The Greek that is translated as “ponder” in English is translated as “continually think-about” in Tboli, “turn around in the mind” in Batak Toba, “puzzle forth, puzzle back” in Sranan Tongo (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel), “constantly setting down her visions” in Mairasi (source: Enggavoter 2004), “carried all those words in her heart and then sat thinking” in Enga (source: Adam Boyd on his blog), or “moved them in her heart” (bewegte sie in ihrem Herzen) (German Luther translation).
The Hebrew assonance tohu wa-bohu is often translated in English as “formless void” or some equivalent, but in some translations and languages attempts have been made to recreate some of its literary flavor:
- English: wild and waste (Everett Fox 1995); welter and waste (Robert Alter 2004); void waste (Revised English Bible, 1989); void and vacant (James Moffatt 1935)
- German: Irrsal und Wirrsal (Buber / Rosenzweig 1976); wüst und wirr (Einheitsübersetzung, 1980/2016)
- French: vide et vague (La Bible de Jérusalem, 1975)
- Ancient Greek: aóratos kaí akataskévastos (ἀόρατος καὶ ἀκατασκεύαστος) (Septuagint)
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 Grdeek 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]; 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.”
Translation for “Logos” include:
- Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac: “the one who is called the Word”
- Sayula Popoluca: “the Word by which God is known”
- Miahuatlán Zapotec: “one who revealed God’s thoughts”
- Alekano: “God’s wise Speech”
- Tojolabal: “he who told us about God” (Source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February, 1970, p. 1-125.)
- Yatzachi Zapotec: “Jesus Christ the person who is the Word, he who gives eternal life”
- Eastern Highland Otomi: “the Word that gives new life to our hearts”
- Garifuna: “the one named Word, the one who gives life” (Source for this and two above: John Beekman in Notes on Translation 12, November 1964, p. 1ff.)
- Tzeltal de Oxchuc y Tenejapa (Highland Tzeltal): te C’opile: “the Word” (in a new, 2001 version of the New Testament to avoid the previous translation “the Word of God,” a term also used for “Bible.” — Source: Robert Bascom)
- Mairasi: “The Message” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
- 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)
- Kikuyu: Ũhoro or “affair”/”matter” (source: Leonard Beecher in The Bible Translator 1964, p. 117ff.)
- 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.)
Ajië: Nô (click or tap here to read an explanation by Maurice Leenhardt — in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 154ff.):
“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 no. 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 (tao), 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 Latin Verbum (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.”
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.”
The Greek that is translated as “justified by faith” or similar in English is translated in the German translation of Martin Luther (first edition 1522, last revised edition 2017) as gerecht wird (…) allein durch den Glauben: “justified by faith alone” (highlight added).
Luther expained his decision to add allein (“alone”) on pure linguistic grounds rather than as an attempt to emphasize justification by faith:
“I knew very well that the word solum [Latin = alone, only, solely] is not in the Greek or Latin text of Romans 3:28. (…) It’s a fact that these four letters ‘sola’ are not there (…) [But] it belongs there if the translation into German is to be clear and lucid. I wanted to speak German, not Latin or Greek, since it was German I had undertaken to speak in the translation. But it’s the nature of our German language that in speaking of two things, one of which is affirmed and the other denied, we use the word ‘solum’ (allein) along with the word ‘nicht’ (not) or ‘kein’ (no).”
Original text in German
“So habe ich hier in Röm. 3,28 sehr wohl gewußt, daß im lateinischen und griechischen Text das Wort »solum« nicht stehet (…) Wahr ists, diese vier Buchstaben ‘sola’ stehen nicht drinnen. (…) Die Absicht des Textes [ist] gleichwohl »sola« und wo mans klar und deutlich verdeutschen will, so gehöret es hinein. Denn ich habe deutsch, nicht lateinisch noch griechisch reden wollen, da ich mir beim Übersetzen deutsch zu reden vorgenommen hatte. Das ist aber die Art unserer deutschen Sprache: wenn sie von zwei Dingen redet, deren man eines bejaht und das andere verneint, so gebraucht man das Wort ‘solum’ = ‘allein’ (nur) neben dem Wort ‘nicht’ oder ‘kein’.” (source)
Other German Bible translations, including the Zürcher Bibel (which was first published just a few years after Luther’s initial publication) show that the linguistic argument alone is not sufficient. It translates in its current edition: Gerecht wird ein Mensch durch den Glauben — “A person is justified by faith.” The only other German translation that uses allein is Hoffnung für alle (publ. 1983), the German pendant of the English Living Bible.
