Some of the Hebrew and Greek phrases that are translated in English in association with “name,” including “in the name of,” “in my name,” “in your name,” “on the account of my name,” “on the account of your name” (according to a classification by Robert Bratcher in The Bible Translator 1963, p. 72ff. , phrases that belong to the categories of “Agency or instrumentality” and “Representation”) present a number of challenges in other languages.
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Eugene Nida (1947, p 178ff.) explains this way:
“The biblical attitudes toward human personality are of great theological importance. There is, however, only one word which produces any considerable difficulty in other languages. This is the word ‘name.’ The great difference attached to the significance of the name of a person in the Bible times in contrast with our own culture is very important. Note such phrases as ‘whatsoever ye shall ask in my name,’ John 14:13, ‘believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God,’ John 3:18, and ‘life through his name,’ John 20:31. These expressions are generally difficult for us to understand, for the word ‘name’ does not mean the same to us as it meant to those of Bible times. To them the name was the symbolization of the authority and personality of the individual who possessed the name. To us a name is far less important. It may be changed whenever one can convince a judge that another name might be more economically advantageous. The name is also a legal method of giving one’s written assent to certain business transactions, but to us it is not the symbol of the personality.”
The translation in Eastern Huasteca Nahuatl typically is “in someone’s authority” (for instance “I have come in my Father’s name” in John 5:43 becomes “I have come on my Father’s authority”) (source Nida 1947, p. 179), or in Highland Puebla Nahuatl with the more paraphrastic equivalent “as though on orders from you” or in Tzeltal as “by your authority, so he said” (both examples for Mark 9:38 and 39, see Bratcher / Nida).
In Guhu-Samane Mark 11:9 (in English: “Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord”) is translated as “Blessed is the Lord’s namesake who comes.” “In the name of the Lord” caused “puzzlement [because] “has he just assumed the name of the Lord, valid or otherwise? [But] with ‘blessed is the Lord’s namesake who comes’ the strong bond between the namesake and the important ancestor for whom named entitles the namesake to the deference due the ancestor. Thought very proper in this context.” (Source: Ernest L. Richert in Notes on Translation December 1963: p. 4-7; reprinted in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 198ff. )
In Malay “the phrase ‘in my name’ is problematic (…) since it sounds like the use of magic. For this reason [the English] Today’s English Version (Good News Bible) was followed at such passages as John 5:43 and 10:25, where ‘in the name of my Father’ is translated as ‘with my Father’s authority’ and ‘by my Father’s authority’ [respectively]. In John 12:13 ‘in the name of the Lord’ has become ‘in his (the Lord’s) behalf,’ following the common language German translation Die Gute Nachricht. In John 14:13, ‘because you are my followers’ is used, in John in 15:16, 16:23 and 24 ‘as my followers,’ in John 17:11 ‘by your own power, the power you gave me,’ and in John 14:26 ‘in my place.'”
Other translations for “in the name of Jesus Christ” include “in the authority of Jesus Christ” (Isthmus Mixe), “calling on Jesus Christ” (Teutila Cuicatec), “calling the name of Jesus Christ over you” (Ayutla Mixtec), “because of Jesus” (Tepeuxila Cuicatec), “by the power of the name of Jesus Christ” (Chichimeca-Jonaz), or “the word of Jesus Christ is strong” (Lalana Chinantec). (source for this and above: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August 1966, p. 86ff.).
The Greek that is often translated as “disciple” in English typically follows three types of translation: (1) those which employ a verb ‘to learn’ or ‘to be taught’, (2) those which involve an additional factor of following, or accompaniment, often in the sense of apprenticeship, and (3) those which imply imitation of the teacher.
Following are some examples (click or tap for details):
Waorani: “one who lives following Jesus” (source: Wallis 1973, p. 39)
Ojitlán Chinantec: “learner” (Source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
Javanese: “pupil” or “companion” (“a borrowing from Arabic that is a technical term for Mohammed’s close associates”)
German: Jünger or “younger one” (source for this and one above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
Germandas Buch translation by Roland Werner (publ. 2009-2022). “student” or “special student” (using the traditional German term Gnade)
Nyongar: ngooldjara-kambarna or “friend-follow” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
Scot McKnight (in The Second Testament, publ. 2023) translates it into English as apprentice.
In Luang several terms with different shades of meaning are being used.
For Mark 2:23 and 3:7: maka nwatutu-nwaye’a re — “those that are taught” (“This is the term used for ‘disciples’ before the resurrection, while Jesus was still on earth teaching them.”)
