The Greek that is often translated as “wonder” into English is different from the term that is translated as “miracle” (see miracle) since it “usually involves some unusual phenomena in nature which are a portent of dire woe or extraordinary blessing.” In Huichol these are “awe-inspiring things,” in Yucateco they are “things which show what is coming,” and in Eastern Highland Otomi the expression must be cast into the form of a verb phrase “they will amaze the people.”
The Greek that is translated “righteous” in this verse is rendered as “did what he should” (Eastern Highland Otomi), “walked straight” (Sayula Popoluca), “was a man with a good heart” (Huichol), “his life was straight” (Southern Bobo Madaré), “was completely good” (San Mateo del Mar Huave) (the translation into San Mateo del Mar Huave does not imply sinless perfection) (source for this and above: Bratcher / Nida), “those who say, ‘I don’t do evil’” (Navajo) (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel).
For other translations of this term see righteous / righteousness.
The Greek that is translated as “glorify God” in English is rendered as “to wake God up” in Guerrero Amuzgo.
Other translations are “say that God is very great” (Central Tarahumara), “how good God is, they said” (Tzotzil), “to speak about God as good” (Tzeltal), “to give God a great name” (Highland Puebla Nahuatl), “to give God highness” (Kipsigis), “to take God out high” (in the sense of “to exalt”) (Huautla Mazatec), “to make great, to exalt” (Toraja-Sa’dan, Javanese), “to lift up God’s brightness” (Kpelle), “to show God to be great” (Central Pame), “to make God shine” (Wayuu), “to make God’s name big” (Huastec), “to make God important” (Isthmus Zapotec) (source for this and above: Bratcher / Nida), or “say to God: You are of good heart” (Huichol) (source: Nida 1964, p. 228).
In Waama this is translated as “make God’s name big.” (For the translation into Waama, five categories of verb doxazo and the noun doxa were found that were all translated differently, see glorify (reveal God’s or Jesus’ glory to people)).
In Shipibo-Conibo it is translated as “to brag about God” (“This may strike some at first as being an unspiritual approach, but it surely is Pauline, for Paul used the word ‘to brag’ when he declared his confidence in Jesus Christ and in the salvation of the world which God wrought through His Son.”) (Source: Nida 1952, p. 162)
Following are a number of back-translations of John 1:13:
- Yatzachi Zapotec: “They are his children, not because they were born physically, and not because a man lusted after a woman, and not because a man wanted to have children. God made them his children.”
- Tenango Otomi: To become children of God doesn’t mean that they live anew like the children of people are born, or that some person wanted it thus. It is that God alone caused them to be his children.”
- Huichol: “Their origin is not the ordinary human birth, nor is it a matter of attraction between their parents in the usual human way, nor is it a matter of a man wanting to form a posterity. . . . ” (Source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “The way by which they became children of God was not the way of bearing children here on the earth, because they were not at that time born by means of the procreation of an earthly father, but rather their father is God. “
- Tagbanwa: “It’s not that they got to be children of God because they were given birth to by God like human giving-birth or because of the nature/ways or will of a married-couple, but on the contrary they became-children/were-adopted through the will of God.”
The Greek that is translated as “swear (an oath)” or “vow” is translated as “God sees me, I tell the truth to you” (Tzeltal), “loading yourself down” (Huichol), “to speak-stay” (implying permanence of the utterance) (Sayula Popoluca), “to say what he could not take away” (San Blas Kuna), “because of the tight (i.e. “binding”) word which he had said to her face” (Guerrero Amuzgo) or “strong promise” (Inupiaq). (Source for all above: Bratcher / Nida)
In Bauzi “swear” can be translated in various ways. In Hebrews 6:13, for instance, it is translated with “bones break apart and decisively speak.” (“No bones are literally broken but by saying ‘break bones’ it is like people swear by someone else in this case it is in relation to a rotting corpse’ bones falling apart. If you ‘break bones’ so to speak when you make an utterance, it is a true utterance.”) In other passages, such as in Matt. 6:72, it’s translated with an expression that implies taking ashes (“if a person wants everyone to know that he is telling the truth about a matter, he reaches down into the fireplace, scoops up some ashes and throws them while saying ‘I was not the one who did that.'”). So in Matt 26:72 the Bauzi text is: “. . . Peter took ashes and defended himself saying, ‘I don’t know that Nazareth person.'” (Source: David Briley)
Seer also swear (promise).
