tohu wa-bohu

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)

Logos, Word

Newman / Nida describe some of the difficulties surrounding the translation of the Greek “Logos” which is typically translated as “Word” in English (click or tap here to read more):

“The term ‘the Word’ has a rich heritage, by way of both its Greek and Jewish backgrounds. For the Greeks who held to a theistic view of the universe, it could be understood as the means by which God reveals himself to the world, while among those who were pantheistic in outlook, the Word was the principle that held the world together and at the same time endowed men with the wisdom for living. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint), the Word could be used both of the means by which God had created the world (Ps 33:6) and through which he had revealed himself to the world (Jer 1:4; Ezek 1:3; Amos 3:1). Among certain of the Greek-speaking Jews of New Testament times, there was much speculation about the ‘wisdom’ of God, which God ‘made in the very beginning, at the first, before the world began’ (Prov 8:22-23). (…) By the time that John writes his Gospel, the Word is close to being recognized as a personal being, and it has roles relating to the manner in which God created the world and to the way in which God reveals himself to the world that he brought into being. Moffatt [whose English translation of the New Testament was published in 1913], realizing the difficulty in finding a term equivalent in meaning to the one used by John, transliterates the Greek term: ‘the Logos existed in the very beginning’ [see also Hart’s translation below or The Orthodox New Testament, 2000)]; while Phillips [New Testament translation published in 1958] at least makes an effort to give his translation meaning: ‘at the beginning God expressed himself.’

“Though the Greek term logos may be rendered ‘word,’ it would be wrong to think it indicates primarily a grammatical or lexical unit in a sentence. Greek has two other terms which primarily identify individual words, whether they occur in a list (as in a dictionary) or in a sentence. The term logos, though applicable to an individual word, is more accurately understood as an expression with meaning; that is, it is ‘a message,’ ‘a communication,’ and, as indicated, a type of ‘revelation.’ A literal translation, therefore, more or less equivalent to English ‘word,’ is frequently misleading.

“In some languages there are additional complications. For example, in some languages the term ‘word’ is feminine in gender, and therefore any reference to it must also be feminine [or neuter — see German below]. As a result, the possible use of pronouns in reference to Jesus Christ can be confusing. Furthermore, in many languages a term such as ‘word’ must be possessed. One cannot speak about ‘the word’ without indicating who spoke the word, since words do not exist apart from the persons who utter them.

“Because of these and other difficulties, many translators treat the term ‘Word’ or Logos as a title, and that is precisely what it is. The very fact that it is normally capitalized in English translations marks it as a title; but in many languages the fact of its being a title must be more clearly indicated by some explicit expression, for example, ‘the one who was called the Word’ [see Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac below] or ‘the one known as the Word’ [see German below] In this way the reader can understand from the beginning that ‘Word’ is to be understood as a designation for a person.

“Therefore, this first sentence in John 1:1 may be rendered ‘Before the world was created, the one who was known as the Word existed’ or ‘… the person called the Word existed.’ In languages which employ honorific forms it is particularly appropriate to use such an indication with the title ‘Word.’ Such a form immediately marks the designation as the title of deity or of a very important personage, depending, of course, upon the usage in the language in question.”

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: (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 . In speaking of an adulterous man one may say, ‘He has done an evil word’. One may speak of a chief who does not think, order, or act correctly as, ‘His word is not good’. The expression ‘the Word of God’ is limited in our speech to meaning of the divine Scriptures, but in New Caledonian it includes the thoughts and acts of God, ‘God said and it was done’. The New Caledonian has no difficulty in seeing the Word becoming action, becoming flesh, the word becoming a physical reality. Our deceased colleague Laffay once said: ‘I prefer to read John in the Ajië rather than in French’.

