Kingdom (of God / heaven)

The German Good News Bible (Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch) (1st edition: 1968, 2nd edition: 1982, 3rd edition: 1997) says this about the translation of the Greek expressions that in English are often translated as “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven” respectively:

An example for how a term evolved is the rendering of ‘heavenly kingdom’ or ‘kingdom of God.’ A verbatim translation will be misunderstood by most readers today: as if it talks about a kingdom that is located in heaven, when in reality it refers in the Bible to God being the ruler, to that area in which that rule has been realized and everything that human beings can expect because of that. Dependent on the context, the term is therefore translated differently in this present version: When it focuses on the presence of God’s kingdom it is rendered as ‘God establishes his rule’ (‘Gott richtet seine Herrschaft auf’), when the focus is on the future it is translated as ‘Once God finalizes his creation (or ‘work’) . . . ‘ (‘Wenn Gott sein Werk vollendet . . .’), and when the focus is on that finished creation it is ‘God’s new world’ (‘Gottes neue Welt’).” (p. 299)

The respective translation choice in that German translation:

Daud Soesilo writes this about the translation of those terms in the Malay translation:

In the New Testament [of the Revised Malay Translation (Alkitab Berita Baik, 1996)] “the Kingdom of God/Heaven” does not refer primarily to a region, or place, or to a political or national territory.
The meaning of “kingdom” is fundamentally that of “sovereignty” or “rule.” Since the primary idea is that of kingship, kingly rule, or sovereignty of God, rather than of the sphere or realm in which his rule operates, the sense of this term should be expressed in translation as “kingly rule,” “reign,” or “sovereignty,” rather than by the literal “kingdom.” Translating “Kingdom of God” The most common literal translation of the term “Kingdom of God” in Malay is “Kerajaan Allah.”
And “Kerajaan Syurga” is used for its variant “Kingdom of Heaven.” However, careful linguistic analysis of the meaning and usage of the term “kerajaan” “kingdom” shows that when it is unmarked it carries the following components:

  • a territory
  • in which a king rules
  • his people

Thus the expressions “Kerajaan Allah” and “Kerajaan Syurga” have primarily a territorial sense, rather than expressing the idea of “kingly rule.” This means, then, that we should consider replacing the literal renderings “Kerajaan Allah/Syurga” with expressions that are better able to give the New Testament meaning of “he basileia tau theou,” as expressed in the following components:

  • God’s kingly rule, including his activity in bringing about his rule in this world
  • the people God rules over, in particular those who accept his rule in their lives,
  • the situation in which God rules completely, which is the consummation of God’s activity of bringing about God’s rule. (This is the situation which the German Common Language Bible “Die Gute Nachricht” translates as “God’s New World.” From one point of view, however, this use of the expression is the one that relates most closely to the “territory” sense mentioned above.)

The Malay translation team has tried to render the expression “he basileia tou theou” faithfully and meaningfully according to the main focus in each context in which it occurs. However, to help readers who are looking for the formal features of the term, we have added footnotes that give a literal rendering. (Source: Daud Soesilo in The Bible Translator 2001, p. 239ff.)

(See also Barclay Newman in: The Bible Translator 1974, p. 401ff.)

Likewise in the Gurung translation the term was also, depending on context, rendered in four different ways:

  • God’s power at work in the world,
  • the personal response to God, in obedience and receiving blessing,
  • God’s future open ruling of the world,
  • the ultimate blessings of God’s rule in heaven.

(Source: Warren Glover in The Bible Translator 1978, p. 231ff. — here you can also find comprehensive list of examples where which translation was applied.)

