lake of fire

The Greek that is typically translated int English as “lake of fire” is translated in Enga as “the place where big fire continually burns.”

Adam Boyd (on his blog) explains:

“The difficulty in Enga is that there is no traditional concept or imagery of a lake that is made out of fire. Lakes are made out of water, not fire. And there is not even really one word for lake. Instead Enga people literally say water depression. Now the word depression is not referring to an emotional state in which a person is feeling sad, but rather it means ‘a sunken place or hollow on a surface.’ In other words it refers to an area where there is an indentation in the ground. And when the word depression is preceded by the word water, it indicates that the indentation in the ground is filled with water.

“So, knowing that the Enga people say water depression to talk about a lake, I of course suggested that we should translate lake of fire by saying fire depression. In other words, a sunken place or indentation on the surface of the earth that is filled with fire instead of water. Well, as often happens when I think that I have made a brilliant suggestion, I was met with blank stares. In Papua New Guinean cultures, people will often not disagree with you directly, but they will show their disagreement by simply ignoring what you say. Not only that, but it can be difficult to articulate why something doesn’t sound quite right. The translators knew that fire depression didn’t sound right, but they might not have been able to articulate right away why that was the case. English speakers also have the same problem. For example, a typical English speaker would immediately be able to recognize that goed is not the past tense of go, but if they had to explain why, they would run into difficulty. (It is because the past tense went is actually from the verb wend as in wend your way through a crowd.) So just as English speakers know when something does not sound right but can’t always explain why, Enga speakers also encounter difficulties in explaining why something sounds wrong, especially since most Enga speakers have never had any formal training in their own language. Well as we continued pondering the best translation, I kept ignoring the nonverbal cues and pushing for fire depression as our answer. Finally, it dawned on our lead translator Maniosa why fire depression did not sound right. He said, ‘Do you know what a fire depression is? It is the little fire pit that we have in our homes that we cook over.’

“What I was hoping would mean lake of fire actually just meant fire pit. Big difference! So the terminology that I was suggesting would have people envisioning that the lake of fire, which is supposed to be an intimidating image of the ultimate end for untold numbers of those whose names are not written in the book of life, was nothing more than the little fire pit where people cook food in their homes. In fact, if more than one or two people were thrown into a lake of fire like that, they would probably smother the fire and put it out, which is not quite what Jesus had in mind when he talked about the ‘fire that is not quenched.’ So we had to abandon the idea of using the term fire depression and translate lake of fire as the place where big fire continually burns. The idea that this fire is burning in a depression or indentation in the ground had to be left out because that concept created the wrong image of a fire pit where one cooks food in the house. And fire pits are considered to be useful things that help people cook. They are not places of punishment.”