You may think that proofreading a translation is a simple matter. In fact it is almost as much work as translating it in the first place, especially for someone like myself who didn’t even learn the Ukrainian language until I was 42. (Our translators translate; I proofread. NO foreigner is good enough to do a translation into a language that is not his own in a large and modern country that will only buy a high-quality product. Especially when that country is Ukraine and has an extremely rich and highly nuanced theological vocabulary.)
I learned the language by studying grammar books, living in Ukraine, conversing, teaching English and four other languages while speaking Ukrainian, and reading their Bible all the way through, every book in one to five translations including one so old it uses a different alphabet. Reading a foreign Bible involves looking up and writing down the meaning of every word I didn’t know. During this process I discovered that practically every chapter of their Bible contains one or more words that I can’t find in any of my 12 dictionaries. This shows the need for a new translation–even Ukrainians can’t understand their own Bibles. And say so. Frequently.
To translate the Old Testament, first I prepare a book such as Genesis by reading it in Hebrew, looking up and writing down every unfamiliar word and form. Hebrew is so difficult that in the beginning, this meant every other word! (By now it’s “only” every fifth.) The Hebrew language is so complex that you need an 800-page two-column book of small print on large pages just as an index to the dictionary! It was certainly within God’s providence that, as knowledgeable Lutherans like Prof. Herman Sasse have written, the college and seminary I graduated from have the finest program of Biblical languages that Lutherans have in the Western Hemisphere. Our reputation stretches all the way to Germany.
When the translators are done, they send me their printout which I read through to look up and write down any unfamiliar words. By this time there are very few, but I don’t like to have to consult reference books while proofreading. I want to KNOW the material so as to take in the material as a big picture, as well as word by word.
By this time it should be a “simple” matter of comparing the Hebrew of Genesis to the new Ukrainian translation. It still isn’t. If there is the slightest question, I will consult the ancient Greek translation from 200 years before Christ, the second-century Aramaic, the Latin translation from the fourth century after Christ, and sometimes even look at how Luther translated. (Almost all scholars will acknowledge that Luther was the finest individual Bible translator in history.) They were all centuries closer to the original language than we are and frequently have much to contribute; in fact, the Latin and Greek are absolutely essential.
It’s still tough. But by one of those little coincidences that God so often helps me with, I found a packet of plastic paper clips in the form of an arrowhead. These are ideal for my work. I put an arrowhead above the first word of the original, and as I slide it from one Hebrew word to the next, I underline the Ukrainian words that reflect the Hebrew. By the end of each verse, the entire translation must be underlined, and there must be no Hebrew words left untranslated unless it’s something that can only be expressed by your tone of voice. Questions and suggestions are written in green pencil; my objections are in red.
Dictionaries and computer Bible programs are also not enough. I consult at least three commentaries for the things the dictionaries might have missed, and I use different dictionaries and commentaries than my colleagues have for the widest possible word choice.
Finally, I compare the final translation with an English version just to double-check my own accuracy. If there is a significant difference anywhere, I’ll look back at the original languages to find out why.
Before submitting my comments, I double-check them; then the original translators consider every suggestion in committee; and before they send the work to the Ukrainian proofreader (just to make sure there are no mis-spelled words, skipped commas, important words like “not” left out of Commandments and so forth, as happened once in what was called “the Wicked Bible,”) there is a meeting in which we discuss every comment I made. I am not always right, because sometimes they have very strong reasons for the way they translated, but I always leave our meetings satisfied that this will be the Bible of the 21st Century.