The only major English translation that adopts Luther’s reading is the Good News Bible (publ. 1976 and often revised) that reads “only through faith.”
Der griechische Text, der direkt übersetzt etwa "aus Glauben gerechtfertigt" bedeutet, wurde von der deutschen Übersetzung von Martin Luther (Erstausgabe 1522, letzte überarbeitete Ausgabe 2017) als "gerecht wird (...) allein durch den Glauben" übersetzt (Hervorhebung nicht im Originaltext).
Luther erklärte seine Entscheidung für die Hinzufügung von allein aus rein sprachlichen Erwägungen und nicht als eine Betonung der Gerechtwerdung durch Glaube:
Original text in German: "So habe ich hier in Röm. 3,28 sehr wohl gewußt, daß im lateinischen und griechischen Text das Wort »solum« nicht stehet (...) Wahr ists, diese vier Buchstaben 'sola' stehen nicht drinnen. (...) Die Absicht des Textes [ist] gleichwohl »sola« und wo mans klar und deutlich verdeutschen will, so gehöret es hinein. Denn ich habe deutsch, nicht lateinisch noch griechisch reden wollen, da ich mir beim Übersetzen deutsch zu reden vorgenommen hatte. Das ist aber die Art unserer deutschen Sprache: wenn sie von zwei Dingen redet, deren man eines bejaht und das andere verneint, so gebraucht man das Wort 'solum' = 'allein' (nur) neben dem Wort 'nicht' oder 'kein'." (Quelle)
Andere deutsche Bibelübersetzungen, einschließlich der Zürcher Bibel (die wenige Jahre nach Luthers Übersetzung veröffentlicht wurde) zeigen, dass das linguistische Argument alleine nicht ausreicht. Hier wird in der aktuellen Ausgabe: Gerecht wird ein Mensch durch den Glauben übersetzt. Die einzige andere deutsche Übersetzung, die allein verwendet, ist die Hoffnung für alle (veröffentl. 1983).
Some translations specifically reproduce the voice of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible.
I am Yhwh your God,
who brought you out
from the land of Egypt,
from a house of serfs.
You are not to have
any other gods
before my presence.
You are not to make yourself a carved-image
or any figure
that is in the heavens above, that is on the earth beneath, that is in the waters beneath the earth;
you are not to bow down to them,
you are not to serve them,
for I, Yhwh your God,
am a zealous God,
calling-to-account the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons, to the third and the fourth (generation)
of those that hate me,
but showing loyalty to the thousandth
of those that love me,
of those that keep my commandments.
You are not to take up
the name of Yhwh your God for emptiness,
for Yhwh will not clear him
that takes up his name for emptiness.
the Sabbath day, to hallow it.
For six days, you are to serve, and are to make all your work,
but the seventh day
is Sabbath for Yhwh your God:
you are not to make any kind of work,
(not) you, nor your son, nor your daughter,
(not) your servant, nor your maid, nor your beast,
nor your sojourner that is within your gates.
For in six days Yhwh made
the heavens and the earth,
the sea and all that is in it,
and he rested on the seventh day;
therefore Yhwh gave the Sabbath day his blessing, and he hallowed it.
your father and your mother,
in order that your days may be prolonged
on the soil that Yhwh your God is giving you.
You are not to murder.
You are not to adulter.
You are not to steal.
You are not to testify
against your fellow as a false witness.
