Tales of a Missionary Translator

Discussion in 'Missions / Witnessing / eVangelism' started by John of Japan, Jan 26, 2010.

  1. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    I thought it might be fun and informative to do a thread on how I became a Bible translator and what it's like to be one. I don't want to glorify myself, but hope to glorify God, since He is the one who gifted, called and helps me. I also don't want to argue about manuscripts and versions and the like, which is why I put this in a fellowship thread. I hope the moderators will be sympathetic to this and keep it here. After all, I'm a missionary and this is about my work! :saint:

    Feel free to comment, ask questions, or post your own stories about missionary translators and their work.
     
  2. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    Gifted by God

    Growing up I never dreamed I would ever become a missionary or translate the Bible. However, there were vague indications that God had gifted me in the area of languages.

    Once as a boy I started reading a book in the family library about learning Spanish. Riding in the family car one day I decided to try out what I had learned. Someone mentioned an orchestra conductor and I said, "You say that 'maestro' in Spanish." The whole family burst out laughing at my stab at the right pronunciation, and a humiliated little boy vowed not to learn Spanish!

    Another time after I became a teenager I tried again to learn a language from a book in the family library. This time it was German I was trying out. This effort also crashed and burned one day when I answered my Dad with a "Ja" ("Yes" in German), and he, naturally misunderstanding, rebuked me with, "You don't answer your father with a 'yeah'." Shot down again!

    Finally, as a sophomore at Horlick High School (Racine, WI) a language clicked. I took Latin and really enjoyed it. The teacher, Mr. Thomas Springmann, loved the language and had a softspoken, engaging way of teaching that I enjoyed. I also admired his positive attitude when he began chemo therapy for cancer. I made good grades, and Mr. Springmann taught me well enough that decades later in Japan I was able to translate a Latin mass by Bach into Japanese for a musician. (And by the way, the mass presented the Gospel clearly!)
     
  3. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    Encountering Japanese

    Japanese is said to be one of the hardest languages in the world to learn. In particular, the written language is said by many to be the most complicated there is, due to having two (count 'em) alphabets and thousands of Chinese characters called kanji. Furthermore, the kanji may have up to 20 different pronunciations per character in Japanese, compared to only one per character in Chinese. Fortunately, no one thought to tell me this before I studied it.

    In high school, I was on the wrestling team, so I was fascinated by a book I bought at Zayre's about the Japanese method of grappling entitled simply Judo, by Gene LeBell (one of the toughest men in America) and L. C. Coughran. "Judo" is usually translated as "the gentle way," but more accurately would be "the yielding way," based on the method used to throw the opponent, which is not gentle at all!

    This book fascinated me in the techniques it showed, but the interesting thing is that judo around the world uses the Japanese terminology. So as I read through the book I began to notice some of the words and their meanings.

    After high school I headed off to Bob Jones U., having been called to preach as a senior. There at BJU I was delighted to learn that they offered judo as a PE course. I had to wait until second semester because of some obscure rule, but then took two semesters of judo, earning my brown belt and stowing away dozens of Japanese words in my brain.

    After I took all the judo they offered, it was only natural that I take their karate course. Karate means "empty hand," but contrary to judo, karate schools around the world do not all use the Japanese terminology, and this teacher didn't use the Japanese terms. However, I eventually found a book, Karate: Basic Principles, by Albrecht Pfluger, with all of the Japanese terms.

    My next brush with Asian languages came after I transferred to Tennessee Temple College. I was delighted to learn that they offered martial arts also, but in this case it was the Chinese martial arts, commonly called kung fu, meaning “trained strength.” As I trained in something called "White Dragon Kung Fu," I learned some Chinese words, but more than that I began to learn Chinese characters. These were the same characters the Japanese language uses, only with different pronunciations. However, often the meaning was the same or similar in both languages.

    Looking back, I can see God's hand in all of this. He was preparing me to be a missionary to Japan, as well as eventually a missionary linguist and Bible translator. My encounters with the Japanese and Chinese languages through the Asian martial arts were no accident, but all part of God's plan for my life, all based on how He had made me, the DNA He had created in my body.
     
