For the Greek that is translated with an equivalent of “It is finished (or: completed)” in most English Bible translations a perfect tense is used that has no direct equivalent in English. It expresses that an event has happened at a specific point in the past but that that event has ongoing results. The English “Expanded Translation” by Kenneth S. Wuest (publ. 1961) attempted to recreate that by translating “It has been finished and stands complete.”
Irish uses yet a different system of tenses, resulting in these translations:
Atá sé ar na chríochnughadh (Bedell An Biobla Naomhtha, publ. early 17th century): “It is upon its completion”
Tá críoch curtha air (Ó Cuinn Tiomna Nua, publ. 1970): “Completion is put on it”
Tá sé curtha i gcrích (An Bíobla Naofa, publ. 1981): “It is put in completion”
Source for the Irish: Kevin Scannell
In Ojitlán Chinantec it is translated as “My work is finished,” in Aguaruna as “It is completely accomplished,” and in Mezquital Otomi as “Now all is finished which I was commanded to do.” (Source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
In Mandarin Chinese, it is translated as chéng le (成了) which means both “it is completed” and “it is finished” (source: Zetzsche).
Artist Willy Wiedmann rendered this scene this way:
Image taken from the Wiedmann Bible. For more information about the images and ways to adopt them, see here .
For other images of Willy Wiedmann paintings in TIPs, see here.
The Greek that is translated “these women” in English, referring to Euodia and Syntyche from the previous verse, was translated in the Mandarin Chinese “Peking Version” translation (publ. 1872) via affixing shì (氏) to Euodia’s and Syntyche’s names. In classical Chinese, shì could notify female gender but was likely obsolete in spoken Chinese in the 19th century already as it is today. When Katharine Bushnell (1855-1946) read this translation after arriving in China as a medical missionary in 1879, she likely didn’t understand shì that way (particularly because the “Nanking Version,”the other Mandarin Chinese translation available then, and the “Delegates Version,” the most common Literary or Classical Chinese version used more transparent translations). Instead she assumed that the gender of Euodia and Syntyche was simply dropped. She herself recounts what happened:
“Finding a sex-biassed translation in the Chinese translation of the Bible, I one day asked a male missionary about it. He said that undoubtedly it was so rendered because of pagan prejudice against the ministry of women. I was shocked. It had never before entered my mind that such a thing could be. This led to my tracing other signs, both in the Chinese and the English Bible, that pointed in the same direction, when I consulted my Greek Testament. Could it be possible that men allowed prejudice to color Scripture translation?” (Source: Katherine Bushnell in A Brief Sketch of Her Life, 1932 ).
This caused Bushnell to “devote [herself] to more careful and critical study of the Greek New Testament, and later, of the Greek Old Testament; and [she] added the study of Hebrew for comparison in the Old Testament” (source: see above), resulting in the highly influential God’s Word to Women, beginning in 1908 and finally as a 100-chapter study in book form in 1921.
Bushnell states in the book: “Supposing women only had translated the Bible, from age to age, is there a likelihood that men would have rested content with the outcome? Therefore, our brothers have no good reason to complain if, while conceding that men have done the best they could alone, we assert that they did not do the best that could have been done. The work would have been of a much higher order had they first helped women to learn the sacred languages (instead of putting obstacles in their way), and then, have given them a place by their side on translations committees.” (God’s Word to Women, p. 146, accessible here )
Newman / Nida describe some of the difficulties surrounding the translation of the Greek “Logos” which is typically translated as “Word” in English (click or tap here to read more):
“The term ‘the Word’ has a rich heritage, by way of both its Greek and Jewish backgrounds. For the Greeks who held to a theistic view of the universe, it could be understood as the means by which God reveals himself to the world, while among those who were pantheistic in outlook, the Word was the principle that held the world together and at the same time endowed men with the wisdom for living. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint), the Word could be used both of the means by which God had created the world (Ps 33:6) and through which he had revealed himself to the world (Jer 1:4; Ezek 1:3; Amos 3:1). Among certain of the Greek-speaking Jews of New Testament times, there was much speculation about the ‘wisdom’ of God, which God ‘made in the very beginning, at the first, before the world began’ (Prov 8:22-23). (…) By the time that John writes his Gospel, the Word is close to being recognized as a personal being, and it has roles relating to the manner in which God created the world and to the way in which God reveals himself to the world that he brought into being. Moffatt [whose English translation of the New Testament was published in 1913], realizing the difficulty in finding a term equivalent in meaning to the one used by John, transliterates the Greek term: ‘the Logos existed in the very beginning’ [see also Hart’s translation below or The Orthodox New Testament, 2000)]; while Phillips [New Testament translation published in 1958] at least makes an effort to give his translation meaning: ‘at the beginning God expressed himself.’
