In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul bases his argument for the resurrection of the dead on the claim that God raised Jesus to life: “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Cor. 15:12, NIV). As I begin to draft the CT notes for translators on this verse, I see a number of issues that require explanation, including how to understand Paul’s use of a rhetorical question, how to translate with active verbs (in languages where the passive verbs aren’t natural), and how to unpack the abstract noun “resurrection.”
But I start with the small things. In Greek, the verse begins with a conjunction that functions in different ways. In some contexts, it’s translated as “and,” which is not how it’s used in this verse. The NIV translates it here as “but,” a valid option since Paul is contrasting the proclamation known to the Corinthians—that Christ is risen—with the competing claim that there is no resurrection. Another valid way to translate the conjunction is “now,” since it introduces a new stage in Paul’s discourse on the resurrection.
Then there’s the Greek word translated “if.” In this verse, it’s introducing a fact. However, in some African languages, the word “if” can only signal uncertainty about whether or not a statement is true. So our CT notes must point out that it may be clearer to translate with a word meaning “since.” Although these are little words, they are important links in the chain of Paul’s logic. In some languages, the meaning will be clearest if translators use a structure more like that of the Good News Bible: “Now, since our message is that Christ has been raised from death, how can some of you say that the dead will not be raised to life?”
Christ is risen indeed! Thank you for remembering my CT teammates and me in your prayers as we work together to provide tools that translators in many African languages will use to bring the good news to their people.
“Incarnational ministry” is a challenging term. I have to ask myself regularly whether I’m serving the Lord with “the same attitude as…Christ Jesus” described in Philippians 2:5-11, or just doing my job, following the Perspectives course.
The day before the Nugunu New Testament dedication in Ombessa, Cameroon on December 3, a young Gunu man, Vitus, was asking the same question about us, outsiders, when we showed up in his world for the dedication. He was just a boy during the time my family and I lived in Ombessa to launch the Bible translation program in their language. He didn’t know my history, so it was understandable that he looked skeptical and wondered what right we had to celebrate now that all the hard work was over. He approached Jaci, asked what brought us and didn’t seem satisfied with her answers.
The next day, all that changed. Vitus sought out Jaci at the reception after the dedication ceremonies were over. The skeptical sneer disappeared from his face and was replaced by a look of respect. He told her he now understood why we were there. What made the difference? Serving incarnationally. During the ceremonies, I had the opportunity to express my appreciation to the crowd for how they welcomed me and my family when we lived among them decades before. The young man heard me speaking his language, sharing what motivated me to be part of their community, to share their vision and to work alongside them to make God’s Word available. He saw evidence of the lasting relationships that were built and what a happy reunion it was for me and my Gunu friends. Despite great cultural differences, he saw I had made the effort to identify with his community, not just to get a job done.
Today, I don’t live among the language communities’ translation teams that I consult. Frequently, when I go to Africa, I work with the translators outside of areas where their language is spoken. Can I still serve incarnationally? And what about the months when I’m here in the U.S. helping African translators from the comfort of my desk? May God give all of us the wisdom and the humility as he sends us into our neighborhoods or more distant places, to go as learners and listeners, to recognize how God is at work in the people around us and to experience the power of his Spirit to connect with what he is doing.
Please join us to hear Keith and Jaci Patman speak at the Global Outreach Talk on Sunday, July 8 to celebrate a Bible translation milestone in the country of Cameroon bringing God’s Word to life in an African context.