Jesus

The Greek Iēsous is “only” a proper name but one with great importance. The following quote by John Ellington (in The Bible Translator 1993, p. 401ff.) illustrates this:

“In Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus Christ, Joseph is told that when Mary gives birth to a son ‘you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins’ (1:21). This name is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name [Yeshua (יֵשׁוּעַ) which is a short form of a name meaning] ‘the Lord [Yahweh] saves.’ The name is very significant and is in itself especially dear to Christians around the world. (…) Unquestionably great importance is attached to the name of Jesus by Christians of all persuasions and backgrounds.”

While Iēsous (pronounced: /i.ɛː.suːs/) is transliterated as “Jesus” (pronounced /ˈdʒiːzəs/) in English it is transliterated and pronounced in a large variety of other ways as well, following the different rules of different languages’ orthographies, writing systems and rules of pronunciation. The following is a (very partial) list of forms of Jesus in Latin characters: Chesús, Gesù, Gesû, Gesü, Ġesù, Giêsu, Hesu, Hesús, Iesu, Ihu, Íosa, Ìosa, Isus, Isus, Isus, Isuthi, Îtu, Jasus, Jeesus, Jeesus, Jeso, Jesús, Jésus, Jezi, Ježiš, Jezus, Jézus, Jėzus, Jēzus, Jezusi, Jezuz, Jisos, Jisọs, Jisas, Jisu, Sisa, uJesu, Xesosi, ´Xesús, Ya:su, Yeso, Yésʉs, Yexus, Yiitju, Yusu, Zjezus, and this (equally incomplete) list with other writings systems: ᔩᓱᓯ, Յիսուս, ᏥᏌ, ኢየሱስ, ܝܫܘܥ, Ісус, 耶稣, იესო, ईसा, イエス, 예수, येशू, യേശു, ජේසුස්, যীশু, ‘ঈছা, இயேசு, ఏసు, เยซู, យេស៊ូ, يَسُوعَ, (note that some of these might not display correctly if your computer does not have the correct fonts installed).

Click or tap here to read more).


In some languages the different confessions have selected different transliterations, such as in Belarusian with Isus (Ісус) by the Orthodox and Protestant churches and Yezus (Езус) by the Catholic church, Japanese with Iesu (イエス) (Protestant and Catholic) and Iisusu (イイスス) (Orthodox), or Lingala with Yesu (Protestant) or Yezu (Catholic). These differences have come to the forefront especially during the work on interconfessional translations such as one in Lingala where “many hours were spent on a single letter difference” (source: Ellington, p. 401).

In Chinese where transliterations of proper names between the Catholic and Protestant versions typically differ vastly, the Chinese name of Jesus (Yēsū 耶稣) remarkably was never brought into question between and by those two confessions, likely due to its ingenious choice. (Click or tap here to see more).

The proper name of God in the Old Testament, Yahweh (YHWH), is rendered in most Chinese Bible translations as Yēhéhuá 耶和華 — Jehovah. According to Chinese naming conventions, Yēhéhuá could be interpreted as Yē Héhuá, in which would be the family name and Héhuá — “harmonic and radiant” — the given name. In the same manner, 耶 would be the family name of Jesus and 稣 would be his given name. Because in China the children inherit the family name from the father, the sonship of Jesus to God the Father, Jehovah, would be illustrated through this. Though this line of argumentation sounds theologically unsound, it is indeed used effectively in the Chinese church (see Wright 1953, p. 298).

Moreover, the “given name” of 稣 carries the meaning ‘to revive, to rise again’ and seems to point to the resurrected Jesus. (Source: J. Zetzsche in Malek 2002, p. 141ff., see also tetragrammaton (YHWH))

There are different ways that Bible translators have chosen historically and today in how to translate the name of Jesus in predominantly Muslim areas: with a form of the Arabic Isa (عيسى) (which is used for “Jesus” in the Qur’an), the Greek Iēsous, or, like major 20th century Bible translations into Standard Arabic, the Aramaic Yēšūaʿ: Yasua (يَسُوعَ). (Click or tap here to see more.)

Following are languages and language groups that use a form of Isa include the following (note that this list is not complete):

In German the name Jesus (pronounced: /ˈjeːzʊs/) is distinguished by its grammatical forms. Into the 20th century the grammatical rules prescribed a unique Greek-Latin declination: Jesus (nominative), Jesu (genitive, dative, vocative), Jesum (accusative), from which today only the genitive case “Jesu” is still in active use.

