Monday, December 23, 2013

Shepherds Watching Their Pig-Sheep by Night

(from My Father's World, authors of our home school curriculum)

This Christmas, many will read the story of the shepherds in Luke 2.  But what if you have never seen or heard of a sheep?  That is the case for the Apal people of Papua New Guinea.

In the Apal language, the word for all large animals is the word for pig.  So when the Apal look at pictures of cows, antelope, or water buffalo, they call them pigs.  With foreign animals, they often add the English word.  So cows become pig cows, and elephants are pig elephants.  Every time you read sheep in your English Bible, the translators use the phrase pig sheep in the Apal language.

Having decided what to call sheep, the word for shepherds was easy.  They are people who watch sheep.  So the Bible translation team was able to translate the phrase about watching the sheep in fields by night.

For the next step, the verses were read to the Apal people for comprehension checking.  They were asked, “Why were they watching the pig sheep at night?”  You can imagine the shock when one man answered, “They want to shoot them with their arrows.”  Several others were asked the same question.  Everyone else agreed—they understood that the shepherds were watching pig sheep so that they could shoot them!

There was big problem with the word for “watch.”  The term for watch in Apal can mean either “care for” or “look at.”  Since pigs in Papua New Guinea don’t need to be cared for (in Papua New Guinea pigs take care of themselves), and since the shepherds were watching the pig sheep at night (the best time for hunting), the only logical conclusion is that the shepherds were out hunting the pigs.

To solve this, the word for “shepherds” had to be completely changed.  They wouldn’t be very good shepherds if they killed off all of their sheep!  Even though all the words were technically “right,” they communicated the wrong message.  Given the understanding that Papua New Guineans have about pigs, the translators had to select another term for shepherds.  With the new word for shepherds in place, the Apal people can now fully understand the meaning of this passage in Luke.

We invite you to take a moment to pray for the many Bible translators around the world who daily labor to communicate the true message of God’s love.  Gifts can be made to God’s Word for the Nations by clicking on the link below.  My Father’s World ( continues to partner with God’s Word for the Nations to reach all tribes, peoples, nations, and languages with the Word of God in their heart language.