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. )

cause to stumble, offend

“The word ‘offend’ as a translation of the Greek skandalizó seems to cause all sorts of trouble for translators. The difficulty is that the meaning of this word covers such a wide area. The basic meaning of the Greek is ‘to cause to stumble by putting some impediment in the way.’ The present central meaning of English ‘offend’ is often quite different. In some languages there is no metaphorical value in a translation ‘to cause someone to stumble.’ If the language permits no such metaphor, the translator should not attempt to force it. In Highland Totonac, the metaphor ‘to show the wrong road to’ is used in a manner almost exactly parallel to the Greek idiom.” (Source: Nida 1947)

In San Blas Kuna the translation is “spoil the heart” (source: Claudio and Marvel Iglesias in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 85ff.).

See also fall away, stumble.

kiss

The Hebrew and the Greek that is usually directly translated as “kiss” in English is translated more indirectly in other languages because kissing is deemed as inappropriate, is not a custom at all, or is not customary in the particular context (see the English translation of J.B. Phillips [publ. 1960] in Rom. 16:16: “Give each other a hearty handshake”). Here are some examples:

  • Pökoot: “greet warmly” (“kissing in public, certainly between men, is absolutely unacceptable in Pökoot.”) (Source: Gerrit van Steenbergen)
  • Southern Birifor: puor or “greet” (source: Andy Warren-Rothlin)
  • Chamula Tzotzil, Ixcatlán Mazatec, Tojolabal: “greet each other warmly” or “hug with feeling” (source: Robert Bascom)
  • Afar: gaba tittal ucuya — “give hands to each other” (Afar kiss each other’s hands in greeting) (source: Loren Bliese)
  • Roviana: “welcome one another joyfully”
  • Cheke Holo: “love each other in the way-joined-together that is holy” (esp. in Rom. 16:16) or “greet with love” (esp. 1Thess. 5:26 and 1Pet. 5.14)
  • Pitjantjatjara: “when you meet/join up with others of Jesus’ relatives hug and kiss them [footnote], for you are each a relative of the other through Jesus.” Footnote: “This was their custom in that place to hug and kiss one another in happiness. Maybe when we see another relative of Jesus we shake hands and rejoice.” (esp. Rom. 16:16) (source for this and two above: Carl Gross)
  • Kamba: “greet with the greeting of love” (source: Andy Warren-Rothlin)
  • Balanta-Kentohe and Mandinka: “touch cheek” or “cheek-touching” (“sumbu” in Malinka)
  • Mende: “embrace” (“greet one another with the kiss of love”: “greet one another and embrace one another to show that you love one another”) (source for this and two above: Rob Koops)
  • Gen: “embrace affectionately” (source: John Ellington)
  • Kachin: “holy and pure customary greetings” (source: Gam Seng Shae)
  • Kahua: “smell” (source: David Clark) (also in Ekari and Kekchí, source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • San Blas Kuna: “smell the face” (source: Claudio and Marvel Iglesias in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 85ff.)
  • Chichewa: “suck” (“habit and term a novelty amongst the young and more or less westernized people, the traditional term for greeting a friend after a long absence being, ‘clap in the hands and laugh happily'”)
  • Medumba: “suck the cheek” (“a novelty, the traditional term being ‘to embrace.'”)
  • Shona (version of 1966) / Vidunda: “hug”
  • Balinese: “caress” (source for this and three above: Reiling / Swellengrebel; Vidunda: project-specific translation notes in Paratext)
  • Tsafiki: earlier version: “greet in a friendly way,” later revision: “kiss on the face” (Bruce Moore [in: Notes on Translation 1/1992), p. 1ff.] explains: “Formerly, kissing had presented a problem. Because of the Tsáchilas’ [speakers of Tsafiki] limited exposure to Hispanic culture they understood the kiss only in the eros context. Accordingly, the original translation had rendered ‘kiss’ in a greeting sense as ‘greet in a friendly way’. The actual word ‘kiss’ was not used. Today ‘kiss’ is still an awkward term, but the team’s judgment was that it could be used as long as long as it was qualified. So ‘kiss’ (in greeting) is now ‘kiss on the face’ (that is, not on the lips).)
  • Kwere / Kutu: “show true friendship” (source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext)

See also Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth and kissed (his feet).

apostle, apostles

The Greek term that is usually translated as “apostle(s)” in English is (back-) translated in the following ways:

Scot McKnight (in The Second Testament, publ. 2023) translates it into English as commissioner.

In American Sign Language it is translated with a combination of the signs for “following” plus the sign for “authority” to differentiate it from disciple. (Source: RuthAnna Spooner, Ron Lawer)


“apostles” in American Sign Language, source: Deaf Harbor

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.”

bless (food and drink)

The Greek and Hebrew that is translated into English as “bless” or “blessed” in relation to food or drink is translated into San Mateo del Mar Huave as “place holiness on,” into Chol as “give it his good word” in Central Tarahumara, and into Southern Subanen as “pray(ed) about it” (source for this and above: Bratcher / Nida 1961), and into San Blas Kuna as “put (one’s) mind to (one’s) Father” (source: Claudio and Marvel Iglesias in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 85ff.).

See also bless(ed).

