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!”

raven

The Hebrew that is translated as “raven” in English is translated in Lingala as “pied crow” (see here) because ravens are unknown in the area where Lingala speakers traditionally live. (Source: Sigurd F. Westberg in The Bible Translator 1956, p. 117ff.)

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), Nyanja (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

dome, expanse, firmament

The Hebrew that is translated as “firmament,” “expanse,” or “dome” in English is translated in Roviana as galegalearane: “the open space between the earth and the sky” and in Moru as “empty space.”

In Idoma it is translated as okpanco — “the top of the sky.” “According to tradition, when the world began, the okpanco was low. A woman was pounding yams and her pestle kept hitting okpanco and it started going higher and higher.”

In Naskapi it is translated as “sky skin” — “like a caribou skin.”

(Sources: Roviana: Carl Gross; Moru: Jan Sterk; Idoma: Rob Koops; Naskapi: Doug Lockhart in Word Alive 2013)

In Lingala it is translated as “surface.” Sigurd F. Westberg (in The Bible Translator 1956, p. 117ff.) explains: “The ‘firmament’ in Genesis 1 gave us another problem. Its meaning in English is certainly not immediately obvious. The dictionary tells us that the Hebrew means something close to our English word ’expanse.’ It seems, however, that the Hebrew idea may not always have been as abstract as that, for Isaiah says that the Lord ‘stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in.’ But the Greek word used in the Septuagint gives the idea of a firm and solid structure, and this is the idea that is carried out in our English word ‘firmament.’ Modern translations into English, Swedish, Norwegian and French take one or the other of these two leads. It is the predicament of the translator that he dare not hesitate too long between ideas. (…) In this case we tried to arrive at ’expanse’ by the use of a word meaning ’width,’ but we found that it is not really understandable except as it is associated with the noun of which it indicates the width. It cannot be used alone. The word we finally used means ‘surface,’ but it also has the idea of something stretched out or smoothed out. It is more concrete than we should like, but it does not require identity with a concrete object as does the word for width’.’

In Newari it is translated as “upper part of water” (Gen. 1:6 is translated “height between two portions of water.”) (Source: Newari Back Translation)

In Tenharim a translation for “firmament” was not deemed possible because there were no overlaps in the world view of the Tenharim speakers and that of the cosmology of Genesis. LaVera Betts (in: Notes on Translation, September 1971, p. 16ff.) explains: “[In their view,] heaven’s edge is curbed and solid. It can become meshed releasing the water above it onto the clouds, which to the Parintintín [the Tenharim speakers] are gathered wind, in order for this water to be dispersed in the form of rain. An entrance, position and description unknown, is available to the occupants of the layers of heaven through which they may pass to the world. To each layer of heaven and heaven as a whole they apply the same word: yvaga.

“The sun, moon, and stars attach to the world’s side of heaven’s edge. The sun and moon have separate paths-the moon making a half revolution and returning, and the sun making a complete revolution. No all-inclusive term for the heavenly bodies, earth, and the expanse between them so far has been encountered in Parintintín. Nor has there been found a suitable term for this expanse alone. During the day the expanse could be called the open/clear space: mytuêa; but at night it disappears into heaven and night takes its place. Its occurrence, then, is contingent on the presence of light and therefore inappropriate for expressing firmament (Gen 1:6).

“To translate ‘firmament’ as a vault the translator possibly could have used heaven’s edge which, although suiting their world view grandly, poses problems in the translator’s mind especially as to the restricted meaning it would force on the translation for them. That a good shaman is believed to be able to bring heaven down immediately over the earth reveals that to them the expanse over the earth is empty, or compressible and flexible, and the ‘vault’ movable.

“The possible translation of atmosphere for firmament was settled upon and the term used was ‘wind’: yvytua. The phrase ‘and God called the firmament heaven’ was deleted. A possible alternate ‘and God called the place of the wind heaven’ also was not used as Coriolano [the indigenous translator] did not know where the wind went when it is not seen in the form of clouds nor felt; however, he insisted the wind is everlasting — unlike one’s breath which is not lasting. Animates do not breathe air/wind but their hearts pump their own breath.”

wolf

The Hebrew and Greek that is translated in English as “wolf” is translated in Muna as da’u ngkahoku: “forest dog,” because there is no immediate lexical equivalent. (Source: René van den Berg)

In Asháninka, it is translated as “ferocious animal,” in Waffa and Kui as “wild dog,” and in Navajo as “Coyote” (source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125), and in Odia as “tiger” (source for this and for Kui: Helen Evans in The Bible Translator 1954, p. 40ff.)

