Following are a number of back-translation of John 3:16:
- Tezoatlán Mixtec: “For since God loves very much the people of this world, therefore he gave his only son to arrive in this world, and whoever trusts in him, they will never die. Instead they will be able to live forever.”
- Ayutla Mixtec: “Because since God loves so much the people of this world, therefore he sent me, his only son to this world. So whoever trusts in me, they will never die before God, instead they will receive life that never ends.”
- Uma: “Like this God loves all people in the world, with the result that he gave his Only Child, so that whoever believes in that his Child, they will not receive punishment/condemnation, but they will receive good life forever.”
- Kankanaey: “Since God’s love for people in this world is great, he sent his only Child so that whoever believes in him, he would not be separated from God to be punished, but rather there would be in him life that has no end.”
- Eastern Highland Otomi: “God very much loves the people who live here on earth. Therefore he sent his only son to be killed in order that every one who believes in him will not be lost, rather he will have the new life forever.”
- Tagbanwa: “For God really values very much all people here under the heavens. Therefore he gave his one-and-only Son, so that as for whoever will believe-in/obey and trust-in/rely-on him, he won’t get to go there to suffering/hardship, but on the contrary he will be given life without ending.”
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “All mankind is very big in the breath of God and because of this, even his only son he did not hold back, but rather he sent him here so that all who believe in him, their souls will not be punished, but rather they will be given life without end.”
- Miahuatlán Zapotec: “Because God greatly loves people of the world, because of it, God sent his only son to earth so that all men who believe in God’s son, those men will not be lost to the evil thing. On the contrary, they will have life forever.” (Source for this and above: John Williams in the Seeing Scripture Anew blog.)
- Yakan: “God really loved mankind, therefore he gave/handed over his only Son to be killed so that all who trust in his Son will not be separated from God but will live forever there in the presence of God.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
Keley-I Kallahan: “Since God loves all people on earth so much, he sent his only child, so that all people who believe-obey him will not be far from God in the underworld of darkness, but will be given a second life with God that never ends.” Richard Hohulin (in Holzhausen 1991, p. 35ff.) explains how he and his team arrived at this translation (display by clicking or tapping here)
The biblical text says that God loved “the world.” The Kalanguya [the speakers of Keley-I Kallahan] would understand this to mean that God so desired the earth that He gave His Son for it. This, of course, is not the meaning of this biblical passage. John did not mean the physical world, but the totality of all people on earth, to whom God’s love is directed. Therefore, the translator completes the sentence with “all people on earth” and thus expresses unmistakably for the Kalanguya what it is about.
Now the little word “so” is still missing. But there is simply no corresponding word. Instead, the translator discovers the prefix naka, which is placed before the verb. It expresses about the same thing: God loves with great power, beyond what can be expected. So the prefix is added and thus the meaning is established.
The next difficulty is the statement that God gave His “Son.” For this, too, the exact corresponding word is missing; the Kalanguya know only the more general word “child.” It could be supplemented to “child who was a boy.” But that would be a cumbersome, unnatural way of expressing it. Moreover, the Kalanguya would see in the emphasis on the child being masculine an indication that God just gave a boy, not a girl. So the translator leaves it with the word child. He can assume that in many other parts of the gospel it is clearly expressed that Jesus was masculine.
Now it is still said that God “gave” his son. The Kalanguya would never say this, because they use that word only for giving things. People, in their view, cannot be “given.” The translator must take this into consideration as well. Finally, the word “send” is chosen as a substitute.
Also, with the word “lost” or “perish” the translator struggles. The Kalanguya have no concept of eternal punishment or a hell. According to their traditional religion, they believe that after death people go to the underworld and continue to exist there as spirit beings. But this is not conceived as a punishment, but as the fate of all people. The translator builds on that concept, but tries to add that there is something terrible, terrifying behind the biblical concept of perishing. The result is a whole descriptive sentence for the one word “They will be far from God in the underworld of darkness.” Is this not going too far? Doesn’t the translator go beyond the original text with this? But what other possibilities are there for him? After all, he doesn’t want to give his people the idea that Jesus came only to save them from getting lost somewhere in the jungle and never being found again.