For Acts 9:1 and 9:10: makpesiay — “those who believe.” (“This is the term used for believers and occasionally for the church, but also for referring to the disciples when tracking participants with a view to keeping them clear for the Luang readers. Although Greek has different terms for ‘believers’, ‘brothers’, and ‘church’, only one Luang word can be used in a given episode to avoid confusion. Using three different terms would imply three different sets of participants.”)
For Acts 6:1: mak lernohora Yesus wniatutunu-wniaye’eni — “those who follow Jesus’ teaching.” (“This is the term used for ‘disciples’ after Jesus returned to heaven.”)
Source: Kathy Taber in Notes on Translation 1/1999, p. 9-16.
In American Sign Language it is translated with a combination of the signs for “following” plus the sign for “group.” (Source: RuthAnna Spooner, Ron Lawer)
The Greek, Hebrew, and Latin terms that are translated in English mostly as “righteous” as an adjective or personified noun or “righteousness” (also as “justice”) are most commonly expressed with concept of “straightness,” though this may be expressed in a number of ways. (Click or tap here to see the details)
Following is a list of (back-) translations of various languages:
Mossi: “have a white stomach” (See also Seat of the Mind for traditional views of “ways of knowing, thinking, and feeling.”)
Nuer: “way of right” (“there is a complex concept of “right” vs. ‘left’ in Nuer where ‘right’ indicates that which is masculine, strong, good, and moral, and ‘left’ denotes what is feminine, weak, and sinful (a strictly masculine viewpoint!) The ‘way of right’ is therefore righteousness, but of course women may also attain this way, for the opposition is more classificatory than descriptive.”) (This and all above from Bratcher / Nida except for Bilua: Carl Gross; Tiv: Rob Koops; Muna: René van den Berg)
Ekari: maakodo bokouto or “enormous truth” (the same word that is also used for “truth“; bokouto — “enormous” — is being used as an attribute for abstract nouns to denote that they are of God [see also here]; source: Marion Doble in The Bible Translator 1963, p. 37ff. ).
Guhu-Samane: pobi or “right” (also: “right (side),” “(legal) right,” “straightness,” “correction,” “south,” “possession,” “pertinence,” “kingdom,” “fame,” “information,” or “speech” — “According to [Guhu-Samane] thinking there is a common core of meaning among all these glosses. Even from an English point of view the first five can be seen to be closely related, simply because of their similarity in English. However, from that point the nuances of meaning are not so apparent. They relate in some such a fashion as this: As one faces the morning sun, south lies to the right hand (as north lies to the left); then at one’s right hand are his possessions and whatever pertains to him; thus, a rich man’s many possessions and scope of power and influence is his kingdom; so, the rich and other important people encounter fame; and all of this spreads as information and forms most of the framework of the people’s speech.”) (Source: Ernest Richert in Notes on Translation 1964, p. 11ff.)
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” (from Old English belyfan: “to have faith or confidence in a person”) 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):
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.
Teribe: mär: “pick one thing and one thing only” (source: Andy Keener)
Luba-Katanga: Twi tabilo: “echo” (click or tap here to read more)
“Luba-Katanga word for ‘Faith’ in its New Testament connotation is Twi tabilo. This word means ‘echo,’ and the way in which it came to be adapted to the New Testament meaning gives a very good idea of the way in which the translator goes to work. One day a missionary was on a journey through wild and mountainous country. At midday he called his African porters to halt, and as they lay resting in the shade from the merciless heat of the sun. an African picked up a stone and sent it ricocheting down the mountain-side into the ravine below. After some seconds the hollow silence was broken by a plunging, splashing sound from the depths of the dark river-bed. As the echo died away the African said in a wondering whisper ‘Twi tabilo, listen to it.’ So was a precious word captured for the service of the Gospel in its Luba Christian form. Twi tabilo — ‘faith which is the echo of God’s voice in the depths of human sinful hearts, awakened by God Himself, the answer to his own importunate call.’ The faith that is called into being by the divine initiative, God’s own gift to the responsive heart! (Source: Wilfred Bradnock in The Bible Translator 1953, p. 49ff. )
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, “I 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.
Some languages, including Santali, have two terms — like English (see above) — to differentiate a noun from a verb form. Biswạs is used for faith, whereas pạtiạu for “believe.” R.M. Macphail (in The Bible Translator 1961, p. 36ff. ) explains this choice: “While there is little difference between the meaning and use of the two in everyday Santali, in which any word may be used as a verb, we felt that in this way we enriched the translation while making a useful distinction, roughly corresponding to that between ‘faith’ and ‘to believe’ in English.”
Likewise, in Nyongar, koort-karni or “heart truth” is used for the noun (“faith”) and djinang-karni or “see true” for the verb (“believe”) (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang).