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).
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]; 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)
- 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.
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).
The Greek that is translated as “blasphemy” or “blaspheme” is (back-) translated in various forms:
- Panao Huánuco Quechua: “speak evil of God”
- Southern Bobo Madaré: “to break God’s name”
- Loma: “to spoil the name of God”
- Luvale: “to insult God”
- Pamona and Malay: “to slander God”
- Javanese and German: “to defame God”
- Tae’: “to bring curses (or “calamitous words”) against God”
- Uab Meto: “to talk to pieces” (source for this and above: Bratcher / Nida)
- Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac: “treat God with contempt”
- Ojitlán Chinantec: “say bad words”
- Yatzachi Zapotec: “slander God”
- Tenango Otomi: “don’t respect God with what one says”
- Navajo: “say evil about God” (source for this and four above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125)
- Q’anjob’al: “that which hurts the high” (source: Newberry and Kittie Cox in The Bible Translator 1950, p. 91ff.)
- Bacama: “spoiling the name of God” (source: David Frank in this blog post)
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.”
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 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).
See also fox.
The Greek and Hebrew that is translated as “altar” in English is translated in Obolo as ntook or “raised structure for keeping utensils (esp. sacrifice),” in Muna as medha kaefoampe’a or “offering table,” in Luchazi as muytula or “the place where one sets the burden down”/”the place where the life is laid down,” in Tzotzil as “where they place God’s gifts,” and in Colorado as “table for giving to God.” (Source: Obolo: Enene Enene; Muna: René van den Berg; Tzotzil: John Beekman in Notes on Translation, March 1965, p. 2ff.; Luchzi: E. Pearson in The Bible Translator 1954, p. 160ff.; Bruce Moore in Notes on Translation 1/1992, p. 1ff.).
Some translations specifically reproduce the voice of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible.
and after the earthquake, fire —
Yhwh was not in the fire;
but after the fire,
a still, small voice.
Source: Everett Fox 2014
und nach dem Beben ein Feuer:
Er im Feuer nicht –,
aber nach dem Feuer
eine Stimme verschwebenden Schweigens.
Source: Buber / Rosenzweig 1976
Après le séisme, un feu. Pas dans le feu, IHVH-Adonaï.
Après le feu, une voix, un silence subtil.
Source: Chouraqui 1985
The translation of the Greek οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι (hoi Ioudaioi), traditionally “the Jews” in English, is used particularly often in the Gospel of John and has been receiving attention in the last 50 years. Below you’ll find an overview of how some English translators and translation have translated it, why they did so and the solutions some other languages have chosen.
Starting in the late 1960s, at the time the English Today’s English Version (Good News Bible) and respective translations in other languages (see below) were published, many translators started to question the translation of hoi Ioudaioi with “the Jews.”
Robert Bratcher, the translator of the Today’s English Version New Testament describes why his translation uses four different translations for the same Greek words (in The Bible Translator 1975, p. 401ff.): “Jewish people,” “Judeans,” “people hostile to Jesus,” and “the authorities in Jerusalem” (for more see here):
“In order to better understand the meaning of ‘the Jews’ in the Gospel of John, we must first look at the use and meaning of ‘the world’ in this Gospel. The author sees everything in terms of opposite forces: light and darkness, truth and error, life and death, God and the Devil. And he makes a sharp distinction between the world and Jesus and his followers, especially in the last half of the Gospel. Of course the world is the object of God’s love and of Christ’s saving mission (John 3:16–17; 12:47; 17:21, 23), but it is not the object of the love of the followers of Jesus: they are not commanded to love the world. The disciples of Jesus are in the world (John 13:1), but they do not belong to it (John 15:19). The world hates Jesus and his disciples, because they do not belong to it (John 15:18–19; 17:14, 15, 16). The world loves only those who belong to it (John 15:19). It does not know Jesus (John 1:10), or the Father (John 17:25), and cannot receive the Spirit of truth (John 14:17). The world’s ruler is to be overthrown (John 12:31, 14:30; 16:11). When Jesus is parted from his disciples, they will be sad, but the world will be glad (John 16:20). Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33); his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). In the Gospel of John ‘the world’ stands in opposition to Jesus and his disciples.
“‘The Jews’ belong to ‘the world,’ as compared with Jesus and his followers. The Jews, like the world, do not know the Father. They have never heard his voice or seen his face, nor do they believe in the one whom he sent (John 5:37, 38). Jesus says to the Jews. ‘You come from this world, but I do not come from this world’ (John 8:23). (…)
“The author clearly places himself, and those whom he represents, as separate from the Jews. He speaks of ‘the Passover of the Jews’ (John 2:13; 6:4; 11:55), the religious rules of the Jews about purification (John 2:6), a religious festival of the Jews (John 5:1), the Festival of Shelters of the Jews (John 7:2), the Day of Preparation of the Jews (John 19:42), and the way in which Jews prepare a body for burial (19:40).