You are not to desire
the house of your neighbor,
you are not to desire the wife of your neighbor,
or his servant, or his maid, or his ox, or his donkey,
or anything that is your neighbor’s.
Source: Everett Fox 1995
bin dein Gott,
der ich dich führte aus dem Land Ägypten, aus dem Haus der Dienstbarkeit.
Nicht sei dir
mir ins Angesicht.
Nicht mache dir Schnitzgebild, —
und alle Gestalt,
die im Himmel oben, die auf Erden unten, die im Wasser unter der Erde ist,
neige dich ihnen nicht,
diene ihnen nicht,
denn Ich dein Gott
bin ein eifernder Gottherr,
zuordnend Fehl von Vätern ihnen an Söhnen, am dritten und vierten Glied,
denen die mich hassen,
aber Huld tuend ins tausendste
denen die mich lieben,
denen die meine Gebote wahren.
Seinen deines Gottes Namen
auf das Wahnhafte,
denn nicht straffrei läßt Er ihn,
der seinen Namen auf das Wahnhafte trägt.
des Tags der Feier, ihn zu heiligen.
Ein Tagsechst diene und mache all deine Arbeit,
aber der siebente Tag
ist Feier Ihm, deinem Gott:
nicht mache allerart Arbeit,
du, dein Sohn, deine Tochter,
dein Dienstknecht, deine Magd, dein Tier,
und dein Gastsasse in deinen Toren.
Denn ein Tagsechst
den Himmel und die Erde, das Meer und alles, was in ihnen ist,
am siebenten Tag aber ruhte er,
darum segnete Er den Tag der Feier, er hat ihn geheiligt.
deinen Vater und deine Mutter,
damit sich längern deine Tage
auf dem Ackerboden, den Er4 dein Gott dir gibt.
gegen deinen Genossen als Lügenzeuge.
Begehre nicht das Haus deines Genossen,
begehre nicht das Weib deines Genossen,
seinen Knecht, seine Magd, seinen Ochsen, seinen Esel,
noch allirgend was deines Genossen ist.
Source: Buber / Rosenzweig 1976
« Moi-même, IHVH-Adonaï, ton Elohîms qui t’ai fait sortir
de la terre de Misraîm, de la maison des serfs,
il ne sera pas pour toi d’autres Elohîms contre mes faces.
Tu ne feras pour toi ni sculpture ni toute image
de ce qui est dans les ciels en haut, sur la terre en bas,
et dans les eaux sous terre.
Tu ne te prosterneras pas devant elles et ne les serviras pas.
Oui, moi-même, IHVH-Adonaï, ton Elohîms, Él ardent
je sanctionne le tort des pères sur les fils,
jusqu’au troisième et au quatrième cycle pour mes haineux,
Mais je fais chérissement jusqu’au millième à mes amants,
aux gardiens de mes ordres.
Tu ne porteras pas le nom de IHVH-Adonaï, ton Elohîms, en vain:
car, IHVH-Adonaï n’innocente pas qui porte son nom en vain.
Souviens-toi du jour du shabat pour le consacrer.
Tu travailleras six jours: fais tout ton ouvrage.
Le septième jour, shabat pour IHVH-Adonaï, ton Elohîms,
tu ne feras aucun ouvrage, toi, ton fils, ta fille,
ton serviteur, ta servante, ta bête,
ton métèque qui est en tes portes.
Oui, six jours, IHVH-Adonaï a fait les ciels et la terre,
la mer et tout ce qui y est,
puis il s’est reposé le septième jour,
sur quoi IHVH-Adonaï a béni le jour du shabat et il le consacre.
Glorifie ton père et ta mère, pour que se prolongent
tes jours sur la glèbe que IHVH-Adonaï, ton Elohîms, te donne.
Tu n’assassineras pas.
Tu n’adultéreras pas.
Tu ne voleras pas.
Tu ne répondras pas contre ton compagnon en témoin de mensonge.