“Though the Greek term logos may be rendered ‘word,’ it would be wrong to think it indicates primarily a grammatical or lexical unit in a sentence. Greek has two other terms which primarily identify individual words, whether they occur in a list (as in a dictionary) or in a sentence. The term logos, though applicable to an individual word, is more accurately understood as an expression with meaning; that is, it is ‘a message,’ ‘a communication,’ and, as indicated, a type of ‘revelation.’ A literal translation, therefore, more or less equivalent to English ‘word,’ is frequently misleading.
“In some languages there are additional complications. For example, in some languages the term ‘word’ is feminine in gender, and therefore any reference to it must also be feminine [or neuter — see German below]. As a result, the possible use of pronouns in reference to Jesus Christ can be confusing. Furthermore, in many languages a term such as ‘word’ must be possessed. One cannot speak about ‘the word’ without indicating who spoke the word, since words do not exist apart from the persons who utter them.
“Because of these and other difficulties, many translators treat the term ‘Word’ or Logos as a title, and that is precisely what it is. The very fact that it is normally capitalized in English translations marks it as a title; but in many languages the fact of its being a title must be more clearly indicated by some explicit expression, for example, ‘the one who was called the Word’ [see Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac below] or ‘the one known as the Word’ [see German below] In this way the reader can understand from the beginning that ‘Word’ is to be understood as a designation for a person.
“Therefore, this first sentence in John 1:1 may be rendered ‘Before the world was created, the one who was known as the Word existed’ or ‘… the person called the Word existed.’ In languages which employ honorific forms it is particularly appropriate to use such an indication with the title ‘Word.’ Such a form immediately marks the designation as the title of deity or of a very important personage, depending, of course, upon the usage in the language in question.”
German: Er, der ‘das Wort’ ist: “He who is ‘the Word'” — this solution circumvents the different gender of Jesus (masculine) and “das Wort” (neuter) (in: Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch, 3rd edition: 1997)
Anindilyakwa: Originally translated as N-ayakwa-murra or “he having the properties of a word/message/language.” Since this was not understandable, it is now “Jesus Christ, the one who revealed God who was hidden from us.” (Source: Julie Waddy in The Bible Translator 2004, p. 452ff.)
Kwang: “He who is called ‘The reality (lit: the body) of the Word of God himself’” (source: Mark Vanderkooi)
Dholuo: Wach: “Word” (but also: “problem,” “issue,” or “matter”) (source: Jim Harries)
Assamese: বাক্য (bakya) / Bengali: বাক্ (bāk) / Telugu: వాక్యము (vākyamu) / Hindi (some versions): वचन (vachan). All these terms are derived from the Sanskrit vach (वाच्), meaning “speech,” “voice,” “talk,” “language,” or “sound.” Historically, “in early Vedic literature, vach was the creative power in the universe. Sometimes she appears alone, sometimes with Prajapati, the creator god. She is called ‘Mother of the Vedas.’ All of this suggest an interesting parallel with logos. From the Upanishads on [late Vedic period, the Vedic period overall stretches from c. 1500–500 BC), however, she retreats from her creative role and becomes identified with Saraswati, the goddess of speech.”
