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.” (’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. (Tagbanwa, Philippines) (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: Johnny Lyndall in the Seeing Scripture Anew blog.)

prophet

(To view the different translations of this term in a simplified graphical form on a new page, click or tap here.)

Eugene Nida wrote the following about the translation of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek terms that are typically translated with “prophet” in English:

“The tendency in many translations is to use ‘to foretell the future’ for ‘prophesy,’ and ‘one who foretells the future’ for ‘prophet.’ This is not always a recommended usage, particularly if such expressions denote certain special native practices of spirit contact and control. It is true, of course, that prophets of the Bible did foretell the future, but this was not always their principal function. One essential significance of the Greek word prophētēs is ‘one who speaks forth,’ principally, of course, as a forth-teller of the Divine will. A translation such as ‘spokesman for God’ may often be employed profitably.” (1947, p. 234f.)

Following is a list of (back-) translations from other languages (click or tap for details):

  • San Blas Kuna: “one who speaks the voice of God”
  • Central Pame and Vai: “interpreter for God”
  • Kaqchikel, Navajo, Yaka: “one who speaks for God”
  • Northern Grebo: “God’s town crier” (see more about this below)
  • Sapo: “God’s sent-word person”
  • Shipibo-Conibo, Ngäbere: one who speaks God’s word”
  • Copainalá Zoque: “one who speaks-opens” (a compound meaning “one who discloses or reveals”)
  • Sierra Totonac: “one who causes them to know” (in the sense of “revealer”)
  • Batak Toba: “foreteller” (this and all the above acc. to Nida 1961, p. 7)
  • Ekari: “person who speaks under divine impulse”
  • Chinese: 先知 xiānzhī — “one who foreknows” (or the 1946/1970 translation by Lü Zhenzhong: 神言人 shényánrén — “divine-word-man”)
  • Uab Meto: “holy spokesman” (source for this and two above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • Kouya: Lagɔɔ gbʋgbanyɔ — “the one who seeks God’s affairs” (source: Saunders, p. 269)
  • Kafa: “decide for God only” (source: Loren Bliese)
  • Martu Wangka: “sit true to God’s talk” (source: Carl Gross)
  • Eastern Highland Otomi: “word passer” (source: John Beekham in Notes on Translation November 1964, p. 1-22)
  • Obolo: ebi nriran: “those with power of divine revelation” (source: Enene Enene)

In Ixcatlán Mazatec a term is used that specifically includes women. (Source: Robert Bascom)

About the translation into Northern Grebo:

In some instances these spiritual terms result from adaptations reflecting the native life and culture. Among the Northern Grebo people of Liberia a missionary wanted some adequate term for ‘prophet,’ and she was fully aware that the native word for ‘soothsayer’ or ‘diviner’ was no equivalent for the Biblical prophet who spoke forth for God. Of course, much of what the prophets said referred to the future, and though this was an essential part of much of their ministry, it was by no means all. The right word for the Gbeapo people would have to include something which would not only mean the foretelling of important events but the proclamation of truth as God’s representative among the people. At last the right word came; it was ‘God’s town-crier.’ Every morning and evening the official representative of the chief goes through the village crying out the news, delivering the orders of the chief, and announcing important coming events. ‘God’s town-crier’ would be the official representative of God, announcing to the people God’s doings, His commands, and His pronouncements for their salvation and well-being. For the Northern Grebo people the prophet is no weird person from forgotten times; he is as real as the human, moving message of the plowman Amos, who became God’s town-crier to a calloused people.” (source: Nida 1952, p. 20)

See also prophesy and prophesy / prophetic frenzy.

synagogue, temple (inner), temple (outer)

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:

  • Chinese: “聖殿 Shèng diàn” (“holy palace”)
  • Loma: “the holy place”
  • Pular: “the sacred house”(source for this and the one above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Zarma: “God’s compound”
  • Eastern Highland Otomi: “big church of the Jews”
  • Yatzachi Zapotec: “big house on top (i.e. most important)”
  • 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)
  • 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.)

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)

advocate, comforter, helper

The Greek that is translated as “comforter,” “advocate,” or “helper” in English is similarly difficult to translate in other languages.

Nida (1952, p. 164) notes:

“Perhaps no word in all the New Testament is so hard to translate adequately as the word ‘Comforter.’ The Greek word, generally transliterated as Paraclete, is exceedingly rich in its wealth of meaning, for it implies not only “to comfort” but also “to admonish,” “to exhort,” “to encourage,” and “to help.” To put all these meanings into one native expression is indeed difficult, and yet the missionary translator must try to find a term or phrase which will give the people an adequate picture of the unique ministry of the Holy Spirit.

“In the Tausug language of southern Philippines the people use the phrase ‘the one who goes alongside continuously.’ In this sense He is the constant companion of the believer. In Eastern Highland Otomi of central Mexico the native believers have suggested the phrase “He who gives warmth in our soul.” One can readily see the picture of the chilled heart and life seeking comfort in the Living Word and finding in the ministry of the Spirit of God that warmth which the soul so needs if it has to live in the freezing atmosphere of sin and worldly cares.

