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Biblical Interpretation for Vanuatu: Contextualizing COMA

By Tomrichards @talkabouttanna

COMA for Vanuatu, Talking About Tanna

A puzzle for Bislama speakers

I’m wrestling with how to teach Biblical Interpretation at certificate level and have been trialing teaching students the COMA method with some (but limited) success. I think the method is really good and sound and I’m going to persevere with it, but try to further contextualize it in order to better support Ni-Vanuatu students and ministers. I’ll do this in Bislama. Want to help? I’d love your input.

I’m also working through this with colleagues here who are offline and will be trialing things with my class this term, so I will try to combine any insight that comes out of that as I go along.

COMA stands for Context, Observation, Meaning and Application, and is really just showing us how we normally read any text, and getting us to be intentional and thorough about doing that when we come to the Bible. You can get a good feel for it by having a look online at David Helm’s One to One Bible Reading and checking out the free pdf sample. It can also be found in Six Steps to Reading the Bible, The Bible Overview and numerous other places that google could reveal.

I think the bulk of the work in enabling this to work better in this context, is to further breakdown the four steps to make it more concrete, and to consider how to teach it to oral people. But the first step would be to re-name and re-conceptualize the four points. It’s this that could make it appealing, catchy and memorable and so this stage is vital to transferring the information.

COMA is:

  • Context
  • Observation
  • Meaning
  • Application

This is all very well for English speakers but in Bislama there’s no one word I know of for ‘context’ and ‘meaning’ can tend to imply a hidden or allegorical meaning. The other problem is that if we did a ‘straight’ (one-to-one) translation it would have no zing as a whole (let’s face it, it’s a bit dry in English, and besides, who wants people to go into a coma while reading the Bible?)

So, what to do?

I’ve started thinking about how context and observation are really looking for clues inside and outside the specific passage. So…

  • Afsaed
  • Insaed

But I can’t think of anything relating to inside and outside for meaning and application. Maybe you can, so I’ll leave it blank…

The obvious thing for meaning would be ‘stamba’ or ‘stamba tingting’ as that is what is often used in preaching and other contexts. Application can be simply ‘aplikesen,’ which, it seems in the church context, can mean roughly the same thing as in the English COMA, but strictly speaking means a form to apply with (according to Crowley, 2003). Otherwise application can be hao hem i ‘kam long laef blong ol man tede,’ or various other phrases like it. So…

  • Afsaed
  • Insaed
  • Stamba
  • Aplikesen

But that doesn’t flow too well, so maybe

  • Luk afsaed
  • Luk insaed
  • Luk long stamba
  • Luk long laef (tede)

That might be getting somewhere. What do you think?

Another way to go might be to take the whole ‘stamba’ thing and run with it and try to do something with a tree. As in…

  • Luk long rus
  • Luk long ol han
  • Luk long stamba
  • Luk long kakae

The good things there are that:

  • Roots are a pretty powerful way to think about how it matters where in the Bible the passage is located (planted).
  • The analogy of the branches implies that all the parts of the passage relate to the stamba tingting (which is often but not always the case).
  • Kakae or frut might at a stretch be a ‘pija tok’ (metaphor) for application (that’s the bit we get to eat).

But I’m not really convinced by this because it doesn’t handle ‘observe’ too well, since there’s no tangible way that looking at branches leads to the stamba or fruit, or encourages you to look deeply into the passage. Plus, it’s also open to all kinds of misunderstandings and interpretations.

Ok, so you can see I’m struggling away. But maybe you have an idea.


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