Following is a list of (back-) translations from other languages:

  • Tzeltal: “persons like these will reach God’s government” (as in Mark 10:14 and Luke 18:16: “the Kingdom of God belongs to those”) or “the jurisdiction of God” (in the sense of where God has the authority)
  • Western Kanjobal: “receive God as king”
  • Copainalá Zoque: “like God to rule over”
  • San Miguel El Grande Mixtec: “agree to God reigning over”
  • Kekchí: “power (or authority) of God”
  • Laka: “God’s commanding”
  • Javanese: “the rule of God”
  • Huave: “where God rules”
  • Huastec: “God as ruler”
  • San Blas Kuna: “God’s government”
  • Navajo: “what God has charge of”
  • Sayula Popoluca: “to have God rule over”
  • Tzotzil: “to have God as chief”
  • Highland Puebla Nahuatl: “the leadership of God”
  • Wayuu: “where God is chief” (this and examples above in Bratcher / Nida)
  • Fuyug “God’s clan”
  • Mono: “sana lala’aha nang” – “area of chiefly rule”
  • Martu Wangka: “The Father looks after his own relatives” (source for this and the two preceding: Carl Gross)

believe, faith

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

Translations of the Greek pistis and its various forms that are typically translated as “faith” in English (itself deriving from Latin “fides,” meaning “trust, faith, confidence, reliance, credence”) and “believe,” cover a wide range of approaches.

Bratcher and Nida say this (1961, p. 38) (click or tap here to read more):

“Since belief or faith is so essentially an intimate psychological experience, it is not strange that so many terms denoting faith should be highly figurative and represent an almost unlimited range of emotional ‘centers’ and descriptions of relationships, e.g. ‘steadfast his heart’ (Chol), ‘to arrive on the inside’ (Chicahuaxtla Triqui), ‘to conform with the heart’ (Uab Meto), ‘to join the word to the body’ (Uduk), ‘to hear in the insides’ (or ‘to hear within one’s self and not let go’ – Nida 1952) (Laka), ‘to make the mind big for something’ (Sapo), ‘to make the heart straight about’ (Mitla Zapotec), ‘to cause a word to enter the insides’ (Lacandon), ‘to leave one’s heart with’ (Baniwa), ‘to catch in the mind’ (Ngäbere), ‘that which one leans on’ (Vai), ‘to be strong on’ (Shipibo-Conibo), ‘to have no doubts’ (San Blas Kuna), ‘to hear and take into the insides’ (Kare), ‘to accept’ (Pamona).”

Following is a list of (back-) translations from other languages (click or tap here to read more):

  • Western Kanjobal: “truth entering into one’s soul”
  • Highland Puebla Nahuatl: “following close after”
  • Huichol: “conform to the truth”
  • Loma: “lay one’s hand on it”
  • Mashco Piro: “obey-believe”
  • Mossi: “leaning on God” (this and all the above acc. to Nida 1952, p. 119ff.)
  • Thai: “place one’s heart in” (source: Bratcher / Hatton 2000, p. 37)
  • Cameroon Pidgin: “to put one’s heart in God” (source: Jan Sterk)
  • Kafa: “decide for God only” (source Loren Bliese)
  • Martu Wangka: “sit true to God’s talk” (source: Carl Gross)
  • Awabakal: ngurruliko: “to know, to perceive by the ear” (as distinct from knowing by sight or by touch — source: Lake, p. 70) (click or tap here to read more)

    “[The missionary translator] Lancelot Threlkeld learned that Awabakal, like many Australian languages, made no distinction between knowing and believing. Of course the distinction only needs to be made where there are rival systems of knowing. The Awabakal language expressed a seamless world. But as the stress on ‘belief’ itself suggests, Christianity has always existed in pluralist settings. Conversion involves deep conviction, not just intellectual assent or understanding. (…) Translating such texts posed a great challenge in Australia. Threlkeld and [his indigenous colleague] Biraban debated the possibilities at length. In the end they opted not to introduce a new term for belief, but to use the Awabakal ngurruliko, meaning ‘to know, to perceive by the ear,’ as distinct from knowing by sight or by touch.”

  • Language in southern Nigeria: a word based on the idiom “lose feathers.” Randy Groff in Wycliffe Bible Translators 2016, p. 65 explains (click or tap here to read more):


    What does losing feathers have to do with faith? [The translator] explained that there is a species of bird in his area that, upon hatching its eggs, loses its feathers. During this molting phase, the mother bird is no longer able to fly away from the nest and look for food for her hungry hatchlings. She has to remain in the nest where she and her babies are completely dependent upon the male bird to bring them food. Without the diligent, dependable work of the male bird, the mother and babies would all die. This scenario was the basis for the word for faith in his language.

