The Greek that is translated in English versions as “hell” (or “Gehenna”) is translated (1) by borrowing a term from a trade or national language (this is done in a number of Indian languages in Latin America, which have borrowed Spanish “infierno” — from Latin “infernus”: “of the lower regions”), (2) by using an expression denoting judgment or punishment, e.g. “place of punishment” (Loma), “place of suffering” (Highland Totonac, San Blas Kuna) and (3) by describing a significant characteristic: (a) the presence of fire or burning, e.g. “place of fire” (Kipsigis, Mossi), “the large bonfire” (Shipibo-Conibo), or (b) the traditionally presumed location, e.g. “the lowest place” (a well-known term in Ngäbere), “the place inside” long used to designate hell, as a place inside the earth (Aymara). (Source for this and above: Bratcher / Nida)
In Nyongar it is translated as Djinbaminyap or “Punishing place” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang) and in Tagbanwa as “the fire which had no dying down” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation).
The Chinesedìyù (地獄 / 地狱), literally “(under) earth prison,” is a term that was adopted from Buddhist sources into early Catholic writings and later also by Protestant translators. (Source: Zetzsche 1996, p. 32)
The Greek that is translated with “deny himself” or “deny oneself” is according to Bratcher / Nida “without doubt one of the most difficult expressions in all of Mark to translate adequately.” These are many of the (back-) translations:
The Greek that is translated as “grieving” or “sorrowful” in English is often translated metaphorically: “his stomach died” (Mezquital Otomi), “he was heavy in his stomach” (Uduk), “his heart was pained” (Kpelle), “he was sick in his mind” (Amganad Ifugao), “his heart hung” (Loma), and “his heart was spoiled” (Mossi).
See also Seat of the Mind for traditional views of “ways of knowing, thinking, and feeling.”
The Greek that is translated into English as “crucify” is translated into Naro with xgàu which literally means “to stretch” as is done with a skin after slaughtering in order to dry it. The word is also widely accepted in the churches (source: Gerrit van Steenbergen). Similarly, Balinese and Toraja-Sa’dan also translate as “stretch him” (Source: Reiling / Swellengrebel) and in Rendille as lakakaaha — “stretched and nailed down” (source: Holzhausen / Riderer 2010, p. 33).
In Ghari it becomes “hammer to the cross” (source: David Clark), in Loma “fasten him to a spread-back-stick” (source: Bratcher / Nida), in Sundanese “hang him on a crossbeam” (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel), in Aguaruna “fasten him to the tree,” in Navajo “nail him to the cross,” in Yatzachi Zapotec “fasten him to the cross” (source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.), in Nyongar “kill on a tree” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang), and in Apali the different aspects of the crucifixion have to be spelled out: “nail to a tree piece put cross-wise, lift up to stand upright (for the crucified person) to die (and in some contexts: to die and rise again)” (source: Martha Wade).
Click or tap here to see a short video clip showing how crucifixion was done in biblical times (source: Bible Lands 2012)
The following translations are illustrative of the contrastive expressions: “your hearts are ready but your bodies are weak” (Highland Puebla Nahuatl), “your heart is strong but you yourselves are not strong” (Central Tarahumara), “your heart has strength, but your body does not have strength” (Tzeltal), “your heart desires to do good, but your heart is weak,” in which “heart” must be used in both clauses since it not only stands for the center of the personality, but is also the symbol of typical human nature (Loma). (Source for this and all above Bratcher / Nida)
Other translations include “the mind is enthusiastic about doing what God wants it to but limited in the capacity of the body” (Ibaloi) or “Your body is tired but your inner man is not tired” (Lacandon). (Source: B. Moore / G. Turner in Notes on Translation 1967, p. 1ff.)
The Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek terms that are often translated as “worship” (also, “kneel down” or “bow down”) are likewise translated in other languages in certain categories, including those based on physical activity, those which incorporate some element of “speaking” or “declaring,” and those which specify some type of mental activity.