In Lingala it is translated as “leopard.” Sigurd F. Westberg (in The Bible Translator 1956, p. 117ff.) explains: “The wolf, for example, does not exist here, but its relative the jackal does and we have a name for it. But the jackal does not prey on domestic animals as the wolf did in Palestine, nor is he as fierce. The equivalent from these points of view is the leopard. Hence in Genesis 49 Benjamin is likened to a ravenous leopard, and the basic meaning is approached more closely than if we had been governed by scientific classification.”

Mungaka also uses “leopard” (see also bear (animal)) (source: Nama 1990).

Michel Kenmogne comments on this and comparable translations (in Noss 2007, p. 378 ff.): “Some exegetical solutions adopted by missionary translations may have been acceptable during that time frame, but weighed against today’s translation theory and procedures, they appear quite outdated and even questionable. For example, Atangana Nama approvingly mentions the translation into Mungaka of terms like ‘deer’ as ‘leopard’, ‘camel’ as ‘elephant’, and ‘wheat’ as ‘maize,’ where the target language has no direct equivalent to the source text. These pre-Nida translation options, now known as adaptations, would be declared unacceptable in modern practice, since they misrepresent the historico-zoological and agricultural realities in the Bible. Nowadays it is considered better to give a generalized term, like ‘grain,’ and where necessary specify ‘a grain called wheat,’ than to give an incorrect equivalence. Unknown animals such as bears, can be called ‘fierce animals,’ especially if the reference is a non-historical context.”

Son of Man

(To view the different translations of this term in a simplified graphical form on a new page, click or tap here.)

The Greek that is translated as “Son of Man” and is mostly used by Jesus to refer to himself is (back-) translated in the following languages as (click or tap for details):