J.A. van Roy (in The Bible Translator 1972, p. 418ff.) discusses how a translation of “faith” in a an earlier translation into Venda created difficult perceptions of the concept of faith (click or tap here):

The Venda term u tenda, lutendo. This term corresponds to the terms ho dumela (Southern Sotho), and ku pfumela (Tsonga) that have been used in these translations of the Bible, and means “to assent,” “to agree to a suggestion.” It is important to understand this term in the context of the character of the people who use it.

The way in which the Venda use this term reveals much about the priority of interpersonal relationships among them. They place a much higher priority on responding in the way they think they are expected to respond than on telling the truth. Smooth interpersonal relationships, especially with a dominant individual or group, take precedence over everything else.

It is therefore regarded as bad form to refuse directly when asked for something one does not in fact intend to give. The correct way is to agree, u tenda, and then forget about it or find some excuse for not keeping to the agreement. Thus u tenda does not necessarily convey the information that one means what one says. One can tenda verbally while heartily disagreeing with the statement made or having no intention whatsoever to carry out what one has just promised to do. This is not regarded as dishonesty, but is a matter of politeness.

The term u sokou tenda, “to consent reluctantly,” is often used for expressing the fatalistic attitude of the Venda in the face of misfortune or force which he is unable to resist.

The form lutendo was introduced by missionaries to express “faith.”

According to the rules of derivations and their meanings in the lu-class, it should mean “the habit of readily consenting to everything´.” But since it is a coined word which does not have a clearly defined set of meanings in everyday speech, it has acquired in church language a meaning of “steadfastness in the Christian life.” Una lutendo means something like “he is steadfast in the face of persecution.” It is quite clear that the term u tenda has no element of “trust” in it. (…)

In “The Christian Minister” of July 1969 we find the following statement about faith by Albert N. Martin: “We must never forget that one of the great issues which the Reformers brought into focus was that faith was something more than an ‘assensus,’ a mere nodding of the head to the body of truth presented by the church as ‘the faith.’ The Reformers set forth the biblical concept that faith was ‘fiducia.’ They made plain that saving faith involved trust, commitment, a trust and commitment involving the whole man with the truth which was believed and with the Christ who was the focus of that truth. The time has come when we need to spell this out clearly in categorical statements so that people will realize that a mere nodding of assent to the doctrines that they are exposed to is not the essence of saving faith. They need to be brought to the understanding that saving faith involves the commitment of the whole man to the whole Christ, as Prophet, Priest and King as he is set forth in the gospel.”

We quote at length from this article because what Martin says of the current concept of faith in the Church is even to a greater extent true of the Venda Church, and because the terms used for communicating that concept in the Venda Bible cannot be expected to communicate anything more than “a mere nodding of assent”. I have during many years of evangelistic work hardly ever come across a Venda who, when confronted with the gospel, would not say, Ndi khou tenda, “I admit the truth of what you say.” What they really mean when saying this amounts to, “1 believe that God exists, and I have no objection to the fact that he exists. I suppose that the rest of what you are talking about is also true.” They would often add, Ndi sa tendi hani-hani? “Just imagine my not believing such an obvious fact!” To the experienced evangelist this is a clear indication that his message is rejected in so far as it has been understood at all! To get a negative answer, one would have to press on for a promise that the “convert” will attend the baptism class and come to church on Sundays, and even then he will most probably just tenda in order to get rid of the evangelist, whether he intends to come or not. Isn’t that what u tenda means? So when an inexperienced and gullible white man ventures out on an evangelistic campaign with great enthusiasm, and with great rejoicing returns with a list of hundreds of names of persons who “believed”, he should not afterwards blame the Venda when only one tenth of those who were supposed to be converts actually turn up for baptismal instruction.

Moreover, it is not surprising at all that one often comes across church members of many years’ standing who do not have any assurance of their salvation or even realise that it is possible to have that assurance. They are vhatendi, “consenters.” They have consented to a new way of life, to abandoning (some of) the old customs. Lutendo means to them at most some steadfastness in that new way of life.

