Thought for the Day - Rev Joel Edwards - 10/10/2012
Rev Joel Edwards
This is how St John’s Gospel begins:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Or as the Jamieka Patois Bible would have it:
Wen taim did staat, di Wod did de bout,
an di Wod did de de wid Gad. Matarafak,
di Wod a did Gad
My apology to all Jamaicans out there!
Last night at the Jamaica High Commission here in London, the Bible Society published the first ever Patois Nyuu Testament Bible.
The work is the product of 10 years of collaboration between the Jamaican Bible Society of the West Indies, and leading theological institutions across the Caribbean.
You might have thought that a New Testament translation which reflects the dialect spoken by 85% of the people in Jamaica and many in the Diaspora, would have been as welcome as Usain Bolt in a 100 metres sprint. But that hasn’t been the case.
Ever since the work became public knowledge a year ago it has courted controversy. For some Jamaicans, Patois is still regarded as a gross desecration of the Queen’s English. Not at all the proper way to speak for it undermines literacy, fails young people and subverts productivity.
The debate has unearthed old conflicts between class and culture, status and identity. It’s taken us to the heart of the nation’s self-portrait: for after all, what is a nation without a mother tongue?
This translation reminds us of the disruption which often comes with the audacious idea that the Bible is God’s written word.
The 16th century Reformation which split the world asunder and recalibrated Christian faith, was about a written word. As Martin Luther the great reformer said, a ploughboy with the Bible was to be believed above a bishop without one.
And when slaves rose up to riot for their freedom 200 years ago, many drew their inspiration from the same written word.
This is what makes Bible translation a truly incarnational engagement. For God’s word does not legitimise our cultural and political prejudices.
Rather a translation faithful to its purpose takes the big ideas about God and his dealings with us and conveys them in the language we already speak.
And this is precisely what the Patois New Testament is attempting to do in order to be a living word.
And who knows: when all the controversy is over I may be able to claim that I’m bi-lingual.