The KJV and Deaf Ministry

A friend of mine is involved in deaf ministry. He told me that for his congregation, the KJV was very tough to follow. He gave one example that made me laugh out loud. How would an ASL speaker sign the following sentence, speaking of the father of the prodigal son?

And he fell on his neck and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)

One ASL translator didn’t quite get it, so she signed something like this:

And the father fell down—right on his own neck!—and then he kissed his son.

To be fair, the ESV and NASB still use that somewhat antiquated phrase in Genesis twice. And no translation can fully erase the cultural and historical distance between the times of the Bible stories and today. That’s not even desirable. Some burden will always fall on readers to work at understanding the situation of the original writers and hearers of given Bible books. For example, Pacific islanders will simply have to learn what sheep are—as will modern Americans. Such a burden even fell on New Testament believers as they read Old Testament stories. It would have fallen on the people of Ezra’s day as they read the story of the Exodus. But every major conservative translation managed to find some way to translate Luke 15:20 that didn’t involve the poor father falling on his own neck.

Funny things happen, unexpected things happen, when you insist that people hear from God in a language they don’t speak. Or sign.

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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