Translating a Word That Does Not Exist | Wycliffe Bible Translators

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Fall 2016

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Translating a Word That Does Not Exist

Word Search: When Bible Translators Find Just the Right Word

  • September 20, 2016

The word “do” is the third most-used verb in the English language. But how can you translate that word when it doesn’t exist in a particular language? While working with one language group in northern Alaska, Wycliffe translators were faced with that challenge. In John 6:38, Jesus says that he came “down from heaven to do the will of God.”

In Alaska’s frozen north, there are no natural landmarks like mountains or streams. Instead, tall tripods topped with reflective tape mark the trails. The people “follow” or “obey” the trail markers when they cannot see ahead. With this in mind, the translators chose to use the word for “follow” or “obey” in place of “do” for the verse. Their translation now reads, “For I have come down from heaven to follow, or obey, the will of God who sent me; not to follow, or obey my own will.”