snow (color)

The Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic that is translated in English as “(as white as) snow” is translated in San Miguel El Grande Mixtec as “(as white as) volcano frost,” the only white kind of frost that is known in that language. (Source: Nida 1947, p. 160.)

In Obolo it is translated as abalara: “white cloth” (source: Enene Enene), in Bambam as “like the white of cotton” (source: Phil Campbell in Kroneman 2004, p. 500), in Muna as “white like cotton flowers” (source: René van den Berg), in Sharanahua as “like fresh Yuca root” (source: Holzhauen / Riderer 2010, p. 72), and in Cerma “white like the full moon,” except in Psalm 51:7 where the Cerma translators chose “wash me with water until I shine” (source: Andrea Suter in Holzhauen / Riderer 2010, p. 36).

In Gbaya, in most cases an ideophone (term that expresses what is perceived by the five senses) is employed to depict strong intense whiteness (either ndáká-ndáká or kpúŋ-kpúŋ are used for the ideophones), sometimes in combination with “cotton”. Interestingly, for Rev. 1:14 where the color of the hair of the “Son of Man” is described, the use of cotton was questioned since it “would create the unpleasant image of an untidy person with disheveled hair or of a mourner with unkempt appearance.” It was eventually used, but only with a footnote that gives additional information by mentioning the French loan word neige for “snow.” In the two cases where the color white refers to the color of the skin of leprosy (Num. 12:10 and 2 Kings 5:27), the image of hail is used in the first to describe the pale white of leprous skin, while the ideophone ndáká-ndáká is used for dramatic effect in the second. (Source: Philip Noss)

See also frost.

altar

The Greek and Hebrew that is translated as “altar” in English is translated in Obolo as ntook or “raised structure for keeping utensils (esp. sacrifice),” in Muna as medha kaefoampe’a or “offering table,” in Luchazi as muytula or “the place where one sets the burden down”/”the place where the life is laid down,” in Tzotzil as “where they place God’s gifts,” in Colorado as “table for giving to God,” and in Nyongar as karla-kooranyi or “sacred fire.” (Sources: Obolo: Enene Enene; Muna: René van den Berg; Tzotzil: John Beekman in Notes on Translation, March 1965, p. 2ff.; Luchzi: E. Pearson in The Bible Translator 1954, p. 160ff.; Bruce Moore in Notes on Translation 1/1992, p. 1ff.; Nyongar: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang).

The Ignaciano translators decided to translate the difficult term in that language according to the focus of each New Testament passage in which the word appears (click or tap here to see the rest of this insight

Willis Ott (in Notes on Translation 88/1982, p. 18ff.) explains:

  • Matt. 5:23,24: “When you take your offering to God, and arriving, you remember…, do not offer your gift yet. First go to your brother…Then it is fitting to return and offer your offering to God.” (The focus is on improving relationships with people before attempting to improve a relationship with God, so the means of offering, the altar, is not focal.)
  • Matt. 23:18 (19,20): “You also teach erroneously: ‘If someone makes a promise, swearing by the offering-place/table, he is not guilty if he should break the promise. But if he swears by the gift that he put on the offering-place/table, he will be guilty if he breaks the promise.'”
  • Luke 1:11: “…to the right side of the table where they burn incense.”
  • Luke 11.51. “…the one they killed in front of the temple (or the temple enclosure).” (The focus is on location, with overtones on: “their crime was all the more heinous for killing him there”.)
  • Rom. 11:3: “Lord, they have killed all my fellow prophets that spoke for you. They do not want anyone to give offerings to you in worship.” (The focus is on the people’s rejection of religion, with God as the object of worship.)
  • 1Cor. 9:13 (10:18): “Remember that those that attend the temple have rights to eat the foods that people bring as offerings to God. They have rights to the meat that the people offer.” (The focus is on the right of priests to the offered food.)
  • Heb. 7:13: “This one of whom we are talking is from another clan. No one from that clan was ever a priest.” (The focus in on the legitimacy of this priest’s vocation.)
  • Jas. 2:21: “Remember our ancestor Abraham, when God tested him by asking him to give him his son by death. Abraham was to the point of stabbing/killing his son, thus proving his obedience.” (The focus is on the sacrifice as a demonstration of faith/obedience.)
  • Rev. 6:9 (8:3,5; 9:13; 14:18; 16:7): “I saw the souls of them that…They were under the table that holds God’s fire/coals.” (This keeps the concepts of: furniture, receptacle for keeping fire, and location near God.)
  • Rev. 11:1: “Go to the temple, Measure the building and the inside enclosure (the outside is contrasted in v. 2). Measure the burning place for offered animals. Then count the people who are worshiping there.” (This altar is probably the brazen altar in a temple on earth, since people are worshiping there and since outside this area conquerors are allowed to subjugate for a certain time.)

See also altar (Acts 17:23).