Sanskrit and Hindi (some versions): शब्द (shabda), meaning “speech sound.” Historically, “Shabda is of importance from the Upanishads on. As shabda-brahman it is eternal and is the ground of the phenomenal world.” (Source for this and above: R.M. Clark in The Bible Translator 1962, p. 81ff. )
Sinhala: ධර්මයාණෝ (dharmayāṇō), meaning “philosophy” or “religion.”
Tonga: Folofola: “Originally, the term is used in the kingly language and is related to the meaning of unrolling the mat, an indispensable item in Tongan traditions. The mats, especially those with beautiful and elaborate designs, are usually rolled up and kept carefully until the visit of a guest to the house. The term thus evokes to the Tongans the idea of God’s Word being unrolled to reveal his love and salvation for mankind.” (Source: Joseph Hong in The Bible Translator 1994, p. 329ff. )
“There are other words that the learned translators of the West have in vain tried to render into rich tongues as French or Latin. They found obscure expressions for the common ‘word’ or ‘speech’ (…) It would seem that these words would present insurmountable difficulties for the translator in primitive languages. Missionaries of the Loyalty Islands could not find the word to translate ‘Word,’ nor have they imagined that there could be a corresponding term in the native language. They simply introduced the Greek word into the vocabulary, pronouncing it in the native fashion, ‘In the beginning the Logos’. These people are intelligent; and do not appreciate pronouncing words which make no sense whatsoever. However, when a Caledonian speaks French, he translates his thoughts as they seem to him the most adequate. He can easily express himself relative to the man who has conceived good things, has said them, or done them. He simply describes such a person as, ‘The word of this man is good’. Thought, speech, and action are all included in the New Caledonian term nô. In speaking of an adulterous man one may say, ‘He has done an evil word’. One may speak of a chief who does not think, order, or act correctly as, ‘His word is not good’. The expression ‘the Word of God’ is limited in our speech to meaning of the divine Scriptures, but in New Caledonian it includes the thoughts and acts of God, ‘God said and it was done’. The New Caledonian has no difficulty in seeing the Word becoming action, becoming flesh, the word becoming a physical reality. Our deceased colleague Laffay once said: ‘I prefer to read John in the Ajië rather than in French’.
The recent English New Testament translation by David Bentley Hart (2017), that uses the transliteration Logos for the Greek Λόγος, says this about its translation (p. 549ff.): “In certain special instances it is quite impossible for a translator to reduce [Λόγος] to a single word in English, or in any other tongue (though one standard Chinese version of the Bible renders logos in the prologue of John’s Gospel as 道 (dao), which is about as near as any translation could come to capturing the scope and depth of the word’s religious, philosophical, and metaphoric associations in those verses, while also carrying the additional meaning of “speech” or “discourse”).”
Below you can find some background of this remarkable Chinese translation (click or tap here to read more):
Dao 道, which developed into a central concept of classical Chinese philosophy, originally carried the meaning of “path” and “(main) road.” From there it developed into “leading” and “teaching” as well as “say” and “speak.”
As early as the 7th century BC, however, dao appears with the meaning “method.” With this and the derived meaning of “the (right) way” and “moral principle,” dao became one of the central concepts of the Confucian writings.
In Daoist writings (especially in the Daodejing ), dao goes far beyond the Confucian meaning to take on creative qualities.
With this new compendium of meaning, the term became suitable for numerous foreign religions to represent central points of their doctrine, including Buddhism (as a translation for bodhi — “enlightenment”), Judaism (similar to the Confucians as the “right [Jewish] way”), and Islam (likewise the “right [Muslim] way”).
The Jesuits, who had intensively dealt with Confucianism from the 16th century on, also took over dao as the “correct (Catholic) way,” and the so-called Figurists, a group of Jesuits in the 18th century who saw the Messianic figure of Jesus Christ outlined in Chinese history, went so far as to point to the existence of John’s Logos in the dao of Daodejing.
