complete verse (John 3:16)

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.)

Learn more on Bible Odyssey: God So Loved the World (John 3:16) .

complete verse (John 1:14)

Following are a number of back-translations of John 1:14:

  • Aguaruna: “That word, when he arrived here, was born a human being, and in this way he lived with us. That completely good person was a speaker of the truth. And also we came to know his greatness because his Father, God, had said to his only Son, ‘You are great.'”
  • Yatzachi Zapotec: “The Person who is the Word was born human and he was with us. He loved mankind very much and he taught mankind all the true words of God. We saw him and we realized that he is the Person of greatest worth because he is the only Son of our Father God.”
  • Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac: “And the One who is called Word, he became a Person, and he lived in our midst. And we saw how he had power. That power is that of the only Son of Father God. He is very kind and merciful and all which he says it is true.” (Source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
  • Uma: “That Word, he became man[kind], and he lived among us (incl.). We (excl.) saw his power. That power of his he received from his Father, for He is the Only Child. [It is] from him that we know God and his grace [lit., white insides] to us.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “So-then, the Word appeared/was-born here in the world having a human body and living among mankind. All love and truth was there with him. We (excl.) were-able to see his power and his brightness, and this his power and brightness were fitting for him for he is the only Son of God.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And the one called the Word of God became human and joined himself to us. He is very gracious and his words are very true. We saw his great high rank which is the high rank of the only child of God. And as for that high rank of his, it was given to him by his Father God.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “The Word, he became a person and stayed-with us (excl.). He was consistently-compassionate and what he said was all true. We (excl.) saw his godhood which was the godhood of the only Child of God who came-from his Father.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “This Jesus who is called Word, he became a human and then lived here in the world together-with us. His praiseworthiness/glory was experienced by our (excl.) eyes, this glory of his being the glory of the one-and-only Son/child of God the Father. We (excl.) also comprehended the big-size of his grace/mercy and that everything which he revealed/came-out-with is indeed truth.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “He who makes known how God is became a person. He lived here where we live. We saw that he is the greatest. He is the greatest because he is God’s only son. He spoke only what is true and he loves the people without limit.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
  • Anindilyakwa: “And that same one who revealed God who was hidden from us, he became a human being like us. He was born, he had flesh and bones and then he lived here and went around with us people. He is rich in love, he was very kind and he kept on and on speaking the truth. We saw that he was the leading powerful and beautiful one, the one who was his Father’s one and only Son, the one who came from his Father to here.” (Source: Julie Waddy in The Bible Translator 2004, p. 452ff.)

complete verse (Ephesians 5:18)

Following are a number of back-translations of Ephesians 5:18:

  • Uma: “Don’t be drunk, for that causes evil desires to appear. We must be controlled by the Holy Spirit. From that power of the Holy Spirit,” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “You should not be/get drunk because it destroys you. Instead that’s what you should do, you should allow/let God’s Spirit rule over you.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Dont’t you get drunk on wine because this can destroy you; but rather, it’s necessary that you are thoroughly inspired by the Holy Spirit.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Don’t be getting drunk, because that of course is destructive, but rather be full of the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Be disgusted now with the habit of getting drunk, for that is what takes you to a messed up life (lit: life which has no fixing-up). It’s necessary that it’s not alcoholic-drink which is controlling and guiding-you-from-within, but rather the Espiritu Santo now.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “In order to live happily, do not give your heart to getting drunk. Because the drunkard is hurting himself. Rather give your hearts up to the Holy Spirit who will teach you what you must do.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
  • Rotuman: “And you (3 or more) to not (get) drunk [lit.: poisoned] with wine, (a) thing that causes violent character; be full (filled) instead with (the) Holy Spirit.” (Ma ’au la se ’oan ’e uaini, tēet ne ho’ ag rạhrạhi; ’an la hoi ke ‘e ’At Ha’a) (for an analysis of this translation, click or tap here)

    “This text has been widely used as a proof text for the ‘Spirit-filled life’ by the so-called Holy Spirit movement. It has therefore been the focus of much interest and controversy among Rotuman readers as to its true meaning.