Translation: German

Auf Deutsch wird der Name Jesus (ausgesprochen: /ˈjeːzʊs/) durch dessen grammatikalische Formen hervorgehoben. Bis ins 20. Jahrhundert schrieben die grammatikalischen Regeln eine nur hier verwendete Griechisch/Lateinsche Misch-Deklination vor: Jesus (Nominativ), Jesu (Genitiv, Dativ, Vokativ) und Jesum (Akkusativ), von welchen heute nur noch der Genitiv-Kasus „Jesu“ aktiv verwendet wird.

Translator: Jost Zetzsche

complete verse (Mark 10:38)

The translation of Mark 10:38 into Avaric demanded a particularly difficult decision. [In it] we are faced with two metaphors, for which literal translation is impossible, since the expressions “drink the cup” and “be immersed in water, be washed” are, for the Avar, in no way connected with the idea of suffering and death. Nevertheless there is an equivalent for the first metaphor; in the Avaric language there is an idiomatic expression “to drink from the horn of death,” which is identical to the idea of the Gospels’ “cup.” For the second metaphor the translator used a less obvious equivalent: “to cross the river” (‘or baxine) — an expression which can express “to experience hardship, suffering” and at the same time contains the idea of immersion in water.

Source: Magomed-Kamil Gimbatov and Yakov Testelets in The Bible Translator 1996, p. 434ff.

basket, bushel, measure

The Greek that is translated in English with “basket” or “bushel” or “measure” is translated into Avaric with an existing term: “sah.” “To the European reader it is not clear how a lamp can be put under a measure, since such a reader has only a vague idea what this “measure” (modios) must look like. For the Avar, again, there is no problem here: everybody knows the word sah, which means exactly the same as the Greek modios.”

Source: Magomed-Kamil Gimbatov and Yakov Testelets in The Bible Translator 1996, p. 434ff.

remove the roof

The Greek that is translated in English with “remove the roof” is translated into Avaric with an existing term: “t’ox bichize.” “Demolishing a roof in order to reach the interior of a house is an entirely familiar action, used, for example, in assaults on strongholds and fortified buildings in wartime; there is even a special phrase for this in Avaric (t’ox bichize).”

Source: Magomed-Kamil Gimbatov and Yakov Testelets in The Bible Translator 1996, p. 434ff.

evidentiality, he had great wealth

Avaric uses the so-called evidential verbal forms. Such forms are used when the speaker himself has not witnessed a given action or event, but has come to know about it indirectly or by report.

So, for example, when in the episode of the rich young man it is said that “he had great wealth,” this information, which was acquired by the teller from hearsay rather than from actual experience, can be expressed by means of these evidential verb forms. In addition, evidential verbs are used in the text of parables, being the standard form for reported speech in texts describing what the teller has not actually witnessed.

Source: Magomed-Kamil Gimbatov and Yakov Testelets in The Bible Translator 1996, p. 434ff.

church

The Greek that is often translated as “church” in English is translated into Avaric as imanl’urazul ahlu: “the community of believers” or “the believing people.”

Gimbatov and Testelets talk about the genesis of this term in Avaric (click or tap here to read):


The word “Church” presents particular difficulties, as we might expect when we think that even many Christians do not understand it correctly. When people today say “church”, they often mean a particular building, or an organization consisting chiefly of clergy (priests and monks). It is even harder to find a word or combination of words which adequately translates the meaning for people unfamiliar with Christianity. Surprisingly, the Greek word ekklesia, indicating in the classical language “an assembly of the people”, “a gathering of citizens”, has come into Avar and other Dagestani languages in the form kilisa. This, like the word qanch (“cross”), is an ancient borrowing, presumably from the time before the arrival of Islam, when Dagestan came under the influence of neighboring Christian states. In modern usage, however, this word indicates a place of Christian worship. Thus it is completely inappropriate as a translation of its New Testament ancestor ekklesia.

We were obliged to look at various words which are closer to the meaning of the Greek. Some of these words are dandel’i (“meeting”), danderussin (“assembly”), the Arabic-derived mazhlis (“meeting, conference”), zhama’at (“society, community”), ahlu (“race, people, family, group of people united by a common goal or interest”, as in the Arabic phrase ahlu-l-kitab “people of the Book” or “people of the Scriptures”), which describes both Jews and Christians, and ummat (“people, tribe”). In Islamic theology the phrase “Mohammed’s ummat” means the universal community of Muslims, the Muslim world, in the same way as the Christian world is known as “Isa’s ummat.” None of these descriptions on their own, without explanation, can be used to translate the word “Church” in the New Testament. Thus, after long consideration, we adopted the phrase imanl’urazul ahlu, meaning “the community of believers,” “the believing people,” This translation corresponds closely to New Testament teaching about the Church.

