Translation and Syncretism

Rev. Dr. Douglas Rutt

About The Episode

In this episode of the Essentially Translatable Podcast, Rich Rudowske engages in discussion with Rev. Dr. Douglas Rutt on the importance of cultural and contextual nuances when communicating the Gospel. Dr. Rutt has an impressive 40-year career serving in ministry. Most notably he has served as missionary to Guatemala, Director for International Ministries at Lutheran Hour Ministries, and Provost for Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. 

The conversation delves into two concepts: syncretism—the tendency to mix non-Christian beliefs with Christian ideals, and contextualization—communicating God’s Word in ways that resonate with a culturally diverse audience while maintaining the purity of the Gospel message.  

These topics are informed by Dr. Rutt’s extensive experience in international ministry, as well as his recent article, “Translation and Syncretism”, published in Concordia Journal in spring of 2023. This article explores the complexities of Bible translation, the significance of Scripture being available in one’s Mother-tongue, and the critical role of exegesis in both understanding the Word and the world.  

Tune into learn how Dr. Rutt’s transition from commercial pilot to seminary student led to a life-changing experience as a missionary to Guatemala and his continued service in God’s kingdom. 

Read “Translation and Syncretism” here. 

Dr. Douglas Rutt: [00:00:00] It’s very important to take into consideration the context of the hearer. Think about the way that you communicate the gospel so that it can somehow resonate to the worldview and the culture and the context of the hearers, the people that you’re communicating to.

Rich: Welcome back to another episode of the Essentially Translatable Podcast brought to you by the good folks at Lutheran Bible Translators. My name is Rich Rudowske I’m your host today, and I just got off a great conversation with Dr. Douglas Rutt from Concordia Seminary and we talked about Translation and syncretism reflecting on an article that came from a paper he delivered at a conference We sponsored together with the Mekane Yesus Church in Ethiopia, and then Dr.

Rutt turned that into an article It was published in Concordia Journal recently So we sat together to talk about translation syncretism and unpacking a number of [00:01:00] other items related to missiology. Before we jump into that content, just want to remind you that you can subscribe to Essentially Translatable on any podcast platform, YouTube Music, Apple podcast Spotify and we are also now on YouTube and the Lutheran Bible translators YouTube channel So if you get a lot of content through YouTube, you can subscribe by pushing that Bell on the Lutheran Bible translators YouTube channel and you’ll get the essentially translatable podcast there.

Dr. Douglas Rutt has served in multiple ministry and mission situations over 40 years, notably as the missionary to Guatemala, as well as the director of international ministries for Lutheran Hour Ministries and provost for Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. We hope you enjoy this conversation with Dr.

Douglas Rutt on Translation and Syncretism.

Okay, we have [00:02:00] Dr. Douglas Rutt on the line today. We’re going to talk about Translation and Syncretism. Welcome to the podcast.

Dr. Douglas Rutt: Thanks. Great to be here.

Rich: For our audience to get to know you a little bit about your background in ministry, tell us a little bit about all the great things you’ve been able to do.

Dr. Douglas Rutt: Oh, wow. Well, it’s been an incredible 40 years or so since my family and I first left the United States to go serve in Guatemala. It was in July of 1983, and we had gone there for a two year period of internship, and it was an experience that absolutely killed me. Changed our lives. And so we served there.

Then we went back in Guatemala and stayed there really until about 1994 that I came back and was able to work with the seminary in Fort Wayne for a couple of years, teaching in the area of missions, served with the International Center as the regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean for a few years, went back to Fort Wayne to teach for 10 more years in the area of missions [00:03:00] and supervised the program for Ph.

D. in missiology program, had an amazing eight years with Lutheran Hour Ministries as the director of the international division. There I was able to really meet Christians from all around the world in many places and local Christians, not just foreign missionaries, but actually many, many local Christians.

And that was an amazing time. And, uh, after about eight years, I was asked by Dr. Meyer, president here at the seminary in St. Louis, if I would consider to come and be the provost, which is like the chief academic officer. Everybody asks, what’s a provost? And, uh, did that for four and a half years and then moved into, I guess you could call it semi

Rich: retirement.

That is a life full of ministry. I almost can’t imagine how all those years of experience add up into a single life.