    #3 John of Japan, Jan 26, 2010
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  4. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    Greek and Hebrew


    My first encounter with New Testament Greek ended in failure. The Greek course at BJU in those days was two years, five credits per semester instead of the usual three. I did okay that first semester of my sophomore year. However, during that school year tremendous stress entered my life due to a theological conflict between my grandfather, evangelist John R. Rice, and Bob Jones, Jr., the president of BJU. Without getting into the details, I’ll just say that I failed Greek and some other courses, and ended up transferring to Tennessee Temple College.

    At Tennessee Temple I did better for the four required semesters, making three Bs and then finally an A in the last semester—respectable, but not brilliant. I went on to take a semester at Temple Baptist Theological Seminary. My grade in Greek Grammar at seminary was a respectable B, and I also earned a B in Beginning Hebrew under well known scholar and Bible translator Dr. James Price. However, evidently I still had not hit my stride as a linguist. It would not be until Japanese language school that I realized how thoroughly God had equipped and fitted me for His work.

    I again studied Greek in 1986 after our first term on the mission field. I had been asked to teach Greek at the Grace Baptist Bible School in Tokyo, run by Baptist Mid-Missions, and to prepare for that I took another semester at Temple Seminary, including another course in Greek Grammar and a class in Greek Exegesis. I ended up teaching Greek at GBBS for two years, and then since moving to Hokkaido in 1996 I have given private lessons in Greek to Japanese preachers.

    To finish the narrative of my further education, I finally did finish a regionally accredited MA in Biblical Studies at Maranatha Baptist Graduate School in 2005, going to classes with our son Paul who earned the same degree that year. However, since John comes before Paul in the alphabet, I can say that I received my master’s before Paul did! My glory is fading, though, as our son went on to earn an MDiv at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary, and is currently pursuing his PhD in New Testament in Greek Linguistics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary under well-known Greek scholar and author Dr. David Alan Black.
     
  5. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    Other Preparation


    After college, God confirmed His call to Japan in my heart through Romans 15:20-21 while I was in seminary. In some ways I wanted to continue my seminary training, but God had a better idea. My grandfather, John R. Rice, had invited me to work for him at the Sword of the Lord Foundation, his Christian newspaper and book publishing company. So I took him up on the offer, moved to Murfreesboro and began living with my grandparents. What a wonderful experience that was, as I saw their godliness, deep prayer life and commitment to the Lord lived out before my very eyes.

    At the “Sword,” as we called it, my duties were varied, but each helped in a different way to prepare me for the business and literary side of translation. I served as a proof-reader, and that is a necessary skill for a translator, being not so different a job no matter in what language it is done. The main Japanese translation of the Bible is said to have been proofed eight times!

    I was also a book editor, editing books put out under my grandfather’s name since they were edited from his previous work, including a book of illustrations and another of sermon outlines. Again, I did layout work on the “Sword of the Lord” newspaper. All of these are necessary skills for a small time Bible publisher, so God was preparing me in these mundane ways for the task ahead, as well as in spiritual ways by having me working with the evangelist used to win hundreds of thousands around the world to Christ, and called by his biographer, “The 20th century’s mightiest pen.”

    It was hard to leave my beloved grandparents, who I deeply admired in the Lord, but after eleven months I was finally accepted by Baptist World Mission and began deputation. Three and a half years later, after finding a wife and having a son along the way, I arrived with my new family in Japan on May 6, 1981, eager and ready (or so I thought) to study the complicated Japanese language. Patty and I celebrated our second anniversary on the airplane, shortened because of the international date line, and Paul arrived as a baby in the land where he would grow up.
     
  6. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    At Last, Language Training


    After reaching Japan, I couldn’t wait to start learning Japanese, since it irked me not to be able to understand the people around me or read the signs advertising everything from sake to sushi. Unfortunately, the Tokyo School of the Japanese Language (TSJL, also called “The Naganuma School” after its founder) was full for that term, and I had to start with a tutor. However, Mrs. Takahashi was a wonderful Christian lady who knew her language well, and did a good job of taking me through the first textbook. In the meantime I began learning the culture too, an essential task for a translator. Mr. Takahashi taught me to play shogi (Japanese chess), my Japanese friend from college “Nobby” took me out for my first sushi, and the church people took us in as one of their own families.

    Finally I was able to enroll at TSJL for the next term, and I was excited as I prepared for the first class. The plan was for Patty to drive me to the train station where I would catch a train to Ikebukuro in Tokyo, transfer in rush hour to the Yamanote (“Hand of the Mountain”) Line, then get off at Shibuya, after which I would walk to the language school, altogether a two hour trip one way. The excitement was too much. As Patty dropped me off at the local train station I saw my breakfast one more time as I got out of the car!

