The Greek that is translated in English as “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” is translated into Tezoatlán Mixtec as “What can cause Christ to stop loving us?” (¿Ndí ki̱án kandeé ña̱ dánkoo Cristo ña̱ kúꞌu̱ ini na̱ saꞌa̱ yo̱?) (source: John Williams in the Seeing Scripture Anew blog.)
The Greek that is translated in English as “nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” or similar is translated into Tezoatlán Mixtec as “And nothing that God has made is able to cause that God stops loving us, for He shows His great love for us through what Jesus Christ, our Lord, did for us” (ta ni iin tóꞌón ka̱ ña̱ꞌa ni̱ ka̱va̱ꞌa Ndios o̱ kándeé ña̱ dánkoo na ña̱ kúꞌu̱ ini na̱ saꞌa̱ yo̱, chi̱ náꞌa̱ na̱ ña̱ kúꞌu̱ ini na̱ saꞌa̱ yo̱ sa̱ꞌá ña̱ ni̱ kee Cristo Jesús, na̱ kúú satoꞌo yo̱). (Source: John Williams in the Seeing Scripture Anew blog.)
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.” (’Chi̱ sa̱ꞌá ña̱ kúꞌu̱ nda̱ꞌo ini Ndios sa̱ꞌá ña̱yuu ndéi iin níí kúú ñayuú, sa̱ꞌá ño̱ó ni̱ xi̱ꞌo na iin tóꞌón dini̱ de̱ꞌe na ni̱ ka̱sáa̱ na̱ ñayuú yóꞌo, dá kía̱n ndi ndáa mií vá ña̱yuu ná kandeé ini ñaá, ni iin kuu̱ ta̱ꞌón o̱ ku̱ú na̱. Diꞌa koni na̱ kataki chíchí ná.)
- 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.” (’Kua̱chi̱ ndii kundani̱ yaꞌa̱ Ndiosí ne̱ yivi̱ꞌ i̱i̱n yivi̱ꞌ, sa̱kanꞌ na ni̱ ti̱ꞌviꞌ a̱ yuꞌu̱, ña̱ nduuꞌ siꞌe̱ a̱ ña̱ i̱i̱n nda̱a̱ꞌ tilu̱ꞌ, i̱i̱n yivi̱ꞌ yoꞌoꞌ. Te̱ yo̱o̱ ka̱ i̱ni̱ xini yuꞌu̱ ndii, kö̱o̱ꞌ kivi̱ꞌ ku̱vi̱ ni̱a̱ nuu̱ꞌ Ndiosí, süu̱ꞌ ja̱a̱nꞌ ndii na̱ti̱i̱n ni̱a̱ kivi̱ꞌ ñu̱u̱ ña̱ kö̱o̱ꞌ kivi̱ꞌ ndiꞌiꞌ.)
- 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.” (Hewa toi-mi Alata’ala mpoka’ahi’ hawe’ea tauna hi dunia’, alaa-na napewai’ Ana’-na to Hadudua, bona hema–hema to mepangala’ hi Ana’-na toe, uma-ra mporata huku’, tapi’ mporata-ra katuwua’ to lompe’ duu’ kahae–hae-na.)
- 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.” (Gapo ta peteg di layad Diyos sin ipogaw isnan lobong, inbaa na din bogbogtong ay Anak na ta say mo sino di mamati en sisya, adi kaisian en Diyos ta madosa, mo adi et wada en sisya di biyag ay iwed patingga na.)
- 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.” (Nguetho ɛ̨mmɛ di huɛ̨gahʉ Oją gue dí ‘bʉhmbʉ ua ja ra ximhäi. Janangue’a bi ‘dajʉ rá ‘dats’ʉnt’ʉ ngue ma yąntehʉ, n’damhma hin da nu ran ʉnbi maząi to’o gätho di däp rá mbʉi a, pɛgue din t’un ra ‘da’yote maząi.)
- 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.” (Ka talagang pagrarasan nga banar it Ampuꞌang Diyus i muꞌsang taw situt sinirungat langit. Aypaꞌ ibinggay yay Anak ya nga paeꞌesa-esa, isaꞌun in siyuy mamayaꞌ baw sumarig it kanya, ega kaꞌaduꞌun it kakuriꞌan, in daꞌga mabgayan kanyat kaꞌgenan nga egay kaskedan.)