“And quite as clearly he regards Jesus as not ‘a Jew’. In talking to the Jews. Jesus speaks of ‘your Law’ (John 7:19; 8:17; 10:34) and ‘your circumcision’ (John 7:22). Abraham is ‘your father’ (John 8:56). When the Jews say to him. ‘Our ancestors ate manna in the desert’ (John 6:31), Jesus replies, ‘What Moses gave you was not the bread from heaven’ (John 6:32), and later on says, ‘Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert’ (John 6:49).
“It is true that twice Jesus is called a Jew: by the Samaritan woman (John 4:9) and by Pilate (John 18:35). But in both instances the term is used in its sense of ‘person of Judah’, contrasted with the Samaritan and the Roman. The same applies in John 4:22, where Jesus says to the Samaritan woman. ‘You (Samaritans) do not really know whom you worship; we (Jews) know whom we worship, for salvation comes from the Jews.’
“Apart from those two instances, it is only in John 1:11 that Jesus is identified as a Jew. in the statement that he came to ‘his own country’, but ‘his own people’ did not receive him. This passage, however, does not go against the Gospel as a whole, in which Jesus is shown as not being a part of ‘the Jews.’
“What accounts for this? It seems clear that the deep differences shown between Jesus and ‘the Jews’ of his time reflect the hostility between Church and Synagogue at the time the author wrote his Gospel. He has moved back the disputes and arguments of his own time into the time of Jesus, and they are represented as taking place between Jesus and the people of his time.
“The prominent part played by the Pharisees in the opposition to Jesus is worthy of note here. The High Priest and the chief priests are mentioned often, especially in chapters 18-19, as we would expect. They were, after all, the religious authorities responsible for arresting Jesus and turning hint over to Pilate. What is surprising is that the Pharisees appear so often in the Gospel (see John 1:24; 4:1; 7:32, 47, 48; 8:13; 9:13, 15, 16, 40; 11:46; 12:19, 42), and are at times identified as ‘the Jews’, that is, the authorities. Their part in relation to Jesus in the Gospel of John is different from the part they play in the other Gospels. In John it is their refusal to believe in Jesus and his claims that brings them into conflict with him. They are not, as in the other Gospels, condemned by Jesus because of their hypocrisy or their understanding of the Law. (…)
“The translator is bound to represent faithfully the way in which the author describes the ministry of Jesus. But the way in which he will translate the Greek hoi loudaioi every time it appears in the Gospel is not an easy matter to decide. (1) Should he not, always and everywhere, translate it by ‘the Jews’? This certainly may be argued, since the author does not use the expression in a precise national or racial sense of the people of Israel in the years A.D. 30-33, but of the opponents of his own time who denied the claims the Church makes about Jesus the Messiah. If the translator did this, however, he would almost be forced to use quotation marks — ‘the Jews’ — to show the strangeness of the phrase. (2) But since the author has placed these disputes in the time of Jesus, it is at this level that the translation must take place, so that ‘the Jews’ must be identified in terms of the people of Jesus’ own time. But as a matter of fact Jesus was a Jew, and to translate a passage, for example. ‘Jesus, in Jerusalem, said to the Jews’, is as unnatural as to say, ‘The President, in Washington, said to the Americans’, or, ‘The Queen, in London, said to the British.’
“In translating on this ‘historical’ level, however, does not the translator somehow distort the meaning of the text? The answer depends on whether we believe that the author intended his readers to understand his Gospel as reporting historical events which took place in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee in the early part of the first century. Assuming that he did, it seems to me that the translator does not have much of a choice, unless he says something like ‘the enemies of Jesus’, or ‘the unbelievers’ every time ‘the Jews’ is used of the opponents of Jesus.
“Consequently, in following the course which I think is the only right one to take, the translator must carefully observe the different senses in which ‘the Jews’ is used in the Gospel of John—and this is what will be done in this study, with an examination of every occurrence of the phrase and its meaning in the ‘historical’ setting of the Gospel. (…)
“According to this review, ‘the Jews’ in the Gospel of John may have four different meanings:
- its natural sense, meaning simply Jewish people
- Judeans, people who live in and near Jerusalem
- people hostile to Jesus
- the authorities in Jerusalem
For the Contemporary English Version in the 1990s, similar translation strategies were taken, as explained by David Burke, a member of the translation team (see the reprint from an original article in TIC TALK 24, 1993, right here). Other English translations that use varied translations for hoi Ioudaioi include the Living Bible, New International Version, Common English Bible, New Living Translation, The Inclusive New Testament, and others.
