vain (worship)

The Greek that is translated into English as “vain” or “in vain” in English is (back-) translated in various ways:

  • Cashibo-Cacataibo: “say I am important, but they do not believe it”
  • Kekchí: “has no meaning when they praise me”
  • Toraja-Sa’dan, Pamona: “uselessly”
  • Copainalá Zoque: “uselessly they remember”
  • Farefare: “their religion is their mouth”
  • Southern Subanen: “their worship has no meaning”
  • Tzotzil: “they say they love me, but this means nothing”
  • Southern Bobo Madaré: “they worship me but they do not mean what they say”
  • Central Mazahua: “it is of no value that they honor me”
  • San Blas Kuna: “their thinking is not in their hearts” (source for this and above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Mairasi: “tribute of theirs for me [which] will-be-on-their-own” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • Guhu-Samane: “with the front teeth of their mouths they worship me” (“‘In vain’ caused puzzlement [because] why should their efforts to worship God produce no results, try as they may? [But the idiom] ‘with the front teeth of their mouths they worship me’ comes from the picture of one who is making a pretense at eating food, hence their deceit is apparent.’ Source: Ernest L. Richert in Notes on Translation December 1963: p. 4-7; reprinted in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 198ff.)

hell

The Greek that is translated in English versions as “hell” (or “Gehenna”) is translated (1) by borrowing a term from a trade or national language (this is done in a number of Indian languages in Latin America, which have borrowed Spanish “infierno” — from Latin “inferno” Latin “infernus”: “of the lower regions”), (2) by using an expression denoting judgment or punishment, e.g. “place of punishment” (Loma), “place of suffering” (Highland Totonac, San Blas Kuna) and (3) by describing a significant characteristic: (a) the presence of fire or burning, e.g. “place of fire” (Kipsigis, Mossi), “the large bonfire” (Shipibo-Conibo), or (b) the traditionally presumed location, e.g. “the lowest place” (a well-known term in Ngäbere), “the place inside” long used to designate hell, as a place inside the earth (Aymara).

bless(ed)

The Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic that is translated into English as “(to) bless” or “blessed” is translated into a wide variety of possibilities.

The Hebrew term barak (and the Aramaic term berak) also (and originally) means “to kneel” (a meaning which the word has retained — see Gen. 24:11) and can be used for God blessing people (or things), people blessing each other, or people blessing God. While English Bible translators have not seen a stumbling block in always using the same term (“bless” in its various forms), other languages need to make distinctions (see below).

In Bari, spoken in South Sudan, the connection between blessing and knees/legs is still apparent. For Genesis 30:30 (in English: “the Lord has blessed you wherever I turned”), Bari uses a common expression that says (much like the Hebrew) , ‘… blessed you to my feet.'” (Source: P. Guillebaud in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 189ff.)

Other examples for the translation of “bless” when God is the one who blesses include:

  • “to think well of” (San Blas Kuna)
  • “to speak good to” (Amganad Ifugao)
  • “to make happy” (Pohnpeian)
  • “to-cause-to-live-as-a-chief” (Zulu)
  • “to sprinkle with a propitious (lit. cool) face,” (a poetic expression occurring in the priests’ language) (Toraja Sa’dan) (source for this and above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • “give good things” (Mairasi) (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • “asking good” (Yakan) (source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • “praised, saying good things” (Central Yupik) (source: Robert Bascom)
  • “greatly love” (Candoshi-Shapra (source: John C. Tuggy)
  • “good luck — have — good fortune — have” (verbatim) ꓶꓼ ꓙꓳ ꓫꓱꓹ ꓙꓳ — ɯa dzho shes zho (Lisu). This construction follows a traditional four-couplet construct in oral Lisu poetry that is usually in the form ABAC or ABCB. (Source: Arrington 2020, p. 58)

In Tagbanwa a phrase is used for both the blessing done by people and God that back-translates to “caused to be pierced by words causing grace/favor” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation).

Ixcatlán Mazatec had to select a separate term when relating “to people ‘blessing’ God” (or things of God): “praise(d)” or “give thanks for” (in 1 Cor. 10:16) (“as it is humans doing the ‘blessing’ and people do not bless the things of God or God himself the way God blesses people” — source: Robert Bascom). Eastern Bru also uses “praise” for this a God-directed blessing (source: Bru back translation) and Uma uses “appropriate/worthy to be worshipped” (source: Uma back translation).

When related to someone who is blessing someone else, it is translated into Tsou as “to speak good hopes for.” In Waiwai it is translated as “may God be good and kind to you now.” (Sources: Peng Kuo-Wei for Tsou and Robert Hawkins in The Bible Translator 1962, pp. 164ff. for Waiwai.)