Following is a list of (back-) translations (click or tap for details):
Obolo: itọtọbọ ebum: “express reverence and devotion” (source: Enene Enene)
Ngäbere: “cut oneself down before” (“This figure of speech comes from the picture of towering mahoganies in the forest which, under the woodman’s ax, quiver, waver, and then in solemn, thunderous crashing bury their lofty heads in the upstretched arms of the surrounding forest. This is the experience of every true worshiper who sees ‘the Lord, high and lifted up.’ Our own unworthiness brings us low. As the Valientes say, ‘we cut ourselves down before’ His presence. Our heads, which have been carried high in self-confidence, sink lower and lower in worship.)
Tzeltal: “end oneself before God.” (“Only by coming to the end of oneself can one truly worship. The animist worships his deities in the hope of receiving corresponding benefits, and some pagans in Christendom think that church attendance is a guarantee of success in this life and good luck in the future. But God has never set a price on worship except the price that we must pay, namely, ‘coming to the end of ourselves.'”) (Source of this and the one above: Nida 1952, p. 163)
Folopa: “die under God” (“an idiom that roughly back-translates “dying under God” which means lifting up his name and praising him and to acknowledge by everything one does and thanks that God is superior.”) (Source: Anderson / Moore, p. 202)
Chokwe: kuivayila — “rub something on” (“When anyone goes into the presence of a king or other superior, according to native law and custom the inferior gets down on the ground, takes a little earth in the fingers of his right hand, rubs it on his own body, and then claps his hands in homage and the greeting of friendship. It is a token of veneration, of homage, of extreme gratitude for some favor received. It is also a recognition of kingship, lordship, and a prostrating of oneself in its presence. Yet it simply is the applicative form of ‘to rub something on oneself’, this form of the verb giving the value of ‘because of.’ Thus in God’s presence as king and Lord we metaphorically rub dirt on ourselves, thus acknowledging Him for what He really is and what He has done for us.”) (Source: D. B. Long in The Bible Translator 1952, p. 87ff. )
In Luang it is translated with different shades of meaning:
For Mark 15:19 and Matt. 2:8 and 2:11: “uh’idma-rrama llia’ara” — “to kiss the fingernail and lick the heel”
For Acts 16:14: ra’uli-rawedi — “to praise-talk about”
For Acts 14:15, 15:20, 17:16, 17:25: hoi-tani — “serve right hand – serve left”
For Acts 13:16 and 13:26: una-umta’ata — “respect-fear”
For 2 Thess. 2:4: kola tieru awur nehla — “hold waist – hug neck”
Source: Kathy Taber in Notes on Translation 1/1999, p. 9-16.
Lalana Chinantec: “one who is a teacher of the law which God gave to Moses back then”
Tepeuxila Cuicatec: “one who know well the law” (Source for this and four above: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August 1966, p. 86ff.)
Huixtán Tzotzil: “one who mistakenly thought he was teaching God’s commandments”(Huixtán Tzotzil frequently uses the verb -cuy to express “to mistakenly think something” from the point of view of the speaker; source: Marion M. Cowan in Notes on Translation 20/1966, pp. 6ff.)
In many English translations the Greek terms “hieron” (the whole “temple” in Jerusalem or specifically the outer courts open to worshippers) and “naos” (the inner “shrine” or “sanctuary”) are translated with only one word: “temple” (see also for instance “Tempel” in German and “tempel” in Dutch, Danish, or Afrikaans).
