manger

The Greek that is typically translated in English as “manger” is translated in Mbe as édzábri, the term used for “old worn-out baskets that isn’t usable anymore, except to feed the animals.”

John Watters (in Wycliffe Bible Translators 2016, p. 19) tells the story how this word was chosen: “In Nigeria, the Mbe translation team was translating the Gospel of Luke. They came to chapter 2, verse 7, which says, ‘She [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because mere was no lodging available for them.’

“The translators took the time to ponder how to to translate some of the words, but not ‘manger.’ They immediately used the word ókpáng.

“As their translation consultant, I asked them, ‘What’s an ókpáng? Tell me what it looks like.’ One of the translators drew a picture on the whiteboard. It was essentially a cradle hung by ropes so that the newborn could be laid in it and swung.

“I suggested they check the collection of notes and commentaries we were using to help the translators whose first language isn’t English. The Mbе translators saw that ‘manger’ referred to animal feeding trough.

“Even as the Mbe team read the notes, they objected. ‘We have always used the word ókpáng. We have used it for years, and that’s what we should use.’ I pointed out to them that it wasn’t just a matter of tradition. God expects us to find the words that express the original meaning as accurately as possible. Furthermore, this word tells us something profound about God.

“‘When he came to live among us and bring salvation to us, he came in the lowliest way possible. He did not come and sleep in a nice ókpáng like every Mbe mother wants for her newborn. Instead, he showed us his unbelievable humility,’ I told them. ‘So we need to find your best word for an animal-feeding trough.’

“Suddenly the person who had argued most loudly for the traditional term offered, ‘We feed our animals out of an old worn-out basket that isn’t usable anymore, except to feed the animals. We call it édzábri!’

“‘Then try that term,’ I said.

As the Mbe people listened, they were visibly moved. Picturing the newborn baby lying in the animals’ feeding basket, they recognized in a new way that Jesus was willing to do whatever it took to reach them. As an adult, he would humble himself by washing the disciples’ feet and then by dying on the cross. And this humility started right from birth, when he was born to a young peasant woman under questionable social conditions and laid in an animal-feeding trough.”