  • San Miguel El Grande Mixtec: “I who am a person”
  • Tzotzil: “I who am equal with men” or “The Older Brother of Everybody” (“expressing the dignity and authority of the Messiah and the universality of his work”)
  • Chuj: “I who became human”
  • Terêna: “The True Man”
  • Tenango Otomi: “The Man Appointed” (i.e. the man to whom authority has been delegated) (source for this and preceding: Beekman, p. 189-190, see also Ralph Hill in Notes on Translation February 1983, p. 35-50)
  • Huehuetla Tepehua: “friend of all men”
  • Aguaruna: “I the one who was born becoming a person” (source for this and two above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
  • Yatzachi Zapotec: “I whom God sent, I was born a human” (a direct translation would have suggested “that the father is unknown due to the indiscretions of the mother” and where “he is the son of people” is used when one wants to disclaim responsibility for or relationship with a child caught in some mischief — source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • Mezquital Otomi: “I, the son who became a person” (Source: B. Moore / G. Turner in Notes on Translation 1967, p. 1ff.)
  • Alekano: “the true man who descended from heaven” (source: Ellis Deibler in Notes on Translation June 1986, p. 36ff.)
  • Central Tarahumara: “I have been stood up to help” (“This suggests that Christ has been given authority to some appointed task. A very generic word, help, was selected to fill in the lexically obligatory purpose required by the word which means to appoint or commission. Usually this word is used of menial tasks but not exclusively. The choice of this generic term retains the veiled reference to the character of Christ’s work which He intended in using the ‘Son of Man’ title.”)
  • Chicahuaxtla Triqui: “He who is relative of all people.” (“The Triqui word for relative is a rather generic term and in its extended sense sometimes is diluted to neighbor and friend. But the primary meaning is relative.”)
  • Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac: “Sibling of All People”
  • Tepeuxila Cuicatec: “I, the Person who Accompanies All People.” (“The literal equivalents ‘son of man’ and ‘son of people’ were both rejected because of the false inference of natural birth involving a human father. Furthermore, it was necessary to expand any translation of the Bible by the addition of the pronoun ‘I’ so as to clarify the fact that Jesus is using the third person in referring to Himself. A common expression used by the Cuicatecos when difficulties befall someone, is to say to that one, ‘don’t worry, we are accompanying you.’ By this they mean they share that person’s sorrow. When wedding guests arrive at the home of a son who has just been married, they say to the father, ‘We have come to accompany you.’ By this they mean that they have come to share the father’s joy. These expressions do not refer to ordinary physical accompaniment, which is expressed by a set of different verbs. For example, visits are always announced by some such greeting as, “I have come to visit you,’ ‘I have come to see you,’ or ‘I have come to ask you something.’ The desire to accompany a friend on a journey is expressed by saying, ‘I will go with you.’ Translation helpers used the verb ‘accompany’ in constructing the phrase ‘I, the Person who Accompanies All People.'(…) It reflects the fact that Jesus closely identified Himself with all of us, understands our weaknesses, shares our burdens, rejoices with us in times of gladness, etc.”) (source for this and the three preceding: Beekman in Notes on Translation January 1963, p. 1-10)
  • Guhu-Samane: “elder-brother-man” (“Since the term denotes an elder brother in every way such as honor, power, leadership, representation of the younger, etc. it is a meaningful and fitting — though not ostentatious — title.” Source: Ernest Richert in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 198ff.)
  • Avaric: “Son of Adam” (“from Islam, which means ‘human'”) (source: Magomed-Kamil Gimbatov and Yakov Testelets in The Bible Translator 1996, p. 434ff.)
  • Navajo: “Diné Silíi’ii” — “Man he-became-the-one-who” (“This terra presented a difficulty not only in Navajo but also one peculiar to all the Athapaskan languages. It lies in the fact that all these languages, so far as we know, have a word phonetically similar to the Navajo diné which has three meanings: ‘man, people in general,’ ‘a man,’ ‘The People’ which is the name the Navajos use for themselves. (The name Navajo was first used by the Spanish explorers.) Although it seemed natural to say diné biye’ ‘a-man his-son,’ this could also mean ‘The-People their-son’ or ‘a-Navajo his-son,’ in contrast to the son of a white man or of another Indian tribe. Since the concept of the humanity of Christ is so important, we felt that diné biye’ with its three possible meanings should not be used. The term finally decided on was Diné Silíi’ii ‘Man he-became-the-one-who.’ This could be interpreted to mean ‘the one who became a Navajo,’ but since it still would impart the idea of Christ’s becoming man, it was deemed adequate, and it has proven acceptable to the Navajos.”) (Source: Faye Edgerton in The Bible Translator 1962, p. 25ff.)
  • Toraja-Sa’dan: “son (lit. child) descended in the world” (“using a poetic verb, often found in songs that [deal with] the contacts between heaven and earth”) (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • Obolo: Gwun̄ Ebilene: ” it is translated as itutumu ijo isibi : “Child of Human (source: Enene Enene).
  • Mairasi: Jaanoug Tat: “Person Child” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • Morelos Nahuatl: “Christ who became man”
  • Teutila Cuicatec: “the One Who Accompanies all people”
  • Isthmus Mixe: “Jesus Christ, the one who is a person” (source for this and two above: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August 1966, p. 86ff.)
  • Northern Puebla Nahuatl: “son of men” (source: B. Moore / G. Turner in Notes on Translation 1967, p. 1ff.)
  • Costa Rican Sign Language: “It was impossible to translate the expression ‘Son of Man.’ The son-man sign simply means ‘male child.’ The Costa Rican Sign Language (LESCO) team opted for an interpretation of the term and translated it ‘Jesus.'” (Source: Elsa Tamez (in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 59ff.)

In many West African languages, using a third person reference as a first person indicator is common practice with a large range of semantic effects. Languages that use the exact expression “son of man” as a self-reference or reference to another person include Lukpa, Baatonum, Mossi (“son of Adam”), Yoruba (“son of person”), Guiberoua Béte, or Samo. (Source: Lynell Zogbo in: Omanson 2000, p. 167-188.)

In Swahili the expression Mwana wa Mtu or mwana wa mtu or “son/daughter of human person,” which is used by several Bible translations, also has “the idiomatic meaning of ‘a human being’” (source: Jean-Claude Loba-Mkole in An Intercultural Criticism of New Testament Translations 2013, see here). The same is true for the Lingala expression Mwana na Moto — “son/daughter of human person.” (Ibid.)