Other languages make a distinction: (Click or tap here to see more)
Navajo: “house in which worship is carried out” (for naos)
Balinese: “inner part of the Great Temple” (“the term ‘inner part’ denoting the hindmost and holiest of the two or three courts that temples on Bali usually possess”) vs. “Great Temple”
Telugu: “womb (i.e. interior)-of-the-abode” vs. “abode”
Thai: a term denoting the main audience hall of a Buddhist temple compound vs. “environs-of-the-main-audience-hall”
Kituba: “place of holiness of house-God Lord” vs. “house-God Lord”
Shipibo-Conibo: “deep in God’s house” vs. “God’s house” (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
Languages that, like English, German, Dutch, Danish, or Afrikaans don’t make that distinction include:
Toraja-Sa’dan: “house that is looked upon as holy, that is sacred, that is taboo and where one may not set foot” (lit. “house where-the-belly-gets-swollen” — because taboo is violated — using a term that is also applied to a Muslim mosque) (source for this and the three above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
Aguaruna: “the house for talking to God” (source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
Guhu-Samane: “festival longhouse of God” (“The biiri, ‘festival longhouse’, being the religious and social center of the community, is a possible term for ‘temple’. It is not the ‘poro house’ as such. That would be too closely identified with the cult of poro. The physical features of the building, huge and sub-divided, lend it further favor for this consideration. By qualifying it as ‘God’s biiri’ the term has become meaningful and appropriate in the context of the Scriptures.”) (Source: Ernest Richert in The Bible Translator, 1965, p. 81ff. )
Enga: “God’s restricted access house” (source: Adam Boyd on his blog)
Another distinction that tends to be overlooked in translations is that between hieron (“temple” in English) and sunagógé (“synagogue” in English). Euan Fry (in The Bible Translator 1987, p. 213ff. ) reports on this:
“Many older translations have simply used transliterations of ‘temple’ and ‘synagogue’ rather than trying to find equivalent terms or meaningful expressions in their own languages. This approach does keep the two terms separate; but it makes the readers depend on explanations given by pastors or teachers for their understanding of the text.
“Translators who have tried to find meaningful equivalents, for the two terms ‘temple’ and ‘synagogue’ have usually made a distinction between them in one of two ways (which focus on the contrasting components of meaning). One way takes the size and importance of the Temple to make a contrast, so that expressions such as ‘sacred meeting/ worship house of the Jews’ and ‘big sacred meeting/worship house of the Jews’ are used. The other way focuses on the different nature of the religious activity at each of the places, so that expressions such as ‘meeting/worship house of the Jews’ and ‘sacrifice/ceremony place of the Jews’ are used.
“It is not my purpose in this article to discuss how to arrive at the most precise equivalent to cover all the components of meaning of ‘temple’. That is something that each translator really has to work through for himself in the light of the present usage and possibilities in his own language. My chief concern here is that the basic term or terms chosen for ‘temple’ should give the reader of a translation a clear and correct picture of the location referred to in each passage. And I am afraid that in many cases where an equivalent like ‘house of God’ or ‘worship house’ has been chosen, the readers have quite the wrong picture of what going to the Temple or being in the Temple means. (This may be the case for the word ‘temple’ in English too, for many readers.)”