The Greek that is translated as “does the will of God” is translated into Huichol as “follow God’s heart.”
If the Hebrew or (the transliterated) Greek “Amen” (as part of a prayer) is not transliterated it can also be translated into expressions such as “that is just the way it is” (Huichol), “that’s it” (Shilluk), or “may it be thus” (Tzeltal).
In Mairasi the translation is aniaut aug or “it’s a tuberful dig.” The preface to Enggavoter 2004 explains: “Truth is like a tuber [sweet potatoes, taro, cassava, yams]. We Mairasi have tubers as our standard food. The leaves are visible above ground. But we planted the plant so that it would produce tubers, but those are beneath the ground. So the vocabulary about ‘truth’ and ‘produce’ or ‘fruit’ is based on words for ‘tubers.’ For example: the word for ‘Amen’ ‘it’s a tuberful dig’ [also used for ‘verily’ or ‘definitely’] has its story like this: We see the leaves of the sweet potato but we do not know: the question is ‘Are there tubers or not?.’ So we dig then we see tubers. Therefore we say that ani ‘dig’ was aut ‘with tubers,’ which is ‘Aniaut!‘ ‘Definitely true!'”
(To view the different translations of this term in a simplified graphical form on a new page, click or tap here.)
The concept of “forgiveness” is expressed in varied ways through translations. Following is a list of (back-) translations from some languages:
- Tswa, Inupiaq, Panao Huánuco Quechua: “forgetting about”
- Navajo: “to give back” (based on the idea that sin produces an indebtedness, which only the one who has been sinned against can restore)
- Huichol, Shipibo-Conibo, Eastern Highland Otomi, Uduk: “erase,” “wipe out,” “blot out”
- Highland Totonac, Huautla Mazatec: “to lose,” “cause to be lost,” “to make lacking”
- Tzeltal: “to lose another’s sin out of one’s heart”
- Lahu, Burmese: “to be released,” “to be freed”
- Ayacucho Quechua: “to level off”
- Yatzachi Zapotec: “to cast away”
- Chol: “to pass by”
- Wayuu: “to make pass”
- Kpelle: “to turn one’s back on”
- Chicahuaxtla Triqui: “to cover over” (a figure of speech which is also employed in Hebrew, but which in many languages is not acceptable, because it implies “hiding” or “concealment”)
- Tabasco Chontal, Huichol: “to take away sins”
- Toraja-Sa’dan, Javanese: “to do away with sins”
- San Blas Kuna: “erasing the evil heart” (this and all above: Bratcher / Nida)
- Eggon: “to withdraw the hand”
- Mískito: “take a man’s fault out of your heart” (source of this and the one above: Kilgour, p. 80)
- Western Parbate Kham: “unstring someone” (“hold a grudge” – “have someone strung up in your heart”) (source: Watters, p. 171)
- Tzotzil: ch’aybilxa (“it has been lost”) (source: Aeilts, p. 118)
- Martu Wangka: “throw out badness” (source: Carl Gross)
- Mairasi: “dismantle wrongs” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
- Koonzime: “removing the bad deed-counters” (“The Koonzime lay out the deeds symbolically — usually strips of banana leaf — and rehearse their grievances with the person addressed.”) (Source: Keith and Mary Beavon in Notes on Translation 3/1996, p. 16)
- Amahuaca: “erasing” / “smoothing over” (“It was an expression the people used for smoothing over dirt when marks or drawings had been made in it. It meant wiping off dust in which marks had been made, or wiping off writing on the blackboard. To wipe off the slate, to erase, to take completely away — it has a very wide meaning and applies very well to God’s wiping away sins, removing them from the record, taking them away.”) (Source: Robert Russel, quoted in Walls / Bennett 1959, p. 193)
The Greek that is translated as a form of “pray” in English is often translated as “talking with God” (Central Pame, Tzeltal, Chol, Chimborazo Highland Quichua, Shipibo-Conibo, Kaqchikel, Tepeuxila Cuicatec, Copainalá Zoque, Central Tarahumara).