    Down in Tokyo I had my first experience with rush hour on the trains. “Pushers” actually push the last couple of riders onto the train so they can close the doors! It was so crowded on the Yamanote train that in order to study my vocabulary cards I had to get on with my hands raised, or I would never be able to get the cards to my eyes! Once I got off when I didn’t want to, the crush was so bad. Getting back on, I lowered my arms and clobbered a poor Japanese “salary man” on top of the head with my karate-hardened elbow. He just staggered and kept right on going. These people are tough!

    TSJL is the oldest and most prestigious Japanese language school in the world, said to have been founded for missionaries in 1948, though the course was developed by Mr. Naganuma beginning in 1931. By the time I attended, however, it had become an international school, with students from around the world. I was the only independent Baptist attending at the time, but had good fellowship with some of the Southern Baptist missionaries who also attended. My ping pong partner was a colonel in the Thai army, another friend was an artist from mainland China, and the crowd of Koreans attending were kind enough to give me a set of wooden wedding dolls after I gave them each a photo I took of their Christmas choir.

    TSJL was a great place, and I loved every minute of the time I spent there! It was there that I finally learned that God had created me to excel in languages, as I zipped through the course fast enough that at one point they put me in a special class with the Chinese students, where I was required to learn as many as twelve Chinese characters per lesson. That was a snap to the Chinese students, of course, but involved extra study for me—and I loved it! Once my teacher even asked for my input about a new course they were developing. I was in my element.

    During my two years of language classes I traveled the four hour round trip five times a week, and studied the language thirty hours to forty hours a week. This level of commitment is necessary to get to a professional level in the Japanese language. Evangelism and other missionary activities, as well as family life, took up the rest of my time. It was the hardest of times but the best of times to a budding missionary linguist.
     
  7. John of Japan

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    Further Progress

    One of the main goals of a missionary’s language study is to be able to witness in the language he is studying. That landmark came a few months into my studies when a lady walked up to me while I was doing street evangelism in front of a train station. I immediately knew she was a JW from the book she had in her hand—they’re all printed at the same place with the same binding. When she asked what I was doing I haltingly told her about Jesus Christ. When she said that Christ is not God, I said, “He is too.” She differed, I said, “He is too, He is too!” And with that I was at the end of my Japanese rope.

    Exactly one year and three days after arriving in Japan, I preached my first sermon, a ten minute zinger on the meaning of the Gospel, reading from a manuscript that my teacher had corrected for me. Praise the Lord that two teen aged boys who came said they were trusting Jesus Christ as Savior!

    I soon had lots of chances to preach when the senior missionary, Dr. Jim Norton, went on furlough and left the branch work of the church he was planting in my care—a risky business. I was very grateful for Mrs. Kobayashi, my interpreter, until she had to make a business trip to Australia. Not having time to write out an entire sermon again, I worked up a Japanese outline and preached from that.

    After Mrs. Kobayashi came back, the people assured me that my true feelings came through more with my limited Japanese than when I preached through an interpreter, and I haven’t looked back, preaching to this day from Japanese outlines. Of course, they may have regretted that choice the day I gave an illustration about caving in my message on Christ as the Light of the world. I mixed up the words “cave” and “badger.” So as I told the story, I went deep into a badger with my college roommate, where it was so dark you couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face. Going into a badger is dangerous unless you have sufficient light sources. My roommate and I actually lost our way, even though we had a map of the inside of the badger!

    After I graduated from the two year course at TSJL, we moved to Yokohama to start our first church. Knowing I needed to keep studying Japanese even after language school, I decided on two ways to increase my skills: studying the written language with a set of kanji vocabulary cards, and reading Christian books in Japanese. It soon became evident that I had a ways to go when I used the wrong adjective with a certain noun, and told a woman that her cute little boy was a little moral leper! She grabbed his hand, stalked off and never came to church!

    In spite of the difficulties, I progressed in both my Japanese and Greek over the years. So it came about that one day I was ready to be a Bible translator, though when that time came it crept up on me and surprised me greatly.
     