The concept of faith in religion is strange to Africa. It is an essential part of a religion of revelation such as Christianity or Islam, but not of a naturalistic religion such as Venda religion, in which not faith and belief are important, but ritual, and not so much the content of the word as the power of it.

The terms employed in the Venda Bible for this vital Christian concept have done nothing to effect a change in the approach of the Venda to religion.

It is a pity that not only in the Venda translation has this been the case, but in all the other Southern Bantu languages. In the Nguni languages the term ukukholwa, “to believe a fact,” has been used for pisteuo, and ukholo, the deverbative of ukukholwa, for pistis. In some of the older Protestant translations in Zulu, but not in the new translation, the term ithemba, “trust”, has been used.

confess (sin)

The Greek that is typically translated as “confess” in English in the context of these verses is translated in a variety of ways. Here are some (back-) translations:

  • Highland Puebla Nahuatl, Tzeltal: “to say openly”
  • San Blas Kuna: “to accuse oneself of his own evil”
  • Kankanaey: “telling the truth about their sins”
  • Huastec: “to take aim at one’s sin” (“an idiom which is derived from the action of a hunter taking aim at a bird or animal”) (source for this and all above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Central Pame: “pulling out the heart” (“so that it may be clearly seen — not just by men, but by God”) (source: Nida 1952, p. 155)
  • Shipibo-Conibo: “to say, It is true we have sinned” (source: Nida 1964, p. 228)
  • Obolo: itutumu ijo isibi: “speaking out sin” (source: Enene Enene).

peace (being at peace)

The Greek that is translated into English as “peace” is (back-) translated with a variety of idioms and phrases:

go in peace

The Hebrew and Greek that is translated as “go in peace” into English is an idiomatic expression of farewell which is translatable in other languages as an idiomatic expression as well: “go with sweet insides” (Shilluk), “rejoice as you go” (Central Mazahua), “go in quietness of heart” (Chol), “go happy” (Highland Puebla Nahuatl), “being happy, go” (Central Tarahumara), or “go and sit down in your heart” (Tzeltal).

justification, justify

The Greek that is translated as “justify” in English is translated into Tzotzil in two different ways. One of those is with Lec xij’ilatotic yu’un Dios ta sventa ti ta xc’ot ta o’ntonal ta xch’unel ti Jesucristoe (“we are seen well by God because of our faith in Jesus Christ.”) (Source: Aeilts, p. 118)

Other (back-) translations include:

conversion, convert, turn back

(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 often rendered in English as “to be converted” or “to turn around” is (back-) translated in a number of ways:

  • Inupiaq: “to change completely”
  • Purepecha: “to turn around”
  • Highland Totonac: “to have one’s life changed”
  • Huautla Mazatec: “to make pass over bounds within”
  • San Blas Kuna: “turn the heart toward God”
  • Chol: “the heart turns itself back”
  • Highland Puebla Nahuatl: “self-heart change”
  • Pamona: “to turn away from, unlearn something”
  • Tepeuxila Cuicatec: “to turn around from the breast”
  • Luvale: “to return”
  • Balinese: “to put in a new behavior” (compare “repentance“: “to put on a new mind”)
  • Tzeltal: “to cause one’s heart to return to God” (compare “repentance”: “to cause one’s heart to return because of one’s sin”)
  • Pedi: “to retrace one’s step” (compare “repentance”: “to become untwisted”)
  • Uab Meto: “to return” (compare “repentance”: “to turn the heart upside down”)
  • Northwestern Dinka: “to turn oneself” (compare “repentance”: “to turn the heart”) (source for this and all above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Central Mazahua: “changing the heart” (compare “repentance”: “turning back the heart”) (source: Nida 1952, p. 40)
  • Western Kanjobal: “to molt” (like a butterfly) (source: Nida 1952, p. 136)
  • Latvian: atgriezties (verb) / atgriešanās (noun) (“turn around / return”) which is also the same term being used for “repentance” (source: Katie Roth)