Other solutions include:
- “to beg” or “to ask,” (full expression: “to ask with one’s heart coming out,” which leaves out selfish praying, for asking with the heart out leaves no place for self to hide) (Tzotzil)
- “to cause God to know” (Huichol)
- “to raise up one’s words to God” (implying an element of worship, as well as communication) (Miskito, Lacandon) (Source of this and all above: Bratcher / Nida)
- Shilluk: “speak to God” (source: Nida 1964, p. 237)
- Mairasi: “talk together with Great Above One (=God)” (source: Enggavoter, 2004)
Ik: waan: “beg.” Terrill Schrock (in Wycliffe Bible Translators 2016, p. 93) explains (click or tap here to read more):
What do begging and praying have to do with each other? Do you beg when you pray? Do I?
“The Ik word for ‘visitor’ is waanam, which means ‘begging person.’ Do you beg when you go visiting? The Ik do. Maybe you don’t beg, but maybe when you visit someone, you are looking for something. Maybe it’s just a listening ear.
When the Ik hear that [my wife] Amber and I are planning trip to this or that place for a certain amount of time, the letters and lists start coming. As the days dwindle before our departure, the little stack of guests grows. ‘Please, sir, remember me for the allowing: shoes, jacket (rainproof), watch, box, trousers, pens, and money for the children. Thank you, sir, for your assistance.’
“A few people come by just to greet us or spend bit of time with us. Another precious few will occasionally confide in us about their problems without asking for anything more than a listening ear. I love that.
“The other day I was in our spare bedroom praying my list of requests to God — a nice list covering most areas of my life, certainly all the points of anxiety. Then it hit me: Does God want my list, or does he want my relationship?
“I decided to try something. Instead of reading off my list of requests to God, I just talk to him about my issues without any expectation of how he should respond. I make it more about our relationship than my list, because if our personhood is like God’s personhood, then maybe God prefers our confidence and time to our lists, letters, and enumerations.”
In Luang it is translated with different shades of meaning:
- For Acts 1:14, 20:36, 21:5: kola ttieru-yawur nehla — “hold the waist and hug the neck.” (“This is the more general term for prayer and often refers to worship in prayer as opposed to petition. The Luang people spend the majority of their prayers worshiping rather than petitioning, which explains why this term often is used generically for prayer.”)
- For Acts 1:14, 28:9: sumbiani — “pray.” (“This term is also used generically for ‘prayer’. When praying is referred to several times in close proximity, it serves as a variation for kola ttieru-yawur nehla, in keeping with Luang discourse style. It is also used when a prayer is made up of many requests.”)
- For Acts 8:15, 12:5: polu-waka — “call-ask.” (“This is a term for petition that is used especially when the need is very intense.”)
Source: Kathy Taber in Notes on Translation 1/1999, p. 9-16.
(To view the different translations of this term in a simplified graphical form on a new page, click or tap here.)
Translations of the Greek pistis and its various forms that are typically translated as “faith” in English (itself deriving from Latin “fides,” meaning “trust, faith, confidence, reliance, credence”) and “believe” (from Old English belyfan: “to have faith or confidence in a person’) cover a wide range of approaches.
Bratcher and Nida say this (1961, p. 38) (click or tap here to read more):
“Since belief or faith is so essentially an intimate psychological experience, it is not strange that so many terms denoting faith should be highly figurative and represent an almost unlimited range of emotional ‘centers’ and descriptions of relationships, e.g. ‘steadfast his heart’ (Chol), ‘to arrive on the inside’ (Chicahuaxtla Triqui), ‘to conform with the heart’ (Uab Meto), ‘to join the word to the body’ (Uduk), ‘to hear in the insides’ (or ‘to hear within one’s self and not let go’ – Nida 1952) (Laka), ‘to make the mind big for something’ (Sapo), ‘to make the heart straight about’ (Mitla Zapotec), ‘to cause a word to enter the insides’ (Lacandon), ‘to leave one’s heart with’ (Baniwa), ‘to catch in the mind’ (Ngäbere), ‘that which one leans on’ (Vai), ‘to be strong on’ (Shipibo-Conibo), ‘to have no doubts’ (San Blas Kuna), ‘to hear and take into the insides’ (Kare), ‘to accept’ (Pamona).”