The expression “eternal life” presents a final difficulty. For the word eternal, the Ifugao expression “unending” could be used. But if left at that, people would misunderstand it. Either they would understand in their traditional idea of the continued existence in the realm of the dead or as a continued life without dying. Neither of these is the meaning of the passage. So here, too, an explanatory paraphrase must express what is meant: “They will be given a second life with God that will never end.”
A single verse — but how many questions there were to clarify, how many problems to consider! Yes, Bible translation is not an easy undertaking. It requires a good knowledge of the language, a deft touch, and also the courage to go beyond the usual notion of a literal translation in order to fully express the meaning of the original text. But it is worth the effort, because now also the Kalanguya can hear and understand it in their language: “Since God loves all people on earth so much, he sent his only child, so that all people who believe-obey him will not be far from God in the underworld of darkness, but will be given a second life with God that never ends.”
Daniel Shaw reflects on the complex translation of this verse into Samo. Click or tap here to see the story.
As I learned in Sunday school, John 3:16 is what the Bible is all about — the Gospel in a nutshell. But how was I to communicate this verse without these key words? Like any other language, Samo is not deficient. I knew Nida and Taber’s famous dictum, ‘If it can be said in one language, it can be said in another.’ I quickly realized I had to get beyond the horizontal and surface plane. This was not just about how to translate John 3:16. That would have been simply a matter of applying translation principles to a particular language problem — a transposition of human ideas. Rather, I wanted to help them deal with the theological issue of who God is: God’s power, God’s relationship with human beings, and the far-reaching implications of that relationship for dealing with is¬sues of life, death, and eternal life. I needed to get beyond the immediate text to the whole of Scripture and allow the Samo to stand in awe at this incredible God who included them in his plan for humanity. What could this mean for them individually and as a group of former cannibals living in the dense rain forest on the Island of New Guinea?
As a translator I knew how to solve the lexical and semantic problems. As an anthropologist I knew the importance of considering both the cultural setting of those who first received John’s Gospel, as well as the need to understand the Samo culture. I knew the value of analyzing collocational ranges. I appreciated the value of text /communication styles and how these are used for effective presentation of a mes¬sage. I also knew the Samo were aware of a ‘guy in the sky’ who was always ready to zap them when they did wrong (mothers would caution playing children not to make too much noise lest they attract his attention). But this was not the concept of God characterized in John 3:16 by the apostle.
Eventually I discovered the concept of the ayo, of the oldest among a group of brothers who lived in a longhouse. This was a benevolent, caring man who was never in charge but always in control — a traffic director for the entire household. They spoke of him as ‘the authority person.’ When combined with an all-inclusive possessive pronoun this term eventually became the term we used for God — oye ayo, ‘our authority person.’ (See God.) When extended to all the people who ‘sleep in all the places of the earth’ (a way to communicate ‘the world’ — see world) the Samo began to appreciate God in a whole new way, in relationship to themselves and to their enemies.
The relationship between the ayo and those in a longhouse reflected a strong, caring concern for everyone in the household — ‘love.’ For the Samo, a very practical, down to earth people surviving in a hostile environment, belief was a matter of experience. How do they know something is true? They see it, hear it, feel it! In short, they experience truth. This has profound implications far beyond trying to translate John 3:16. It relates to the broader context of all of John chapter 3, including Nicodemus’s awe of Christ and Israel’s experience with the brass serpent in the desert, particular experiences tied to the history of a specific people in a particular time and place. More broadly, it is about how humans experience God.
As a Bible translator I was, in fact, communicating through this verse in its place within a text, an entire semantic constellation tied to the very purpose of Scripture. Suddenly the Samo found themselves in the flow of human involvement with a caring God who knew them and wanted to have an intimate, family-type rela¬tionship with them — not merely sit in judgment and zap them without warning. As a result of understanding John 3:16, the Samo also found themselves in relationship with people beyond their recognized circle of alliance, with the whole of humanity beyond their borders, including people they normally considered enemies (see thief (parable of the wise householder)). That the ‘one in control’ of their feared enemies, the Bedamoni, also had authority over them was not only revelatory, it was transforming. This new understanding — experienced through relationship — had eternal implications for a ‘life that would not end’ and gave insight to a spirit world populated by evil beings, but also included the pool of ancestors who constantly reentered the world to energize a newborn baby and move through the cycle of life once again to join the ancestors and assist the living in their struggle. These new and far-reaching theological in¬sights relating to the Samo also challenged my understanding of the text, forced me to reevaluate my own assumptions, and made me appreciate more deeply the Samo from whom I learned so much about God. (Source: Shaw / Van Engen 2003, p. 177f.)
