When we were checking the Shiyeyi translation in Mark, we reached the story in chapter 2 where Jesus heals the paralyzed man who is brought to him by his friends. In the story, the men climb up on the roof and make an opening in the roof in order to lower the man down to Jesus because they can’t get to him through the door. However, in traditional Botswana culture, the roofs of houses look like this:
How does one make a hole in that kind of roof? Well, it isn’t easy. And to someone who is used to this kind of roof, talking about making a hole in a roof in order to lower someone down is a completely foreign concept. So we talked about this idea with the translators, explained what houses in that time period looked like, what it meant for the men to make a hole in that kind of roof and why they did it.
We decided to translate it as wumbura shishiwa, which means “unthatch the point of the roof”. We thought that this would be a good way to explain that the men weren’t trying to damage the house, but rather to gain access to the inside in a non-traditional way when the doors were all blocked. We also decided that this would be a good place to insert an illustration of what a traditional house in first century Israel might have looked like, in order to help people visualize what the story looked like. Maybe something like this, but a bit simpler:
These translation choices and pictures have to be considered carefully. Too many pictures and they become a distraction. Choose a translation option that is faithful to the text but unfamiliar to the readers and it will be too hard to understand the Scriptures. This is why translation takes time to do well. We make careful, measured and consistent decisions about how and why we do things, with the goal being the best possible Bible that we can create.
Pray for us as we work alongside these translators and have these discussions. Pray that God would use our wisdom and insight for the glory of God’s Kingdom. Pray that more people would be able to read and understand the wonderful things that God has done through the words of these translation projects.