In later Catholic Bible translations, dao was rarely used as a translation for Logos; instead, the LatinVerbum (from the Latin Vulgate) was transliterated, or yan 言 — “language”, “meaning” — was used, usually with the prefix sheng 圣 — “holy” (also used by the Russian Orthodox Church).
Protestant translations, however, began to use dao as a translation for Logos in the 1830s and have largely retained this practice to this day.
Some voices went so far as to describe Logos and dao as a point of contact between Christianity and the Chinese religions. By its gradual shaping in Greek and Jewish philosophy, Logos had become an appropriate “word vessel.” Similarly, dao’s final formation in Daodejing had also assumed the necessary capacity to serve as a translation for Logos.
The origins of dao and Logos have some clear differences, not the least being the personal relationship of Logos as the Son of God with God the Father. But it is remarkable that using dao as the translation of Logos emulates John’s likely intention with the use of Logos: the central concept of the philosophical and religious ideas of the target culture was used to translate the central concept of Christian theology.
This was not possible in the case of European cultures, which for the most part have offered only translations such as Word or Verbum, terms without any prior philosophical or religious meaning. Only advanced civilizations like China — or ancient Greece — were able to accomplish that. (Summarized version of: Zetzsche, Jost. Aspekte der chinesischen Bibelübersetzung. R. Malek (ed.) Fallbeispiel China. Beiträge zur Religion, Theologie und Kirche im chinesischen Kontext. Nettetal: Steyler Verlag, 1996.)
Peng Kuo-Wei adds this perspective (in Noss / Houser, p. 885): “The Chinese term chosen for logos is not hua (‘word’ or ‘utterance’) but dao from which the term ‘Taoism’ is derived and which can denote a general principle, a way (concrete or abstract), or reason. Thus, Chinese readers can understand that the dao of God is not just words spoken by God, but it constitutes the guiding salvific principle underlying the whole biblical account, including his action in history and teaching and action of Jesus whom he sent. Jesus is the dao of God because his ministry, death and resurrection comprises the fulfillment and realization of God’s theological and ethical principles for humanity.”
For another use of dao in the Chinese Bible, see the Way).
The English translation by Sarah Ruden (2021) uses true account in John 1. She explains (p. lxiii): “Logos can mean merely ‘statement’ or ‘speech,’ but it also has lofty philosophical uses, especially in the opening of the Book of John, where it is probably connected to the Stoic conception of the divine reasoning posited to pervade the universe. The essential connotation here is not language but the lasting, indisputable, and morally cogent truth of numbers, as displayed in correct financial accounting: this is the most basic sense of logos.”
Famously, Goethe also had Faust ponder the translation of Logos into German in the first part of the play of the same name (publ. 1808). The German original is followed by the English translation of Walter Kaufmann (publ. 1963) (click or tap here to read more):
Geschrieben steht: “Im Anfang war das Wort!”
Hier stock ich schon! Wer hilft mir weiter fort?
Ich kann das Wort so hoch unmöglich schätzen,
Ich muß es anders übersetzen,
Wenn ich vom Geiste recht erleuchtet bin.
Geschrieben steht: Im Anfang war der Sinn.
Bedenke wohl die erste Zeile,
Daß deine Feder sich nicht übereile!
Ist es der Sinn, der alles wirkt und schafft?
Es sollte stehn: Im Anfang war die Kraft!
Doch, auch indem ich dieses niederschreibe,
Schon warnt mich was, daß ich dabei nicht bleibe.
Mir hilft der Geist! Auf einmal seh ich Rat
Und schreibe getrost: Im Anfang war die Tat!
It says: “In the beginning was the Word.”
Already I am stopped. It seems absurd.
The Word does not deserve the highest prize,
I must translate it otherwise
If I am well inspired and not blind.
It says: In the beginning was the Mind.
Ponder that first line, wait and see,
Lest you should write too hastily
Is mind the all-creating source?
It ought to say: In the beginning there was Force.
Yet something warns me as l grasp the pen,
That my translation must be changed again.
The spirit helps me. Now it is exact.
I write: In the beginning was the Act.
