Peanut of Faith
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a missionary was leading a Bible study with some Mangbetu men. The Bible had not yet been translated into the Mangbetu language, so the men were reading in Lingala, the trade language of the area. This is the language that they would typically conduct business in (selling in the market), but not the language that any of them grew up speaking. This is not the language they speak with their families.
This is important to understand because of what they encountered as they read Ephesians 6:16 in Lingala.
“In all circumstances take up the peanut of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.”
The missionary was familiar with this passage. He knew that the word here should be “shield”. What had happened? Was there some significance to a peanut that would fit this context? Was this right?
When the Lingala Bible was passed down, they had not marked the tonal markings in the script. In a language where tone can carry meaning, this is significant. Now, to a native speaker, context would have been sufficient to see the difference in meaning. It’s not a big deal.
Have you ever heard someone say that they put their luggage in their trunk and wondered if they were talking about an elephant’s nose? Of course not!
Here is the difference that caused the misunderstanding:
Ngùbà (with a low tone in the middle) means shield.
Ngúbà (with a high tone in the middle) means peanut.
But the primary issue was not that there was a misunderstanding. The native speaker would have read this unmarked text without a problem.
The core issue at play is that shields are not a part of their typical business lingo. When these Mangbetu men speak in Lingala, they’re typically talking about things like peanuts (which they sell) or money or possibly current events. The last time they talked about swords and shields and fiery darts was probably when their grandfather told them stories around the fire...in Mangbetu. They didn’t have the framework to understand this terminology in a language that wasn’t their own.
The end goal: We want to get the Bible into the language that people think and dream in—the language in which they understand nuances and unique terminology.