Lost in the Translation

I read a book recently called “Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes” by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien. It was so interesting and informative that I could hardly put it down. Western culture and biases tend to blind us to the correct interpretation of God’s Word in some cases.

You can imagine the challenges when trying to put our English translated Bibles (that were translated with Western Biases) into an Eastern culture. The authors give an example of a back translation of Psalm 23 from a tribal language in Laos back to English.

“The Great Boss is the one who takes care of my sheep;
I don’t want to own anything.
The Great Boss wants me to lie down in the field.
He wants me to go to the lake.
He makes my good spirit come back.
Even though I walk through something the missionary calls the valley of the shadow of death, I do not care. You are with me.
You use a stick and a club to make me comfortable.
You manufacture a piece of furniture right in front of my eyes while my enemies watch.
You pour car grease on my head.
My cup has too much water in it and therefore it overflows.
Goodness and kindness will walk single file behind me all my life.
And I will live in the hut of the Great boss until I die and am forgotten by the tribe.”

I think we’d all agree that there was something lost in the translation! But translating from one culture or language to another isn’t the only challenge. Many times we misread what is being said in our own familiar language and culture ... and technology hasn’t helped the situation!

Texting and emails, for example, have changed the way we communicate in a big way. How many times, though, have you gotten a text or email and misread what was intended? Melissa Ritter, Ph.D., explains, “Without any information other than words—typically, very few words—the meaning we make out of the cryptic electronic messages we receive is necessarily shaped by our own feelings and expectations. Consequently, what we believe is being said may have very little to do with what the author wishes to communicate.”

When you’ve receive a text or email that just doesn’t sit right there is a real possibility that you’ve “lost something in the translation.” How should you respond?

1. Count to 10 (or 1,000 if you have to) before you respond. You don’t want to respond in a way you’ll regret later on.
2. Consider the fact that you may be reading it wrong and think of alternative interpretations.
3. Clarify the message by phoning the person or by seeing them personally. Don’t share the message with others. This will only make the situation worse.
4. Choose to build up rather than to tear down. “... Never let ugly or hateful words come from your mouth, but instead let your words become beautiful gifts that encourage others; do this by speaking words of grace to help them.” (Eph. 4:29 TPT).

Losing something in the translation is all too easy with our modern day technology so be aware of the limits and don’t be afraid to do communication the old fashioned way, face to face.