The Greek that is translated in English as “devil” is sometimes translated with indigenous specific names, such as “the avaricious one” in Tetelcingo Nahuatl, “the malicious deity” in Toraja-Sa’dan (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel), or in Yoruba as èṣù. “Èṣù is thought of as bringing evil, but also as giving protection. The birth of a child may be attributed to him, as the names given to some babies show, Èṣùbiyi (Èṣù brought this forth), and Èṣùtoyin (Èṣù is worthy of praise).” (Source: John Hargreaves in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 39ff. )
Other translations include:
Muna:Kafeompu’ando seetani or “Master of the evil-spirits” (source: René van den Berg)
Mairasi: owe er epar nan or “headman of malevolent spirits” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
Ojitlán Chinantec: as “head of the worldlings” (source for the last two: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125).
Mandarin Chinesemóguǐ (魔鬼), literally “magical ghost.” This is a term that was adopted from Buddhist sources into early Catholic writings and later also by Protestant translators. (Source: Zetzsche 1996, p. 32)
In Lak and Shughni it is translated with terms of feminine gender. Vitaly Voinov tells this story (click or tap here to see the rest of this insight):
“In the Lak language of Dagestan, the names ‘Iblis’ and ‘sheytan’ (referring to Satan and his minions, respectively) in this language were borrowed from the Arabic Islamic tradition, but they entered Lak as feminine nouns, not masculine nouns. This means that they grammatically function like nouns referring to females in Lak; in other words, Laks are likely to think of Iblis as a woman, not a man, because of the obligatory grammatical patterning of Lak noun classes. Thus, when the team explained (in Russian) what the Lak translation of Jesus’ wilderness temptation narrative at the beginning of Matthew 4 said, it sounded something like the following: ‘After this, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Iblis… .The temptress came to Jesus, and she said to Him…’
“Since this information (that the devil is a female spirit) is part of the very name used for Satan in Lak, nothing can really be done about this in the translation. The Lak translator did not think that the feminine gender of Iblis should cause any serious misunderstandings among readers, so we agreed to leave it in the translation. Prior to this, I had never heard about languages in which the devil is pictured as a woman, but recently I was told by a speaker of the Shughni language that in their language Sheytan is also feminine. This puts an interesting spin on things. The devil is of course a spirit, neither male nor female in a biologically-meaningful sense. But Bible translators are by nature very risk-aversive and, where possible, want to avoid any translation that might feed misleading information to readers. So what can a translator do about this? In many cases, such as the present one, one has to just accept the existing language structure and go on.”
The Hebrew, Greek and Latin that is transliterated as “Gomorrah” in English is transliterated in Mandarin Chinese as émólā (蛾摩拉) in the Protestant tradition. This is an interesting transliteration because the first character é (蛾) has a negative connotation with the meaning of “moth.” This character is only used here in the Protestant Chinese Bible. For many other transliterations the more neutral character 俄 with the same pronunciation is used. (Source: Zetzsche)
The term that is translated as “hypocrisy” in English versions is translated with a term in Oxchuc Tzeltal that means “two hearts,” in Central Pame “two mouths” (source: Nida 1952, p. 150), and in San Miguel El Grande Mixtec “having two heads” (source: Nida 1947, p. 150).
Kituba uses a specialized idiom for “hypocrisy”: “eye under leaf” (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel) and in the Mandarin ChineseUnion Version the four-character phrase jiǎmào wéi shàn (假冒为善 / 假冒為善), lit. “impersonate for good” is used (source: Zetzsche).
The now commonly-used English idiom “eye for an eye” (meaning revenge or retribution) was first coined in 1526 in the English New Testament translation of William Tyndale. (Source: Crystal 2010, p. 285)
For other idioms in English that were coined by Bible translation, see here.
Likewise in Mandarin Chinese, the phrasing that was coined to translate “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” — yǐyǎn huányǎn, yǐyá huányá (以眼还眼，以牙还牙 / 以眼還眼，以牙還牙) — has also become a Chinese proverb (see here ). (Source: Zetzsche)