your sins are forgiven

The Greek that is translated as “your sins are forgiven” in English” are translated in Lengo as “I forgive your sins.”

Paul Unger (see here) explains:

“In many languages, ‘demoting the subject’ is a key function of the passive. But the Lengo language of the Solomon Islands has no passive option. All sentences are active, which means we can’t hide ‘whodunnit’ with a passive.

“This raises significant issues for translating the New Testament (…) [since] 3,588 of the Greek New Testament’s 28,114 verbs are passive.

“What is a Lengo translator to do? Sometimes the subject isn’t demoted, so we can simply switch subject and object to make an active sentence. In Mark 1:9, ‘Jesus was baptized by John’ becomes ‘John baptized Jesus.’ Sometimes we can add a generic third-person subject. Mark 1:14 changes from ‘after John had been arrested’ to ‘after they had arrested John.’

“But those strategies don’t always work. Take, for example, the healing of the paralyzed man. Rather than healing the man at the outset, Jesus, seeing the faith of His friends, said to the paralyzed man, ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’

“By using a passive to demote the subject, Jesus set up a scene rich with meaning beyond a ‘mere’ healing. Jesus doesn’t say who forgave the man’s sins, just that it was accomplished. The teachers of the law picked up on the passive right away: ‘Why does this man speak that way? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ Jesus then tips His hand by asking which was easier—to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Get up, pick up your mat, and walk?’ And then the punchline: ‘So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . get up, pick up your mat, and go home.’

“We thought hard about how to render this section in Lengo. In the end, we had Jesus say, ‘My child, I forgive your sins.’ It’s somewhat unsatisfying to have Jesus tip His hand before the crucial moment, but it is an accurate and clear translation. Sometimes, the language compels us to make tradeoffs in attaining those hard goals.”

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