Dr. Douglas Rutt: Yeah, we’ve been very, very blessed, really, Ishael, by the many experiences. And I’ve included about, I think, 11 or 12 years on the board of Lutheran Bible translators [00:04:00] that I had during, during that time.

Rich: And we thank you for that. I know that that is not an easy task at all. Seems like God’s mission is at the center of what you’ve been encouraging others to do. Your ministry has been extensive in the international context, but some of our listeners may not be familiar with the term missiology. Can you share a little bit about what that entails?

Dr. Douglas Rutt: Missiology is, we always say, an integrative discipline in that it actually involves a number of different disciplines that come together to help inform how one might communicate or proclaim the gospel into the culture and the context of other people. And it really doesn’t necessarily always imply going across cultures, but anytime you’re talking to some other person, there’s a context involved and there’s some culture involved.

So missiology is a integrative discipline that is based on theological [00:05:00] understanding, the theological understanding of what God wants for the church, proclaiming the gospel to all the world. This is very clear. God desires everyone to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. Missiology is the study of God’s Word, but also the study of other kinds of disciplines that can help you understand the context into which you’re going to be attempting to share or communicate the Word of God.

And so that includes a lot of times things like sociological disciplines. Cultural anthropology is an important. a discipline for any missiologist to have sort of the framework to understand cultures and how they’re different and why they’re different, other social sciences, communication theory, history of missions, any of these kinds of disciplines that help you understand the world into which you are going to be proclaiming the Word of God.

are part of missiology, and that [00:06:00] also includes even strategic ideas and decisions and the way in which you approach the mission strategically. which has a huge impact. So it’s an integrated discipline, missiology.

Rich: Yeah, it’s really in in my mind. It’s kind of all those social sciences and other things back in service to to God and his mission which is you know When you look historically where a lot of them originated and had their original focus anyways, but pulling them back in in service to How does God intend for us to interact with the world and using the knowledge that he’s allowed us to to gain?

Dr. Douglas Rutt: Yeah, some people sometimes have been a little critical about the use of the social sciences, but I believe it was St. Augustine who said, gold from Egypt is still gold. And in other words, he was accused of using the philosophers and so forth in his apologetics. But if it’s something worthwhile, if it’s something valuable, it’s something that’s helpful, There’s no reason why not, as long as it doesn’t go against the Word of God.[00:07:00]

Rich: So as you’re explaining missiology, it’s so much more than the study of missions or going overseas. Like you said, it has to do with culture, but it doesn’t have to be a different culture, but rather recognizing how it’s all coming together. So, you’re clearly passionate about what goes into missiology and how people can grow in their understanding of God’s mission.

So, when did that passion start?

Dr. Douglas Rutt: I think that really motivated me to go into the ministry was the fact that I, well, I was in a different career. I was working as a commercial pilot, flying air taxi and flight instruction and things like that. Wow. But we went to visit my parents. Wow. Brother in law, my wife’s brother and his new wife, at the seminary in Fort Wayne, one, right after they had gotten married, we went down there to visit them, and as I was sitting around in their living room, I noticed he had a few books, theological books, and he had Luther’s commentary on Genesis.

And we had some time, I didn’t have anything [00:08:00] else to do, so I pulled it out and I started reading right from page one, Luther’s Commentary on Genesis, and I don’t know how far I got, maybe page 15 or 20, but it just struck me at the time that this is, wow, what would it mean to be able to dedicate your life to the study of God’s Word and the teaching of God’s Word and the proclaiming of God’s Word?

I was still probably wondering in my life, what do I really want to do with my life? I was, you know, in my early twenties. And so that weekend when we were there, I decided to think about and try to get myself prepared to go to the seminary. So that’s kind of the beginning of it. I finished my college degree because I hadn’t finished that.

at Bethany Lutheran College in Minnesota, and then made it to Fort Wayne to the seminary. And during my first couple of years, I always had an interest in missions and somehow or another had an interest in, in doing something a little bit different, but I didn’t [00:09:00] think that I would have the opportunity. I guess I thought that it’s like flying.

I was in the Navy and the best, sharpest potential pilots, they got to fly fighter jets. And then those that maybe were a little bit slower and not to disparage anybody, but they’d fly a, they’d fly a, you know, a C 130 or some kind of transport aircraft. And then the third tier were those who maybe instead of any of those things, just flew helicopters.

