Our Blog


Posted by Colby Kinser on

I dabble just a little with translating. For some Bible studies, I'll work out my own translation of the biblical text from the original languages to English (using lots of helpful tools). I'm part of a language study group, and we have several exercises to translate between English and Italian. I dabble. I'm not great at it.

And then there are real translators - people who are excellent at translating between languages, whether written or spoken. And they amaze me. They possess a skill I doubt that I ever will, and I'm a bit jealous.

Even more impressive are interpreters. Translators get us from one word or phrase in one language to equivalent words and phrases in another, but interpreters take the idea conveyed in one language and accurately convey that same idea in another. Theoretically, they could do so without translating any of the words in particular.

But I am most impressed with those who can translate or interpret simultaneously. While someone is speaking language X, the translator or interpreter is simultaneously reconveying those words and ideas into language Y, listening and speaking at the same time using two different languages. Amazing.

I've had opportunities to work through translators on a few occasions, and it's also a bit difficult to be the speaker. You need to speak in short of enough blocks for the interpreter to handle, but long enough blocks to have a coherent thought. You don't want to say, "And the big, blue ..." (pause for the interpreter) "... whale swam up to the ..." (pause) "... dolphin. The dolphin was really ..." (pause). (If they can do this simultaneously, then it's easier for the speaker.) It's also very difficult to sustain any kind of emotion through the interpretation process.

The goal of the job is simple: the listener needs to receive the same idea as the speaker had in his or her mind. If that doesn't happen, then translating or interpreting has not occurred. The interpreter is a kind of servant. He shouldn't change or add to what the speaker said, but simply serves the needs of both speaker and listener.

The interpreter doesn't need to be an expert of the topic. But it certainly helps if the interpreter is familiar with the concepts and terminology. In California, we had a simultaneous sign language interpreter, and I would send her my sermon notes on Saturday night so that she roughly knew where I would be going and which words were likely to come up. Her knowledge of my topic made for better interpretations.

The world needs translators and interpreters, because the world doesn't readily understand the language of God. Not "churchese," mind you. The language of God - what God means when He uses words like grace, forgiveness, eternal life, tolerance, love, and even Jesus. When He speaks those words, the world doesn't normally receive the same idea that God spoke.

So, that's where your job comes in, dear follower of Jesus. You are sent by God to be a translator, or better, an interpreter. Your life, your actions, your lifestyle, your words, your silence, your friendship, your time, your talent strategically placed in your home, your neighborhood, your workplace, and your favorite spots to hang out. Your job is to help people understand what God means when He speaks.

Which makes you a servant. It's not your job to change or to add to what God said, but simply to serve the needs of both the speaker (God) and the listener (those in your circles of influence). 

You don't even have to be the expert. You don't have to have all the answers, because the One you are translating for does. But, of course, it certainly helps to be as familiar with the subject matter as possible.

(image by Goshka888 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Tags: discipleship, interpret, servant, translate, witness, world