For a recent translation of the New Testament, its translator and Eastern Orthodox scholar David B. Hart (2017) explains why he chose to use ‘Judaean’ for every occurrence of the singular Ioudaios or the plural Ioudaioi throughout the New Testament (for more see here):
“The next term is Ioudaios — or Ioudaioi in the plural — which is usually rendered ‘Jew’ or ‘Jews,’ except in places where ‘Judaean’ or ‘Judaeans’ seems better to fit the context: again a perfectly justifiable practice, but also one that inadvertently introduces a distinction into the text that would not have been entirely intended by the authors. The books of the New Testament were written in an age in which national, ethnic, religious, and racial identities were not arranged in the often pernicious categories that came to hold sway in subsequent centuries; and it would be a severe distortion of the texts of the New Testament to allow these later developments to cast a shadow backward onto a time innocent of the evils of mediaeval or modern history. For example—and the most striking example -— the Gospel of John has often been accused of anti-Semitism, despite the anachronism of the very concept. Where English readers are accustomed to reading the Gospel as referring, often opprobriously, to ‘the Jews,’ the original text is usually referring to the indigenous Temple and synagogue authorities of Judaea, or to Judaeans living outside Judaea, or even to ‘Judaeans’ as opposed to ‘Galileans’ (see, for instance, John 7:1). The Gospel definitely reflects the disenchantment of Jewish Christians in Asia Minor with those they saw as having expelled them from the synagogue, and later Christian culture certainly often took this as an excuse for anti-Jewish violence and injustice, but it would be absurd to impute to the Gospel the sort of religious prejudices born in later generations, or certainly the racial ideologies that are so much a part of the special legacy of post-Enlightenment modernity. I have rendered the word as ‘Judaean’ or ‘Judaeans’ throughout, even where that sounds somewhat awkward, and even in places where ‘Jew’ or ‘Jews’ would be an utterly anodyne or bracingly affirmative translation. After all, the general extension of the term ‘Jews’ to all who worshipped Israel’s God meant principally that their cultic life was focused on the Temple in Jerusalem. Again, my rationale for doing this, and for ignoring my own twinge of reluctance whenever it produced a somewhat inept construction, is that I thought it better to preserve the unity of the word and the concept in the language of the ancient authors than to impose distinctions that would make the texts conform more readily to our cultural categories (and historical sins). (source: Hart 2017, p. 548f.)
Other English translations that use Judeans in most passages in John for Ioudaioi include N.T. Wright’s Kingdom New Testament (in the UK: New Testament for Everyone), the Messianic Jewish Bible Project’s Tree of Life translation, and David Stern’s Jewish New Testament.
In The Jewish Gospel of John its translator explains why he chose to not translate but instead transliterate virtually ever occurrence of Ioudaioi (for more see here):
“The Gospel of John was initially written for a particular audience consisting of a variety of intra-Israelite groups, one of the main ones being the Samaritan Israelites. To them, unlike for us today, the word Ioudaioi did not mean ‘the People of Israel,’ i.e. ‘the Jewish people’ as we call them today. For these people, the people I propose are one of the main audiences for the Gospel of John, the Ioudaioi, meant something different.
“One modern example that illustrates this ancient dynamic comes from an Eastern European setting. The Ukrainians often called Russians, with whom they had an uneasy relationship to say the least, ‘Maskali.’ The Ukrainian word ‘Maskal’ comes from the name of the Russian Imperial Capital — Moscow. Those who were either of Russian ethnic descent, or who even as much as acknowledged Moscow’s authority or leading role in the region, could be referred to as ‘Maskal.’ In fact, the Maskal did not have to be from Moscow or be ethnically Russian at all. The individual simply needed to be (or be perceived to be) a supporter of a Moscow-led political agenda. Other peoples outside of the Russian-Ukrainian political conflict, who were familiar with the issues, never used the designation ‘Maskali’ themselves, knowing that it was a Ukrainian term for the Russians and Russia’s affiliates.
“Therefore, using a similar analogy, those who acknowledged the Jerusalem-approved authorities in Kfar Nahum (Capernaum) and Cana, which were far from Jerusalem, were also referred to by the principal name for the Jerusalemite formal rulers and leading sect — the Ioudaioi. All members of the Jerusalem-led system became the Ioudaioi in the Gospel of John. This is very similar to the way ‘Russians’ became ‘Maskali’ to Ukrainians and to others who witnessed their polemic. So when the audience for John’s Gospel heard these anti-Ioudaioi statements (like John 7:1-2), whom did they think the author/s had in mind? This is the key question.