The Greek that is translated in English as “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” or similar is translated in Uma with an existing figure of speech: “Why do we stare at the sleep in another’s eye, yet the piece of wood that is in our own eye we don’t know it’s there!” (Source: Kroneman 2004, p. 501)
In Una, it had to be translated with a more explicit translation because “a more literal and shorter version of this verse had led to major misunderstanding or zero understanding.” It’s back-translation says: “You (pl.) are doing very evil things, but you think, ‘We do not do evil things’. But, regarding other people who do not do very evil things, you think, ‘They are doing evil things, for shame’. As for the very big thorn that broke off and entered your eyes, you think, ‘There is no big thorn that entered my eye’, but with regard to the very small piece of wood dust that might have entered someone else’s eye, why would you say, ‘A piece of wood dust has entered his eye?’ That is not appropriate.” (Source: Dick Kronemann)
In Uripiv it is translated as “How is it you see the fowl dropping stuck on the bottom of your brother’s foot, but you can’t see the cow-pat you have stood on? … You could stand on his foot by mistake and make it dirtier!” (Ross McKerras remarked about this translation: “Our village father laughed when he heard this, which was the right reaction.”)
Other back-translations include:
- Uma: “‘Why do we look at the sleep in another’s eye, yet the splinter of wood in our own eye, we do not know is there!” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
- Yakan: “You who puts down his companion,’ said Isa, ‘why do you notice a speck (lit. of sawdust) in the eye of your companion but you, the tree trunk in your own eye you don’t notice.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And again Jesus spoke, ‘You who are always rebuking your companions, why do you rebuke the sin of your companion which is just like a speck that got into his eye. But you — you have a sin which is as big as a log, which has blinded your eye, and you pay no attention to it.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
- Kankanaey: “‘Why do you (singular) notice the small bit-of-eye-discharge (as when waking up) in the eye of your (singular) fellow, and you (singular) don’t notice the large bit-of-eye-discharge in your (singular) eye?” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “I don’t know why, when someone else has a foreign-body-in-the-eye which is only dust, that is what you (sing.) keep looking for. But when your own foreign-body-in-the-eye is wedged across your eye (implies too big to go in), you just leave it alone.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
The Greek that is typically translated in English as “was with God” is translated in Aguaruna as “lived with God.” (Source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
In Kankanaey, it is translated as “(He) was God’s companion.”
The Greek and Hebrew that is typically translated as “heaven is my throne and earth my footstool” in English is translated in the following ways:
- Eastern Highland Otomi: “heaven is where I have my power and earth is also where I have my power”
- Highland Popoluca: “heaven I rule, earth I rule also”
- Lalana Chinantec: “as a chair where kings sit is heaven where I sit. As is a low stool where my feet rest, is the earth”
- San Mateo del Mar Huave: “if I wished, heaven could serve as my seat, and I could use the earth as a place to rest my feet if I wanted” (source for this and above: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August 1966, p. 86ff.)
- Kankanaey: “In heaven is where I sit to rule, and the world, that’s where-I-stretch-out-my-legs.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “The heavens really are my seat in kingship. The world is just the stepping-stool of my feet,” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
Following are a number of back-translations of John 1:17:
- Yatzachi Zapotec: “Moses taught the ancestors of us Israelites the law of God, but Jesus Christ came to teach that God loves mankind, and he teaches us all the true words of God.”
- Huehuetla Tepehua: “The law about the things of God, the one who gave it was Moses. But the love which was to us and the truth came into being because of Jesus Christ.”
- Umiray Dumaget Agta: “Even though Moses was caused to speak the rules of God, Jesus Christ was the one appointed to show mercy and to declare the truth.”