It is interesting that the same word ahlu with the meaning “tribe, community” has been used by translators for different reasons in the introduction to the Gospel of Luke in order to translate the expression in the original Greek pepleroforemenon en hemin pragmaton (πεπληροφορημένων ἐν ἡμῖν πραγμάτων), which the Russian Synodal translation renders “about the events well-known amongst us” (Luke 1:1). The expression “amongst us” cannot be translated literally into Avar, but has to be rendered “among our people”; and here the same term was used as for the word “church”, literally “among our tribe, community (ahlu)”.

Source: Magomed-Kamil Gimbatov and Yakov Testelets in The Bible Translator 1996, p. 434ff.

be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, drink the cup I drink

The translation of the two Greek phrases “Can you drink the cup I drink?” and “Can you be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” demanded a particularly difficult decision in the translation into Avaric. “We are faced with two metaphors, for which literal translation is impossible, since the expressions “drink the cup” and “be immersed in water, be washed” are, for the Avaric, in no way connected with the idea of suffering and death.

Nevertheless there is an equivalent for the first metaphor; in the Avaric language there is an idiomatic expression “to drink from the horn of death,” which is identical to the idea of the Gospels’ “cup”. For the second metaphor the translator used a less obvious equivalent: “to cross the river” (‘or baxine), an expression which can express “to experience hardship, suffering” and at the same time contains the idea of immersion in water.

Source: Source: Magomed-Kamil Gimbatov and Yakov Testelets in The Bible Translator 1996, p. 434ff.

Son of Man

(To view the different translations of this term in a simplified graphical form on a new page, click or tap here.)

The Greek that is translated as “Son of Man” and is mostly used by Jesus to refer to himself is (back-) translated in the following languages as (click or tap for details):

  • San Miguel El Grande Mixtec: “I who am a person”
  • Tzotzil: “I who am equal with men” or “The Older Brother of Everybody” (“expressing the dignity and authority of the Messiah and the universality of his work”)
  • Chuj: “I who became human”
  • Terêna: “The True Man”
  • Tenango Otomi: “The Man Appointed” (i.e. the man to whom authority has been delegated) (source for this and preceding: Beekman, p. 189-190, see also Ralph Hill in Notes on Translation February 1983, p. 35-50)
  • Central Tarahumara: “I have been stood up to help” (“This suggests that Christ has been given authority to some appointed task. A very generic word, help, was selected to fill in the lexically obligatory purpose required by the word which means to appoint or commission. Usually this word is used of menial tasks but not exclusively. The choice of this generic term retains the veiled reference to the character of Christ’s work which He intended in using the ‘Son of Man’ title.”)
  • Chicahuaxtla Triqui: “He who is relative of all people.” (“The Triqui word for relative is a rather generic term and in its extended sense sometimes is diluted to neighbor and friend. But the primary meaning is relative.”)
  • Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac: “Sibling of All People”
  • Tepeuxila Cuicatec: “I, the Person who Accompanies All People.” (“The literal equivalents ‘son of man’ and ‘son of people’ were both rejected because of the false inference of natural birth involving a human father. Furthermore, it was necessary to expand any translation of the Bible by the addition of the pronoun ‘I’ so as to clarify the fact that Jesus is using the third person in referring to Himself. A common expression used by the Cuicatecos when difficulties befall someone, is to say to that one, ‘don’t worry, we are accompanying you.’ By this they mean they share that person’s sorrow. When wedding guests arrive at the home of a son who has just been married, they say to the father, ‘We have come to accompany you.’ By this they mean that they have come to share the father’s joy. These expressions do not refer to ordinary physical accompaniment, which is expressed by a set of different verbs. For example, visits are always announced by some such greeting as, “I have come to visit you,’ ‘I have come to see you,’ or ‘I have come to ask you something.’ The desire to accompany a friend on a journey is expressed by saying, ‘I will go with you.’ Translation helpers used the verb ‘accompany’ in constructing the phrase ‘I, the Person who Accompanies All People.'(…) It reflects the fact that Jesus closely identified Himself with all of us, understands our weaknesses, shares our burdens, rejoices with us in times of gladness, etc.”) (source for this and the three preceding: Beekman in Notes on Translation January 1963, p. 1-10)
  • Guhu-Samane: “elder-brother-man” (“Since the term denotes an elder brother in every way such as honor, power, leadership, representation of the younger, etc. it is a meaningful and fitting — though not ostentatious — title.” Source: Ernest Richert in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 198ff.)
  • Avar: “Son of Adam” (“from Islam, which means ‘human'”) (source: Magomed-Kamil Gimbatov and Yakov Testelets in The Bible Translator 1996, p. 434ff.)
  • Navajo: “Diné Silíi’ii” — “Man he-became-the-one-who” (“This terra presented a difficulty not only in Navajo but also one peculiar to all the Athapaskan languages. It lies in the fact that all these languages, so far as we know, have a word phonetically similar to the Navajo diné which has three meanings: ‘man, people in general,’ ‘a man,’ ‘The People’ which is the name the Navajos use for themselves. (The name Navajo was first used by the Spanish explorers.) Although it seemed natural to say diné biye’ ‘a-man his-son,’ this could also mean ‘The-People their-son’ or ‘a-Navajo his-son,’ in contrast to the son of a white man or of another Indian tribe. Since the concept of the humanity of Christ is so important, we felt that diné biye’ with its three possible meanings should not be used. The term finally decided on was Diné Silíi’ii ‘Man he-became-the-one-who.’ This could be interpreted to mean ‘the one who became a Navajo,’ but since it still would impart the idea of Christ’s becoming man, it was deemed adequate, and it has proven acceptable to the Navajos.”) (Source: Faye Edgerton in The Bible Translator 1962, p. 25ff.)
  • Toraja-Sa’dan: “son (lit. child) descended in the world” (“using a poetic verb, often found in songs that [deal with] the contacts between heaven and earth”) (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • Obolo: Gwun̄ Ebilene: ” it is translated as itutumu ijo isibi : “Child of Human (source: Enene Enene).