In the Hebraic English translation of Everett Fox it is translated as slaughter-site and likewise in the German translation by Buber / Rosenzweig as Schlachtstatt.

cast a net

The Greek that is translated as “casting a net” in English has an immediate equivalent in Muna with buani: “to cast a (circular) net.” René van den Berg: “In this instance the Muna translation is possibly more graphic than the English, which leaves the nature of the net rather vague.”

See also fishing.

desert, wilderness

The Greek that is translated as “desert” or “wilderness” in English is translated as “a place where noisiness is cut off (or: stops)” in Mairasi, “big barren-field” (pandaso bhalano) in Muna, “uninhabited place” in Wantoat, “where no people dwell” in Umiray Dumaget Agta, “where no house is” (Shipibo-Conibo), “barren field” (Balinese), “large empty place” (Ocotlán Zapotec)´, and in Pa’o Karen as “jungle” (denoting a placer without any towns, villages and tilled fields).

Sources: Mairasi: Enggavoter 2004; Muna: René van den Berg; Wantoat: Holzhausen 1991, p. 38; Umiray Dumaget Agta: Larson 1998, p. 98; Shipibo-Conibo: James Lauriault in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 32ff.; Balinese: J.L. Swellengrebel in The Bible Translator 1950 p. 75ff.; Ocotlán Zapotec: (B. Moore / G. Turner in Notes on Translation 1967, p. 1ff.; Pa’o Karen: Gordon Luce in The Bible Translator 1950, p. 153f.

See also wilderness and desolate wilderness.

eye of a needle

The Greek that is translated as “eye of a needle” in English (and in many Romance and Germanic languages) is rendered variously in different languages:

In Warlpiri, needles were not traditionally used, so after much discussion the translation there is “(Does a camel go into) the hole of an ant’s nest?” which uses a more traditional metaphor. (Source: Sam Freney in this article.)

See also It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.

for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks

The Greek that is translated as “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” or similar in English is translated in Muna as “what comes-out at the lips, it comes from the fullness/overflowing of the heart.”

René van den Berg explains: “It is very impolite in Muna to mention someone’s mouth (wobha) or tongue (lela). The words themselves are not taboo or obscene, but in combination with a possessor they are frowned upon and should be avoided. In fact, if you want to abuse someone, you should refer to his or her mouth or tongue. The implications for translation are obvious (…). [Sometimes] ‘mouth’ was replaced by ‘lips’ (wiwi), a perfectly acceptable term, even when possessed.”

In the German Luther Bible it says: Denn wes das Herz voll ist, des geht der Mund über or “what the heart is full of, with that the mouth flows over,” in Uab Meto it says “his mouth says only what the heart is more than full of,” and in Tzeltal it is “in our hearts arise all those things which come out of our mouths.” (Source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)

miracle, miraculous power

The Greek and Hebrew that are often translated as “miracles” or “miraculous powers” into English are translated as “things which no one has ever seen before” (San Blas Kuna), “thing marveled at” (Tepeuxila Cuicatec), “breathtaking thing” (Ngäbere), “long-necked thing” (referring to the onlookers who stretch their necks to see) (Huautla Mazatec), “sign done by God’s power” (Mossi), “supernatural power” (Javanese), “things that have heaven-strength” (Highland Totonac) (source for all above: Bratcher / Nida), “amazing thing” (Muna) (source: René van den Berg), or “impossible things” (Mairasi) (source: Enggavoter 2004).

See also wonder.

let no evil talk come out of your mouths

The Greek that is translated as “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths” or similar in English is translated in Muna as “In your speech, do not use rude/foul words.”

René van den Berg explains: “It is very impolite in Muna to mention someone’s mouth (wobha) or tongue (lela). The words themselves are not taboo or obscene, but in combination with a possessor they are frowned upon and should be avoided. In fact, if you want to abuse someone, you should refer to his or her mouth or tongue. The implications for translation are obvious (…). [Sometimes] ‘mouth’ was replaced by ‘lips’ (wiwi), a perfectly acceptable term, even when possessed.”

flute players

The Greek that is translated in English as “flute players” (who were hired to express grief) is translated in Muna as “flute players” as well but has an explanatory note in brackets following the translation “[as-a-sign of grief].”

René van den Berg explains: “Music on Muna is always associated with joyous occasions, and to indicate that the presence of the flute players was perfectly normal then (such people were often hired musicians) the explanatory note in brackets was added.”

See also flute.

devil

The Greek that is translated in English as “devil” is sometimes translated with indigenous specific names, such as “the avaricious one” in Tetelcingo Nahuatl or “the malicious deity” in Toraja-Sa’dan. (Source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)

In Yoruba it is translated as èṣù. “Èṣù is thought of as bringing evil, but also as giving protection. The birth of a child may be attributed to him, as the names given to some babies show, Èṣùbiyi (Èṣù brought this forth), and Èṣùtoyin (Èṣù is worthy of praise).” (Source: John Hargreaves in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 39ff.)