Tu ne convoiteras pas la maison de ton compagnon,
tu ne convoiteras pas la femme de ton compagnon,
son serviteur, sa servante, son boeuf, son âne,
et tout ce qui est à ton compagnon. »
Et c’est au soir, la caille monte, elle couvre le camp,
et le matin, c’était une couche de rosée autour du camp.
La couche de rosée monte, et voici: sur les faces du désert,
une croûte fine, fine comme givre sur la terre.
Les Benéi Israël voient et disent, chaque homme à son frère:
« Mân hou ? Qu’est-ce ? » Non, ils ne savaient pas ce que c’était.
Moshè leur dit:
« C’est le pain que IHVH-Adonaï vous donne en nourriture. »
Source: Chouraqui 1985
The Greek that is typically translated in English as “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius” is translated by the Italian La Sua Parola è Vita translation as Passarono circa due decenni. Era adesso il quindicesimo anno del regno dell’imperatore Tiberio Cesare or “About two decades passed. It was now the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Caesar.” Cotrozzi (2019) explains: “There is a time gap between the last events recounted in 2:52 and those in 3:1. Jesus was 12 at the end of chapter 2 but about 30 years old when he began his work (3:23). As a result, some 18 years must have elapsed since 2:51-52. However, this is not readily apparent to most modern readers. All the more so since the gap coincides with a break at chapter level and is followed by the same name (Herod) as in 1:5 which seems to indicate continuity. What most readers are not aware of is that the same name refers in Luke to two different historical figures, Herod the Great (1:5) and his son Herod Antipas (3:1). Only a few Bibles — Danish Bibelen på Hverdagsdansk and Den Nye Aftale, English New Living Translation, French La Parole de Vie, German Die Gute Nachricht and Neues Leben Übersetzung, and Spanish Traducción en lenguaje actual — make this clear in the text.”
The Greek term that is translated in virtually all English translations as “fox” (exceptions: Passion Translation of 2014 with “deceiver” and The Voice of 2012 with “sly fox”) presents an intriguing example of the complexity of translation and meaning across different cultures.
Edward Hope (2003, p. 64ff.) describes the occurrence of the fox and its meaning in the Bible as an inferior rather than crafty animal (click or tap here to see the details)
“In biblical times, and even today, there are three species of fox found in Israel and one type of jackal. An additional type of fox was found in Egypt. In the Bible the Hebrew word shu’al and its Greek equivalent alōpēx refer to any of these animals. These are members of the same animal family, which includes the wolf and the dog. The word “jackal” was borrowed from the Arabic jakal, which is from the same Semitic root as the Hebrew word shu’al. In the days of the King James Version the word “jackal” had not yet been introduced into the English language, and so in that version “fox” is used throughout for shu’al. (…)
“Both foxes and jackals are extremely intelligent animals, and their quick-witted, crafty opportunism is legendary in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. The fables of Aesop, a North African philosopher and storyteller, which feature the crafty fox, date from about the time of Daniel. The fox also figures in Greek and Roman fables. Similar fables about opportunistic jackals have been widespread in Africa and the Middle East for centuries.
“In ancient Arabic literature and in the Talmud and Midrash, the word ‘lion’ stands for a truly great and powerful person. In contrast, ‘jackal’ is used to designate an insignificant but self-important person. Since this figurative usage of ‘lion’ (or ‘lioness’) is also common in the Bible, there is a strong probability that the term ‘jackal’ or ‘fox’ used as a metaphor in the Bible for a person carries the connotation of self-important insignificance.
“However, the main symbolism associated with the jackal in the Bible is related to its habit of living among ruins and feeding on carcasses. To say that a certain place would become the dwelling place of jackals meant that the place would become deserted and lie in ruins, as the result of war. The jackal was thus a symbol of death and desolation, as well as insignificance and opportunistic craftiness. (…)
“[When in Luke 13:32 the term] alōpēx is used figuratively, it is more important to retain the inference associated with the word than to signify the exact animal. The word is slightly insulting, and the main exegetical decision to be made here is whether Jesus is using the term with the Greek connotation of ‘crafty opportunist’ or with the Semitic connotation of ‘insignificant but self-important person.’ Either would fit the context. If the former is in focus, Jesus is inferring that even though Herod Antipas is a crafty opportunist, his plans are known. If the latter sense is intended, as seems more likely, then Jesus is inferring that Herod does not have the power to stop him doing what he has to do. Some commentators have argued that both inferences are intended since both the Greek and Hebrew metaphors would have been known.