“To Samaritan Israelites, whatever else the Ioudaioi may have been, they were certainly Judeans –- members of the former Southern Kingdom of Israel who had adopted a wide variety of innovations that were contrary to the Torah as Samaritans understood it. Judging from this Gospel, the original audience understood that, as well as simply being Judeans, the Ioudaioi were: i) Judean authorities, and (ii) affiliated members of this authority structure living outside of Judea.
“These affiliates were located both in the territories of the former Northern Kingdom of Israel (Galilee) and in the large Israelite diaspora outside the Land of Israel, both in the Roman Empire and beyond. In this way, the Gospel of John, like the other Gospels, portrayed Jesus’ antagonists as representatives of sub-groups within Israel, and not the people of Israel as a whole. In other words Ioudaioi (‘the Jews’ in most translations) in this Gospel are not ‘the Jewish People’ in the modern sense of the word.
“The translation of Ioudaioi always and only as ‘Jews’ sends the reader in the opposite direction from what the author intended. While the translation of this word simply as ‘Judeans,’ is a more accurate choice than ‘Jews,’ it is still not fully adequate –- for three reasons that come to mind:
- The English word Jews evokes, in the minds of modern peoples, the idea of Jewish religion (i.e. Jews are people who profess a religion called Judaism) and therefore cannot be used indiscriminately to translate the term Ioudaioi, since, in the first century, there was no separate category for religion (Judaism, when it was used, meant something much more all-encompassing than what it means to us today). In a sense, it was only when non-Israelite Christ-followers, in an attempt to self-establish and self-define, created the category called Christianity, that the category called Judaism, as we know it today, was also born. Since then most Christian theologians and most Jewish theologians after them project our modern definition of Judaism back into the New Testament.
- On the other hand, the English word Judean evokes in the minds of modern people, oftentimes, an almost exclusively geographical definition (a Judean is the person who lives in Judea or used to live in Judea) and hence cannot be used indiscriminately either, since today it does not imply everything it intended to imply in late antiquity.
- The word Judean, without clarification and nuancing, does not account for the complex relationship of the outside-of-Judea affiliates with the Jerusalem authorities either.
“Because of the lack of a perfect word to describe what was meant by Ioudaioi in the Gospel of John, I suggest that the word is best left untranslated.” (source: Lizorkin-Eyzenberg 2015, p. XIff.)
In other languages, many common language versions (approximate equivalents to the English Today’s English Version (Good News Bible) or other simplified translations (as well as non-simplified versions) use varied translations for Ioudaioi in John as well. Below are some examples of translations of hoi Ioudaioi in John 1:19:
- Portuguese: líderes judeus (Jewish leaders) (in Nova Tradução na Linguagem de Hoje (New Translation in Today’s Language))
- French: autórités juives (Jewish authorities) (in Bible en français courant (Bible in Modern French) or chefs juifs (Jewish leaders) (in Parole de Vie (Word of Life))
- Spanish: autiridades des judias (Jewish authorities) (in Dios Habla Hoy (God Speaks Today))
- Italian: autorità ebraiche ((Jewish authorities) (in Traduzione Interconfessionale in Lingua Corrente (Interconfessional Translation into Modern Language))
- Dutch: Joodse leiders (Jewish leaders) (in BasisBijbel (Basic Bible))
- German: führende Männer (leading men) (in Die Gute Nachricht: Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch (Good News: The Bible in Today’s German)), führende Männer des jüdischen Volkes (leading men of the Jewish people) (in Neue Genfer Übersetzung (New Geneva Translation)), or jüdische Behörden (Jewish authorities) (in BasisBibel (Basic Bible))
- Indonesian: penguasa Yahudi (Jewish authorities) (in Alkitab dalam Bahasa Indonesia Masa Kini (The Bible in Today’s Indonesian))
- Hindi: यहूदी धर्म-गुरुओं ने Yahūdī dharma-guruoan ne(Jewish religious leaders (in पवित्र बाइबिल CL (Holy Bible CL))
- Nepali: यहूदी अगुवाहरूले Yahūdī aguvāharūlē (Jewish leaders) (in सरल नेपाली पवित्र बाइबल (Simple Nepali Holy Bible))
- Hebrew: רָאשֵׁי הַיְּהוּדִים rashei hayehudim (heads of the Jews) (Modern Hebrew New Testament)
So give your servant an understanding heart
to judge your people, to discern between good and evil.
For who is able to judge this your weighty people?
Source: Everett Fox 1995
so gib deinem Diener
ein hörendes Herz,
dein Volk zu richten,
den Unterschied von Gut und Bös zu unterscheiden,
denn wer vermöchte dies dein gewichtiges Volk zu richten.
Source: Buber / Rosenzweig 1976
Donne à ton serviteur un coeur qui entende,
pour juger ton peuple, pour discerner le bien du mal.
Oui, qui pourrait juger ton peuple, ce poids ? »
Source: Chouraqui 1985