Jesus is like a Bamboo Torch

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Story: Matt Taylor

We’ve been working on the Nukna translation of the book of John, and recently came to Jesus’ famous statement in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world.” As we discussed how to best translate this metaphor, we realized that there was a problem. There is a Nukna word for light – yam – but it’s not possible to say just yam by itself. Light always has a source, and grammatically that source must be included, either by mentioning the actual source or by using a possessive pronoun – “its light,” “their light,” etc. It would be ungrammatical to just say “light.” ( This grammatical feature is known as “inalienable possession.”) To literally translate “I am the light of the world” into Nukna would lead to an unacceptable Nukna sentence.

One idea we’ve had is to use a common source of light that the Nukna people are familiar with: the bamboo torch. The Nukna people live in a remote area without electricity. To see at night, they often light up a species of bamboo named kup. Kup burns with a blazing brightness, and a long piece can be held as a torch, enabling a person to walk at night around the otherwise pitch black village. So in Nukna, Jesus’ words would read, “I am like a bamboo torch [kup] that shines its light to the world.”

Our translation team needs to do further testing to see if this figure of speech is communicating accurately and powerfully. Please pray for us, that God would guide us as we seek to communicate this concept, as well as many others, into the Nukna language in a dynamic and life-changing way. “It’s like the light of a bamboo torch shining in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

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