In many West African languages, using a third person reference as a first person indicator is common practice with a large range of semantic effects. Languages that use the exact expression “son of man” as a self-reference or reference to another person include Lukpa, Baatonum, Mossi (“son of Adam”), Yoruba (“son of person”), Guiberoua Béte, or Samo. (Source: Lynell Zogbo in: Omanson 2000, p. 167-188.)

In Balinese “we are again bordering on theological questions when we inquire as to which vocabulary shall be used to translate the texts where Jesus speaks of himself as ‘the Son of man.’ One of the fixed rules governing the use of these special vocabularies is that one may never use the deferential terms in speaking of oneself. This would be the extreme of arrogance. Now if one considers the expression ‘Son of man’ primarily as a description of ‘I,’ then one must continually indicate the possessions or actions of the Son of man by Low Balinese words. In doing this the mystery of the expression is largely lost. In any case the vocabulary used in most of the contexts would betray that Jesus means the title for himself.

“However, a distinction can actually be made in Balinese between the person and the exalted position he occupies. For example, the chairman of a judicial body may employ deferential terms when referring to this body and its chairman, without this being taken as an expression of arrogance. Considered from this standpoint, one may translate in such a way that Jesus is understood as using such deferential words and phrases in speaking of himself. The danger is, however, that the unity between his person and the figure of “the Son of man” is blurred by such usage.

“On request, the New Testament committee of the Netherlands Bible Society advised that ‘the sublimity of this mysterious term be considered the most important point and thus High Balinese be used.'”

Source: J.L. Swellengrebel in The Bible Translator 1950, p. 124ff.

In Malay, Barclay Newman reports on the translation of “Today’s Malay Version” (Alkitab Berita Baik) of 1987:

“One of the first things that we did in working through the earlier part of the New Testament was to decide on how we would translate some of the more difficult technical terms. It was immediately obvious that something must be done with the translation of ‘the Son of Man,’ since the literal rendering anak manusia (literally ‘child of a man’) held absolutely no meaning for Malay readers. We felt that the title should emphasize the divine origin and authority of the one who used this title, and at the same time, since it was a title, we decided that it should not be too long a phrase. Finally, a phrase meaning ‘the One whom God has ordained’ was chosen (yang dilantik Allah). It is interesting to note that the newly-begun Common Indonesian (Alkitab Kabar Baik, published in 1985) has followed a similar route by translating ‘the One whom God has chosen’ (yang depilih Allah).”

Source: Barclay Newman in The Bible Translator 1974, p. 432ff.

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Matt. 17:4 / Mark 9:5 / Luke 9:33)

Many languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns (“we”). The inclusive “we” specifically includes the addressee (“you and I and possibly others”), while the exclusive “we” specifically excludes the addressee (“he/she/they and I, but not you”). This grammatical distinction is called “clusivity.” While Semitic languages such as Hebrew or most Indo-European languages such as Greek or English do not make that distinction, translators of languages with that distinction have to make a choice every time they encounter “we” or a form thereof (in English: “we,” “our,” or “us”).

For this verse (“Lord, it is good for us to be here” in English translations), Yagua translators selected the exclusive form (excluding Jesus), Avaric translators chose the inclusive “nil'” (which includes Jesus).

Source: Paul Powlison in Notes on Translation with Drills, p. 165ff. and Magomed-Kamil Gimbatov and Yakov Testelets in The Bible Translator 1996, p. 434ff.