all scripture is inspired by God

The Greek that is translated as “all scripture is inspired by God (or: is God-breathed)” is translated into various languages in the following ways:

  • Berom: “All the words that were written in the Leaf of Teaching of Father Sun came away from God thing his” (Mwa neha de bà jɛk e Bwok-basa Dagwi na vey yi na Dagwi pyɛ mɛ)
  • Hausa (Common Language Version): “All the writings of the Word of God are blown from his place” (Duk Rubutacciyar Maganar Allah hurarre ce daga wurinsa)
  • Kera: “All the words that were written in God’s book come straight from God’s mouth” (Kel gə minti gə jeerə-jeere giidə kefter kə Pepeŋa keɗe ha’aŋ, yə bəŋ ku Pepeŋ da)
  • Arabic (True Meaning Arabic edition): “All of this book is a revelation from God” (فهذِهِ الكُتُبُ كُلُّها وَحيٌ مِن اللهِ)
  • Chadian Arabic: “The book is completely the word of God which he sent down (الْكِتَابْ كُلَّ كَيْ هُو كَلَامْ اللّٰهْ النَّزَّلَهْ)
  • Dari (Today’s Dari Version 2008): “The whole holy book is divine revelation” (تمام کتاب مقدس از الهام خداست)
  • French (Parole de Vie 2017): “All the holy books were written with the help of God” (Tous les Livres Saints ont été écrits avec l’aide de Dieu)
  • Lamogai: “All of the talk written in God’s book was given by God’s Spirit.”
  • Northern Emberá: “God (emph.) made all of his word to be written” (Ãcõrẽbʌrʌ jũma Idji Bed̶eara b̶ʌbisia)
  • Hiligaynon: “The whole Written-Item was written by-means-of the power of God” (Kay ang bug-os nga Kasulatan ginbugna sang Dios kag mapuslanon sa pagtudlo sang kamatuoran)
  • Sindhi: “The origin/fount of each writing of the holy word/scripture is God (emph. = alone)”
  • Dobel: “And God’s Message all of it, it was he alone who put it in people’s thoughts, then they wrote it in The Book” (Sa Dukwaida Ssinan Ler si Rakwin re nam ffui, nai naꞌꞌenni yaꞌa nam i tamatu ada faꞌirandi nama datiya i Suratu Yabil)
  • Amele: “All the written good talk God’s Spirit he himself taught/instructed men and they wrote” (Me je jaqec cunug Anutna Kis uqadodoc dana iwaladeceb jaqein)
  • Saxwe Gbe: “Every holy writing came from God”
  • Aja: “It was God’s Spirit that took all things that were written in the books of God’s Word and put them in the minds/consciences of people, and they wrote them” (source for this and all above: discussion on BT email list, contributions used with permissions)
  • Kaqchikel: “All scripture is God’s breath”

On this last translation, the translation into Kaqchikel, Cameron Townsend reports:

“We were struggling with the part of the Scripture that says, ‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God.’ We tried several different ways of translating this, but the men were never satisfied that it communicated well in Kaqchikel. I consulted the Greek and said, ‘How about translating it ‘all scripture is God-breathed?” ‘No,’ they said, ‘that doesn’t sound right.’ Then I suggested using ‘God’s breath.’ The men liked this and we agreed to use this phrase. But I wasn’t entirely convinced it was as accurate as it should be. Then I began to read other portions of Scripture where I noticed that when God spoke in creation it had the same connotation as God’s breath. And so we left it that way: ‘All scripture is God’s breath.'” (Quoted in Steven 1995, p. 196f.)

relative age of James and John

Many languages have terms for siblings that define whether one is younger or older in relation to another sibling.

Dave Brunn reports this from the translation into Lamogai (see p. 141f. and 181f.):

“Some languages, including Lamogai, have two different words for brother. One means ‘older brother,’ and the other means ‘younger brother.’ In many cases, these languages do not have a generic word that includes both. Relating this to translation, which of the sons of Zebedee do you think was older, James or John? The Bible does not tell us, but there are some clues. The names James and John occur together about twenty times in the New Testament. In every occurrence, James is named first. Since there is not much else to go on, most translators who have faced this issue have considered this to be enough evidence to say James must be the older brother. Here is how we translated this pair of names in Matthew 17:1 in the Lamogai New Testament:

“‘Jems akap ino tikino Jon’ (‘James along-with his younger-brother John’)

“Technically, ‘tikino’ means younger sibling of the same sex and ‘udikino’ older sibling of the same sex. A man would refer to his older brother as ‘udikino’ and his younger brother as ‘tikino.’ And a woman would use the same terms for her older and younger sisters. The term for opposite-sex sibling (either a man to his sister or a woman to her brother) is ‘luku.’ (Source for this paragraph: private communication from Dave Brunn.)”

In the translation into Oaxaca Chontal, the same principle is applied. (Source: Bratcher / Nida 1961)

The Chilcotin translators have tried to circumvent specifying which of the two is older, even though the language also uses age-specific terms for siblings. In Mark 1:19 and Mark 3:17 it says “Zebedee beyiqi…” (“Zebedee’s sons…”) and therefore avoids stating their respective age. Likewise in Mark 5:37 it says “Peter hink´an ˀelhcheliqi James belh John” (“Peter and brothers James and John”) (source: Quindel King).