And I thought that’s the way it was going to be at seminary too. And I didn’t feel I was fighter pilot capable. So I thought there’s no way if you’re going to go to the mission field, only the very top. Of the class would be allowed to go or asked to go. I, that was in my head. I don’t know. So anyway, I was surprised that during my second year mission board folks came on campus and we had a conversation.

And after my wife and I introduced ourselves, the fellow looked at us and said, are you willing to do an overseas Vicarage [00:10:00] internship? And my wife and I looked at each other. We had never even talked about it. Didn’t even know that such a thing was, was a possibility. And we said, yeah, I guess. Sure. Why not?

Yeah. A few months later, we found ourselves on the airplane heading toward Guatemala. And it’s just, like I said before, it just changed our lives and opened up a whole new world to us that we hadn’t experienced before. So I feel very, very blessed for the opportunities that God has given me. We continue to love Guatemala.

We really bonded with, you know, with our friends there and with the country and the culture. And in fact, for the 40th anniversary of our having gone in 1983. We went last summer, all of our children, except our son was not able to go, but our four daughters and their families, or 23 of us all told, we went back to Guatemala for a couple of weeks.

That’s awesome. Kind of as a 40th anniversary tour, and I had a great time, but I’ve been back and forth many times ever since, too.

Rich: We were privileged to have [00:11:00] you as part of our group that was at the Helgi Center Inauguration in 22 in Ethiopia and there at a forum that we held in association with that you gave a paper called Translation and Syncretism that was then published in the Spring 2023 Concordia Journal.

And so in that paper, he shared the challenges of navigating culture and approaches to Bible translation. So we wanted to dig in that a little bit. So firstly, share a little bit about what syncretism is and some examples of what that can look like.

Dr. Douglas Rutt: This kind of goes back to our experience in Guatemala.

Syncretism basically, as we talk about it in terms of Christian understanding, is a mixture of, let’s say, non Christian beliefs with Christian beliefs. And so that’s, that just, that’s what it means. It means that two things are combined, or maybe three. So it’s basically the co mingling of beliefs and practices from, let’s say, non Christian religions.

Those values or worldviews. The ultimate [00:12:00] commitments of a people, those are co mingled with a message, the message that is communicated to us in God’s Word. And so you end up with something that’s probably not totally the previous religious system of a person, and it’s not totally Christianity. And so it’s just co mingling, and this can happen at any time, but I think the biggest, most obvious example that one sees is in Latin America, in Central America particularly, and Guatemala in that, and in fact, there is, in fact, they even call it their Christopaganism.

But, The Roman Catholic priests came, and many of them worked very hard to bring Christianity to the people there that had not known it before the conquest 500 years ago. But there are many examples where the old sort of animistic pagan beliefs were readily mixed with Christianity, and you see this to this day in a place [00:13:00] like a town called Chichicastenago.

And it’s not just. tourists that go to see this. It’s real, but in the Catholic Church, there are religious shamans, you know, religious practitioners doing all kinds of rites and rituals to ancestors and other spirits in order to gain favor for, for someone who pays them to do this. So that’s a very obvious example.

That’s fairly obvious, but I think that more Difficult issue is when it’s not so obvious. Yeah, you know, and you don’t see it so openly and clearly as you do there.

Rich: Okay, so that’s kind of what syncretism looks like. Now, in your paper, you used another term, contextualization. Can you unpack that some for folks listening?

Dr. Douglas Rutt: Contextualization is really the attempt to proclaim and communicate the Word of God in all of its truth and purity, but in a way that is meaningful to the hearer, in a way that [00:14:00] resonates with the way that the hearer thinks. And so, it’s very important to take into consideration the context of the hearer.

Which, a big part of the context, of course, is culture, but to take that into consideration and think about the way that you communicate the gospel so that it can somehow resonate to the worldview and the culture and the context of the, of the hearers, the people that you’re communicating to. And so, that’s contextualization.

Some, uh, Dr. Kolb, who is my co author. Hallway colleague right here next door, he uses the word translate, you know, it’s a matter of translating the scripture or translating the message. That’s what we mean by contextualization.

Rich: There can be a lot of challenges wrapped up in that and the balance or the tension.

