“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5 (NKJV)
“I have heard John 15:5 many times in Swahili and in English,” said Paulo Kijuu, a Bible translator for the Rangi language of Tanzania. When the team worked on that passage with their translation consultant, they talked about what it means to abide in Jesus. The phrase “to abide” wasn’t clear to Rangi speakers.
“A branch of a vine cannot live in the vine,” Paulo said. “Instead it is attached or connected to the vine. Also, living in a person is an unclear concept to Rangi speakers—and even to me.”
Realizing the team’s struggle, the translation consultant asked questions to guide their search for a better expression. Finally, they found a figure of speech that the Rangi use to describe two very good friends, or a couple who love one another very much. The expression in Rangi, kʉva kɨɨntʉ kɨmwɨ, literally means to be “one thing.”
“When we put this expression in our translation,” recalled Paulo, “I pictured my grandfather sitting with his best friend. My eyes were teary because that helped me visualize my relationship with Jesus. When I live in him, I am one thing with him. I saw how Jesus takes care of me. I could feel his love, and I could see a whole new life with him.”
The Rangi team’s consultant encouraged them to put the new translation of the passage through a community check. “We asked people what this means,” said Paulo, “to abide in Jesus. Right away, they gave examples of people who are very close friends.”
“The Rangi people are so blessed,” he added, “to have God’s Word in their language, to experience his love and the promise of being one thing with him.”