I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener”—so runs the translation of John 15:1 according to The Good News Bible (American Bible Society 1976).  It presented two initial metaphors for translation: ‘the true vine’ and ‘Father as gardener’.

The Tok Pisin Bible reads: “Mi yet mi diwai wain tru. Na Papa bilong mi emi papa bilong gaden wain.” (It is I alone who is the true wine tree. My Father is the father of the wine garden.) What the TP Bible was trying to make clear was that the ‘garden’ was a ‘vineyard’, so ‘gaden wain’ is used.

However, as I have examined four versions of Kewa translations, the TP translation has proved to be a problem. Not so much in the first translation (West Kewa, or WK), which was published in 1973 and reads (when translated back into English) “Jesus said this: I am like the bone of the rope (or vine). My father (address) is like the father (reference) who looks after (guards) the garden.”

The ‘bone’ of vine is its true strength, the inner core, like the bones of our skeletons and ‘bun’ in TP can refer to ‘strength’. Then Jesus, speaking about this own father, used two words that mean ‘father’: one, a term of address (Apa), the other a term of reference. (aaraa) to refer to the owner or father of the garden. The standard Kewa way of speaking about the owner of something is to refer to it as ‘the father of X’. So someone referring to my father uses the latter, but talking to my father uses the former.

The revised version of the WK followed the TP and the translators decided on: “Jesus said: I am like the one who carries the real wine. My Father (Aapa) is the the owner/father (aaraa) of the garden and guards it”. That is not too bad, but when the translators of the East Kewa (EK) looked at the TP and the revised WK, they went a step further (or backward) and decided on “Jesus told them: I am the real wine [not vine]. It is my father (Aapa) but he is (also) the owner/father (aaraa) who looks after the wine vine.” So they used the phrase ‘wine vine’ and missed part of the point by implying that Jesus was the ‘wine’ and not the ‘vine’, undoubtedly confused by the TP translation.

I also looked at the South Kewa (Pole) translation and found “Jesus said I am on (or part of?) that true wine vine In that way my father (Apa) is the real owner on that wine vine garden, he said”. Here the translators introduced a new phrase ‘garden source-man’ and capitalized part of it, hoping to specify that the owner was someone special or important.

I think the original 1973 version captures the meaning best. The revised WK and the EK depend too much on the TP for their source text. The SK apparently does not refer to TP and attempts to assign meaning by introducing a new phrase (garden source-man). But it is not clear if the newly coined phrase conveys the basic meaning of what Jesus was saying any better than the revised WK or EK translations.

Sometimes the old ones really are the best.