Most of my early music influences came via my Christmas stocking.  Christmas morning my parents often left some musical delight (cassettes at the time) for my enjoyment in the upcoming new year.  Memorable ones include my introduction to early Robert-Johnsonesque blues via Eric Clapton’s “Unplugged” album.  Louis Armstrong’s “Greatest Hits” was my all-time favorite as it introduced me into the wonderful world of jazz.  I can still remember ol’ Satchmo’s grinning mug on the cover clutching his fabled horn.  One Christmas I received one titled Elvis’ “Greatest Hits.” The cover showed a close-up of the young slim Elvis with a bright red background behind.  I wasn’t initially interested, but I ended up catching the appeal and enjoying all of the songs from “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock” to “Suspicious Minds.” I soon learned to sing along and was imitating the king’s famous hip moves (not in public of course).

Fast forward about 25 years from that Christmas to a couple weeks before Christmas 2016.  One Elvis song in particular popped into my mind as we were in the thick of checking the Bhogoto Bible translation team’s draft of Genesis 2:24.  The passage, of course, is well known where the author Moses gives a pastoral explanatory note at the end of the creation and presentation of Eve to Adam. It explains the basics of what marriage is all about.  He says,

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

We checked the first clause of the verse, and after checking with the back translator it seemed to communicate the correct meaning.  But I had a question about what the “and hold fast to his wife” meant in the next clause.

Literally the translation of the Bhogoto was, “This is why, a man will leave his father and his mother so that he might sit with his wife.”

I knew that in Bhogoto “sit” can mean simply “to sit” but often means “to live.”  I assumed in my preparation before the check that this verb would be a problem because the verb  in Hebrew for “cleave, hold fast, etc.” (dabaq)  and the verse in general means so much more than a man simply changing his address when he gets hitched.  I also thought that this “live with” meaning was what they translated because they translated from a French Bible that (erroneously, in my humble opinion) translated the verse “in order to live with his wife.”

So, we started to check the next clause, and as usual, one of the translators read out loud the text in Bhogoto and the back translator orally translated that into French for me. It was as I expected, “…a man will leave his father and his mother so that he might sit with his wife.”

I then asked the back translator, “What does this mean in this passage to you, ‘a man will sit with his wife’? Explain to me what the text means.”  Much to my surprise all of the translators gave out a nervous chuckle and started sheepishly looking down at the ground.  One of the translators quickly lifted up his head and our eyes met, he grinned and then made his eyebrows jump twice, which culturally means, “You know what we’re talking about.”

My mind starting darting back and forth, because I certainly didn’t know “what he was talking about.”  What would make these men slightly sheepish that has to do with a man sitting with his wife….  My mind suddenly found a cerebral file from my grad school days and I asked them.  “In Bhogoto, when a man sits with a woman, is that a euphemism for something … like sex?”  They all blushed and replied smiling (smiling is more for nervousness in the culture) “Yes.”  The translator continued “Certainly it can mean literally that a man will literally sit or live with his wife.  But that doesn’t make sense here in this context and everyone reading or hearing this passage will think about sex.”

So I then said, “What have you always thought about what this passage means?”

One of them replied, “It means that this is what you do when you get married, you have sex.  This is the permitted way to have sex.”

I went on to explain their understanding of sex is certainly correct but the verse is saying something different about marriage.

I explained: “The verb you translated as ‘sit’ really means something more like ‘stick.’.  Like glue.  The man and wife are to be an inseparable unit that not even the will of a father or mother is to separate.”

Suddenly I heard Elvis intone those love song lyrics that have apparently been indelibly stamped in my gray matter as I explained to the team how they should change their translation,

“I’m stuck like glue, yeah yeah because I’m (wait 2 beats) stuck on you.”

It’s funny how the mind works.

Now, in Central African culture, marriage is an alliance whose primary goal is to make children to increase the clan. Companionship and mutual happiness and service are not of much import. If there’s a case of sterility in either of the partners, then it is assumed that the marriage should end (just like the Western notion of ‘happiness or bust’ in marriages).  We went on and talked about how man and woman are to be inseparably stuck to one another in covenant no matter what.  This is a very different view than the prevailing culture.  Of course, every culture gets sex and marriage wrong in some way.

After the discussion of the words and the overall theological import of this passage all the translators quickly said to another, “Ndadhi! A man will leave his father and mother and ndadhi to his wife.”

“What does ‘ndadhi’ mean?”  I said.

“It’s similar to the Hebrew word actually.  First, it’s the word we use for two things that literally stick together.  Like wet leaves ndadhi to your wet leg.  Or we can say that of relationships.  There are blood covenants and friendships that ndadhi two people or groups permanently.”

This was put into the translation and everyone was happy with the solution.

We then had a discussion how we can ourselves “stick” to our wives better and how we can teach this to our friends and neighbors to come back to the pattern that God laid out for married couples to live.

Because, even Elvis was somewhat on to God’s universal mandate for what a married couple is supposed to say to each other,

“I’m stuck like glue, yeah yeah because I’m (wait 2 beats) stuck on you.”

Adam Huntley

Adam Huntley

Adam, a member of CCBC, is a translator with Wycliffe Bible Translators in the Central African Republic. He and Ruth and their family currently live in Dallas, TX.