About two times a year I travel to Pakistan to work on the Sindhi Bible translation. Currently we are preparing a Sindhi New Testament for the Hindu people of the Sindh along with a review of the New Testament that was translated for a Muslim audience. A few vignettes taken from my most recent trip in February, 2010 are given below. They help to illuminate the process of Bible translation, provide examples of the significant discussions that occur as the translation team members interact with each other, and reveal the spiritual hunger that is evident among the Sindhi people.
Clarifying the translation
While the first translation of the common Sindhi version of the New Testament is excellent for the most part, there are occasions when the translation has failed to communicate the intended meaning of the original and require correction. These miscommunications become obvious through the interactions with the translation team. I often ask them to explain a passage to me, and their response sometimes reveals unintended meanings.
A good illustration of this is Jn 4:23 where Jesus says to the Samaritan woman: “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (ESV). The first translation of “in Spirit and Truth” in Sindhi was quite literal, similar to the ESV. Unfortunately, the natural meaning of this phrase in Sindhi is that true worshipers will worship with “enthusiasm / commitment and with a true (righteous) heart.” However, the point of the passage is not to discuss the character of the worshipers, but their connection to the truth and reality of who God is. True worshipers are those who have a spiritual orientation towards God and worship according to the truth and reality of the nature of God. That is, they will live according to his truth. In order to communicate the right meaning in Sindhi, we translated it as “following the way of the Holy Spirit and truth (or reality).”
During my trip, I went to the Sindology Institute in Hyderabad to do some research for my PhD thesis. During my time there, I had a number of invitations for significant conversations that reveal the spiritual openness and hunger of the people of the Sindh. While riding the bus (free for anyone heading to the university), I sat beside a man who worked at the university who asked me, “What spiritual benefit is there in Christianity?” I explained that the benefit lies in the person of Christ who brings us into a familial relationship with God; we become God’s children. In Islam the essential relationship is that of master to a servant / slave.
He further asked what constituted “spirituality” and I explained that it was found in relationships, those immeasurable aspects of life that give significance and meaning to our existence. He gave me his view concerning the universe and how it is a creation that God provided so that people could know about him. I agreed and took it even farther, explaining that God is an artist; creation reveals his character. I pointed out God’s comment on his work in Genesis 1, “it is good,” and the significance of “separating the light from the darkness” as an expression of God’s goodness in which there is no flaw.
This raised the question of the authenticity of Scripture. Since his work is in computer science, he gave the example of Windows 3.1 being superceded by Windows 95, then Windows 97, etc. He suggested that the Bible has been superceded by the Qu’ran in the same way. I pointed out that this would only be true if God has changed in his essential nature, or if people have changed in their essential need. If not, then the truth that God spoke in the past is true for us today as well. The purpose of the Bible is to bring us into a relationship with God, and is as helpful to us today in that task as it was when it was written.
The Hindu Sindhi helper on our team talked about his (now deceased) Guru who encouraged people to come and follow his teaching without leaving their own religious duties. I responded by observing that this is not permissible for those of us who are Christians because of the exclusiveness of Jesus’ claims. Jesus is the one with whom we have made a covenant and he does not allow his followers to have religious “mistresses”. He nodded his head and said, “yes, that is true.” What we have been studying in the gospels has made that obvious to him.
When translating the difficult play on words used in Jn 3:3;4 – “born again” which also means “from above” – our Hindu helper was disturbed by Nicodemus’ incredulous reply about entering his mother’s womb. This started a discussion about reincarnation and the lack of the concept within Christianity and Islam. The message of the gospel speaks clearly to our hope in Jesus as the way to the father, not through an eternal cycle of birth and death. This message of Jesus as the Savior of the world comes through loud and clear in the Gospels. All are called to respond to this good news, which calls us to faith (see Jn 20:31), on a personal level, not just on the level of comparative religions.
You can read more about the Sindhi people and Bible translation here…