So what are some of the experiences that you’ve seen or even negative results of contextualization?

Dr. Douglas Rutt: There’s always this tension, contextualization, as I would say, in a lot of [00:15:00] ways is more of an art than a science. But there’s always this tension between what might be called over contextualization, and the word we use for that is accommodation.

In other words, you accommodate the message, you actually shape the message or change the message. in a way to make it non offensive, let’s say, or to make it more palatable to your hearer. And that’s kind of probably what happened in Latin America. You know, the, some priests, at least in some places, were overly flexible, you could say.

So that’s one challenge. The other challenge is just to basically say, no, we’re not going to do that. The Word of God is true. We don’t need to change it or shape it at all. We proclaim it. But the person who says that usually has a very kind of one sided view of the world and thinks that he or she’s way of thinking is the way that everybody else thinks, you know, and ethnocentric or, you know, something like that is a word sometimes we use.

So, either one of those things, either over [00:16:00] accommodation or just denial of any attempt to do contextualization, either one of those can result in syncretism. Because in one case, It’ll, you know, it’ll easily slide in, it’ll be permitted to combine the old beliefs with your new Christian teachings, and on the other hand, if you go to no contextualization, usually those just get pushed down underground, and you haven’t really addressed the worldview of the people, and they hear everything you’re saying.

But they don’t think about the implications for their, maybe their old religious system, or it just gets pushed underground, and so either one of those extremes can lead to syncretism. A missiologist by the name of Paul Hebert talked about critical contextualization, which means you attempt to to bring the gospel into the world of the hearer, but you do so critically.

You really think about what’s going on and you try to experiment, try to make sure that what’s being communicated is [00:17:00] clearly the Word of God as you can do.

Rich: Yeah, in essence, kind of looping back to that, you know, not contextualizing at all. It’s really, wouldn’t you say, a little bit short sighted because ultimately anybody who’s proclaiming the gospel has received their theology in the gospel in some sort of contextualized form.

It’s the one that you’re used to. And there’s not like a pure theology divorce from any kind of context, right?

Dr. Douglas Rutt: That’s true. That’s true. And this is what you see even here in our western world, and we maybe view our worldview as being Christian and it is, but there are things that we observe, for example, the time what that we observe Christmas is, you know, not, there’s nothing in the scripture that tells us this is the time of the year that we should observe Christmas.

Right. It more comes from kind of the old religious beliefs of Northern Europe in which this time of year. At the Christmas time of year, it’s a time of important, momentous celebration or [00:18:00] concern, and so that time of the year was adapted to be a time for celebrating the birth of Christ. Things like that.

So, a more modern example, I think, is one that our president here, Dr. Tom Egger, pointed out to me. We were talking about. Contextualization, and he’s in syncretism, and he mentioned freedom, the American concept of freedom. And Paul says in Galatians 5, for freedom you have been set free. And an American may think of freedom as just the ability to do what you want, you know?

As long as you don’t hurt anybody else, you do what you want. And that’s not at all, of course, what Paul is talking about. He’s talking about freedom from the bondage of sin.

Rich: Right?

Dr. Douglas Rutt: And so you can misunderstand what Scripture is really telling you pretty easy. So it’s always important to, to make sure you are paying close attention to the Word and then close attention to the, to the world.

Rich: So in your article, you have this quote, by contextualization, we mean taking seriously the culture and [00:19:00] context surrounding it. and impacting people’s lives and finding a way to communicate God’s truth into the hearts of people of that contextual situation. This would mean that two things are necessary, exegesis of the Word and exegesis of the world.

Can you unpack that a little bit more for us?

Dr. Douglas Rutt: Well, exegesis means the study of or the kind of like digging into the meaning behind something. So when you talk about the exegesis of the Word. the Bible. That’s kind of the technical word we use for, for Bible study is exegesis. It’s really trying to get behind everything in understanding the messages as much as you can.

And that includes understanding that message in its original cultural context, because that also was proclaimed into a certain cultural context. Yeah. The exegesis of the world is what I was talking about before in terms of just understanding the world through other means that we have at our disposal.

There’s a lot. to know about the world, too, in God’s Word, [00:20:00] obviously. But exegesis of the world means really taking and paying close attention to what you can learn about how people are thinking, And what are their values? What are their cultural commitments?

