The Challenge of translating the Bible into another language
Translating from one language to another can be complicated. Here is an example a translation team faced when translating Genesis 1:3, “And God said, “Let there be light.”
This is a command given to an inanimate object (light), that does not even exist, commanding it to come into existence. It uses the verb ‘to be’, literally something like “Light, be!” In the language into which it was to be translated, you can’t give a command to something inanimate, especially if it does not even exist. You can only command someone, not something.
The expat translation advisor looked to national language versions of the Bible for ideas. Every attempt conveyed the idea that God was commanding someone to give him light. It did not express the idea of God commanding light into existence by His word. The mother tongue translator felt that God was asking someone, perhaps an angel, to give Him light. The problem remained unsolved for the next six months.
One day, while watching a local TV drama, the expat translation advisor got an idea. He asked the national on the team, “Suppose there is a poor peasant boy who falls in love with a beautiful girl, but an evil warlord kidnaps the girl and demands a ransom in gold. The boy, however, has no money. Then one day the boy encounters a mystical person with supernatural powers. The boy tells him his story, and the mystical person offers to help; he will create a bar of gold out of thin air for the boy. He holds out his hands and says…”
Then the expat translator advisor asked, “What would he say?” Without hesitation the mother tongue translator replied with the single word, “Gold!” The expat translator advisor then said, “And God said, Light!” Oh, “So that’s what it means,” the mother tongue translator exclaimed.
Not long after this they read the text to two villagers who had not been part of the translation team to see if they understood. As soon as the text was read to them, they immediately exclaimed, “Wow! God must be so powerful!” Later the two came to the Lord on the basis of learning about the creator God.