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Finding Righteousness

March 6, 2013

(The article below is taken from our Spring Newsletter. I wanted you to enjoy the article even if you don’t see the newsletter, but please click the link to see all of the latest from Zambia!)

During the third week of February, we did our third verse-by-verse review of the Nsenga draft of Romans. The first review was mine, when I used my fledgling Nsenga skills and my pile of Greek resources to check the Nsenga against the original Greek. The second was all three translators (and me) reading each paragraph out loud and suggesting changes to the vocabulary and sentence structure with the goal of accurate, clear, and beautiful Nsenga.

This third reading featured three outside reviewers, who gave up much of their valuable time to spend five days in the office, again reading each verse out loud and offering another perspective on the translation. Our outside reviewers are a well-known Nsenga folklorist (who also sits on the District Council), an Nsenga Lutheran pastor (who came equipped with his own Greek-English interlinear Bible), and a college-educated Roman Catholic layman who leads services when a priest isn’t available and serves as the lector (public reader) in his parish.

This was a very rewarding week. We made many changes to the text (including changing our spelling of ‘Christ’ from Khristu to Kristu), found many places to improve our word choice, and made many improvements to the Nsenga that resulted in the meaning of a passage coming across more clearly.

One of the best examples of these improvements is found in Romans chapter 10. Part of verse 4 reads, “…kuti aliyense okhulupilila afwaniwe kuti niwolungama pamenso pa Mulungu” (which means: ‘…so-that anyone who-believes is-found that he/she-is-righteous in-the-eyes of God’). Notice that we included the word afwaniwe ‘is found,’ which is not in the Greek text or any English translation.

A little later on, at verse 10, we had, “Pakuti na mtima umo tikhulupilila kuŵa wolungama pamenso pa Mulungu…” (which means: ‘For with

Father Tembo discuses our Nsenga manuscript with one of the reviewers

Father Tembo discuses our Nsenga manuscript with one of the reviewers

one heart we-believe that-we-are righteous in-the-eyes of God…’). Notice the lack of the verb “found” – here it just says “we are righteous.”

Now, first of all, “righteous in the eyes of God” is such a wonderful expression. A person can be “righteous” by many different standards: his/her own, the world’s, the standards of the culture or community. But to be “righteous in the eyes of God” is a completely different thing. It is important to remember that the standards we have to meet – and the righteousness that is given – both come from God. Linguistically, Nsenga doesn’t really allow us to use “righteous” on its own unless the context is very clear about whose standard is meant.

But more important is that verb “is found.” When I noticed the discrepancy between the phrase in verse 4 and the phrase in verse 10 (they both translate the same Greek words εις δικαιοσυνην), I asked the translators and reviewers which was more appropriate. Are we “found to be righteous” or are we just “righteous”?

After quite a bit of discussion, and looking at a few more δικαιοσυνην passages in Romans and elsewhere, we decided to go with kufwaniwa kuti niwolungama ‘to be found to be righteous’ as a better and more immediately-understandable way to explain this key Biblical concept.

As our Roman Catholic brother explained, “If we say ‘we are righteous,’ then a person can think that it is he himself who makes himself righteous by what he does and his good works, and he might start becoming proud. But if we say ‘we are found to be righteous,’ then we see that this righteousness is coming down to us from God, and not because of what we do. God finds us righteous because of his grace to us in Christ. There is nothing that we can do.”

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