  8. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    I Find That I’m Needed

    After our second furlough, we returned to Japan in 1994 for another term, and I once again pastored in Yokohama and taught Greek and several other courses at the Grace Baptist Bible School in Tokyo. Sometime in late 1994 I got a call from close missionary friend Dave with a surprising request: would I join their translation committee? Four men had gotten together to produce a new Japanese translation of the New Testament from the Textus Receptus, and they needed a Greek expert. Since they were unable to find one, they turned to me instead!

    There have only been two TR-based complete translations of the New Testament in Japanese history, the 1880 Moto Yaku ( “original translation,” actually more from the KJV than the TR), which was also the first complete Bible in Japanese, and the 1933 Nagai Yaku, done by a Japanese scholar named Naoji Nagai. Both translations were in the extremely difficult classical Japanese, and both were completely out of print (and are out of print today, though the Nagai Yaku was been reprinted once in the 1990s).

    There had been other efforts at producing such a translation over the years, but all had ended in failure. (I documented one of these some time ago on the BB Bible translation forum with a thread, “Anatomy of a Failed Translation”). Now Dave and his group were going to try again, and I was happy to be asked. There were five of us. Dave was and is an excellent linguist in the Japanese language. Paul was less expert in Japanese, but did well as our secretary. There were also two Japanese pastors, Takafumi and Shuuji, both good men. We would certainly not have attempted a Japanese NT without good Japanese partners (not just helpers).

    This committee was a great baptism of fire for me. For my part, I was the Greek teacher so they relied on me for the final word about the original language, but I learned much from Dave and the other men. I learned how to consider input from other translators. I learned how to follow the lead of the chairman. I learned to complete the assignments given to me. I learned the joy of going to the Greek NT and rendering it in another language, then having that rendering corrected into good, literary Japanese by our national partners.

    However, I soon began to see a potential problem. We only met once a month, and when we did meet we only got a few verses done. Bible translation is hard work! At this rate, it might take a hundred years or so to actually finish a translation of the New Testament! We really needed to ratchet up our effort. But the point was moot. When Dave went on furlough the committee paused their work, and then we ourselves moved up here to Hokkaido. That particular committee never did convene again.
     
  9. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    A New Start


    Sometime after moving up here to Hokkaido the idea occurred to me to restart the translation effort. While transferring files from my old dedicated word processor to the church computer, I found the files for John 1-4 which we had translated down in the Kanto Plain, as well as files for Matthew 1-2 which at some time or another I had translated on my own.

    There was another impetus for doing the translation. The version almost all fundamentalists and other conservatives use in Japan is the Shinkaiyaku (The New Japanese Bible), which was originally translated with funds from the Lockman Foundation from the same original texts and with the same translation principles as the NASV in English. Unfortunately, the publisher, Japan Bible Publishers, has the same extremely strict attitude about giving permission for their version to be reproduced as the Lockman Foundation (American publisher of the NASV).

    I was once asked by another missionary to approach JBP about having the Gospel of John printed by a ministry in the States. We were not turned down, but when I communicated the hoops they wanted us to jump through to my friend, he gave up. You will search in vain on the Internet and in English Bible software for this version. It simply is not allowed, or maybe only with some kind of fee that individuals and small ministries cannot afford. E-Sword had it at one time, but evidently without JBP permission, since they no longer offer it as a download. (The Japanese version E-Sword now has is a different one.)

    Even worse, the Lockman Foundation itself sued TEAM mission, and through it the JBP organization for copyright infringement, namely the rights to the translation. Unbelievably, Lockman pursued this lawsuit until it was settled in July 1996, going all the way to the Supreme Court (Japanese or US? I'm not sure.), according to one account. In the settlement, the Japanese organization had to pay a large amount of money to Lockman for their own translation (admittedly financed by Lockman), which in turn gave up the rights. (You can see the California appeals court version of this complicated lawsuit at: http://bulk.resource.org/courts.gov/c/F2/930/930.F2d.764.89-56230.html)

    “How great it would be,” I thought, “If we had a Japanese New Testament that anyone could print and reprint.” I dreamed of getting out free Gospels of John into our entire community. I wished my friend could have had John printed in the States for the purpose of winning Japanese to Christ. And so I made the fateful (or fatal, I’m not sure!) decision to translate the New Testament—the whole New Testament—into Japanese from the Greek Textus Receptus. As I was to learn, it was quite a task I had set for myself!
     