- 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.” (Utew mahal ziyà te g̵ehinawa te Megbevayà is tivuuk he menusiyà, ne tenged kayi minsan sikan is budtung he Anak din wazè din menug̵uni, kekenà, impehendini zin su wey is langun he edtuu kandin, kenà mesiluti is gimukud dan, kekenà, meveg̵ayi sikandan te untung he wazà pidtemanan.)
- 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.” (Tac Diox axta arid nazin’ mèn no nque’ lezo’ Diox ñèe Diox mèn loo izlyo’. Por cona, mtel’ Diox angoluxte xgan’ Diox loo izlyo’ par gàca le’ ryete mèn co’ yila’s loo xgan’ Diox, ne’quexù’de Diox mèna par co’ xà’ Diox mèna loo Diox yiloa. Ndxe’leque’, yòo ban no mèna Diox thidtene yiloa.) (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.” (Kinalasahan teꞌed weꞌ Tuhanin manusiyaꞌin, hangkan sinōngan weꞌ ne Anakne dambuwaꞌ-buwaꞌin pinapatey, supaya kēmon masandel si Anaknen gaꞌi pasapeꞌ amban Tuhan saguwaꞌ ellum siye salama-lama laꞌi si panaꞌanan Tuhanin.) (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
Daniel Shaw reflects on the complex translation of this verse into Samo. Click 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.)
In Tezoatlán Mixtec the passage in 1 Cor. 13:4-6 which lists what love is not, reads with a different emphasis because “love” cannot be translated as an abstract noun (see also love (abstract noun) (Lamogai)).
John Williams explains: “[Tezoatlán Mixtec] is like many languages of the world in that it does not have abstract nouns, and so the language requires a translation of love in its verb form. The verb ‘love’ requires a subject, as well as a direct object. Mixtec must state who is loving whom. The translation team at first thought it could be God loving us, but we saw that after saying love is patient, love is kind, the next eight statements say what love is not. So we determined the focus is more on how Christians should love other Christians. Looking at the immediate context of chapter 12 and 14, as well as the context of the rest of the book led us to conclude that 1 Corinthians 13 is not a love poem, but more of a rebuke to the Corinthians, showing how they were not loving one another. This fresh understanding, to me at least, came as a result of Mixtec requiring us to look al the passage through new eyes. If this chapter is read as a rebuke, and since so many verses in the previous chapters have ‘rebuke’ as the focus, when read in Mixtec, the entire book of 1 Corinthians sounds very much like a ‘severe’ letter (see 2 Cor. 2:4).”
This is how the Tezoatlán Mixtec translation reads back-translated into English:
“4 Us loving others is that we inwardly endure what they do, and that we live at peace/kindly with them. Our loving others is not that we envy them, and loving them is not that we boast in front of them, and it is not that we are proud before them, 5 and it is not that we treat them badly, and it is not that we are selfish with them, and it is not that we get angry with them, and it is not that we feel bitterness toward them, 6 and it is not that we are happy when they do wrong, for it is that we instead are happy when they do right.”
The text in Tezoatlán Mixtec:
“4 Ña̱ kúꞌu̱ ini yo̱ sa̱ꞌá ña̱yuu xi̱ꞌín yó kíán ña̱ ki̱ꞌo ndeé ini yo̱ saꞌa̱ ná, ta va̱ꞌa koo ini yo̱ xíꞌín ná. Ta ña̱ kúꞌu̱ ini yo̱ sa̱ꞌá ña̱yuu xi̱ꞌín yó ko̱ kúú taꞌan vaan ña̱ koo uꞌu̱ ini yo̱ koni yo̱ ná, ta ña̱ kúꞌu̱ ini yo̱ saꞌa̱ ná ko̱ kúú taꞌan vaan ña̱ kuvatá yó noo̱ ná, ta ni ko̱ kíán ña̱ kuryíí yó noo̱ ná, 5 ta ni ko̱ kíán ña̱ kexíxi yó xíꞌín ná, ta ni ko̱ kíán ña̱ koo díꞌi̱nda̱ ini yo̱, ta ni ko̱ kíán ña̱ karyíí yó xíꞌín ná, ta ni ko̱ kíán ña̱ kañoꞌo uꞌu̱ ini yo̱ koni yo̱ ná, 6 ta ni ko̱ kíán ña̱ kadii̱ iní yo̱ tá kée na ña̱ kini, chi̱ kíán ña̱ kadii̱ diꞌa ini yo̱ tá kée na ña̱ ndaa̱.”