Some languages associate an expression that originally means “spitting” or “saliva” with blessing. The Bantu language Koonzime, for instance, uses that expression for “blessing” in their translation coming from either God or man. Traditionally, the term was used in an application of blessing by an aged superior upon a younger inferior, often in relation to a desire for fertility, or in a ritualistic, but not actually performed spitting past the back of the hand. The spitting of saliva has the effect of giving that person “tenderness of face,” which can be translated as “blessedness.” (Source: Keith Beavon)

See also bless (food and drink), blessed (Christ in Mark 11:9), and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.

praise (God)

The Greek and Hebrew that is translated as “praise (God)” in English is translated as “make-great” / “make-great the name of” (Tae’), “to speak well of” (Western Highland Purepecha), “lift up the name of” (San Blas Kuna, Kpelle), “to sing the name of” (Huehuetla Tepehua), “to make good” (Highland Totonac), “to say good about” (Tzeltal), or “to make known something good about” (Navajo). (Source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)

In Dan a figurative expression for praising God is used: “pushing God’s horse.” “In the distant past people closely followed the horses ridden by chiefs, so ‘pushing’ them.” (Source: Don Slager)

narrative order (1Sam 18:12)

The Hebrew that is translated as “Saul was afraid of David because the Lord was with David but had abandoned him” or similar in English had to be restructured in San Blas Kuna that follows a subject-verb-object order (Hebrew uses verb-subject-object or subject-verb-object and English uses subject-verb-object) “to have cause and effect. They put first that Saul realized that God no longer helped him but he did help David. So he became afraid of David.”

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:

  • North Alaskan Inupiatun: “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)

foolish people

The Greek that is translated as “(you) foolish people” or “(you) foolish ones” is (back-) translated in a number of ways:

  • Ekari: “thought not (having) people”
  • Kituba, Sinhala, Marathi, Javanese: “people without sense/understanding/intelligence”
  • San Blas Kuna: “people having a dark liver” (“incapable of intelligent, thoughtful behavior”) (See Seat of the Mind for traditional views of “ways of knowing, thinking, and feeling.”)
  • Batak Toba: “those short-of-mind” (“mostly referring to stupidity or ignorance in general”)
  • Zarma: a word indicating a person who refuses to use the intelligence he has
  • Nyanja, Yao: expressions implying intractability and willful opposition to common interests or commonly accepted ideas (source for this and above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • Mairasi: “(you are) beeswax” (source: Enggavoter 2004)

See also insane / fool.

David eluded him twice

The Hebrew that is translated in English as “David eluded him twice” had to be translated more explicitly in San Blas Kuna. That translation first says that Saul threw the spear at him twice. “They couldn’t skip that step.”

sanctification, sanctify

The Greek that is translated in English as “sanctify” or “sanctification” is translated in Balanta-Kentohe “separated to God.” (Source: Rob Koops)

Other translations include:

  • San Blas Kuna: “giving a man a good heart”
  • Panao Huánuco Quechua: “God perfects us”
  • Laka: “God calls us outside to Himself” (“This phrase is derived from the practice of a medicine man, who during the initiation rites of apprentices calls upon the young man who is to follow him eventually and to receive all of his secrets and power. From the day that this young man is called out during the height of the ecstatic ceremony, he is identified with his teacher as the heir to his position, authority, and knowledge.”) (Source for this and above: Nida 1952, p. 147)
  • Mairasi: “one’s life/behavior will be very straight” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • Enlhet: “new / clean innermost” (“Innermost” or valhoc is a term that is frequently used in Enlhet to describe a large variety of emotions or states of mind (for other examples see here).) (Source: Jacob Loewen in The Bible Translator 1969, p. 24ff.)

miracle, miraculous power

The Greek and Hebrew that are often translated as “miracles” or “miraculous powers” into English are translated as “things which no one has ever seen before” (San Blas Kuna), “thing marveled at” (Tepeuxila Cuicatec), “breathtaking thing” (Ngäbere), “long-necked thing” (referring to the onlookers who stretch their necks to see) (Huautla Mazatec), “sign done by God’s power” (Mossi), “supernatural power” (Javanese), “things that have heaven-strength” (Highland Totonac) (source for all above: Bratcher / Nida), “amazing thing” (Muna) (source: René van den Berg), or “impossible things” (Mairasi) (source: Enggavoter 2004).

See also wonder.

redeem, redemption

The Greek and Hebrew terms that are translated as “redeem” or “redemption” in most English translations (see more on that below) are translated in Kissi as “buying back.” “Ownership of some object may be forfeited or lost, but the original owner may redeem his possession by buying it back. So God, who made us for Himself, permitted us to accept or reject Him. In order to reconcile rebellious mankind He demonstrated His redemptive love in the death of His Son on our behalf.