    #9 John of Japan, Feb 2, 2010
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  10. pinoybaptist

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    John,

    Even as a Primitive Baptist, all I can say is: God bless and keep your chin up. At the very least you're acquiring a skill which not many people have.

    Hebrews 6:10 -
    For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister .
     
  11. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    Thanks for the encouragement!:)
     
  12. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    A Committee? Sure!

    In 2005 I began considering members for a committee to revise my work and produce a 2nd draft. Forming a committee may be one of the most difficult tasks needed to produce a good Bible translation. Good linguists don’t grow on trees, you know! If the committee member is a missionary, he must be fluent in both spoken and written Japanese (some aren’t), and should also remember a good bit about his college and seminary Greek. If the committee member is a national, he must not only know his own language well, he must be able to explain his reasoning to the missionary translator. It is also a help if he is fluent in English, and thus able to see how the English Bible renders things. If he knows Greek too, well that is just a special bonus! Looking back, I have no doubt that God led providentially, and we ended up with three permanent members in our Hokkaido committee, counting me.

    Frank was a professional linguist almost before I knew the word! After he joined the U. S. Air Force in the 1960’s he finished basic training and was immediately sent to the Air Force’s total immersion Russian school. All day long they heard and spoke Russian, with no English allowed. After making him into a linguist, the Air Force sent him to Asia. Frank tells scary stories from those days about sharp descents into airfields in Viet Nam, and counting the bullet holes in the plane afterwards. He also tells about flying on the border between Turkey and Russia, where he listened to the chatter between Russian fighter pilots. Once he heard a pilot say, “I have lock on. Shall I shoot?” And the radar showed that the Russian was right behind Frank’s plane! Praise God, permission was denied.

    During his Air Force career, Frank spent time in Japan at the Yokota Air Force Base, and he and his wonderful wife Judy were as surprised as anyone when God called them to Japan. After college and some grad school classes, Frank and Judy arrived in 1970 on Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. In spite of the ill-considered advice of the senior missionary not to learn the difficult written language, both eventually became very fluent in both spoken and written Japanese. They eventually moved to the city of Asahikawa, which has the Japanese records for the coldest temperature and most snow. Think a Japanese version of Siberia here! It was Frank who invited Patty and me to join them in Asahikawa, and we will ever be grateful for their friendship and the privilege of working with them. Frank was a very welcome addition to the translation effort.
     
  13. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    Our Japanese partner is “Uncle Miya” Miyakawa. A retired high school English teacher, he sometimes knows more English grammar than I do! He can quote English literature from Dickens to O. Henry, and knows the etymology (origin) of more strange English words than you can imagine. He still sometimes can’t quite handle the difference between “L” and “R,” but is quite fluent in spoken English.

    Uncle Miya’s resume as an English linguist includes the fact that he was the final editor for the English translation of Shiokari Pass, by Ayako Miura, a Christian novelist famous even in secular Japan. This famous historical novel is based on an incident that happened right here near our city in which a Christian train man gave his life to stop a runaway train and save the passengers. The fact that Uncle Miya was asked to give the English translation the final look by this famous novelist shows how he is respected in this city.

    Uncle Miya is getting up in years now, but is still both brilliant and tough. He humbles me often with his corrections to my Japanese, and on occasion has even rebuked me by saying, “That’s the Japanese a child might use.” I’ve learned so much in particular about Japanese semantics from him. He always has the right word in Japanese, often a word I’ve never even heard of. His favorite phrase when we start in on a difficult passage is, “Saa, tachiai,” meaning something like “Let’s get it on,” only in sumo wrestling terminology!

    On the other hand, Uncle Miya is great fellowship, too. His particular pleasure is English idioms. When I go to pick him up for the work, his first words when he gets in the car are usually a question about some idiom or another. Then we go from there to similar idioms. It may start with “the cat’s meow” and end with “cat got your tongue?”

    After getting going here in Asahikawa, we formed another team in the Tokyo area. My old friend Dave was eager to help once he heard how our effort was going. He began working on his own until he was able to find a good Japanese helper in Tetsuya, who was attending his church at the time. Dave is an excellent linguist in Japanese, one of the best I know, and since joining with us has polished up his college Greek quite a bit, and now gives suggestions based on his Greek knowledge. I’ve not met Tetsuya, but he came to the project with some excellent suggestions, sometimes more free in his renderings than the rest of us but still a great help.