    “As with all translation, it is important to understand not just the meaning intended by the translator, but also what the readers and hearers take the words to mean. We will try to illustrate this in the comments that follow.

    Ma … la se. Beginning a sentence with ma gives this conjunction a much stronger force that usual, like saying, ‘But . . . must . . .’ Likewise the use of la with the negative se is also a strong expression, ‘Beware to not …’

    ’an. This plural, referring to three or more people is well understood in Rotuman: ‘you and you and you and . . .’ Any address, or warning, or instruction to the community is always to ’au. This includes all listeners, men, women, young, and old.

    “’oan, ‘drunk’, literally means to be poisoned. The same word is used of fish poisoning, or any other food poisoning or overdose. With wine, the kind it obviously seems to refer to is the new wine which is still bubbling. Fruit wine at this early stage of fermentation is bubbling and foamy, and very poisonous.

    “Community drinking is always by a group (of men). If one person is drinking alone, he is selfish; if only two are drinking together, they arc secretive. Some of the purposes of such community drinking are:

    • relaxation after a hard day’s work
    • sharing, reflecting, evaluating the day’s work
    • leaving lime for the womenfolk to cook dinner
    • guarding against individuals getting drunk

    “‘To not get drunk (poisoned) with wine’ implies certain things. It can mean that moderate drinking is all right; it can mean that drinking is all right unless it causes a person to stagger or vomit. It can also mean that wine is prohibited, but other intoxicating drinks such as kava are allowed.

    Uaini is a transliteration of the English word ‘wine’. So does this verse speak only of Eastern wine or Western wine, wine made from grapes? The island brew is made from fruit such as oranges, pineapples, bananas, mangoes. The best is reckoned to be what is made from the juice of a green coconut, and this is always white, not red.

    “In fact tēet means ‘a thing’, and it never refers to a liquid like wine. And it is really the excessive drinking rather than the nature of the drink that leads to violence. But in normal community drinking no one drinks to get drunk—it is only an after-work pre-dinner fellowship.

    Ho’ means to ‘pile up’. The picture is of a person gradually getting more and more drunk, which eventually leads to violent behaviour.

    ag rahrahi. This expression is made up of two terms, aga or ‘character’, and rạhrạhi (from the root rạhi. ‘fire’), ‘rekindled fire’. It is thus intended to mean fiery or violent character. But it can also be understood in a number of other ways:

    • ‘recklessness’ — and this does not mean the unlawful use of force
    • ‘bravery’ or acting the daredevil
    • ‘prodigality’ or a life of gaiety
    • masculine, ‘macho’ behaviour, without any suggestion of immodesty. (Parents enjoy watching their sons grow up with some wildness in their behaviour.)
    • ‘reconciling’, as the rekindled fire cleans up all inflammable rubbish
    • ‘consistent’ or ‘enduring’

    “This indicates that ag rạhrạhi is really an expected and accepted pattern of behaviour; and in its Rotuman setting a person doesn’t get drunk to be ag rạhrạhi. In community life, (he worst form of behaviour to display or possess is ‘being inconsiderate’.

    hoi ke. The adverb ke, ‘instead’, again presents the idea of a strong contrast: ‘Never, never get drunk with wine, but always . . .’ Hoi means to be filled with, or to be full of. It is used mainly for filling something with liquid, although it can also mean to be ‘satisfied’ with solid food.

    “From the contrast between the two parts of the verse, it is understood that the person who is filled with the Holy Spirit will not possess or manifest violent character. Therefore the argument and controversy, and sometimes violent action, that have appeared with some people who claim to be ‘filled with the Spirit’, are seen to be a denial of that experience.