Rich: Yes, we’re talking about all this. I’m thinking about Paul and the book of Acts calling out the idol of the unknown God.

And he’s like, I see you’re very religious, you know, but if he had just left it without an explanation of who this actually was. and who they were worshiping, it wouldn’t be complete. It’s not just an unknown. We’ve been made in His image. This is Christ who is crucified for you. You know, adding clarity along the way was part of how Paul was doing contextualization.

Dr. Douglas Rutt: R. Yeah. You know, there’s an article that just came out in Lutheran Mission Matters by Jack Schultz on this episode in Acts where Paul is at the Areopagus, you know, in Athens. And I really am going to read that with a lot of interest because there’s a [00:21:00] lot of controversy about what was Paul really doing there.

And some would say that he went too far. and didn’t clearly proclaim the gospel. I’ve heard that, and you can read about that in articles and in books, but I think this is a clear example of Paul’s insight, because he was proclaiming to the Stoics and the Epicureans, And what I’ve discovered is that they had sort of a monistic worldview.

In other words, Christianity is based on a worldview that says that there is a creator and there is a creation, and there’s a distinction between the creator and the creation. And Paul is proclaiming the word to the Stoics and Epicureans who have a more monistic worldview, which means that there is not that big distinction.

In other words, it’s all one, sort of like an Eastern religion. It’s You know, everything is one. It’s just one closed system. And that’s [00:22:00] why I think he goes right to creation. That’s what he’s really talking about. And that’s his starting point, is to talk about creation. And, you know, in the end, he does make mention of Christ.

But what he really needs to do is start out in challenging their view of the distinction or the lack thereof, as they would have, between the Creator and the creation.

Rich: Yeah, it’s fascinating. And that’s the, that’s, like you said, a really good case study, because contextualization and its relationship to syncretism, again, you kind of mentioned that already, but we should dig in there a little bit.

But why would Paul. In your estimation, then, if that’s their worldview, what’s the impact or the effect of wanting to start there instead of at something that seems, I don’t know, more general, jumping right to, you know, you’ve got, you’ve got sin, you need resurrection, stuff like that.

Dr. Douglas Rutt: This is where I think a lot of times missionaries, or those of us who are proclaiming into a different culture, we can be talking past each other.[00:23:00]

I think especially of, of the Eastern worldview, and I always associated Monism or the idea of everything is one to more of an Eastern, you know, Buddhism or, or Hinduism. I wonder sometimes if we’re talking to someone who comes from an Eastern background, and we just go right to You know, you were born a sinner and you ought to receive the forgiveness of sins, and Jesus Christ came to provide you the forgiveness of sins.

A lot of those things maybe just won’t make any sense because they haven’t really understood how there’s this distinction between them and the Creator, and that there’s a Creator that created the world, you know, to be good, and that at the same time, we will answer to that Creator. Yeah. And so it’s, instead of it just being sort of an ongoing circle, it’s always going round and round.

So I think it’s important to really think about those things, like worldview issues, when you’re talking about communicating to other cultures. It’s amazing, you [00:24:00] know, you’re making me think too much. Yeah,

Rich: yeah, yeah, I know, I just think it’s amazing. Yeah, I have to teach a whole graduate level class on this soon, so I’m grabbing insights here as we go, but yeah, it’s so fascinating in terms of, like, as you said, the art there, because, you know, Paul leaning into that aspect is like, he’s got to try to find a place in there so that what he’s going to say is going to make sense, or it’s just going to, you know, Go nowhere and have no effect.

It’s irrelevant from another perspective of like relevance theory. And then if he had said something more like, you know, you and the creator are one or something that wasn’t quite right, but to try to because they’re really going to resonate with that and tried to make the message be. And that it wouldn’t have called them to some kind of really impactful change, right?

The syncretism would have been like, okay, well, we can just kind of fold that into the ideas we already have.

Dr. Douglas Rutt: Leslie Newbigin, he was a missionary for many, many years, an entire career in India. And then after he retired is when he really. He started doing a lot of writing and [00:25:00] thinking, and especially communication of the gospel into the Western world.