The recent English New Testament translation by David Bentley Hart (2017), that uses the transliteration Logos for the Greek Λόγος, says this about its translation (p. 549ff.): “In certain special instances it is quite impossible for a translator to reduce [Λόγος] to a single word in English, or in any other tongue (though one standard Chinese version of the Bible renders logos in the prologue of John’s Gospel as 道 (dao), which is about as near as any translation could come to capturing the scope and depth of the word’s religious, philosophical, and metaphoric associations in those verses, while also carrying the additional meaning of “speech” or “discourse”).”

Below you can find some background of this remarkable Chinese translation (click or tap here to read more):

Dao 道, which developed into a central concept of classical Chinese philosophy, originally carried the meaning of “path” and “(main) road.” From there it developed into “leading” and “teaching” as well as “say” and “speak.”

As early as the 7th century BC, however, dao appears with the meaning “method.” With this and the derived meaning of “the (right) way” and “moral principle,” dao became one of the central concepts of the Confucian writings.

In Daoist writings (especially in the Daodejing ), dao goes far beyond the Confucian meaning to take on creative qualities.

With this new compendium of meaning, the term became suitable for numerous foreign religions to represent central points of their doctrine, including Buddhism (as a translation for bodhi — “enlightenment”), Judaism (similar to the Confucians as the “right [Jewish] way”), and Islam (likewise the “right [Muslim] way”).

The Jesuits, who had intensively dealt with Confucianism from the 16th century on, also took over dao as the “correct (Catholic) way,” and the so-called Figurists, a group of Jesuits in the 18th century who saw the Messianic figure of Jesus Christ outlined in Chinese history, went so far as to point to the existence of John’s Logos in the dao of Daodejing.

In later Catholic Bible translations, dao was rarely used as a translation for Logos; instead, the 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.”

stricken

The Hebrew that is translated as “stricken” or similar in many English translations was translated by the Latin Vulgate translation as quasi leprosum or “like a leper.” Most, if not all, Catholic translations into the 1950s used the Vulgate as their source text and therefore followed this translation — see the English Catholic Douay-Rheims version: we have thought him as it were a leper.

The translation was likely chosen because in other cases when the same Hebrew word is used, leprosy was implied.

In the middle ages this was interpreted as meaning that Jesus in fact had leprosy and that having leprosy was not a curse but a “Holy Disease.” (Source: Yancey 1995, p. 172f.)

hypocrite

The Greek and Hebrew terms that are translated as “hypocrite” in English typically have a counterpart in most languages. According to Bratcher / Nida (1961, p. 225), they can be categorized into the following categories:

  • those which employ some concept of “two” or “double”
  • those which make use of some expression of “mouth” or “speaking”
  • those which are based upon some special cultural feature
  • those which employ a non-metaphorical phrase

Following is a list of (back-) translations from some languages:

The English version of Sarah Ruden (2021) uses “play-actor.” She explains (p. li): “A hupokrites is fundamentally an actor. The word has deep negativity in the Gospels on two counts: professional actors were not respectable people in the ancient world, and traditional Judaism did not countenance any kind of playacting. I write ‘play-actor’ throughout.”

See also hypocrisy.

redeem, redemption

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

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

For more information click or tap here

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

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

In Samoan the translation is togiola which originally refers to a fine mat. John Bradshaw (in The Bible Translator 1967, p. 75ff. ) explains: “The rite of submission applies in cases of grave sin which demands an extreme punishment: offenses such as murder, adultery or disrespectful behavior towards a chief. Submission is made in expectation of forgiveness. The rite is normally enacted at dawn. The prisoner and his family, or even his whole village bow down in silence before the house of the chief or other offended party. The prisoner heads the group and is covered with a fine mat, offered as his ransom. In other words, he submits himself completely to the authority of those whom he has offended. Many such submissions have been successfully offered and received. Those inside the house will come out, and bring into it those offering submission. The priestly orators speak sweetly and all join in a meal. The fine mat is accepted, while the prisoner is set free and forgiven. He no longer goes in fear of retribution for his sin. (…) If now we turn to the relation between the believer and the Redeemer, we notice at once that the word togiola, literally the price of one’s life, was the word used to denote the fine mat with which the sinner covered himself in the rite of Submission. The acceptance of the togiola set free the prisoner. It was inevitable that togiola should render lutron, ransom, as in Matt. 20: 28.”