    ‘At Ha’a is quite clear in its meaning, ‘the Holy Spirit’. Unlike wine, the Holy Spirit cannot be seen; but still the idea of being filled with the Holy Spirit is clear. In Rotuman ancestral worship a person talked about being ‘possessed’ by the spirit of, say, his father. This was a totally ‘outside of me’ power or infilling.”

    Source: Jotama Vamarasi in The Bible Translator 1989, p. 241ff. )

centurion

The Greek that is translated as “centurion” in English is translated in Noongar as “boss of the Roman soldiers (lit.: ‘men of fighting’)” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang), in Uma as “Roman army warchief” (source: Uma Back Translation), in Western Bukidnon Manobo as “a person who was not a Jew, the captain of a hundred soldiers” (source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation), and in Mairasi “leader of Roman warriors” (source: Enggavoter 2004).

Learn more on Bible Odyssey: Roman Centurion .

catch, fish for

The Greek that means “catch (or: capture) alive” is usually translated as “catch (people)” of “fish (for people)” in English which implies the fact that the captured or caught are still alive.

The Syriac Aramaic (Classical Syriac) Peshitta translation, however, makes the meaning of “catch alive” more explicit by translating ṣāeḏ ləẖayye (ܨܳܐܶܕ݂ ܠܚܰܝܶܐ) or “catch alive.” Following that translation, other translations that are based on the Peshitta, including the Classical Armenian Bible (vorsayts’es i keans [որսայցես ի կեանս] or “catch for life”), the Afrikaans PWL translation (publ. 2016) (mense vang tot verlossing or ” catch [people] to salvation”), the Dutch translation by Egbert Nierop (publ. 2020) (vangen tot redding or “catch to save”) or various English translations (see here ) explicitly highlight the “alive” as well. (Source: Ivan Borshchevsky)

Some languages have to find strategies on how to deal with the metaphor of “catching.” “In some cases the metaphor can be rendered rather literally, cp. ‘seeking for men’ (Kekchí, where ‘to seek fish’ is the idiomatic rendering of ‘to catch fish’). In several other languages, however, more radical adjustments are necessary, such as making explicit the underlying simile, ‘you will catch men as if you were catching fish’ (Inupiaq); or a shift to a non-metaphorical rendering, sacrificing the play-on-words, e.g. ‘you will be a bringer of men’ (Northern Grebo). In some cases the durative aspect of the construction is best expressed by n occupational term, e.g. ‘youwill be one-whose-trade-is catching men’ (Tae’ and Toraja-Sa’dan).” (Source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)

Other translations include:

  • Uma: “teach people to become my followers” (source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “fetch people to follow me” (source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “look for people so that they might be my disciples” (source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “persuade people” (source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “as-it-were catch/hunt/fish-for” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)

living oracles, living words

The Greek that is translated as “living oracles” or “living words” or similar in English is translated in the following ways:

we played the flute for you

The Greek that is translated in English as “we played the flute for you” is translated in Chichewa (interconfessional translation, 1999) as tidaakuimbirani ng’oma yaukwati or “we played the wedding drum for you” to match the culturally relevant meaning. (Source: Wendland 1987, p. 74)

For the same reason, in Yakan and Kankanaey the musical instrument is translated as “gongs” (source: Yakan and Kankanaey Back Translations), in Western Bukidnon Manobo as “drumming” (source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation), and in Tagbanwa as “stringed-instruments” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation).

See also flute and flute players.

whole land

The Greek that is usually translated as “the whole land” in English is translated in Uma as “all over the village” (source: Uma Back Translation), in Yakan as “that whole place/country” (source: Yakan Back Translation), in Western Bukidnon Manobo as “the whole world” (source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation), and in Tenango Otomi as “all the earth” (source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation).

Catholic translations that rely on the Latin Vulgate‘s ambiguous totam terram (which, just as the Greek, could refer to the terrestrial globe or a particular place of land) tend to also stay ambiguous. The Spanish Reina Valera has toda la tierra and the English Douay Rheims likewise reads the whole earth. (Source: Knox 1949, p. 20)