But he said that the Indian or the Hindu mind loves to listen to the gospel according to St. John. that they really can resonate with it until it gets to John 14, 6, when he says, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me. And he says, then they’re scandalized. Because there they’re getting to the point, well, it’s not just one of many different ways, but it is the way, and Christ is the way.

And no one arrives to the Father except through Him. So, yeah, there’s a lot of things there that, We need to be aware of in order to try to understand, and I think always, I’m always learning, always learning. And this whole idea of the worldview and the starting point of the worldview as a place for trying to understand how to communicate the gospel has really been driven home by the study [00:26:00] of some of these other people who have experienced it.

And especially Acts do a lot of work on the Bible studies according to Acts and the Acts of the Apostles. And it’s just amazing to me to listen to their stories and, and see these different case studies really of the church as it goes into its, its missionary mode.

Rich: So speaking of missionary mode, you’ve been in the international context throughout your career.

You’ve seen Bible translation ministry. You’ve served on our board and that’s Touch Your Life. So. What makes you passionate about people having God’s Word?

Dr. Douglas Rutt: It always seemed obvious to me that People most resonate with the Word of God and it is most meaningful to them when it’s in their own language, in the language of their heart.

Someone said that the language of your heart or your mother tongue is the language that your mother used when she was changing your diapers, and that’s your mother tongue. And [00:27:00] I have worked with this in Latin America, a lot of the churches speak one of the 45 different Indian languages, for example, in Guatemala.

But many of them speak Spanish, and you can speak Spanish to them, you can preach them in Spanish, but when they hear the Word of God in their own language, it just seems to have more impact. And people have told me the same thing. They’ve told me that it just, it just hits, hits them in the heart when they hear it in their own language.

And so I’ve always been interested in that and in linguistics and took a few courses, basic courses in linguistics, both at college and as well as at the seminary. And just I’ve always been fascinated by the challenge, the real challenge, and the fact that sometimes people think, Translation of any kind, and especially Bible translation, is just a matter of finding the equivalent words and just, you know, just doing it.

But there’s so much more to the way that people understand what’s being communicated to them. It’s [00:28:00] not just only words, but the way the words are put together and, you know, the mode of communication. communication. One thing that’s intrigued me a lot when I started working among the indigenous population in Latin America, I worked for a time in the K’iche language, and I tried to actually learn the K’iche language, which was, I guess it happens, there are adults that do learn it, but it’s a totally different world, you know, than, than, than our language.

But It’s always amazed me, and maybe you can answer this, but in the different Mayan language translations of the Bible, the word for God that they always use is Dios, which is the Spanish word for God. They never use any other kind of normal word that they would have in their language already, which they do have, you know, for whatever, I mean, you have to kind of infuse meaning into that word.

But still, there is a word that [00:29:00] could be used. in, let’s say, the K’iche language, or the K’ak’chi’kel language, that could be used instead of dios. And I always just wonder, what is the impact of the fact that, and even today, all translators, from the very beginning and until now, translate The word for God is dios.

Rich: Yeah.

Dr. Douglas Rutt: I find that interesting.

Rich: I would have to say that either one of two things happened. If things happened well, from my perspective anyways, that there was a critical conversation and evaluation involving a number of folks who sort of landed on the use of dios and infusing it with the meaning was a better option than the other option available.

because they felt like that would have too many entanglements of some kind that would be difficult to overcome.

The, the not so good thing would be that that critical evaluation didn’t happen and people just gravitated to the osin. You’re just getting Richard Oskey’s personal opinion here and that’s, um, I [00:30:00] would say that by and large, It’s better to use the local term for God that already exists and, you know, use the, the teaching and instruction of the church to make a link and say, you know, this God that you have known about already, you haven’t quite known him fully or correctly.

It’s kind of like the same with Paul in Athens, right? The unknown God that I feel like those situations work better in the situation that we worked in. That was definitely the approach that was taken. So how we got there with Dios is either. They decided they went through that whole exercise and landed on a different side, or they didn’t go through the exercise at all.

And that would be unfortunate. And so what the impact would be is the, the folks have to, to learn the term. I feels like in a lot of cases around the world that just makes it a little more distant. So it’s a bigger bridge to cross in terms of, is this actually from within our culture or not? And then if you’ve got antagonism between the Spanish language and the local language, that, that can be an unintended.

So, [00:31:00] yeah.