- Guerrero Amuzgo: “. . . but Jesus Christ is the source of all favor and of the words that are true.”
- Chol: “Jesus Christ came and gave us the goodness of his heart and truth.”
- Tenango Otomi: “By means of Moses the law of God is known. But by means of Jesus Christ the love of God and the true word are known.” (Source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
- Uma: “From the prophet Musa we received the Law of the Lord God. But [it is] from Yesus Kristus that we really know God, and his grace to us.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
- Yakan: “The law of God was given/sent to mankind by Musa but God’s love and the truth are given to mankind by Isa Almasi, he is the one called the Word of God.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And by means of Moses, God brought down to earth the laws. But by means of Jesus, God brought down to earth his love/grace for us and the true doctrine.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
- Kankanaey: “Because God made-known his law through Moses, but his mercy/kindness and the truth concerning him, he made-known to us through Jesu Cristo.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “Because God gave his laws to Moises which he was commanding us, but that grace/mercy of his and truth concerning himself, he caused us to comprehend through Jesu-Cristo.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
The Greek that is often translated as “he gave up his spirit” in English is translated in a variety of ways:
- Huehuetla Tepehua: “And then he died”
- Aguaruna: “His breath went out”
- Navajo: “He gave back his spirit”
- North Alaskan Inupiatun: “He breathed his last”
- Chol: “He caused his spirit to leave him”
- Lalana Chinantec: “He sent away his life breath” (source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
- Kankanaey: “He entrusted his spirit to God” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “released his spirit” (lit. caused it to spring away) (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
- Uma: “His spirit/breath broke” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
- Yakan: “His breath snapped” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
The Greek that is translated “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?” or similar in English is translated in various ways:
- Amele: “You sit/are like the salt of the ground. But if salt loses its taste (lit. its bitterness stings) then how will it become bitter again?” (Age odi mahamahanu macas bilegina. Euqa macas uqana mug qah becebfi adi haun mugca migian?) (Source: John Roberts)
- Mairasi: “You guys are now salt in this world. If that salt becomes watery, then with what will it again become salty?” (Eme ejavu sira wasasiar. Siravu fatan andani, arimev ata aem sasijeano? Nama avanggunuanan fatanan.) (Source: Enggavoter 2004)
- Kankanaey: “You are what-can-be-compared to salt for the people on this earth. But if salt becomes-tasteless it is impossible to return its saltiness (same word as sour/bitter).”
See also complete verse (Matthew 5:13).
The Greek that is translated as “But soon a violent wind, called the northeaster (or: Euroclydon), rushed down from Crete” or similar in English is translated in a lot of different ways:
- Upper Guinea Crioulo: “A great storm rose up on the side of the island that came against them.” (“The point wasn’t the name of the wind [nor’easter]. All of these nautical terms can be difficult for people who aren’t seafaring. The point wasn’t so much which cardinal direction the wind was coming from. The point was that the wind was coming from a direction that made it impossible for them to go in the direction they wanted to go. This is further explained in the following verse.”) (Source: David Frank)
- Caluyanun: “Not long-afterward, the wind from the aminhan/northeast got-strong, which was from the land-area of the island of Crete.” (“’Aminhan’ is the common direction of the wind during half the year.”) (Source: Kermit Titrud)
- Northern Emberá: “But soon a bad wind called the Euroclidon blew forcefully from the right hand.” (“When we have to specify north and south we use left hand and right hand, respectively. But in Acts 27:14, the Northeaster wind comes from the right, hitting the right side of the ship as they headed west.”) (Source: Chaz Mortensen)
- Amele: “But shortly a strong wind called Jawalti blowing from the direction of the sun coming up to the left came up.” (“East is cam tobec isec ‘the direction the sun comes up’ and west is cam tonec/nec isec ‘the direction the sun goes/comes down.’ ‘Jawalti’ is a local name for the wind that blows down from the north coast of Madang. ‘Sea corner’ is the Amele term for ‘harbour‘”) (Source: John Roberts)
- Mairasi: “But after not a very long time at all already a very big wind blew from behind us. In Greek that wind is called ‘Eurokulon’ from over there in the north and east. It blew down from that island itself.” (Source: Enggavoter 2004)
- Kankanaey: “But it wasn’t long, a swift wind arrived from the upper-part of Creta.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And it wasn’t a long time from then, we were typhooned. A very strong wind arrived which was called Abagat. The wind came from the direction of the land.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “But before we had been sailing for long, suddenly/unexpectedly the wind changed again to an off-shore wind of tremendous strength. Euraclidon was what the people from there called that wind.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
- Uma: “But in fact not long after that, a big wind came from the land, a wind called Sea Storm.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
- Yakan: “But not long after, a very strong wind blew from the coast.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
See also cardinal directions / left and right and cardinal directions (north, south, east, west).
