How do you translate the Bible when there’s no word for ‘forgive’?

By September 17, 2019

South Asia (MNN) – Forgiveness is one of the core ideas of Christianity. So how do you share the Gospel with a community without a concept or word for forgiveness?

This was the situation DOOR International translators found themselves in while working with a South Asian Deaf community. Rather than a setback, this is an opportunity to fill in these missing concepts, says DOOR President and CEO Rob Myers.

A Translation Hang-up

Bible translation is a community endeavor. Typically, DOOR translators will bring together community members and leaders to work out signs and determine if there is any overlap into other community signs. With enough overlap, only one translation will be needed for the region.

In this instance, they were doing just that. “They were asking for a number of different signs, you might ask for love. You might ask about the concept of grace. Then they got to the concept of forgive, and one of the people signed, ‘sorry,’” Myers says.

A ten-minute discussion ensued as locals tried to determine what the sign for forgiveness was. The concepts of ‘sorry’ and ‘apology’ were there, but not ‘forgive’.

“The only thing that they would get was either the sign for sorry, or they would say that sorry, we don’t have a sign for that concept.

“The hard part about that is that it’s not just that a particular word in their vocabulary is missing. Conceptually, [they don’t have] the idea of I am

“Many people just don’t know that Deaf communities are unreached by the Gospel. They don’t realize that there are still millions of people who don’t have access.”
(Graphic courtesy of DOOR International via Facebook)

forgiven… [that] when I stand before God, he doesn’t see my sin anymore but He sees me righteous,” Myers says.

More than just words, this indicates a key theological concept is missing and impacts how people live. In a community that had never heard the gospel before, he didn’t find this surprising. Thanks to DOOR’s work, unreached communities have the chance to hear the gospel; often for the first time. DOOR International focuses on bringing Scripture to the largely unreached Deaf communities around the world. None of which have a complete Bible translation. Learn more about their work here.

Overcoming the Barrier

Helping this community develop a sign for forgiveness and explain the concept is an incredible opportunity and involved process.

“We will never when we’re working with communities will never come in and tell them, if they don’t have a sign for something, just give them a sign for it and move on. Their language is one of the only things that belong to that Deaf community,” Myers says.

Instead, the DOOR translation team will explain and work through the idea with a committee of leaders. That committee, in communication with the community, will then determine the signs to use. This way, once the translation is produced, the word may already be in some use and accepted, as opposed to a unilateral decision from the translation team.

“One of the things that I love particularly about sign languages is that the bringing of the gospel is actually, it’s almost literally the word becoming flesh. And not only is it’s not just becoming sound, as it would be, in the case…where Scripture is being shared, vocally and orally, but it’s actually becoming flesh, it’s becoming motions on the hands, it’s becoming gestures, it’s becoming a part of someone else,” Myers says.

Join in Prayer

Please pray for wisdom among these translation teams as they translate Scripture and explain theological concepts.

Ask for receptive communities that will be open to the Word and these translators.

Pray for the International Deaf community, that they will be reached with the gospel.



Header photo courtesy of Geetanjal Khanna via Unsplash.

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