In Balinese “we are again bordering on theological questions when we inquire as to which vocabulary shall be used to translate the texts where Jesus speaks of himself as ‘the Son of man.’ One of the fixed rules governing the use of these special vocabularies is that one may never use the deferential terms in speaking of oneself. This would be the extreme of arrogance. Now if one considers the expression ‘Son of man’ primarily as a description of ‘I,’ then one must continually indicate the possessions or actions of the Son of man by Low Balinese words. In doing this the mystery of the expression is largely lost. In any case the vocabulary used in most of the contexts would betray that Jesus means the title for himself.

“However, a distinction can actually be made in Balinese between the person and the exalted position he occupies. For example, the chairman of a judicial body may employ deferential terms when referring to this body and its chairman, without this being taken as an expression of arrogance. Considered from this standpoint, one may translate in such a way that Jesus is understood as using such deferential words and phrases in speaking of himself. The danger is, however, that the unity between his person and the figure of “the Son of man” is blurred by such usage.

“On request, the New Testament committee of the Netherlands Bible Society advised that ‘the sublimity of this mysterious term be considered the most important point and thus High Balinese be used.'”

Source: J.L. Swellengrebel in The Bible Translator 1950, p. 124ff.

In Malay, Barclay Newman reports on the translation of “Today’s Malay Version” (Alkitab Berita Baik) of 1987:

“One of the first things that we did in working through the earlier part of the New Testament was to decide on how we would translate some of the more difficult technical terms. It was immediately obvious that something must be done with the translation of ‘the Son of Man,’ since the literal rendering anak manusia (literally ‘child of a man’) held absolutely no meaning for Malay readers. We felt that the title should emphasize the divine origin and authority of the one who used this title, and at the same time, since it was a title, we decided that it should not be too long a phrase. Finally, a phrase meaning ‘the One whom God has ordained’ was chosen (yang dilantik Allah). It is interesting to note that the newly-begun Common Indonesian (Alkitab Kabar Baik, published in 1985) has followed a similar route by translating ‘the One whom God has chosen’ (yang depilih Allah).”

Source: Barclay Newman in The Bible Translator 1974, p. 432ff.

See also Son of God.

Jesus

The Greek Iēsous is “only” a proper name but one with great importance. The following quote by John Ellington (in The Bible Translator 1993, p. 401ff.) illustrates this:

“In Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus Christ, Joseph is told that when Mary gives birth to a son ‘you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins’ (1:21). This name is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name [Yeshua (יֵשׁוּעַ) which is a short form of a name meaning] ‘the Lord [Yahweh] saves.’ The name is very significant and is in itself especially dear to Christians around the world. (…) Unquestionably great importance is attached to the name of Jesus by Christians of all persuasions and backgrounds.”