    Finally, also in 2005 things came full circle when Masashi joined our team. You see, I taught him Greek down in Tokyo many years ago! As a missionary to Brazil for many years, he became fluent in Portuguese, but eventually had to return from the mission field and pastor in the homeland due to sickness in the family. I now use him as our final editor, checking over the work and giving good suggestions by email especially in the difficult areas of the Chinese characters and the Japanese keigo (polite language).

    It has been said that a camel is a horse put together by a Baptist committee. Maybe so in most cases, but in our case we put together a race horse from the parts to a dromedary! What a blessing to work with this men on a project dear to the heart of God!
     
  14. John of Japan

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    Last but not least, my son Paul serves to correct my Greek blunders. I send him the Japanese files and he corrects them with the latest advances in Greek research. Having grown up in Japan, playing with Japanese kids in the park every day (we home schooled him), so he is still in Japanese to this day. We got our MA in Biblical Studies degrees together in 2005, but since then he has far surpassed me. He earned an MDiv in 2009, and is now on his last semester of class work for a PhD in New Testament Greek Linguistics under Dr. David Alan Black at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

    The best thing is that Paul is not shy about correcting his father! He might say, “Dad, you’ve got to be kidding about this. That verb is an aorist.” Or, “Hey, you left out a whole genitive absolute here!” That’s what makes him so valuable: his knowledge and understanding of the Greek, and his wisdom about its translation. We miss him greatly, and look forward so much to our next furlough when he can correct my Greek in person!
     
  15. John of Japan

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    The Would Be, The Could Be, The Wannabe


    There are three characters a translation committee chairman should avoid. The first of these three is the “Would Be.” By this I mean someone that would be chairman, that would take control if he could. Calvin George tells about one of these characters in his book, The History of the Reina-Valera 1960 Spanish Bible: “On one occasion, an unusual problem developed when a Hebrew professor showed up on his own initiative and announced that he should be allowed to join the committee. He boasted that all Hebrew professors recognized him as the outstanding specialist in the Hebrew Bible. He told the members of the revision Committee that if they did not accept his judgment on particular issues, he would likely have a heart attack. After a couple of days of being ignored, he quietly left” (p. 26).

    Fortunately for me, the main “Would Be” man on the Japanese translation scene quietly passed on to his reward before I started my committee. To avoid embarrassing his family, I’ll call him Daniel Fujita (those who knew him will recognize the description). Dan was a Japanese who took a Bible name, took American citizenship and raised support in America to be a missionary to his country of birth. He was a good man in many ways, loving the Word of God and witnessing for Christ. However, he had a bee in his bonnet about Bible translation. He participated in a previous effort (mentioned above) to produce a TR-based NT, and was kicked off at one point since he always insisted his rendering was the only right one.

    I knew of Dan before ever coming to Japan, since whenever he was on furlough he preached against the martial arts, and on occasion argued strenuously with Christian martial artist friends of mine. Then after coming to Japan I met him often, and remember once in particular when he harangued me at an MK school second hand sale about his translation of John 3:16. At the time I was not interested at all in translation work, and shrugged him off.

    The last time I saw Dan, he was ill at home with the final state of the diabetes that killed him. His wife asked us to take home an easy chair she had bought for him, and we reluctantly did. And we were glad we did, since Dan shared with us the memory of his preacher father, persecuted by the Kenpeitai (secret police) in Manchuria during WW2. The pastor would pass by the Kenpeitai headquarters and kid with them: “Are you going to arrest me this week?” Dan was rightfully proud of the memory. Not too long after we saw him at his home we attended Dan’s funeral.
     
    #15 John of Japan, Feb 5, 2010
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  16. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    The “Could Be” translator is someone who genuinely has the ability and training and skills to be a translator, but for one reason or another never does, or only does for a short while. Missionary M. is one such. Not only is he an excellent linguist, he actually participated in a failed effort to translate the New Testament (which never even finished John) and gained experience that way. He was and is very interested in our effort, and made an effort to participate. As I usually do in such cases, I gave him an assignment to see if he could finish correcting it, the first few chapters of Luke in this case. He got through the first two chapters, but then one thing and another came up, including family problems. I don’t blame him, knowing what he was going through. But he is a “Could Be” translator.