“The San Blas Kuna describe redemption in a more spiritual sense. They say that it consists of ‘recapturing the spirit.’ A sinful person is one in rebellion against God, and he must be recaptured by God or he will destroy himself. The need of the spirit is to be captured by God. The tragedy is that too many people find their greatest pleasure in secretly trying to elude God, as though they could find some place in the universe where He could not find them. They regard life as a purely private affair, and they object to the claims of God as presented by the church. They accuse the pastor of interfering with the privacy of their own iniquity. Such souls, if they are to be redeemed, must be ‘recaptured.'” (Source: Nida 1952, p. 138)

In Ajië a term is used, “nawi,” that refers to the “custom of planting a small tree on land cursed either by the blood of battle or some calamity.” Clifford (1992, p. 83ff.) retells the story: “Maurice Leenhardt tells how he finally arrived at a term that would express ‘redemption.’ Previous missionaries had interpreted it as an exchange — an exchange of life, that of Jesus for ours. But in Melanesian thinking more strict equivalents were demanded in the exchanges structuring social life. It remained unclear to them how Jesus’ sacrifice could possibly redeem mankind. So unclear was it that even the natas [Melanesians pastors] gave up trying to explain a concept they did not understand very well themselves and simply employed the term “release.” So the matter stood, with the missionary driven to the use of cumbersome circumlocutions, until one day during a conversation on 1 Corinthians 1:30, [Melanesian pastor and Leenhardt’s co-worker] Boesoou Erijisi used a surprising expression: nawi. The term referred to the custom of planting a small tree on land cursed either by the blood of battle or some calamity. ‘Jesus was thus the one who has accomplished the sacrifice and has planted himself like a tree, as though to absorb all the misfortunes of men and to free the world from its taboos.’ Here at last was a concept that seemed to render the principle of ‘redemption’ and could reach deeply enough into living modes of thought. ‘The idea was a rich one, but how could I be sure I understood it right?’ The key test was in the reaction of students and natas to his provisional version. They were, he reports, overjoyed with the ‘deep’ translation.”

In Folopa, the translation team also found a deeply indigenous term. Neil Anderson (in Holzhausen 1991, p. 51) explains: “While I was explaining the meaning of the [concept] to the Folopa men, I could see their faces brighten. They said that this was a common thing among them: ‘If someone falls a tree and it tips to the wrong side, killing someone, the relatives of the injured party claim the life of the guilty party. But in order to save his life, his relatives make amends. Pigs, shells (which are still used as currency here) and other valuables are given to the relatives of the deceased as payment for the life of the guilty party. In this way he can live because others stand up for him.’ Full of joy, I began to utilize this thought to the difficult translation of the word ‘redemption.’ Mark 10:45 reads now, translated back from the Folopa: ‘Jesus came to make an atonement, by which he takes upon himself the punishment for the evil deeds of many. He came so that through his death many might be liberated.’ After working on this verse for half an hour, I read it to my friends. They became silent and moved their slightly bowed heads thoughtfully back and forth. Finally, one of them took the floor, ‘We give a lot to right a wrong. But we have never given a human being as a price of atonement. Jesus did a great work for us when he made restitution. Because he died, all of us now don’t have to bear the punishment we deserve. We are liberated.'”

The translation into English also is noteworthy:

“In Hebrew there are two terms, ga’al and padah, usually rendered ‘to redeem,’ which have likewise undergone significant changes in meaning with resulting obscurity and misunderstanding. Both terms are used in the Old Testament for a person being redeemed from slavery. In the case of padah, the primary emphasis is upon the redemption by means of payment, and in ga’al the redemption of an individual, usually by payment, is made by some relative or an individual of the same clan or society. These two words, however, are used in the Old Testament in circumstances in which there is no payment at all. For example, the redemption of Jews from Egypt is referred to by these two terms, but clearly there was no payment made to the Egyptians or to Pharaoh.

“In the New Testament a related problem occurs, for the words agorázō and exagorazó, meaning literally ‘to buy’ or ‘to buy back’ and ‘to buy out,’ were translated into Latin as redimo and into English normally as ‘redeem.’ The almost exclusive association of Latin redimo with payment became such a focal element of meaning that during the Middle Ages a theory developed that God had to pay the Devil in order to get believers out of hell and into heaven.

“As in the case of the Old Testament, New Testament contexts employing the Greek verb lutroó, literally ‘to redeem’ or ‘to ransom,’ do not refer primarily to payment but focus upon deliverance and being set free. But even today there is such a heavy tradition of the theological concept of payment that any attempt to translate lutroó as ‘to deliver’ or ‘to set free’ is misjudged by some as being heretical.” (Source: Nida 1984, p. 114f.)

See also redeemer and next-of-kin / kinsman-redeemer / close relative.

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).