Following is a list of (back-) translations from other languages (click or tap here to read more):
- Western Kanjobal: “truth entering into one’s soul”
- Highland Puebla Nahuatl: “following close after”
- Huichol: “conform to the truth”
- Loma: “lay one’s hand on it”
- Mashco Piro: “obey-believe”
- Mossi: “leaning on God” (this and all the above acc. to Nida 1952, p. 119ff.)
- Thai: “place one’s heart in” (source: Bratcher / Hatton 2000, p. 37)
- Cameroon Pidgin: “to put one’s heart in God” (source: Jan Sterk)
- Kafa: “decide for God only” (source Loren Bliese)
- Martu Wangka: “sit true to God’s talk” (source: Carl Gross)
- Muna: kataino lalo or “stickiness of heart” (for “faithfulness”) (source: René van den Berg)
- Limos Kalinga: manuttuwa. Wiens (2013) explains: “It goes back to the word for ‘truth’ which is ‘tuttuwa.’ When used as a verb this term is commonly used to mean ‘believe’ as well as ‘obey.'”
Awabakal: ngurruliko: “to know, to perceive by the ear” (as distinct from knowing by sight or by touch — source: Lake, p. 70) (click or tap here to read more)
“[The missionary translator] Lancelot Threlkeld learned that Awabakal, like many Australian languages, made no distinction between knowing and believing. Of course the distinction only needs to be made where there are rival systems of knowing. The Awabakal language expressed a seamless world. But as the stress on ‘belief’ itself suggests, Christianity has always existed in pluralist settings. Conversion involves deep conviction, not just intellectual assent or understanding. (…) Translating such texts posed a great challenge in Australia. Threlkeld and [his indigenous colleague] Biraban debated the possibilities at length. In the end they opted not to introduce a new term for belief, but to use the Awabakal ngurruliko, meaning ‘to know, to perceive by the ear,’ as distinct from knowing by sight or by touch.”
Language in southern Nigeria: a word based on the idiom “lose feathers.” Randy Groff in Wycliffe Bible Translators 2016, p. 65 explains (click or tap here to read more):
What does losing feathers have to do with faith? [The translator] explained that there is a species of bird in his area that, upon hatching its eggs, loses its feathers. During this molting phase, the mother bird is no longer able to fly away from the nest and look for food for her hungry hatchlings. She has to remain in the nest where she and her babies are completely dependent upon the male bird to bring them food. Without the diligent, dependable work of the male bird, the mother and babies would all die. This scenario was the basis for the word for faith in his language.
J.A. van Roy (in The Bible Translator 1972, p. 418ff.) discusses how a translation of “faith” in a an earlier translation into Venda created difficult perceptions of the concept of faith (click or tap here):
The Venda term u tenda, lutendo. This term corresponds to the terms ho dumela (Southern Sotho), and ku pfumela (Tsonga) that have been used in these translations of the Bible, and means “to assent,” “to agree to a suggestion.” It is important to understand this term in the context of the character of the people who use it.
The way in which the Venda use this term reveals much about the priority of interpersonal relationships among them. They place a much higher priority on responding in the way they think they are expected to respond than on telling the truth. Smooth interpersonal relationships, especially with a dominant individual or group, take precedence over everything else.
It is therefore regarded as bad form to refuse directly when asked for something one does not in fact intend to give. The correct way is to agree, u tenda, and then forget about it or find some excuse for not keeping to the agreement. Thus u tenda does not necessarily convey the information that one means what one says. One can tenda verbally while heartily disagreeing with the statement made or having no intention whatsoever to carry out what one has just promised to do. This is not regarded as dishonesty, but is a matter of politeness.