Here are some examples:
Bambara: “house of God” (or: “big house of worship”) vs. “worship house” (or: “small houses of worship”)
Toraja-Sa’dan: “house where-the-belly-gets-swollen” (see above) vs. “meeting house for discussing matters concerning religious customs” (and “church” is “house where one meets on Sunday”)
Navajo: “house in which worship is carried out” vs. “house of gathering” (source for all above: Bratcher / Nida)
Click or tap here to see a short video clip about Herod’s temple (source: Bible Lands 2012)Click or tap here to see a short video clip showing synagogues in New Testament times (source: Bible Lands 2012)
Tagbanwa: “initiated-agreement” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
Guhu-Samane: “The concept [in Mark 14:24 and Matthew 16:28] is not easy, but the ritual freeing of a fruit and nut preserve does afford some reference. Thus, ‘As they were drinking he said to them, ‘On behalf of many this poro provision [poro is the traditional religion] of my blood is released.’ (…) God is here seen as the great benefactor and man the grateful recipient.” (Source: Ernest Richert in The Bible Translator, 1965, p. 81ff. )
Law (2013, p. 95) writes about how the Ancient GreekSeptuagint‘s translation of the Hebrew berith was used by the New Testament writers as a bridge between the Old and New Testaments (click or tap here to read more):
“Right from the start we witness the influence of the Septuagint on the earliest expressions of the Christian faith. In the New Testament, Jesus speaks of his blood being a kaine diatheke, a ‘new covenant.’ The covenant is elucidated in Hebrews 8:8-12 and other texts, but it was preserved in the words of Jesus with this language in Luke 22:20 when at the Last Supper Jesus said, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. Jesus’s blood was to provide the grounds for the ‘new covenant,’ in contrast to the old one his disciples knew from the Jewish scriptures (e.g., Jeremiah 31:31-34). Thus, the earliest Christians accepted the Jewish Scriptures as prophecies about Jesus and in time began to call the collection the ‘Old Testament’ and the writings about Jesus and early Christianity the ‘New Testament,’ since ‘testament’ was another word for ‘covenant.’ The covenant promises of God (berith in Hebrew) were translated in the Septuagint with the word diatheke. In classical Greek diatheke had meant ‘last will, testament,’ but in the Septuagint it is the chosen equivalent for God’s covenant with his people. The author of Hebrews plays on the double meaning, and when Luke records Jesus’ announcement at the Last Supper that his blood was instituting a ‘new covenant,’ or a ‘new testament,’ he is using the language in an explicit contrast with the old covenant, found in the Jewish scriptures. Soon, the writings that would eventually be chosen to make up the texts about the life and teachings of Jesus and the earliest expression of the Christian faith would be called the New Testament. This very distinction between the Old and New Testaments is based on the Septuagint’s language.”
The Hebrew and Greek that is typically translated as “sin” in English has a wide variety of translations.
The Greek ἁμαρτάνω (hamartanō) carries the original verbatim meaning of “miss the mark.” Likewise, many translations contain the “connotation of moral responsibility.” Loma has (for certain types of sin) “leaving the road” (which “implies a definite standard, the transgression of which is sin”) or Navajo uses “that which is off to the side.” (Source: Bratcher / Nida). In Toraja-Sa’dan the translation is kasalan, which originally meant “transgression of a religious or moral rule” and has shifted its meaning in the context of the Bible to “transgression of God’s commandments.” (Source: H. van der Veen in The Bible Translator 1950, p. 21ff. ).
In Shipibo-Conibo the term is hocha. Nida (1952, p. 149) tells the story of its choosing:
“In some instances a native expression for sin includes many connotations, and its full meaning must be completely understood before one ever attempts to use it. This was true, for example, of the term hocha first proposed by Shipibo-Conibo natives as an equivalent for ‘sin.’ The term seemed quite all right until one day the translator heard a girl say after having broken a little pottery jar that she was guilty of ‘hocha.’ Breaking such a little jar scarcely seemed to be sin. However, the Shipibos insisted that hocha was really sin, and they explained more fully the meaning of the word. It could be used of breaking a jar, but only if the jar belonged to someone else. Hocha was nothing more nor less than destroying the possessions of another, but the meaning did not stop with purely material possessions. In their belief God owns the world and all that is in it. Anyone who destroys the work and plan of God is guilty of hocha. Hence the murderer is of all men most guilty of hocha, for he has destroyed God’s most important possession in the world, namely, man. Any destructive and malevolent spirit is hocha, for it is antagonistic and harmful to God’s creation. Rather than being a feeble word for some accidental event, this word for sin turned out to be exceedingly rich in meaning and laid a foundation for the full presentation of the redemptive act of God.”
In Kaingang, the translation is “break God’s word” and in Sandawe the original meaning of the Greek term (see above) is perfectly reflected with “miss the mark.” (Source: Ursula Wiesemann in Holzhausen / Riderer 2010, p. 36ff., 43)