Passover

The Hebrew and Greek pesach/pascha that is typically translated in English as “Passover” (see below) is translated in a variety of descriptive ways of various aspects of the Jewish festival. (Click or tap here to see the rest of this insight):

  • Ojitlán Chinantec: “the feast of the passing by of God’s angel”
  • Lalana Chinantec: “the day would come which is called Passover, when the Israel people remember how they went out of the land of Egypt”
  • Huehuetla Tepehua: “the celebration when they ate their sheep”
  • Umiray Dumaget Agta: “the celebration of the day of their being brought out of bondage”
    (source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
  • Obolo: ijọk Iraraka — “Festival of Passing” (source: Enene Enene)
  • Guhu-Samane: “special day of sparing” (source: Ernest Richert in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 198ff.)
  • Yakan: “The festival of the Isra’il tribe which they call For-Remembering” (source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Wolof: “Festival of the day of Salvation” (“the term ‘pass over’ brings up the image of a person’s crossing over a chasm after death”) (source: Marilyn Escher)
  • Bura-Pabir: vir kucelir fəlɓəla kəi — “time-of happiness-of jumping-over house”
  • Berom: Nzem Gyilsit Nelɔ — “Festival-of jumping-of houses”
  • Nigerian Fulfulde: Humto Ƴaɓɓitaaki / Humto Sakkinki — “Festival-of passing-over”
  • Hausa: Bikin Ƙetarewa — “Festival-of going-over” (source for this and three above: Andy Warren-Rothlin)
  • Jula: “Feast of end of slavery” (source: Fritz Goerling)
  • Bafanji: laiŋzieʼ — “pass-jump over” (source: Cameron Hamm)
  • Tiéyaxo Bozo / Jenaama Bozo: “Salvation/Rescue (religious) feast” (source: Marko Hakkola)
  • Sabaot: Saakweetaab Keeytaayeet — “Festival of Passing-by” (source: Iver Larsen)
  • Language spoken in India and Bangladesh: “Festival of avoidance”
  • Vlax Romani: o ghes o baro le Nakhimasko — “the Day of the Passing”
  • Saint Lucian Creole: Fèt Délivwans — “Feast of Deliverance” (source: David Frank)
  • Finnish: pääsiäinen (“The term is very probably coined during the NT translation process around 1520-1530. It is connected to a multivalent verb päästä and as such refers either to the Exodus (päästä meaning “to get away [from Egypt]”) or to the end of the Lent [päästä referring to get relieved from the limitations in diet]. The later explanation being far more probable than the first.”)
  • Northern Sami: beas’sážat (“Coined following the model in Finnish. The Sami verb is beassat and behaves partly like the Finnish one. Many Christian key terms are either borrowed from Finnish or coined following the Finnish example.”)
  • Estonian: ülestõusmispüha — “holiday/Sunday of the resurrection” — or lihavõttepüha — “holiday/Sunday of returning of meat”
  • Karelian: äijüpäivü — “the great day” (“Here one can hear the influence of the Eastern Christianity, but not directly Russian as language, because the Russian term is Пасха/Pasha or Воскресение Христово/Voskresenie Hristovo, ‘[the day of] the resurrection of Christ,’ but the week before Easter is called as the great week.”) (Source for this and three above: Seppo Sipilä)
  • Russian (for Russian speaking Muslims): праздник Освобождения/prazdnik Osvobozhdeniya — “Festival of-liberation” (source: Andy Warren-Rothlin)
  • Spanish Sign Language: pass through + miracle (source: John Elwode in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 78ff.)


    “Passover” in Spanish Sign Language (source)

  • English: Passover (term coined by William Tyndale that both replicates the sound of the Hebrew original pesah — פסח as well as part of the meaning: “passing over” the houses of the Israelites in Egypt) — oddly, the English Authorized Version (King James Version) mistranslates the occurrence in Acts 12:4 as Easter

Many Romance languages follow the tradition from Latin that has one term for both “Easter” and “Passover” (pascha). Portuguese uses Páscoa for both, Italian uses Pascha, and French has Pâque for “Passover” and the identically pronounced Pâques for “Easter.”

In languages in francophone and lusophone (Portuguese speaking) Africa, indigenous languages typically use the Romance word for “Easter” as a loanword and often transliterate pesach/pascha. In Kinyarwanda and Rundi Pasika is used, in Swahili and Congo Swahili Pasaka, and in Lingala Pasika. In some cases, the transliteration of “Passover” is derived from the European language, such as Umbundu’s Pascoa (from Portuguese) and Bulu’s Pak (from French).

