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Performing Scripture

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Role: Bible Translation Consultant in Training

Location: Sarah is originally from the United States, but currently lives and works in the Himalayas.

Organization: SIL

Education: She first earned an M.Div. from an American seminary, during which time she developed a particular interest in Bible translation. So she went on to complete a second master’s degree in applied linguistics.

Experience: Sarah has seven years of translation advising experience. Before this, she worked with her husband planting a church in the area and developing proficiency in the local language.

English level: native speaker

Level of Hebrew: Sarah has four semesters of formal Hebrew training from her M.Div. studies. However, her Hebrew skills have advanced as she’s used them for translation work over the course of several years.


Sarah is enthusiastic about helping the translation team to understand the biblical text–from its structure and cultural background, to its theological message–and to render it in an attractive way. She works on both written and oral translations, so she needs oral communication-focussed resources that help the team set appropriate intonation and speed when making audio recordings.

Sarah is concerned not only that the translation be finished, but also that it be used by the community. She’s mindful of the project’s schedule and sponsor expectations, but is willing to take time to finish with a high-quality draft. Even before translation began, she organized several Psalms training days for translators in efforts to facilitate poetic translations (not simply prose that has been formatting like poetry).


Interpretive process: Sarah is intellectually curious and enjoys reading, but she has to consider deadlines set up by funding organizations. Because of this, she has to be pragmatic about the type and volume of research that she puts into her exegetical preparation. As a generalist, she needs balanced types of information and frequently turns to resources that provide both linguistic and cultural background information.

Some of Sarah’s favorite resources contain diagrams that highlight the most important features of a biblical text. She uses commentaries (top pick: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament series) and well as translation aids like the UBS handbooks and SIL’s “Translator’s Notes.” However, she only shares the best of them (e.g. up-to-date; not too wordy) with the team.

Context for product use: Sarah presents exegetical material to a team of mother tongue translators, but she first must translate or summarize it in the local language. Because there are few resources in that language, most of the translators’ exegetical information and translation training comes through the workshops that Sarah runs.

At these Psalms workshops, Sarah explains concepts like literary form, poetic devices, how ideas are emphasized, genre, connections to other parts of Scripture (e.g., Psalm 67:1 alludes to Aaronic blessing in Numbers 6:24-25)––and especially how each of these contribute to the overall message of the Psalm. For oral translation of narrative text, she helps translators to internalize the passage through dramas, then splits the larger passage into sections to internalize the sections, then retell passage. When relevant to the passage, she also discusses plot, characters, high point, peak and other literary features. She says, “I’ve discovered that translators light up when they enact a passage. They benefit from a brief explanation of the connotation or background of key terms and motifs, and then they’re able to bring the passage to life and translate it more effectively.” Sarah also uses exegetical resources during the translation revision and checking processes.

Concerns and challenges

Sarah often feels the tension between efficiency and excellence. She is convinced that, when translators understand local art forms, they are enabled to render the biblical texts in an artistic style that resonates with the target language speakers. She has found that simply enjoying local art does not automatically make one able to produce it in translation!

One other continuing challenge for Sarah’s work is helping translators to lessen their dependence on existing translations (typically in a language of wider communication). She has noticed that earlier drafts tended to directly reflect a particular existing–and dated–version, and the results were of poor quality. Comparing existing versions is a helpful tool for the whole team, but can become a hindrance to a fresh, natural translation.