Why new translations

There are good reasons to update Bible translations and produce new ones in a language. One of the reasons to do that is that language changes. Words change meaning. When they do, the old translation ceases to communicate. Sometimes, old words can even make people laugh. Here are two examples from an English translation first printed in 1984:

‘Samson answered her, “If anyone ties me with seven fresh thongs that have not been dried, I’ll become as weak as any other man’ (Judges 16:7)

‘They destroyed all the villages around Gerar, for the terror of the LORD had fallen upon them. They plundered all these villages, since there was much booty there’ (2 Chronicles 14:14)


Thong for sale at Nordstroms

The meaning of the words “booty” and “thong” have changed since 1984! Actually, dictionaries still list the following definition of thong:

a narrow strip of leather or other material, used especially as a fastening or as the lash of a whip

But the first definition that comes into the heads of most Americans is quite different.

So, the old translation causes giggles, which was not the intent God had when he inspired these passages. It is good to care that new translations not distort or corrupt God’s Word. We need to also be concerned that older translations don’t distort or make the Bible the subject of giggles because words have changed meanings.

A number of older translations in African languages have been revised because the language has changed. Others are in need of revision. In Ghana, we revise the translation of the New Testament just before printing it with the newly translated Old Testament.

By the way, the King James Translation has this translation of Judges 16:7:

If they bind me with seven green withs that were never dried

While the English Standard Version has:

If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings that have not been dried

PS: These changes in the translations of Judges 16:7 and 2 Chronicles 14:14 were first pointed out by the translators in October 2015.


When I’m home in the US, people sometimes ask me what I see changed. This time, it’s birthdays that have changed. Not birthdays themselves, but how they are used.

At the doctor’s clinic, the receptionist sometimes wants my birthday before my name. The lab tech asks my birthday before taking my blood. When I get a phone call from the doctor’s office about Dayle, they will accept my answer to their question if I can supply Dayle’s birthday. I have to give my birthday to pick up a prescription, and on it goes.

A birthday is no longer just a celebration; it’s also a verification mechanism in medical care.


Real faith

Sometimes, people put us missionaries on a pedestal, or make us out to be heroes. But from where I sit, believers I meet in the US, stand taller in the faith than I do

One man I met told me of a missions trip he made to a part of the world I can’t mention. I was awed at the things he did. After he returned to the US, he and his wife discussed adopting yet another child out of a difficult situation. They had not yet decided, when out of the blue, someone offered them a free bed. They saw God’s hand in that and moved forward with the adoption.

A woman told me of her husband losing appendages in a work accident. It so happened that there was in the emergency room that day a visiting surgeon specializing in reattaching and repairing that appendage. A few weeks later, the business closed. Other employees were out of work, but Workman’s Compensation had her husband in a retraining program from which he emerged with a new career. She was beaming with joy and praising God for his provision – involving a terrible accident. A few questions revealed that she and her husband took a faith approach the accident well before they knew how it would work out.

These are not the only such cases I encountered in the last few months in the USA. On Sunday mornings, some faith heroes are serving in far-flung places, but a good number are sitting in pews.


PastersA colleague of mine took this photo in Nairobi. The sign is obviously marking aisle 12B in a grocery store. What is not so obvious is that the label on the sign, “Pasters”, should be “Pasta”. The error comes from interference. Interference is what happens when an adult learns a new language. The mother tongue interferes with the new language, causing errors.

In this case, there is a string of errors. First, Kenya (where the photo was taken) is a former British colony. So English there is influenced by the way the British colonists spoke English. For some of them, a word that ends in “a”, like pasta, is pronounced as though it ends in r. So pasta is pronounced pah-ster. One of my dear British colleagues always said “goner” for Ghana.

In the case of the sign, a Kenyan heard the “pah-ster” pronunciation then thought that the word ended in er and so wrote it “paster”. As there are many bags of pasta and many different kinds of pasta in the aisle, the person making the sign assumed that the word needed to be plural.

And that is how pasta became pasters.

This is an example of interference for the sounds in a language. But interference can also happen for grammar and even the meaning of words. I could tell some pretty embarrassing stories of mistakes I have made when learning languages that were caused by interference. I used the word I would have used in English and people responded with shocked looks or blushes.

Interference also inhibits understanding, not just speaking. My Congolese colleagues told me of a pastor who preached on the text “He who has the Son has life”. He explained that every married couple needed to have a son to have eternal life. The problem was that he was preaching from a Bible in a language other than his own mother tongue, and his mother tongue does not have a word that corresponds exactly to “the”. So “He who has the son has life” became “He who has a son has life”.

If you send your child

Some time back, one of our Ghanaian colleagues said to Dayle: “If you send your child, you send yourself.” He was referring to a specific circumstance. But Dayle did not understand what he was saying, so she asked him to explain. He explained that he had sent someone on an errand, but the person he sent couldn’t handle the matter, so eventually he had to go himself and he was able to handle it.

At first, Dayle had thought that he was saying that if you delegate your child to do something, that is as good as going yourself. But he was saying exactly the opposite – that if you send your child (or by extension a subordinate) to do something, you will eventually have to go do it yourself.

We can paraphrase our colleague’s comment like this: “If you send your child to do something (you should do), you’ll eventually have to go do it yourself anyway.” We have a roughly equivalent expression in English – if you want something done well, do it yourself.

Now I don’t know what you think of that, but one thing is clear. We can’t understand our colleague’s statement: “If you send your child you send yourself” by examining the words, no matter how scrupulously we examine them. We can only understand what he meant when we understand his cultural perspective.