As John Ellingworth (in The Bible Translator 1980, p 445f.) points out “in most contexts only the presence or absence of the definite article distinguishes them [in French la pâque for Passover and Pâques for Easter]. Since most African languages do not have definite articles, there remains no way to distinguish between the two terms where the general population has borrowed the word for Easter and the Bible translators have borrowed the word for Passover to use in their translation. Some even consider the references to [Passover] before the death of Christ as prophetic!”

Christ, Messiah

The Greek Christos (Χρηστός) is typically transliterated when it appears together with Iésous (Ἰησοῦς) (Jesus). In English the transliteration is the Anglicized “Christ,” whereas in many other languages it is based on the Greek or Latin as “Kristus,” “Cristo,” or similar.

When used as a descriptive term in the New Testament — as it’s typically done in the gospels (with the possible exceptions of for instance John 1:17 and 17:3) — Christos is seen as the Greek translation of the Hebrew mashiaḥ (המשיח‎) (“anointed”). Accordingly, a transliteration of mashiaḥ is used, either as “Messiah” or based on the Greek or Latin as a form of “Messias.”

This transliteration is also used in the two instances where the Greek term Μεσσίας (Messias) is used in John 1:41 and 4:25.

In some languages and some translations, the term “Messiah” is supplemented with an explanation. Such as in the German Gute Nachricht with “the Messiah, the promised savior” (Wir haben den Messias gefunden, den versprochenen Retter) or in Muna with “Messiah, the Saving King” (Mesias, Omputo Fosalamatino) (source: René van den Berg).

In predominantly Muslim areas or for Bible translations for a Muslim target group, Christos is usually transliterated from the Arabic al-Masih (ٱلْمَسِيحِ) — “Messiah.” In most cases, this practice corresponds with languages that also use a form of the Arabic Isa (عيسى) for Jesus (see Jesus). There are some exceptions, though, including modern translations in Arabic which use Yasua (يَسُوعَ) (coming from the Aramaic Yēšūa’) alongside a transliteration of al-Masih, Hausa which uses Yesu but Almahisu, and some Fula languages (Adamawa Fulfulde, Nigerian Fulfulde, and Central-Eastern Niger Fulfulde) which also use a form of Iésous (Yeesu) but Almasiihu (or Almasiifu) for Christos.

Other solutions that are used by a number of languages include these:

  • Dobel: “the important one that God had appointed to come” (source: Jock Hughes)
  • Nyongar: Keny Mammarap or “The One Man” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • Mairasi: “King of not dying for life all mashed out infinitely” (for “mashed out,” see salvation; source: Lloyd Peckham)
  • Bacama: Ma Pwa a Ngɨltən: “the one God has chosen” (source: David Frank in this blog post)
  • Binumarien: Anutuna: originally a term that was used for a man that was blessed by elders for a task by the laying on of hands (source: Desmond Oatridges, Holzhausen 1991, p. 49f.)
  • Nyongar: Keny Boolanga-Yira Waangki-Koorliny: “One God is Sending” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • Uab Meto: Neno Anan: “Son of heaven” P. Middelkoop explains: “The idea of heavenly power bestowed on a Timorese king is rendered in the title Neno Anan. It is based on the historical fact that chiefs in general came from overseas and they who come thence are believed to have come down from heaven, from the land beyond the sea, that means the sphere of God and the ghosts of the dead. The symbolical act of anointing has been made subservient to the revelation of an eternal truth and when the term Neno Anan is used as a translation thereof, it also is made subservient to a new revelation of God in Jesus Christ. The very fact that Jesus came from heaven makes this translation hit the mark.” (source. P. Middelkoop in The Bible Translator 1953, p. 183ff.)
Law (2013, p. 97) writes about how the Ancient Greek Septuagint‘s translation of the Hebrew mashiah was used by the New Testament writers as a bridge between the Old and New Testaments (click or tap here to read more):

“Another important word in the New Testament that comes from the Septuagint is christos, ‘Christ.’ Christ is not part of the name of the man from Nazareth, as if ‘the Christs’ were written above the door of his family home. Rather, ‘Christ’ is an explicitly messianic title used by the writers of the New Testament who have learned this word from the Septuagint’s translation of the Hebrew mashiach, ‘anointed,’ which itself is often rendered in English as ‘Messiah.’ To be sure, one detects a messianic intent on the part of the Septuagint translator in some places. Amos 4:13 may have been one of these. In the Hebrew Bible, God ‘reveals his thoughts to mortals,’ but the Septuagint has ‘announcing his anointed to humans.’ A fine distinction must be made, however, between theology that was intended by the Septuagint translators and that developed by later Christian writers. In Amos 4:13 it is merely possible we have a messianic reading, but it is unquestionably the case that the New Testament writers exploit the Septuagint’s use of christos, in Amos and elsewhere, to messianic ends.”