    Brother Yamauchi, a retired Japanese pastor, is another “Could Be.” He also had done translation work before, and had all the qualifications. He corrected John 1 through 4 for me, and I was delighted to have someone of his qualifications and experience. But alas, age interfered. He felt that he was too old to keep up the pace, so he graciously bowed out. I was sad to lose him, but understand his reluctance. Translation work takes a high level of commitment.

    Another “Could Be,” Missionary S. has excellent Japanese, and is to this day highly interested in the effort. He even translated the entire book of Mark on his own before I ever met him, and did a good job, too. However, in addition to his church-planting effort, something else took up a huge hunk of his time: a family of one son (now grown) and five daughters! My, my, how would a man be able to get into that little room with the mirror once a day with five daughters, much less be able to find time to concentrate on translation work? We’re good friends, but I know my committee is on our own to Brother S. when it comes to competing with his wonderful family for time.
     
  17. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    Finally, the “Wannabe” translator is my pet peeve. This is someone who wishes he was a translator, would love to be called a translator, and even tries to be one. However, he just doesn’t have either the training or ability necessary. This character may be the most dangerous of the three. He must be handled with kid gloves lest he turn against the effort and harm it by turning others against it.

    Mr. B. contacted me one day saying he was all set to help on our translation effort. So what did I want him to do? I cautiously asked if he knew Japanese. Nope. Well, did he know Greek? Nope. Well, okay, if he wanted to support the work financially, he could send money to the fund at the mission board headquarters. Nope, he didn’t believe in mission boards. So he was stymied for the moment. However, just recently he contacted me again and said he had a Japanese translator in his Bible study, and the man had actually translated a couple of chapters of John. Okay, I’ll look at the man’s work and see if his translation method was compatible with our group’s method, saying maybe he could help with proofreading. The word came back that the man’s work needed “internal review.” And I’m still waiting.
     
  18. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    Tools of the Trade


    A recent issue of “The Bible Translator” (October, 2009) describes a software tool for translators called Paratext, developed by the UBS folk. It looks like a great tool, with ways for various translators to input text, ways to lock out the unqualified from inputting, a tool for developing a lexicon, etc. I probably won’t use it, since we are well along in our work at this point, but it is a welcome tool for those just starting. So, what tools do I use as a translator?

    First of all, I use up to six different Bible software programs. My main program in English is Bibloi 8.0, a high end program with lots of bells and whistles, including complete parsing, and various ways to search the grammar and vocabulary of not only various Greek New Testaments but the Septuagint and other ancient documents. It includes several lexicons also, of which the Anlex (Analytical Lexicon) definitions are the most useful to me. (I’m not a fan of Louw-Nida, but it is also included.) Another great thing about Bibloi is that it gives me Internet access to the Perseus database of ancient Greek writings, where I can look through Greek documents for usages of a certain koine Greek word. (I just used this function to search for korbanas, "treasury," in Matthew 27:6. No dice! This is the only place this word occurs in the NT and LXX.)

    Power Bible is my favorite program for basic searches and quick comparisons of the English and Greek. It is much easier to use than Bibloi. Of the commentaries it includes, that of the great Greek scholar A. T. Robertson is still my favorite. E-Sword is good because it’s free and has lots of free downloads, including several that I consult. Another free download is SeedMaster, an old classic that gives quick and easy verb parsing.

    My Japanese software is called J-Bible, and is fairly basic. The function we use most is the parallel comparison, with three Japanese Bibles and two English versions. It does have a basic search function that is useful. There is only one other Japanese Bible program that I know of, and I’ll buy it someday. The programmer called me last year to find out when our version will be ready, and I hated to have to tell him, “Not for a while.”

    You may be wondering if translation software is useful. Nope, not at all! Such software may be good if you spend $100s of dollars for it, but the low end product I have is pathetic. Just check out how “Google Translate” handled John 3:16 from Japanese into English: “God is so that really gave us a hitorigo (the program couldn’t handle “only begotten son”), loved the world. It is those who believe in Him, as one, without perish but have eternal life.
     
    #18 John of Japan, Feb 11, 2010
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  19. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    Secondly, the lexicons are important, I don’t care what Gail Riplinger says in her latest book. I consider her view that we should avoid all Greek lexicons to be just plain ridiculous. A lexicon is just a dictionary! It has no morality in and of itself. I don’t think a translator can have too many dictionaries.

