How Do You Translate the Bible Into Sign Language when There’s No Word for ‘Forgive’?

Photo by Randy Fath

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 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.

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SOURCE: Mission Network News, Kali Katerberg