Mar 24, 2022
After being directly involved in Bible translation since 1983, I have wanted to share with younger generations about the things I have learned from my experiences as a Bible translator— the things that made the most impact on me through my years. I have now decided to put a few of my most important stories in this JoySightings podcast. I know that I am never going to write a book. But now if anyone ever asks about my experiences, I will have a place to send them: Go to JoySightings.info and start at episode 52. I hope to add several other stories this year. Today I will also read one more parable of Safed the Sage.
When we were about 7-8 years into the Orya translation project, back around 1991, Nahe asked one Sunday morning to have a private conversation with me. Nahe and I had never had much communication, so I felt it was an unusual request. I knew him mainly as a young guy who made his income by cutting trees into lumber with his chainsaw. He was strong and athletic, but a man of few words.
He came that evening and we sat down together in my candle-lit rustic cabin’s front room. He said, “You wouldn’t have heard this, because it happened in another village. I got very sick and died. When I came back to life, the men were already building my coffin. But while I was dead, I went to heaven and saw wonderful things. The people in heaven are so happy and rejoicing.”
He ended his story with tears in his eyes saying this, “I cry every single day because I know that someone like me can’t go to heaven. What do I have to do to be saved?”
I thought, “Oh boy! A chance to be a real missionary! This will make a good prayer letter.” (But I was in for a surprise!) I immediately answered his question from the book of Acts chapter 16, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31)
Nahe answered, “That’s just it! How can I tell if I have believed?”
I responded incredulously, “Can’t you tell if you’ve believed something?”
And he said, “We Orya people don’t think so.”
That’s how the conversation went according to my understanding of it in those moments. But what we said really meant this:
I answered wrongly from the book of Acts, “Have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”
Nahe’s answer made sense, “That’s just it! How can I tell if I have faith?”
I responded incredulously, “Can’t you tell if you have faith?”
And he said, “We Orya people don’t think so.”
The difference is between ‘believe’ and ‘faith’. It took a little while in the conversation before I figured out what Nahe was saying. This was a heavy moment for me, because I realized that the word for ‘believe’ that we had used in all our translation work for six years was wrong, including verses in Scripture booklets we had carefully checked and distributed.
Long before we arrived in Guay, the word that the Orya people used to translate ‘faith’ was ei gwen, or to have ‘inner fruit’. By ‘inner fruit’ the Orya meant the inside part that you eat when you take off the skin. It’s the inside of the papaya or watermelon. The situation might be compared to buying a papaya at the market. You don’t know whether the inside is red or yellow until you take it home and cut it open.
Nahe told me that the Orya people assumed that you couldn’t know if you had this inner fruit (or faith) inside you until you died. They thought that at the door of heaven, God would somehow do an operation to reveal if you had any of the right stuff inside you.
It was clear that if we used ‘have inner fruit’ to translate ‘believe’, then no Orya person could tell if they had done the required action to be saved. No one could have assurance of salvation! After that Sunday evening conversation with Nahe, all day Monday Boas and I and several others worked to make sure we found exactly the right word for ‘believe’ in Orya. The word for believe in Orya is not ei gwen, but taïblïblan.
There is a weird twist that has happened with the words for faith and believe in several languages that is not like the Greek words pisteuo and pistis. The Greek words have the same root, so they sound alike.
|verb||pisteuo||I believe||Saya percaya||taïblïblan|
If only pisteuo (I believe) and pistis/pisteos (noun/possesive noun) were translated into English with similar looking words like ‘I’m confident’ and ‘confidence’, we wouldn’t have so many false teachings being spread around! But because ‘believe’ and ‘faith’ share no visible or audible root relationship, the English noun faith has been allowed to wander— so to speak. The cohesion between pisteuo and pistis that was obvious for the original readers in Grrek has been lost in translation. Perhaps because of the influence of the KJV on Indonesian translations, the same thing has happened in Indonesian. The result is that the Indonesian word iman (like ‘faith’ in English) is used for all sorts of things, including inner fortitude, vague hope, blind trust, denominational faith, and a force for good luck.
Notice what happens in verses like Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. …” If you want to be saved, it would be a good idea to understand ‘faith’. But so many people who ask Nahe’s question, “How can I tell if I have faith,” will get all sorts of misleading answers.
Dear friend, anytime you want to understand what ‘faith’ means in a verse in the New Testament, just remember that you can substitute the word ‘believe’, ‘believed’, or ‘believing’ (whatever form fits) in place of the word ‘faith’. NLT translates Ephesians 2:8 as “God saved you by his grace when you believed. …” If you substitute the word ‘believe’ for ‘faith’ in translations that use that word, you will probably find that you want to add an object. You can choose an object from the context such as these: ‘believe in Christ’, ‘believe in the gospel’, ‘believe true teachings’, or ‘believe God’s promises’.
Now you know why in the Daily Bible Reading podcasts that I always substitute the word ‘believe’ or ‘fully believing’ for ‘faith’ in the NLT or GNT. It all stems from my conversation with Nahe. You see, I want people to know how to be saved.
Note that believing is a volitional act. We decide to believe, and we better hope our decisions are based on good logic and evidence. That is what makes it so different from the word ‘faith’. People believe that ‘faith’ just sort of happens. False teachers make money by promoting all sorts of things that they claim will increase your faith. But remember that in Greek, faith is the noun form for the verb believe. So if God gives you clear evidence of his power and love for you, like He did when he led the people of Israel out of Egypt, and then you refuse to believe in his good will for you, that is called stubborn disobedience. Believing is a volitional act. Deciding to believe what God says equals increasing your faith.
I wish I could tell you that Nahe followed through with my advice to fully believe in Jesus. Nahe’s widow goes to close friend Boas’ church, and I happened to meet her in his village two years ago. We both feel that Nahe never believed in Jesus to the point that it changed his life. But, interestingly, on that same visit to Boas’ village, two old friends there told me stories of their dying, going to heaven, and being told to return to this world. (If you ever experienced malaria, you would know how easy it would be to nearly die!) I am encouraged that both of my two old friends show signs of true new life in Christ.
Friends, I want everyone to get a clear answer to the question, “How can I be sure I am saved?” I want you to not get confused by the fuzzy word ‘faith’. Remember, faith is fully believing what the Bible says. Every time you read God’s Word and decide that you believe what you find there, you have increased your faith.