The translation into English also is noteworthy:

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

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

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

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

translations with a Hebraic voice (2 Kings 2:6-11)

Some translations specifically reproduce the voice of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible.

English:
Then Eliyyahu said to him:
Pray stay here,
for Yhwh has sent me to the Jordan.
But he said:
By the life of Yhwh and by your own life, if I should leave you. . . !
Thus the two of them walked on.
Now fifty men of the Sons of the Prophets went
and stood opposite, at a distance,
while the two of them stood by the Jordan.
And Eliyyahu took his mantle, folded it up, and struck the waters,
and they split in half, to here and to there,
and the two of them crossed over on dry-ground.
It was when they crossed that Eliyyahu said to Elisha:
Make-request: what may I do for you before I am taken from beside you?
Elisha said:
Pray let a twofold measure of your spirit be upon me!
He said:
You have made a difficult request.
If you see me being taken from you, it will be thus for you,
but if not, it will not be.
And it was, as they were walking, walking along and speaking
that here, a chariot of fire and horses of fire:
they parted the two of them,
and Eliyyahu went up in the storm to the heavens.

Source: Everett Fox 2014

German:
Elijahu sprach zu ihm:
Verweile doch hier,
denn Er hat mich an den Jordan gesandt.
Er aber sprach:
Sowahr Er lebt, sowahr deine Seele lebt:
verlasse ich dich je, …!
So gingen sie beide.
Mitgegangen aber waren von den Jungkündern fünfzig Mann,
die blieben gegenüber stehn, von fern,
als die beiden am Jordan standen.
Elijahu nahm seinen Mantel,
er ballte ihn
und schlug das Wasser,
das spaltete sich hierhin und hierhin,
auf dem Sandgrund schritten die beiden hindurch.
Es geschah nun, als sie hindurchgeschritten waren,
zu Elischa sprach Elijahu:
Wünsche,
was soll ich dir tun,
ehe ich von dir hinweggenommen werde?
Elischa sprach:
Geschähe doch, daß mir würde von deinem Geistbraus das Erstlings-Doppelteil!
Er sprach:
Schweres hast du erwünscht!
darfst du mitansehn,
wie ich von dir hinweggenommen werde,
wirds dir so geschehn,
sonst aber: wirds nicht geschehn.
Es geschah:
während sie weitergingen, gingen und redeten,
da, Feuergefährt und Feuerrosse,
sie trennten die beiden.
Elijahu stieg im Sturm zum Himmel.

Source: Buber / Rosenzweig 1976

French:
Élyahou lui dit: « Siège donc là, oui, IHVH-Adonaï m’envoie au Iardèn. »
Il dit: « Vive IHVH-Adonaï, vive ton être, je ne t’abandonnerai pas. »
Ils vont, les deux.
Cinquante hommes, des fils des inspirés, vont et se tiennent en face, de loin.
Les deux se tiennent sur le Iardèn.
Élyahou prend sa cape, l’entortille, frappe les eaux.
Elles se divisent, là et là. Ils passent, les deux, à sec.
Et c’est à leur passage, Élyahou dit à Èlisha‘:
« Demande ce que je ferai pour toi, avant que je sois pris loin de toi. »
Èlisha‘ dit: « Que deux bouches de ton souffle soient donc en moi ! »
Il dit: « Tu es dur en demandes.
Si tu me vois pris loin de toi, pour toi, ce sera oui. Sinon, ce sera non. »
Et c’est eux, ils vont, vont et parlent.
Et voici, un char de feu, des chevaux de feu, séparent les deux.
Élyahou monte, dans la tempête, aux ciels.