See also Peter (Simon) / Andrew (relative age).

ambiguity of genitive constructs in Greek

Dave Brunn reports this from the translation into Lamogai (see p. 138ff.):

We have all been told that New Testament Greek is a precise language. That is true in some areas of the language, but it is not true of the genitive construction. The genitive in Greek is commonly used to show simple possession, and in those cases, it is straightforward. But in other contexts, the Greek genitive often has two or more possible meanings. An example of this is found in 1 Thessalonians 1:3 (NASB): “constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” The three genitives I would like to focus on in this verse are

  • work of faith
  • labor of love
  • steadfastness of hope

In Lamogai, a literal translation of these three phrases would sound like nonsense. For example, the phrase “labor of love” would sound like “labor that is possessed by love.” And “steadfastness of hope” would sound like “steadfastness owned by hope.”

Obviously, love cannot possess labor, and hope cannot be the owner of steadfastness. That means in order to translate this verse into Lamogai, the translator needs to dig a bit deeper to find out what these phrases mean. This is where the ambiguity of the Greek genitive comes into play because each of these three phrases has more than one possible meaning.

The first one, “work of faith,” is less ambiguous than the other two. Most commentators agree that this phrase means their work was a result of their faith in God.

The next, “labor of love,” is less clear. It could mean any of these three possibilities:”

    1. They labor because of God’s love for them.
    2. They labor because of their love for God.
    3. They labor because of their love for others.

In Lamogai, it is impossible to come up with a single statement that would include all three of these meanings. The grammar of Lamogai forces the translator to make a choice — just as English grammar forces every English version to choose between “evil” and “the evil one” in Matthew 6:13.

The third genitive phrase, “steadfastness of hope” is probably the most ambiguous of the three. Translators and commentators seem to be split evenly between the following two interpretations:

    1. They were steadfast in continuing to hope for the return of Jesus Christ.
    2. They were steadfast in their Christian walk because of their hope in Jesus Christ.

In other words, either their hope is steadfast (option 1), or else their hope causes steadfastness (option 2). The only way to translate this phrase into Lamogai is to choose one of these two interpretations. It is required by the grammar of Lamogai and many other languages. (…)

On one hand, it might be safer for a translator to leave this phrase ambiguous because we do not know for sure which meaning Paul intended. On the other hand, if hundreds or even thousands of other languages require that an interpretive choice be made, is it wrong to do the same thing in some English versions? If preserving the ambiguity of the Greek genitive were a requirement of faithfulness and accuracy, wouldn’t God have made sure that every language in the world was capable of fulfilling that requirement?

This passage was translated into Lamogai as: “Mu para pe ido Alangalang Ino Jisas Krais re ka kairak mu mu tir.”: “You [plural] are waiting for our [inclusive] Chief One Jesus Christ so then as a result you [plural] stand strongly.” (Source for this paragraph: private communication from Dave Brunn.)

love (abstract noun)

Dave Brunn reports this from the translation into Lamogai (see p. 143ff.):

Many languages have very few abstract nouns. This means that the process of nominalization (where a verb or a word in another word class is turned into a noun) is rarely done or not done at all. When transitive verbs (verbs that require an object) have to be used to describe what in other languages can easily be said as a standalone noun, an object has to be defined.

See the process of the translation of “love is patient” into Lamogai:

In Lamogai, “love” is always a verb (“antoinɛ la pe oduk”: “his insides go toward people”). Also, anytime we talk about love in the Lamogai language, we are required by the grammar to specify both who is doing the loving and whom they are loving. It is impossible to talk about love in Lamogai without including this information. Therefore, when we translated the statement “love is patient” (1 Cor 13:4) into Lamogai, it was not quite as simple as translating it into English. The first question I had to ask in translating this verse was Who loves whom? There are three possibilities:

  • God loves people
  • People love God
  • People love people

Obviously, the original meaning could include more than just one of these options. But in order to translate this verse into Lamogai, I had to decide which of these three possibilities is the primary focus. This type of translational choice cannot be taken lightly. As a translator, I had to thoroughly study the context and carefully weigh every option. There are two blanks that I needed to fill in here:

(who) love(s) (whom)

Consider the first blank. “Who” is supposed to show love in this passage? The best way to figure this out is to look at the context. Let us read 1. Corinthians 13:1-3 (NET Bible):

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I give over my body in order to boast, but do not have love, I receive no benefit.

Paul’s repeated use of the pronoun “I” makes it clear that he is including himself in the exhortation of this passage. Obviously, Paul is a person, so it seems reasonable that we would fill in the first blank with the word people.

People love (whom)

What about the second blank? Whom are we people supposed to love? Again, the answer is in the context. Here is what it says in 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 (NIV):

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

When do we most often exorcise qualities like patience, kindness, boastfulness, pride and anger? It is usually in our relationship with other people. Therefore, it seems apparent from these verses that the second blank should be the same as the first. The main focus of this passage is on people loving people. Here is one possible way the phrase “love is patient” could be translated into a language like Lamogai: “The person who loves people acts patiently toward people.”

I realize that a rendering like this may bother some; but in many languages, the only alternative would be to translate this phrase in a way that would result in pure nonsense. God could have designed every language on earth to use abstract nouns in the same way Greek does, but he chose not to, so we must conclude that he allows us to use other means to convey his meaning.

Obviously, this is only one of many places where Greek uses a noun to express the idea of love. Other verses may be even more difficult to translate than this one. For example, 1 John 4:8 and 1 John 4:16 say, “God is love.” A literal translation of this phrase into Lamogai would be something like, “God is his insides going toward.” This literal statement sounds just as ridiculous in Lamogai as it does in English.

As I wrestled with these and other complex translation issues, I was reminded of the eternal truth that God is sovereign, and nothing he does is random. God is the one who divinely inspired the phrases “love is patient” and “God is love.” Yet this same God created the Lamogai language (along with many other languages) in such a way that it cannot come remotely close to reflecting these phrases literally.

See also there is no fear in love.