“If the Greek inference is decided upon, then the word alōpēx could be translated ‘crafty fox’ or ‘crafty jackal.’ If the Semitic inference is preferred, the word could be translated ‘insignificant jackal.’ In either case the word for a local animal that symbolizes crafty opportunism (for example, baboon) or self-important insignificance (for example, rabbit) can be used in the text, with a footnote to indicate that the original word means fox or jackal.”
Due to a lack of understanding of the above-described differences in the meaning of “fox” as a metaphor in Hebrew and Greek culture, early versions of translations tended to emphasize the craftiness of the metaphor:
Harry McArthur (in Notes on Translation 1992, p. 16ff), who had worked on a translation of the Aguacateco New Testament in the 1970s and then revised that version in the 1990s describes the original translation of this passage as one of “the few places where, when I was translating, I did not understand the original text (or the translations of it). (…) The helps we had at that time told us that the point of comparison was that Herod was a ‘cheater.’ We have since come to understand from the use of the word ‘fox’ on many other Biblical passages that Jesus was calling him a small or inconsequential man: a better rendering would be “go tell that poor benighted soul…”
An early Swati version translates “fox” as nyoka: “snake” (in the 1996 Swati translation it says mphungutja: “jackal”). Eric Hermanson comments on this:
“This change, however, rather than bringing out what was intended in the original utterance, made it suggest even more strongly that Jesus was calling Herod a twisty schemer than is indicated when ‘fox’ is used as a metaphor in English. What happened in this case. then, was that replacing a metaphor from the original language with a different metaphor from the second language resulted in readers and hearers having different thoughts and ideas than were intended by the original author. (…)
“In Zulu and other African languages, however, itnpungushe (‘the jackal’) is also seen as an insignificant animal; and referring metaphorically to a king as itnpungushe instead of as iSilo or iNgonyama (‘the lion’), the normal praise-names of a paramount chief, has the same effect (…) that was intended by Jesus.” (Source: Eric Hermanson in The Bible Translator 1999, p. 235 ff..)
The German translation by Jörg Zink (1965) translates “dieser Fuchs, dieser Verderber”: “that fox, that spoiler (or: destroyer).”
In Meyah, it is translated as “evil person” (source: Gilles Gravelle in Kroneman 2004, p. 502).
Some translations specifically reproduce the voice of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible.
the Children of Israel would see Moshe’s face,
that the skin of Moshe’s face was radiating;
but then Moshe would put back the veil on his face,
until he came in to speak with him.
Source: Everett Fox 1995
sahen die Söhne Jissraels Mosches Antlitz,
daß die Haut des Antlitzes strahlte;
dann aber legte Mosche den Schleier wieder über sein Antlitz,
bis er kam, mit ihm zu reden.
Source: Buber / Rosenzweig 1976
Les Benéi Israël voient les faces de Moshè:
oui, la peau des faces de Moshè rayonnait.
Moshè retourne le voile sur ses faces,
jusqu’à sa venue pour parler avec lui.
Source: Chouraqui 1985
The Hebrew that is translated as “Lord of hosts” in English is translated as “God the Highest Ruler” in Kankanaey, as “Lord Almighty” in Newari, as Wànjūnzhī Yēhéhuá (万军之耶和华) or “Jehovah of 10,000 [=all] armies” in Chinese, as “Yawe God of the universe” in Mandinka, and in the German (Luther) Bible the second part of the name is transliterated: Herr Zebaoth or “Lord Zebaoth” (Swedish, Finnish and Latvian use the same translation strategy).