Source: Chouraqui 1985

word play in Amos 8:2

The Hebrew in Amos 8:2 uses a word play between the words for “summer fruit” (qāyiṣ) and “end” (haqqêṣ) that some English translations try to emulate subtly: “What do you see, Amos?” he asked. “A basket of ripe fruit,” I answered. Then the Lord said to me, “The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.” (New International Version) and some more explicitly: “What do you see, Amos?” he asked. I replied, “A basket full of ripe fruit.” Then the Lord said, “Like this fruit, Israel is ripe for punishment! I will not delay their punishment again.” (New Living Version).

Source: John Ellington in The Bible Translator 1991, p. 301ff.

virgin

The Greek that is mostly translated as “virgin” in English can be translated as “woman that is untouched” in Batak Toba or “a woman with a whole (i.e. unopened) body” in Uab Meto. In some cases, however, such terms, or descriptive phrases like, “a woman who has not been with a man,” are felt to be too outspoken. Hence, in English versions the rendering has been toned down from “virgin,” via “maiden” (Goodspeed 1923/1935, Rieu 1954), to “girl” (New English Bible 1961/1970), and in Batak Toba from “woman that is untouched” to “girl” (lit. “female child”).

Similar words for “girl,” “unmarried young woman,” suggesting virginity without explicitly stating it, are found in Marathi, Apache, or Kituba. Cultural features naturally influence connotations of possible renderings, for instance, the child marriage customs in some Tboli areas, where the boy and girl are made to sleep together at the initial marriage, but after that do not live together and may not see each other again for years. Hence, the closest attainable equivalent, “female adolescent,” does not imply that a young girl is not living with her husband, and that she never had a child, but leaves uncertain whether she has ever slept with a male person or not. Accordingly, in Luke one has to depend on Luke 1:34 to make clear that Mary and Joseph had not had sexual intercourse. A different problem is encountered in Pampanga, where birhen (an adaptation of Spanish “virgen” — “virgin”), when standing alone, is a name of the “Virgin Mary.” To exclude this meaning the version uses “marriageable birhen,” thus at the same time indicating that Mary was relatively young. (Source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)

In Navajo, the term that is used is “no husband yet” (Source: Wallis, p. 106) and in Gola the expression “trouser girl.” “In the distant past young women who were virgins wore trousers. Those who were not virgins wore dresses. That doesn’t hold true anymore, but the expression is still there in the language.” (Source: Don Slager)

The term in Djimini Senoufo is katogo jo — “village-dance-woman” (women who have been promised but who are still allowed to go to dances with unmarried women). (Source: Übersetzung heute 3/1995)

one and only son, only begotten son, only son

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. )

See also complete verse (John 3:16), firstborn and begotten you / become your father.

burnt-offering

The Hebrew olah (עֹלָה) originally means “that which goes up (in smoke).” English Bibles often translates it as “burnt-offering” or “whole burnt-offering,” focusing on the aspect of the complete burning of the offering.

The Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate Bibles translate it as holokautōma / holocautōsis (ὁλοκαύτωμα / ὁλοκαύτωσις) and holocaustum, respectively, meaning “wholly burnt.” While a form of this term is widely used in many Romance languages (Spanish: holocaustos, French: holocaustes, Italian: olocausti, Portuguese: holocaustos) and originally also in the Catholic tradition of English Bible translations, it is largely not used in English anymore today (the preface of the revised edition of the Catholic New American Bible of 2011: “There have been changes in vocabulary; for example, the term ‘holocaust’ is now normally reserved for the sacrilegious attempt to destroy the Jewish people by the Third Reich.”)

Since Georgian translation traditionally was done on the basis of the Greek Septuagint, a transliteration of holokautōma was used as well, which was changed to a translation with the meaning of “burnt offering” when the Old Testament was retranslated in the 1980’s on the basis of the Hebrew text.

