Lectionary in The Christian Century: Matthew 16:13-20

I recently celebrated my 59th birthday during an especially debilitating flare-up of multiple sclerosis, my unwelcome companion of three decades. Though I can still take my daily beach walks with my dingo, I now use a cane to propel myself through the sand. And I find myself musing on questions that haven’t plagued me since my late adolescence: Who am I? What is my purpose in life? What do I have to offer the world with my unique set of limitations? Where do I fit in to this world?

It’s an age-old human question, honed to obsession in the 21st century: Who am I? But though it permeates our culture now, we don’t have a monopoly on the question. For proof of the importance of identity, look no further than the genealogy that launches the Gospel of Matthew, where the writer lays out a historical resume to prove Jesus’ identity. Then, as now, questions of identity and belonging are essential.

When Jesus asks his disciples the divinely existential question of who the people and then the disciples think he is, his essential question is also all about identity—Jesus’ identity, Peter’s identity, and ultimately our identity as Christians.

The disciples report that people (anthrōpoi) see Jesus (huios tou anthrōpou or “Son of man/humanity” in Jesus’ question) in the context of figures from the past, but Peter recognizes Jesus as someone who melds the past and the future into the present time: the long-awaited Messiah who was and is to come has indeed arrived. One who, Peter clarifies, is also “the Son of the living God.”

We don’t know if the writer of Matthew was familiar with the letter to the Hebrews and its thundering proclamation that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:31), but he most certainly was intimately familiar with the Hebrew Bible. In the Hebrew Bible, the phrase “the living God” often carries the sense that this deity is to be feared by those who are not on his side. As Moses asks the people, “For who is there of all flesh that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the fire, as we have, and lived?” (Deut. 5:26).

See the rest of this lectionary right here.

For another perspective on the same text see Losing puns in translation (Matthew 16:13-20).

The Language of Faith: Bible translation throughout the centuries (article in MultiLingual magazine)

As a working translator, I knew that a “perfect” translation is neither a goal nor a possible reality. I knew that complete and linear transfer of form and meaning between two languages is not achievable, no matter how closely languages might be related. Like all translators, I knew that there is always something “lost in translation” (the favorite trope of journalists writing about anything related to translation). But I also knew that successful translation is still possible because so much can be gained in translation as well.

It’s in the balance between the two that a translation is successful. Since linear and complete transfer from one language to another is unattainable and therefore not a desirable goal, translators try to generate a text that becomes equivalent in its expressive force and meaning by transformation, by inevitably adding changed and new elements.

What if, I imagined, I could build a database to document those changed and new elements that have made their way into some, and maybe eventually all, of the 3,000+ languages into which the Bible has been translated? What if I could collect a listing of those fascinating terms, phrases, and constructs, and then go a step further to associate each with an explanation or a story or a back-translation into English so that they were actually accessible?

See the rest of this article in MultiLingual magazine right here.

Reading Plan on YouVersion: Holy Week Through the Eyes of the Languages of the World

“This devotion that is intended to accompany you from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday presents Jesus as he approaches his death and is glorified in his resurrection in a way you might not have encountered him: Through the words of languages from around the world. Find out how other cultural norms and concepts find their expression in Bible translation and how that can have a deep impact on your own appreciation and understanding of God’s love for you.”

Subscribe to the 7-day reading plan on YouVersion right here.

Article in Christianity Today: How Do You Translate ‘Filled with the Holy Spirit’?

Pentecost reveals a God who understands that language is more than communication.

Just days after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit arrives, and with him, the apostles’ ability to speak in other languages. Diasporic visitors from as far away as today’s Iraq, Libya, and Italy suddenly can hear the gospel in their mother tongues. Hearing about Jesus in this intimate way surprises and amazes the listeners in Jerusalem and viscerally reinforces the personal nature of Jesus’ mission. (The fact that these visitors likely understood Jerusalem’s prevailing languages of Greek or Aramaic further underscores this.)

Yet the church was slow to adopt this message of Pentecost when it came to translating Scripture. Yes, they translated the Bible, but predominantly into Latin, Koine Greek, Ge’ez, Coptic, or Church Slavonic—languages that, over time, became the domain of just a few.

This first changed during the Reformation, and then again with the advent of Bible societies in the 19th century and with translation organizations such as Wycliffe Bible Translators in the 20th century. Today, more than 3,500 languages have at least a portion of the Bible translated into their language (a huge jump from about 2,000 languages just 20 years ago!).

The explosion of modern Bible translations amplifies the ongoing story of Pentecost, a grace that becomes most apparent when we’re able to unearth the riches of these translations and share their treasures beyond their original target audiences.

A couple of those gems can be found in Acts 2:4, the verse that reports on the lifting of that language barrier: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they began to speak in other languages which the Holy Spirit made them able to speak” (NLV).

You can read the rest of the article right here.