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)
  • Mezquital Otomi: “live a pure life”
  • Hopi: “unspotted”
  • Yatzachi Zapotec: “clean-hearted”
  • Huehuetla Tepehua: “be servants of God”
  • Central Tarahumara: “only live doing good as God desires” (source for this and four above: Waterhouse / Parrott in Notes on Translation October 1967, p. 1ff.)
  • 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. )
  • Tibetan: dam par ‘gyur (དམ་​པར་​འགྱུར།), lit. “holy + become” (used for instance in 1 Cor. 1:2, 1 Cor. 6:11, 1 Cor. 7:14, or 1 Thess. 4:3) or gtsang bar byed (གཙང་​བར་​བྱེད།), lit. “make clean” (used for instance in Heb. 9:13) (source: gSungrab website )
The choices for translation of “sanctification” in the Indonesian Common Language Bible (Alkitab dalam Bahasa Indonesia Masa Kini, publ. 1985) differed according to context. (Click or tap here to see details)

“In Romans, hagiasmos [“sanctification”] occurs twice in chapter 6, in verses 19 and 22. It is used in relation to believers who are called to be saints (1:7), who are under grace (6:15), who have been set free from sin to become slaves of righteousness (6:18). Therefore here hagiasmos not only refers to God’s act of consecration, but also to the believer’s moral activity arising out of this state. It is this aspect that the translators have stressed in verse 19: ‘… so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification’ has been translated untuk maksud-maksud Allah yang khusus: ‘for God’s specific purposes.’ So also in verse 22 ‘… the return you get is sanctification’ has been translated hidup khusus untuk Allah: ‘living for God alone.’

“!In 1 Corinthians 1:30: ‘… in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption,’ hagiasmos is put in a parallel position to wisdom, righteousness and redemption, and is rooted in Christ. In view of the parallel concepts, it is clear a result is indicated here. The believers are holy because they are ‘in Christ’ who is intrinsically holy. Hagiasmos here has been rendered as: umatnya yang khusus: ‘his own people.’

“In 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7, hagiasmos involves abstaining from unchastity (verse 3) and is contrasted with uncleanness (verse 7), while in verse 4 it is used as a parallel with ‘honor’ to modify the verb. Hagiasmos is here rooted in the will of God, and calls for moral conduct. The translators translate hagiasmos in verse 3 as hidup khusus untuk dia: ‘live for him alone,’ and in verses 4 and 5 menyenangkan hati Allah: ‘pleasing God’s heart.’

“The expression in 2 Thessalonians 2:13 ‘sanctification by the spirit’ (en hagiasmo pneumatos), is generally understood as sanctification or consecration effected by the Holy Spirit. This consecration was effected at the moment of conversion. The translation here is umat Allah yang suci: ‘God’s holy people.’

“The noun also appears in the Pastorals once (1 Timothy 2:15), where, in view of the context, it clearly denotes ethical behavior. The translators translate as hidup khusus untuk Allah: ‘living for God alone,’ but perhaps it would be better here to translate it with hidup tanpa vela: ‘lead a blameless life,’ which would suit the context better.

“In conclusion then, to translate hagiasmos in a way that is meaningful to the average modern reader, it may often be necessary to render it by a phrase which brings out the primary meaning of the term. If it refers to the act of consecration, this phrase should include the notion of belonging to God, and if it refers to the conduct of the believer, the phrase should stress the idea of pleasing God and refraining from evil.” (Source: Pericles Katoppo in The Bible Translator 1987, p. 429ff. )

gospel

In choosing a word for the Greek that is typically translated as “gospel” in English, a number of languages construct a phrase meaning “good news,” “joyful report” or “happiness-bringing words.” In some instances such a phrase may be slightly expanded in order to convey the proper meaning, e.g. “new good word” (Tzotzil), or it may involve some special local usage:

  • “good story” (Navajo)
  • “joyful telling” (Tausug)
  • “joyful message” (Toraja-Sa’dan) (source for this and all above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • cohuen ñoñets or “message of God” (Shilluk) (source: Nida 1964, p. 237)
  • “good news” (Yanesha’) (source: Martha Duff in Holzhausen 1991, p. 11)
  • “voice of good spirit” (San Blas Kuna)(source: Claudio Iglesias [Mr. and Mrs.] in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 85ff. )
  • suviśēṣattinṟe (0സുവിശേഷം) or “good narrative” (Malayalam)
  • susmachar (ସୁସମାଚାର) or “good matter” (Odia)
  • suvārteya (ಸುವಾರ್ತೆಯ) or “good word” (Kannada) (source for this and two above: Y.D. Tiwari in The Bible Translator 1962, p. 132ff. )
  • the German das Buch translation by Roland Werner (publ. 2009-2022) translates as “all-transformative good news” (alles verändernde gute Botschaft), also “good news”
Vitaly Voinov tells this story about the translation into Rutul (click or tap here to see the rest of this insight):

“In Rutul, it was only during the most recent consultant checking session that I realized that the Rutul word for Gospel – Incir (from Arabic إنجيل — Injil) — sounds and looks exactly like the word that means ‘fig’ in Rutul. This is a case of homonymy, in which two completely non-related words from differing historical sources have come to sound exactly alike. Most Rutul speakers know that incir means ‘fig’ because they grow this fruit in their yard or buy it at the market every week. However, because the religious sphere of discourse was heavily disparaged during the Soviet era, most people simply never encountered Incir with the meaning of ‘Gospel.’ This meaning of the word, which Rutuls of the pre-Soviet era knew from the Koran, simply fell into disuse and never had much reason for returning into contemporary Rutul since there is no Christian church established among the people. So if the translator continues to use the term Incir as the rendering for ‘Gospel,’ he runs the risk that most readers will, at best, read the word with a smile because they know that it also means ‘fig,’ and, at worst, will completely misunderstand the word. The seemingly ‘easy’ solution in this case is for the translator to use a Rutul neologism meaning ‘Joyful Message’ or ‘Good News,’ [see above] instead of Incir; but in fact it is not all that easy to make this change if the translator himself insists on using the historical word because at least some Rutuls still understand it as meaning ‘Gospel.’ This is a situation in which the translation team has to gradually grow into the understanding that a fully intelligible translation of Scripture is preferable to one that maintains old words at the cost of alienating much of the readership.”

For “good news,” see also Isaiah 52:7.