The traditional French translation of l’Eternel/Yahve/le Seigneur/Seigneur des armées (“Lord of the armies”) presents a problem when listened to, as Jean-Marc Babut explains (in The Bible Translator 1985. p. 411ff.):
“For the hearer, the traditional translation l’Eternel/Yahve/le Seigneur des armées can easily be taken in a bad sense: there is nothing, in fact, to prevent the listener from hearing l’Eternel désarmé, ‘the Eternal One disarmed’ or ‘stripped of his power’! (…). Thus the Bible en français courant [publ. 1997] has decided to use the expression Seigneur/Dieu de l’univers, “Lord/God of the Universe”. This formula, which has an undeniably liturgical ring, seems to have been favorably received by users.”
Other, later French Bibles who have chosen a similar strategy, include Parole de Vie (publ. 2017) with Seigneur de l’univers or Bible Segond 21 (publ. 2007) with l’Eternel, le maître de l’univers.
See also Lord of hosts.
The Greek that is translated as “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” or similar in English is translated in Muna as “what comes-out at the lips, it comes from the fullness/overflowing of the heart.”
René van den Berg explains: “It is very impolite in Muna to mention someone’s mouth (wobha) or tongue (lela). The words themselves are not taboo or obscene, but in combination with a possessor they are frowned upon and should be avoided. In fact, if you want to abuse someone, you should refer to his or her mouth or tongue. The implications for translation are obvious (…). [Sometimes] ‘mouth’ was replaced by ‘lips’ (wiwi), a perfectly acceptable term, even when possessed.”
In the German Luther Bible it says: Denn wes das Herz voll ist, des geht der Mund über or “what the heart is full of, with that the mouth flows over,” in Uab Meto it says “his mouth says only what the heart is more than full of,” and in Tzeltal it is “in our hearts arise all those things which come out of our mouths.” (Source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
Some translations specifically reproduce the voice of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible.
This may God do to “the enemies of” David, and thus may he add,
if I leave from all that belongs to him, by daybreak [even] one pissing against the wall!
“David’s enemies”: Later scribes have added the word “enemies” here, in order to avoid placing a verbal curse on David.
“One pissing against the wall”: Others, euphemistically, “a single male,” but the imagery is doglike. Unlike most modern translations, Tyndale and the King James Version got it right: “aught / one that pisseth by the wall.”
Source: Everett Fox 2014
so tue Gott Dawids Feinden, so füge er hinzu,
laß ich bis zum Morgenlicht von allem, was sein ist, einen Wandpisser übrig!
Source: Buber / Rosenzweig 1976
Ainsi fera Elohîms aux ennemis de David et ainsi il ajoutera si je laisse,
de tout ce qui est à lui, avant le matin, un pisseur contre un mur !
Source: Chouraqui 1985
A particularly interesting development in the history of Christianity [related to translation] took place with respect to the Greek term monogenés, literally, ‘only, unique, one of kind.’ It was used of Isaac as the son of Abraham [see Gen. 22:2], though Isaac was not the only son of Abraham, for he had a son Ishmael, and with a later wife Keturah, several sons. But Isaac was the only son of a particular kind, that is to say, the unique son of the promise. The term monogenés was translated into Latin as unigenitus, meaning literally ‘only begotten’ [in English — or likewise traditionally in Chinese: “dúshēng 獨 生,” Italian: “unigenito,” Spanish “unigénito,” or German: “eingeboren”] but in Greek the equivalent of ‘only begotten’ would have two n’s and not just one. Nevertheless, the Latin misinterpretation of monogenés has constituted such a long tradition that any attempt to speak of Jesus as the ‘unique son of God’ rather than the ‘only begotten son’ is often announced as a case of blatant heresy. (Source: Nida 1984, p. 114.)
In Waiwai, the Greek that is translated as “only begotten Son” in English in John 3:16 is translated as cewnan tumumururosa okwe, where the “particle okwe indicates dearness, and it must be included in Waiwai for the expression ‘only begotten Son’ to mean anything like what it means to God or to us as Christians.” (Source: Robert Hawkins (in The Bible Translator 1962, pp. 164ff.)