In Muna, it is translated as Kafeompu’ando seetani: “Master of the evil-spirits” (source: René van den Berg) and in Mairasi as owe er epar nan: “headman of malevolent spirits” (source: Enggavoter 2004), in Huehuetla Tepehua as “chief of demons,” and in Ojitlán Chinantec as “head of the worldlings” (source for the last two: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125).

In Lak and Shughni it is translated with terms of feminine gender. Vitaly Voinov tells this story (click or tap here to see the rest of this insight):

“In the Lak language of Dagestan, the names ‘Iblis’ and ‘sheytan’ (referring to Satan and his minions, respectively) in this language were borrowed from the Arabic Islamic tradition, but they entered Lak as feminine nouns, not masculine nouns. This means that they grammatically function like nouns referring to females in Lak; in other words, Laks are likely to think of Iblis as a woman, not a man, because of the obligatory grammatical patterning of Lak noun classes. Thus, when the team explained (in Russian) what the Lak translation of Jesus’ wilderness temptation narrative at the beginning of Matthew 4 said, it sounded something like the following: ‘After this, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Iblis… .The temptress came to Jesus, and she said to Him…’

“Since this information (that the devil is a female spirit) is part of the very name used for Satan in Lak, nothing can really be done about this in the translation. The Lak translator did not think that the feminine gender of Iblis should cause any serious misunderstandings among readers, so we agreed to leave it in the translation. Prior to this, I had never heard about languages in which the devil is pictured as a woman, but recently I was told by a speaker of the Shughni language that in their language Sheytan is also feminine. This puts an interesting spin on things. The devil is of course a spirit, neither male nor female in a biologically-meaningful sense. But Bible translators are by nature very risk-aversive and, where possible, want to avoid any translation that might feed misleading information to readers. So what can a translator do about this? In many cases, such as the present one, one has to just accept the existing language structure and go on.”

mustard seed

The Greek that is translated in English as “mustard seed” is translated in Muna as “wonolita seed.” René van den Berg explains: “The mustard plant rarely exceeds 50 cm in height. A wonolita is a big forest tree growing from a tiny seed.”

In the Bislama and Uripiv translations it is translated as “banyan.” “The banyan tree is one of the biggest in the islands, and it grows from a tiny seed. We (Uripiv) added a footnote to explain to more advanced readers what we had done: ‘Here Matthew compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed, but since mustard doesn’t grow here, we put banyan, so that Matthew’s meaning will be clear.’” (source: Ross McKerras)

In Gbaya is is translated with the ideophone (a word that expresses what is perceived by the five senses) kɛ̧́ɛ̧́ which “denotes a very tiny and barely visible object. (…) The Gbaya team applied it to faith instead of referring to a mustard seed which is unknown to Gbaya readers.” (Source: Philip Noss in The Bible Translator 1985, p. 423ff.)

reconcile, reconciliation

The Greek terms that are translated as “reconcile” and “reconciliation” in English are translated in various ways. Nida (1952, pp. 140) says this:

“The North Alaskan Inupiatun describe reconciliation in the simple terms of ‘making friends again.’ That is to say, ‘God was in Christ making friends again with the world.’ The Uduk in the Sudan express this same truth, but in the rather interesting phrase ‘meet, snapping fingers together again.’ This expression is derived from the Uduk’s practice of snapping fingers together when they meet each other. Instead of shaking hands, they extend their thumbs and middle fingers and snap fingers together, but only friends will do this. Men who have something against each other refuse to acknowledge each other in this way. And so it is that the natural man is an enemy of God; he refuses to snap fingers with God, but God has come to reconcile man to Himself and through Jesus Christ has brought man into fellowship with Himself. Man and God may now meet ‘to snap fingers together again.’

“The Tai Dam of Indo-China employ quite a different figure of speech. They say that reconciliation consists in ‘rubbing off the corners.’ This does not refer to social acceptability, but to rubbing off the corners so that two objects, meant for each other, will fit together. Man is regarded as being incapable of fitting into the plan and fellowship of God because of the sin which has deformed him and which stands out as an ugly growth on his personality. The corners of iniquity must be rubbed off so that man may be reconciled to God and made to fit into God’s eternal plan for the world.”

In Muna, the phrase manusia suli dopometaa bhe Lahata’ala: “man has-a-good-relationship/is-in-harmony-again with God” is used for “reconciled.” (Source: René van den Berg)

“Reconcile to God” is translated as “our hearts become good toward him” in Tzeltal, as “he makes us his friends again” in Huehuetla Tepehua, as “we are brought close to him” in Highland Totonac, as “he is no longer angry with us” in Sayula Popoluca, as “(Christ) put us in a state of well-being with God” in Yatzachi Zapotec, and as “opposition to God was healed” in Chol. (Source: Waterhouse / Parrott in Notes on Translation October 1967, p. 1ff.)