While Iēsous (pronounced: /i.ɛː.suːs/) is transliterated as “Jesus” (pronounced /ˈdʒiːzəs/) in English (but was translated as “Hælend” [the “healing one”] in Old English — see Swain 2019) it is transliterated and pronounced in a large variety of other ways as well, following the different rules of different languages’ orthographies, writing systems and rules of pronunciation. The following is a (partial) list of forms of Jesus in Latin characters: Azezi, Cecoc, Chesús, Ciisahs, Ciise, Ciisusu, Djesu, Gesù, Gesû, Gesü, Ġesù, Ghjesù, Giêsu, Giê-xu, Hesu, Hesús, Hisuw, Ià-sŭ, Ié:sos, Iesu, Iesui, Iesusɨn, Iesusiva, Ihu, Iisus, Ijeesu, Iji̍sɔ̄ɔsi, Iosa, Íosa, Ìosa, Isiso, Ísu, Isus, Isuthi, Itota, Îtu, Isuva, Izesu, Izesuq, Jasus, Jeeju, Jeesus, Jeesus, Jeezas, Jehu, Jejus, Jeso, Jesosa, Jesosy, Jesua, Jesús, Jésus, Jesúsu, Jethu, Jezi, Jézi, Ježiš, Jezu, Jezus, Jézus, Jėzus, Jēzus, Jezusi, Jėzus, Jezuz, Jíísas, Jiizas, Jisase, Jisasɨ, Jisesi, Jisos, Jisọs, Jisas, Jisasi, Jisu, Jizọs, Jizọsi, Jizọsu, Ketsutsi, Njises, Sisa, Sísa, Sisas, Sīsū, Txesusu, uJesu, ŵaYesu, Xesosi, ´Xesús, Xesús, Yasu, Ya:su, Ɣaysa, Yecu, Yeeb Sub, Yeeh Suh, Yeeso, Yeesso, Yēēsu, Yeisu, Yeisuw, Yeso, Yeshu, Yêsu, Yésʉs, Yet Sut, Yexus, Yezo, Yezu, Yiisu, Yiitju, Yisufa, Yitati, Yusu, Zezi, Zîsɛ, Zjezus, and this (much more incomplete) list with other writings systems: ᔩᓱᓯ, Յիսուս, ᏥᏌ, ኢየሱስ, ܝܫܘܥ, Ісус, Їисъ, 耶稣, იესო, ईसा, イエス, イイスス, イエスス, 예수, येशू, येशो, ਈਸਾ, യേശു, ජේසුස්, যীশু, ଯୀଶୁ, ཡེ་ཤུ་, ‘ঈছা, இயேசு, ಯೇಸು, ယေရှု, ઇસુ, जेजू, เยซู, យេស៊ូ, เยซู, ᱡᱤᱥᱩ, ယေသှု, యేసు, އީސާގެފާނު, ㄧㄝㄙㄨ, YE-SU, ਯਿਸੂ, ꕉꖷ ꔤꕢ ꕞ, ⵏ⵿ⵗⵢⵙⴰ, يَسُوعَ, ꑳꌠ, ᠶᠡᠰᠦᠰ (note that some of these might not display correctly if your computer does not have the correct fonts installed).

Click or tap here to read more.


In some languages the different confessions have selected different transliterations, such as in Belarusian with Isus (Ісус) by the Orthodox and Protestant churches and Yezus (Езус) by the Catholic church, Japanese with Iesu (イエス) (Protestant and Catholic) and Iisusu (イイスス) (Orthodox), or Lingala with Yesu (Protestant) or Yezu (Catholic). These differences have come to the forefront especially during the work on interconfessional translations such as one in Lingala where “many hours were spent on a single letter difference” (source: Ellington, p. 401).

In Chinese where transliterations of proper names between the Catholic and Protestant versions typically differ vastly, the Chinese name of Jesus (Yēsū 耶稣) remarkably was never brought into question between and by those two confessions, likely due to its ingenious choice. (Click or tap here to see more).

The proper name of God in the Old Testament, Yahweh (YHWH), is rendered in most Chinese Bible translations as Yēhéhuá 耶和華 — Jehovah. According to Chinese naming conventions, Yēhéhuá could be interpreted as Yē Héhuá, in which would be the family name and Héhuá — “harmonic and radiant” — the given name. In the same manner, 耶 would be the family name of Jesus and 稣 would be his given name. Because in China the children inherit the family name from the father, the sonship of Jesus to God the Father, Jehovah, would be illustrated through this. Though this line of argumentation sounds theologically unsound, it is indeed used effectively in the Chinese church (see Wright 1953, p. 298).

Moreover, the “given name” of 稣 carries the meaning ‘to revive, to rise again’ and seems to point to the resurrected Jesus. (Source: J. Zetzsche in Malek 2002, p. 141ff., see also tetragrammaton (YHWH))

There are different ways that Bible translators have chosen historically and today in how to translate the name of Jesus in predominantly Muslim areas: with a form of the Arabic Isa (عيسى) (which is used for “Jesus” in the Qur’an), the Greek Iēsous, or, like major 20th century Bible translations into Standard Arabic, the Aramaic Yēšūaʿ: Yasua (يَسُوعَ). (Click or tap here to see more.)