    I use many Greek-English lexicons, but the one of final resort is BAGD (Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich and Danker), which is the 2nd edition of A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, copyright 1979. Walter Bauer, a German, edited the predecessor to this volume in 1958 (his fifth edition), and the other men revised it for this work. I never have gotten the recent 3rd edition because of the controversy involved with it, and besides, who can afford it at 150 smackers in American moola? Anyway, BAGD is the best lexicon around due to its detailed citing of various koine and classical Greek usages for most words.

    I also have Abbot-Smith, Liddell-Scott (the classic classical Greek lexicon), Souter, Harper’s The Analytical Greek Lexicon and a couple of dictionaries, such as the one in the back of the UBS Greek NT, and classical lexicons in the back of my 1895 Xenophon’s Anabasis and my 1885 Homer’s Iliad. In software I have Louw-Nida, Anlex (the newer analytical lexicon), Thayer (very out of date) and Strong’s (which I almost never use, since it is very basic and incomplete and old). I also have two small Greek-Japanese lexicons. (There are no intermediate or large ones.) I use them, but I’m afraid they are lacking. Uncle Miya never accepts their meanings!

    In other reference books, the only Japanese dictionary I use anymore is the electronic one put out by Microsoft. It can go Japanese-English, English-Japanese, Japanese-Japanese and English-English. Wow! If I had only had this 25 years ago, how much easier language life would have been! Other references I’ve used occasionally include Trench’s book on synonyms, my interlinear Greek NT, a huge Japanese grammar, a bunch of Greek grammars (I won’t bore you with them), a couple of books on Japanese semantics (the study of meaning), the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (both the new and old ones) and a dictionary or two of Chinese characters. Wow, don’t you love books?
     
  20. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    A Day in the Life

    Friday is my day for translation. I find that if I don’t take a full day every week, there is no hope of finished the translation for decades! On Friday morning, February 12, I worked on revising Matthew 27 from our son Paul’s notes. 66 verses! The legend must be true that whoever inserted the verse and chapter divisions was riding a mule over a bumpy road!

    I start my translation work around 9:00 as usual, after private devotions, breakfast, family devotions and email. I usually work until about 12:30, when I have to go to the church to prepare for the afternoon’s work with Uncle Miya. I figure I can finish Matthew 27 and 28 this morning, wrapping up the 2nd draft of the book of Matthew. How hard could it be, right?

    I’ll just hit the high points for February 12, 2010. Paul sends me his comments under each verse in a file of the Japanese and Greek verses. Let’s get started. First of all, in verse 3, Paul points out that our Japanese says that Jesus has already been executed rather than just sentenced. Oops! Better fix that!

    Verse 6 has the first big problem. Paul asks, “Wasn’t korbanaV an actual, physical room?” So how do we translate “treasury” into Japanese, with a room or just a monetary fund? In a case like this I not only check the lexicons, I check the usage of the word throughout the New Testament, and if I can in other ancient documents. That doesn’t work, since this is a dreaded hapax legomena, a word occurring only once in the whole NT. I research further and finally decide that Paul is thinking of gazofulakiw the word in John 8:24. I check ISBE and it confirms my choice of vocabulary. One half hour gone already!

    Verse 9 is very tough, since it has three variations of “value,” noun and verb, but we get through it. In verse 20 Paul informs me that he learned the Japanese word settoku, to persuade, from Japanese computer games. Hmm. Maybe I should have let him play more.

    In verse 27 our committee gave Paul a choice of two words for speira. Is it a complete Roman military cohort of 600 men, or possibly just a part of a cohort as per Louw-Nida? Paul suggests that since it has “whole” before it we can go with the Japanese for “600 man unit,” and I concur.

    In verse 29 Paul points out that we forgot to translate “he said.” Shucks. I hate it when that happens. I inform Paul that I’m doubling his salary (zilch, in other words). Again in verse 34, Paul informs me that we left out a whole phrase, eipen gar oti qeou eimi uioV. Man, how did we do that? Did it get deleted somewhere in the computer, or did I just have a bad hair day and miss it altogether? We fix the problem.

    In verse 46 I’ve asked Paul to check on whether or not the phrase is Aramaic. He gives me the lowdown on several views, and we decide to avoid the pronunciation given in another Japanese translation.

    After verse 66, it’s almost time to leave for the church. This chapter is just too long! I finish it, but Matthew 28 will have to wait. And so it goes. And now you have an idea of just some of the linguistic problems a translator faces.
     

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