! Praying for you all, that He would provide today exactly what you need, whether it's bread or not. :)