Following are languages and language groups that use a form of Isa include the following (note that this list is not complete):

  • Indo-Iranian languages: Persian, Dari, Central Pashto, Southern Pashto all use Eysa (عيسی or عيسىٰ for Southern Pashto), Sindhi uses Eysey (عيسيٰ), Southern Balochi Issa (ایسّا), Central Kurdish (Sorani) and Northern Kurdish (Kurmanji) use Îsa (عیسای and Иса respectively), Turkmen has Isa, and Tajik Isoi (Исои — compare Iso/Исо in the Tajik Qur’an)
  • Turkic languages: Turkish uses İsa, Kazakh, Kumyk, Nogai, Crimean Tatar all have Isa (Иса), Kirghiz has Iysa (Ыйса), Uzbek has Iso (Исо — compare Iiso/Ийсо in the Uzbek Qur’an), Bashkir uses Aaisa (Ғайса), North Azerbaijani İsa, Uighur uses Eysa (ئەيسا), and Kara-Kalpak İysa (Ийса)
  • Caucasian languages: Bezhta and Lezghian use Isa (Иса), Avaric has Aisa (ГІиса), and Chechen Iza (Иза)
  • Various African languages: Somali, a Cushitic language, has Ciise, Kabyle has Ɛisa and Tahaggart Tamahaq has Yeswa (both Berber languages), the Saharan languages Central Kanuri, Manga Kanuri have Isa, the Atlantic-Congo languages Dagbani, Mampruli, and Bimoba use Yisa, and the Chadian Arabic Bible has Isa (عِيسَى)
  • Some languages have additional “TAZI” editions (TAZI stands for “Tawrat, Anbiya, Zabur, and Injil” the “Torah, Prophets, Psalms and Gospel”) of the New Testament that are geared towards Muslim readers where there is also a translation in the same language for non-Muslims. In those editions, Isa is typically used as well (for example, the Khmer TAZI edition uses Isa (អ៊ីសា) rather than the commonly used Yesaou (យេស៊ូ), the Thai edition uses Isa (อีซา) rather than Yesu (เยซู), the Chinese edition uses Ěrsā (尔撒) vs. Yēsū (耶稣), and the English edition also has Isa rather than Jesus.)

In German the name Jesus (pronounced: /ˈjeːzʊs/) is distinguished by its grammatical forms. Into the 20th century the grammatical rules prescribed a unique Greek-Latin declination: Jesus (nominative), Jesu (genitive, dative, vocative), Jesum (accusative), from which today only the genitive case “Jesu” is still in active use. Likewise, in Seediq (Taroko), the morphological treatment of “Jesus” also occupies a special category by not falling under the normal rule of experiencing a vowel reduction when the object-specific suffix an is added “since it was felt that the readers might resent that the name has been changed that drastically.” (Compare Msian for “Moses” (Mosi) as an object, but Yisuan for “Jesus” (Yisu).) (Source: Covell 1998. p. 249)

In Lamba the name ŵaYesu consists of a transliteration Yesu and the prefix ŵa, a plural form for “proper names when addressing and referring to persons in any position of seniority or honor.” While this was avoided in early translations to avoid possible misunderstandings of more than one Jesus, once the church was established it was felt that it was both “safe” and respectful to use the honorific (pl.) prefix. (Source C. M. Doke in The Bible Translator 1958, p. 57ff.)

In sign languages, including American Sign Language, Costa Rican Sign Language, Spanish Sign Language, Auslan (Australian Sign Language) and German Sign Language “Jesus” is signed with the middle finger of each hand pointing to the palm (or wrist) of the other in succession (signing the nails of the cross). In the context of Bible translation this has been pointed out as theologically problematic since the “semantic connections of the original name Jesus do point towards ‘salvation,’ they do not naturally lead to crucifixion.” (Source: Phil King in Journal of Translation 1 (2020), p. 33ff)


“Jesus” in German Sign Language (source)

Translation: German

Auf Deutsch wird der Name Jesus (ausgesprochen: /ˈjeːzʊs/) durch dessen grammatikalische Formen hervorgehoben. Bis ins 20. Jahrhundert schrieben die grammatikalischen Regeln eine nur hier verwendete Griechisch/Lateinsche Misch-Deklination vor: Jesus (Nominativ), Jesu (Genitiv, Dativ, Vokativ) und Jesum (Akkusativ), von welchen heute nur noch der Genitiv-Kasus „Jesu“ aktiv verwendet wird.

Translator: Jost Zetzsche