MORE Fun with Translation


Bet you thought I was going to say “…a hard place.” But no… actually, I want to talk about being “between a rock and a house post.” Huh?

Okay, let me explain…

I was recently working on the book of Acts, going over my original draft with the guys in my translation committee. We’re revising it and getting ready to test the draft for comprehension. But we’re also looking at various “key terms” (see my previous blog for more on this) and giving some thought to other difficult concepts and how to best express them.

We came to Peter’s sermon where he exclaims that the Lord Jesus “…is the stone that the builders rejected” and that He “has become the cornerstone.”

Forget for a moment that the commentators scuffle in a friendly manner over whether this term should be translated (in English) as “cornerstone” or “capstone.” Ignore for the time being the metaphor where the Lord Jesus is being referred to as a chunk of some kind of hard mineral. In Palawano we have a much more basic problem: THEY DON”T BUILD WITH ROCKS! Their houses (the only buildings they make) are made of wooden poles and bamboo, and they are not laid on a foundation, but rather set up off the ground on stilts.

So then, how do you express “cornerstone” in Palawano without a three-page explanation of what this kind of rock is, how it is shaped and how it is used (which would then require an additional two pages to explain the nature of architecture in A.D. 60!)??

And you thought translators only struggled with terms like “holy” or “worship” or “repentance”!!

Palawanos do have a word penued (“puh-noo-uhd”) which is the main supporting post of a dwelling. House posts are usually something like a small telephone pole, sunk anywhere from 3-5 feet into the ground; the floor joists and wall structures are then attached to these anywhere from 3-5 feet above the ground. But there is usually one post which, because of its position in the house, bears more of the weight of supporting the whole structure (like a “bearing wall” in our kind of houses.) This is the penued.

We (i.e. the Palawano guys on the translation committee and me) knew we couldn’t simply say “the rock in the corner.” That would be meaningless. Nor could we try to compress the whole (totally foreign) concept of “walls made of stone” into this verse; for one thing, readers would get all distracted with this new, confusing or perhaps very interesting, yet non-thematic bit of information and miss the the whole point of Peter’s sermon.

So for a while, we were discussing simply using penued for “cornerstone,” but I didn’t like losing the idea of “rock,” and the concept of “main post” is just not quite the same as “cornerstone.” So we prayed about it and gave it some more thought.

Then the Lord gave us a bit of insight. Someone remembered that there is a rock which is sometimes used in Palawano house construction! Most builders slap together a “grass hut” with no intent that it should last more than a couple of years. But some will build their house with a desire for more permanence and they will put a flat piece of stone down in the post hole, and set the “penued on that… sort of a foundation for this key house post, so it won’t sink down into the soil over time, etc.

So there we have it… the Lord Jesus is the “rock that the penued is set upon.” I bet you didn’t know that, but you learn something every day.

Of course, there’s still the issue of what Peter means by the metaphor (i.e. in what way is the Lord Jesus like a rock?) but at least we now have a meaningful chunk of Palawano language to work from in teaching on that.

Please keep praying for me, the translation committee and our entire team as we continually grapple with how to express God’s thoughts in Palawano.



About billdavisthoughts

From San Diego, CA. I've been a missionary and Bible translator in the Philippines for over 30 years and have travelled as a language learning consultant to 15 countries. I play piano and guitar. I write, read voraciously and love to work on word puzzles. Married for 35 years, we have two daughters and two grandchildren.
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