The English translation of Everett Fox uses offering-up (similarly, the German translation by Buber-Rosenzweig has Darhöhung and the French translation by Chouraqui montée).

See also offering (qorban).

offering (qorban)

The Hebrew qorbān (קָרְבָּן) originally means “that which is brought near.” Most English Bibles translate it as “offering.” The Hebraic English translation of Everett Fox uses near-offering and likewise the German translation by Buber-Rosenzweig has (the neologism) Darnahung.

See also burnt-offering and offering..

altar

The Greek and Hebrew that is translated as “altar” in English is translated in a number of ways:

  • Obolo: ntook or “raised structure for keeping utensils (esp. sacrifice)” (source: Enene Enene)
  • Muna: medha kaefoampe’a or “offering table” (source: René van den Berg)
  • Luchazi: muytula or “the place where one sets the burden down”/”the place where the life is laid down” (source: E. Pearson in The Bible Translator 1954, p. 160ff. )
  • Tzotzil: “where they place God’s gifts” (source: John Beekman in Notes on Translation, March 1965, p. 2ff.)
  • Tsafiki: “table for giving to God” (source: Bruce Moore in Notes on Translation 1/1992, p. 1ff.)
  • Nyongar: karla-kooranyi or “sacred fire” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • Uma: “offering-burning table” (source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “place for sacrificing” (source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “burning-place” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
The Ignaciano translators decided to translate the difficult term in that language according to the focus of each New Testament passage in which the word appears (click or tap here to see the rest of this insight

Willis Ott (in Notes on Translation 88/1982, p. 18ff.) explains:

  • Matt. 5:23,24: “When you take your offering to God, and arriving, you remember…, do not offer your gift yet. First go to your brother…Then it is fitting to return and offer your offering to God.” (The focus is on improving relationships with people before attempting to improve a relationship with God, so the means of offering, the altar, is not focal.)
  • Matt. 23:18 (19,20): “You also teach erroneously: ‘If someone makes a promise, swearing by the offering-place/table, he is not guilty if he should break the promise. But if he swears by the gift that he put on the offering-place/table, he will be guilty if he breaks the promise.'”
  • Luke 1:11: “…to the right side of the table where they burn incense.”
  • Luke 11.51. “…the one they killed in front of the temple (or the temple enclosure).” (The focus is on location, with overtones on: “their crime was all the more heinous for killing him there”.)
  • Rom. 11:3: “Lord, they have killed all my fellow prophets that spoke for you. They do not want anyone to give offerings to you in worship.” (The focus is on the people’s rejection of religion, with God as the object of worship.)
  • 1Cor. 9:13 (10:18): “Remember that those that attend the temple have rights to eat the foods that people bring as offerings to God. They have rights to the meat that the people offer.” (The focus is on the right of priests to the offered food.)
  • Heb. 7:13: “This one of whom we are talking is from another clan. No one from that clan was ever a priest.” (The focus in on the legitimacy of this priest’s vocation.)
  • Jas. 2:21: “Remember our ancestor Abraham, when God tested him by asking him to give him his son by death. Abraham was to the point of stabbing/killing his son, thus proving his obedience.” (The focus is on the sacrifice as a demonstration of faith/obedience.)
  • Rev. 6:9 (8:3,5; 9:13; 14:18; 16:7): “I saw the souls of them that…They were under the table that holds God’s fire/coals.” (This keeps the concepts of: furniture, receptacle for keeping fire, and location near God.)
  • Rev. 11:1: “Go to the temple, Measure the building and the inside enclosure (the outside is contrasted in v. 2). Measure the burning place for offered animals. Then count the people who are worshiping there.” (This altar is probably the brazen altar in a temple on earth, since people are worshiping there and since outside this area conquerors are allowed to subjugate for a certain time.)

See also altar (Acts 17:23).


In the Hebraic English translation of Everett Fox it is translated as slaughter-site and likewise in the German translation by Buber / Rosenzweig as Schlachtstatt.