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’.’


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 as “wild dog,” and in Navajo as “Coyote.” (Source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125)

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.”


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 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 (very partial) list of forms of Jesus in Latin characters: Chesús, Ciisusu, Gesù, Gesû, Gesü, Ġesù, Giêsu, Hesu, Hesús, Iesu, Ihu, Íosa, Ìosa, Isus, Isus, Isus, Isuthi, Îtu, Jasus, Jeesus, Jeesus, Jehu, Jeso, Jesús, Jésus, Jezi, Jézi, Ježiš, Jezus, Jézus, Jėzus, Jēzus, Jezusi, Jėzus, Jezuz, Jisos, Jisọs, Jisas, Jisu, Sisa, uJesu, ŵaYesu, Xesosi, ´Xesús, Ya:su, Yēēsu, Yeso, Yésʉs, Yexus, Yezo, Yezu, Yiisu, Yiitju, Yusu, Zîsɛ, Zjezus, and this (equally incomplete) list with other writings systems: ᔩᓱᓯ, Յիսուս, ᏥᏌ, ኢየሱስ, ܝܫܘܥ, Ісус, 耶稣, იესო, ईसा, イエス, 예수, येशू, യേശു, ජේසුස්, যীশু, ‘ঈছা, இயேசு, ఏసు, เยซู, យេស៊ូ, يَسُوعَ (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):

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.

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 (plural) prefix. (Source C. M. Doke in The Bible Translator 1958, p. 57ff.)

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