The cardinal directions “east” and “west” are easy to translate into Mano (Mann) here since the language uses “where the sun comes up” and “where the sun goes down.” For “north” the translator had “facing toward the sun rising to the left,” and for “south” she had “facing toward the sun rising to the right.” So the listener had to think hard before knowing what direction was in view when translating “to the north and south, to the east and west.” So the verse was very long. It was shortened by saying simply “all directions.” Likewise, Yakan has “from the four corners of the earth” (source: Yakan back-translation) or Western Bukidnon Manobo “from the four directions here on the earth” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo back-translation).
Kankanaey is “from the coming-out and the going-away of the sun and the north and the south” (source: Kankanaey back-translation), Northern Emberá “from where the sun comes up, from where it falls, from the looking [left] hand, from the real [right] hand” (source: Charles Mortensen), Amele “from the direction of the sun going up, from the direction of the sun going down, from the north and from the south” (source: John Roberts), Ejamat “look up to see the side where the sun comes from, and the side where it sets, and look on your right side, and on your left” (source: David Frank in this blog post).
In Lamba, only umutulesuŵa, “where the sun rises” and imbonsi, “where the sun sets” were available as cardinal directions that were not tied to the local area of language speakers (“north” is kumausi — “to the Aushi country” — and “south” kumalenje — “to the Lenje country”). So “north” and “south” were introduced as loanwords, nofu and saufu respectively. The whole phrase is “kunofu nakusaufu nakumutulesuŵa nakumbonsi.” (Source C. M. Doke in The Bible Translator 1958, p. 57ff.)
See also cardinal directions / left and right.
The Greek that is typically translated as “confess” in English in the context of these verses is translated in a variety of ways. Here are some (back-) translations:
- Highland Puebla Nahuatl, Tzeltal: “to say openly”
- San Blas Kuna: “to accuse oneself of his own evil”
- Kankanaey: “telling the truth about their sins”
- Huastec: “to take aim at one’s sin” (“an idiom which is derived from the action of a hunter taking aim at a bird or animal”) (source for this and all above: Bratcher / Nida)
- Tabasco Chontal: “saying ‘It is true, I’ve done evil'” (source: Larson 1998, p. 204)
- Central Pame: “pulling out the heart” (“so that it may be clearly seen — not just by men, but by God”) (source: Nida 1952, p. 155)
- Shipibo-Conibo: “to say, It is true we have sinned” (source: Nida 1964, p. 228)
- Obolo: itutumu ijo isibi: “speaking out sin” (source: Enene Enene).
Following are a number of back-translations of Luke 24:42:
- Uma: “They offered him roasted fish.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
- Yakan: “They handed him a roasted fish.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And they gave him some roasted fish,” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
- Kankanaey: “They gave him some broiled fish,” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “They gave Jesus a piece of roasted fish.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
Following are a number of back-translations of Matthew 6:27:
- Uma: “What is the use of you thinking and being-nervous so much. For even if we (incl.) are continually busy thinking about many things, we (incl.) are not able to add to our (incl.) age even just one-night.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
- Yakan: “Who of you can prolong his life even for one hour when you worry/by worrying?” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “No matter how a person cherishes his life, there is no way he can add even a little bit to it.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
- Kankanaey: “Another thing, even if you are always worrying, can you lengthen your lives by even one hour?” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “Well which of you can increase his life by even a little time through agitating his mind/thinking? Of course no one.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
- Tenango Otomi: “And how about the person who is worried that he isn’t tall, is he able to grow another forearm’s height because of his worrying?” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)