August 30, 2013 – Ukarumpa, Papua New Guinea – Mack Graham with Tim Scott
One of the steps in translating the Bible is discovering the meaning of words through investigation only, and not by asking, “How do you say ’righteousness’ (or ‘sponge,’ or ‘lean’)?” For instance, in a language community with no English speakers, the translator listens to, records and then transcribes a text and then asks further questions about the use of words.
Mack Graham, a translator working with the Kandawo people, thought that he could perhaps use the English idiom “to lean on someone” to denote “trust”. When Mack heard the word for leaning a pole against a house he asked the pastor why he’d never heard anyone use this word from the pulpit denoting “trust/lean on Jesus”. It was obvious from his reaction that the pastor had never thought of it before, and he said he didn’t know why they didn’t use the term in that context.
Later, Mack was at another village at election time; candidates were speaking and making promises. The local man who was running for office said that though he didn’t want to, he would have to ”lean” on his fellow clansmen. Did he mean that he would “trust” his fellow clansmen? Mack asked someone what the candidate meant by “leaning on” his fellow clansmen; the answer was, “He needs their support: money, food, cooking, housing people . . .”
So the term “leaning on” really meant “leeching off of” others. No wonder no one uses this word to denote trusting in Jesus! “Leeching off of” Jesus doesn’t make much sense.
But though the term was not useful to denote “trust/dependence”, it was useful in 1 Corinthians 11:9 where Paul reminds the Corinthians that he has not been a burden to them and he will continue to not be a burden to them. Paul did not eat their food or require them to use their money to look after him; instead, he worked as a tentmaker and supported himself.
While searching for just the right Kandawo word for leaning on Jesus, Mack found the perfect word for a completely different context! That’s just part of the adventure of Bible translation.