Dr. Douglas Rutt: But to complicate things even a little bit more, I’d say in the Kaqchikel language, the word for bread, like our kind of bread, you know, like yeast bread is translated back literally means the tortilla of the foreigner, the foreigner’s tortilla. And so when Jesus says, I am the bread of life, he’s saying, I am the The tortilla of the foreigner that gives life.

So you’re just going to wonder, well, what kind of things are going on in the minds of the people who hear this, maybe they’re, they’ve been, you know, around it long enough now it’s been 500 years. So maybe it’s not confusing to them, but you just, those are the kinds of dumb questions that I think have really animated me to, Think about linguistics.

Rich: Yeah in southern Africa several languages until recent revision used for wine They just now have a word that’s sort of a cognate of wine and people know what it is because wine exists in their areas But they used to have something [00:32:00] that again the literal translation back would be beer made from the white man’s berries So again, kind of thing like so what is this?

You know, what is this thing?

Dr. Douglas Rutt: I’ve just always had this interest in in linguistics and linguistics On more than one occasion, I thought I was going to go to the graduate school of applied linguistics, like on a sabbatical or something like that. I didn’t, I had to do it vicariously with my daughter and her husband who, who have worked with LBT.

They both studied there.

Rich: I’m sure they’ll still take you. That’s good stuff. Well it’s just really great to hear some of your story about how you’ve been able to serve in God’s mission in so many different ways and to kind of dig into this topic of, of translation and syncretism. So thank you so much.

How can we be praying for you as, as we move forward here?

Dr. Douglas Rutt: Thank you very much for that. And I believe that prayers on behalf of me and my family are always welcome. We have five children. They’re all married. We [00:33:00] have 15 grandchildren. And so there’s 27 of us all together, and we’re a very close family, but we would appreciate your prayers on behalf of our family and the continued blessing of God’s Word upon them.

And I think that I could continue now that I’m retired. To have a part and do my part in the extension of God’s kingdom, I’m still doing a couple of things. I’m still doing a little writing and also serving on a couple of boards. So yeah, just pray for that kind of thing, you know, that God would continue to use me and others for the expansion of His Word throughout the world.

Rich: Well, we really appreciate you being on the podcast, Dr. Rutt, and we pray that the Lord will continue to bless you, your ministry, and your family.

Dr. Douglas Rutt: Thank you. It’s been great.

Rich: Boy, I could have gone on with that conversation all day, talking about all the different ways of contextualization and just the art of it. It really makes you [00:34:00] dig in to Scripture and the message and what is it that we’re talking has been communicated? What is it that’s already in my mind that makes me think about it and interpret things in a certain way?

And how does that all flow into the folks that I’m communicating the gospel with? Wrestling with that and figuring out what appears to be an exotic context or standing in a pulpit on a Sunday morning. It’s a process that I like to think I go through. Every time I proclaim God’s Word and to be sure that people are understanding it’s an art and not just a science.

Really, when I think of contextualization, I also think about how important it is to do the community reviews that we do in Lutheran Bible Translators to reach out and to ask people, and what did you understand in this text? What could be misunderstood in this text? And as we are building bridges and making it so that more people can hear the gospel and understand it, We’re doing it in a way that’s careful, not just a quantity and a rush, so that we can [00:35:00] work alongside our neighbors and see that they have that hope and confidence.

If you’d like to read the article by Dr. Rutt, we will post a link to it in our show notes, or you can request a copy of it be sent to you by email by sending us an email. At Thank you for listening to the Essentially Translatable podcast, brought to you by Lutheran Bible Translators. You can find past episodes of the podcast at or subscribe on Audible Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Follow Lutheran Bible translators social media channels on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, or go to to find out how you can get involved in the Bible translation movement and put God’s word in their hands. The Essentially Translatable Podcast is edited and produced by Audrey Seider. Artwork designed by Sarah Rudowske.

Music written and performed by Rob Veith. I’m Rich Rudowske, so long for [00:36:00] now.


  • Dr. Rutt and Rich discuss the recently published article “Translation and Syncretism”. Journal Link
  • Dr. Rutt is a former missionary to Guatemala with 40 years of experience in ministry. 
  • Two key terms: syncretism and contextualism are discussed in relation to Bible translation. 

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