one

The Greek that is translated as “one” in English in these verses (John 10:30, 17:11, 17:21, 17:22, and 17:23) is translated in Kikuyu as ũmwe or “one singular entity.” This translation required a complex theological interpretation in relation to the nature of the trinity and the unity of Jesus and his disciples. The translators determined that both the unity of the Father and Jesus is that of “one person” or “the same” as well the unity between Jesus and his followers (and the followers to each other).

A.R. Barlow (in The Bible Translator 1952, p. 29ff.) explains:

“‘One’ in Kikuyu is expressed by the stem -mwe combined with a prefix appropriate to the noun it qualifies (when used as an adjective) or represents (when used as a pronoun). As in all Bantu languages, nouns fall into groups or classes, each of which, generally speaking, has its distinctive prefix. Thus with the word for ‘shoe’ (kiratu) –mwe becomes kĩmwe (kĩratũ kĩmwe ‘one shoe’); with the word for ‘man,’ ‘person,’ ‘being’ (mũndũ) it becomes ũmwe (mũndũ ũmwe “one person”). Singular and plural are likewise distinguished by change of prefix, and a singular noun necessitates the use of a singular prefix with its associated adjective or pronoun, whereas a plural noun requires its adjective or pronoun to take a plural prefix.

“In common with other adjective-pronouns –mwe assumes plural as well as singular forms. When used with a plural noun it conveys one of three meanings: (a) ‘one lot (set. kind, family, fraternity, group, etc.),’ (b) ‘the same,’ or (c) ‘some.’ The form appropriate to persons, men, beings (andũ) is amwe.

“So in translating ‘one’ in any of the above passages in St. John’s Gospel we have to choose between ũmwe (sing.) and amwe (pl.).

“The choice involves questions as to the nature of the Trinity and the character of the unity which being ‘in Christ’ imparts to His followers, both in relation to Himself and to one another. This is a case in which the translator cannot avoid theological issues.

“In John 10:30 (‘I and my Father are one’) by using ũmwe we are stating ‘I and my Father are one (person, entity)’ or ‘the same.’ Grammatically the use of ũmwe (sing.) is wrong; ‘I and my Father’ should strictly be followed by the plural amwe. But the use of amwe (‘one lot’) would denote a mere family or sectional relationship.

In John 17:11 and 17:22 (‘so that they may be one, as we are one’) also, grammar demands amwe (in both occurrences of ‘one’). But this would again limit the desired degree of unity to that of membership in a family or other (more or less) close association: ‘that they may be united (associated, belong to the same fraternity), even as we are united (etc.).’ If a deeper, more mystical union is to be indicated we are thrown back on ũmwe: ‘that they may be one person (one entity), even as we are one person (one entity).’ Or are we to differentiate between the disciples and the Divine Persons and use amwe for the former and ũmwe for the latter?

“In all these passages the existing Kikuyu New Testament has ũmwe, whether the reference is to the disciples or to Christ and the Father. As far as I am aware this has never been criticized by our African Christians, although in 17:11, 21, and 22 its use in ‘that they (all) may be one’ might even convey the sense ‘that they (all) may be reduced to one,’ i.e. to a single individual!”

Note: All three currently (2022) available Kikuyu Bible translations (Ibuku Rĩrĩa Itheru Rĩa Ngai; Kiugo Gĩtheru Kĩa Ngai, Kĩrĩkanĩro Kĩrĩa Gĩkũrũ Na Kĩrĩa Kĩerũ; and Kĩrĩkanĩro Gĩa Gĩkũyũ) still only use ũmwe in all of the above instances.

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]; 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 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.”

God's anger, wrath of God

What is translated into English as “the wrath of God” (Good News Translation: “God’s anger”) has to be referred to in Bengali as judgment, punishment or whatever fits the context. In Bengali culture, anger is by definition bad and can never be predicated of God. (Source: David Clark)

In Kikuyu the whole phrase that is translated in English as “storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath” or similar is translated as “you are increasing for yourself God’s wrath.” (Source: Jan Sterk)

In Quetzaltepec Mixe it is translated with a term “that not only expresses anger, but also punishment.” (Source: Robert Bascom)

See also anger.

censure of our thoughts, reproof of our thoughts

The Greek that is translated as “He has become to us a reproof of our thoughts” or “He has become a censure of our thoughts” in English is translated in Kikuyu as “To us he has become someone who disturbs our consciences / thoughts.”

sorceress, witch

The translation of the Hebrew that is translated as “witch,” “sorceress” or alike in English is discussed in the attached paper by Robert Priest. He stipulates that in many languages, particularly in the African context, there are two categories of people that could be described with that term.

The first category would include people who offer “magico-religious” services to clients with a variety of goals, including healing, success, protection and others. Often-used anthropological English terms for these individuals include “shaman,” “diviner,” or “traditional healer.”

The other group includes people who are “thought to be the evil reasons for misfortune in the lives of others.”

He cites Hausa*, Lingala*, Mongo (Lomongo), Sango, Luba-Lulua (Tschiluba) as languages that use a term from the first category and the follosing languages with terms from the second category: Bambara, Southern Bobo Madaré (Bobo Madare), Chichewa (Chewa), Kanyok (Kanioka), Kamba (Kikamba), Kongo (Kikongo), Kikuyu, Gusii (Kisii), Songse (Kisonge), Kituba, Ngbaka, Plateau Malagasy, Swahili, Tetela, Tumbuka, Yoruba.

* In these languages, different versions use terms from either category.

See Bible Translation, Theology, and Witches by Robert J. Priest