The term u sokou tenda, “to consent reluctantly,” is often used for expressing the fatalistic attitude of the Venda in the face of misfortune or force which he is unable to resist.
The form lutendo was introduced by missionaries to express “faith.”
According to the rules of derivations and their meanings in the lu-class, it should mean “the habit of readily consenting to everything.” But since it is a coined word which does not have a clearly defined set of meanings in everyday speech, it has acquired in church language a meaning of “steadfastness in the Christian life.” Una lutendo means something like “he is steadfast in the face of persecution.” It is quite clear that the term u tenda has no element of “trust” in it. (…)
In “The Christian Minister” of July 1969 we find the following statement about faith by Albert N. Martin: “We must never forget that one of the great issues which the Reformers brought into focus was that faith was something more than an ‘assensus,’ a mere nodding of the head to the body of truth presented by the church as ‘the faith.’ The Reformers set forth the biblical concept that faith was ‘fiducia.’ They made plain that saving faith involved trust, commitment, a trust and commitment involving the whole man with the truth which was believed and with the Christ who was the focus of that truth. The time has come when we need to spell this out clearly in categorical statements so that people will realize that a mere nodding of assent to the doctrines that they are exposed to is not the essence of saving faith. They need to be brought to the understanding that saving faith involves the commitment of the whole man to the whole Christ, as Prophet, Priest and King as he is set forth in the gospel.”
We quote at length from this article because what Martin says of the current concept of faith in the Church is even to a greater extent true of the Venda Church, and because the terms used for communicating that concept in the Venda Bible cannot be expected to communicate anything more than “a mere nodding of assent”. I have during many years of evangelistic work hardly ever come across a Venda who, when confronted with the gospel, would not say, Ndi khou tenda, “I admit the truth of what you say.” What they really mean when saying this amounts to, “I believe that God exists, and I have no objection to the fact that he exists. I suppose that the rest of what you are talking about is also true.” They would often add, Ndi sa tendi hani-hani? “Just imagine my not believing such an obvious fact!” To the experienced evangelist this is a clear indication that his message is rejected in so far as it has been understood at all! To get a negative answer, one would have to press on for a promise that the “convert” will attend the baptism class and come to church on Sundays, and even then he will most probably just tenda in order to get rid of the evangelist, whether he intends to come or not. Isn’t that what u tenda means? So when an inexperienced and gullible white man ventures out on an evangelistic campaign with great enthusiasm, and with great rejoicing returns with a list of hundreds of names of persons who “believed”, he should not afterwards blame the Venda when only one tenth of those who were supposed to be converts actually turn up for baptismal instruction.
Moreover, it is not surprising at all that one often comes across church members of many years’ standing who do not have any assurance of their salvation or even realise that it is possible to have that assurance. They are vhatendi, “consenters.” They have consented to a new way of life, to abandoning (some of) the old customs. Lutendo means to them at most some steadfastness in that new way of life.
The concept of faith in religion is strange to Africa. It is an essential part of a religion of revelation such as Christianity or Islam, but not of a naturalistic religion such as Venda religion, in which not faith and belief are important, but ritual, and not so much the content of the word as the power of it.
The terms employed in the Venda Bible for this vital Christian concept have done nothing to effect a change in the approach of the Venda to religion.
It is a pity that not only in the Venda translation has this been the case, but in all the other Southern Bantu languages. In the Nguni languages the term ukukholwa, “to believe a fact,” has been used for pisteuo, and ukholo, the deverbative of ukukholwa, for pistis. In some of the older Protestant translations in Zulu, but not in the new translation, the term ithemba, “trust”, has been used.
Some languages, including Santali, have two terms — like English (see above) — to differentiate a noun from a verb form. Biswạs is used for faith, whereas pạtiạu for “believe.” R.M. Macphail (in The Bible Translator 1961, p. 36ff.) explains this choice: “While there is little difference between the meaning and use of the two in everyday Santali, in which any word may be used as a verb, we felt that in this way we enriched the translation while making a useful distinction, roughly corresponding to that between ‘faith’ and ‘to believe’ in English.”