“The Baoulé Christians speak of the Comforter as ‘He who ties up the thoughts.’ The thoughts of the worried heart are scattered every place in senseless and tormenting disorder. The Comforter ties up these distracted thoughts, and though they still exist, they are under the control of the Spirit.”

Here is another story that Nida (1952, p. 20) retells of Kare (click or tap here):

“As the heedless traveler sometimes overlooks an object of priceless value because he does not recognize its worth, so the translator may be tempted to discard as useless some rare phrase, which so skillfully disguises its fuller meaning in the rich secrets of native life. This was precisely the experience of Miss Estella Myers, a missionary working among the Kare people of French Equatorial Africa. She had tried so hard to explain to native helpers the meaning of the ‘Comforter.’ This term, transliterated as the Paraclete from Greek, is one of the most difficult in the Bible to render adequately. In order to find something fitting, she had explained at great length the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit as he encourages, exhorts, admonishes, protects, comforts, and guides the Christian. Finally, her native assistants exclaimed, ‘Oh, if anyone would do all of that for us, we would say, ‘He’s the one who falls down beside us.’ ‘ This seemed to be a completely inadequate, unfit phrase to describe the work of the Holy Spirit, and it would have soon been rejected had not the native brethren insisted on explaining the very special way in which this word is used.

“When porters, carrying heavy loads on their heads, go on long journeys, often for as long as two or three months, they may become sick with malaria or dysentery, and in their weakness they straggle to the end of the line of carriers. Finally in complete exhaustion they may collapse along the trail, knowing full well that if they do not get to the safety of the next village, they will be killed and eaten by wild animals during the night. If, however, someone passing along the trail sees them lying there prostrate, and if he takes pity on them, stooping down to pick them up and helping them to reach the safety and protection of the next village, they speak of such a person as ‘the one who falls down beside us.’ It is this expression which the missionary translator has taken to translate ‘Comforter,’ for this is the One who sustains, protects, and keeps the children of God on their journey toward their heavenly home.”

“In Nyanja, it is translated in 1 John 2:1 by nkhoswe yotinenera: ‘mediator who speaks on our behalf.’ The nkhoswe is the traditional clan representative who speaks on behalf of individual members in negotiations involving another clan, as when a marriage is being arranged or a dispute (‘case’) is being settled. The modification yotinenera emphasizes the fact that the group as a whole requires this representation — certainly a very fitting metaphor depicting Christ’s role in pleading the case of humanity before his heavenly Father.” (Source: Wendland 1987, p. 78)

In Miao (Chuanqiandian Cluster) it is translated as “to get at the heart round the corner”. (Source Kilgour 1939, p. 150)

cares of the world, cares of this age, worries of the world, worries of this age

The Greek that is translated as “worries (or: cares) of the world (or: this age)” in English is (back-) translated in a number of ways:

  • Kekchí: “they think very much about these days now”
  • Farefare: “they begin to worry about this world-things”
  • Tzeltal: “their hearts are gone doing what they do when they pass through world” (where the last phrase is an idiomatic equivalent for “this life”
  • Mitla Zapotec and San Mateo del Mar Huave: “they think intensely about things in this world”
  • Eastern Highland Otomi and Pamona: “the longing for this world”
  • Tzotzil: “they are very occupied about things in the world”
  • Central Tarahumara: “they are very much afraid about what will happen in the world”
  • Shilluk: “the heavy talk about things in the world”

adjure (by God), implore (by God)

The Greek that is translated into English as “(I) implore (or: adjure) (you) by God” is translated as “tell you before God” (Copainalá Zoque), “ask in front of God” (Huautla Mazatec) “ask you by God” (Eastern Highland Otomi), “ask you in God’s presence” (Southern Subanen), “I swear, calling on the name of God, requesting you” (Toraja-Sa’dan), “I want your oath by God” (Indonesian), “will assure me by using a curse on yourself calling on the name of God” (Pamona), and “ask you; God has seen it” (Tzotzil).

wonder

The Greek that is often translated as “wonder” into English is different from the term that is translated as “miracle” (see miracle) since it “usually involves some unusual phenomena in nature which are a portent of dire woe or extraordinary blessing.” In Huichol these are “awe-inspiring things,” in Yucateco they are “things which show what is coming,” and in Eastern Highland Otomi the expression must be cast into the form of a verb phrase “they will amaze the people.”

forgive, forgiveness

(To view the different translations of this term in a simplified graphical form on a new page, click or tap here.)

The concept of “forgiveness” is expressed in varied ways through translations. Following is a list of (back-) translations from some languages:

  • Tswa, Inupiaq, Panao Huánuco Quechua: “forgetting about”
  • Navajo: “to give back” (based on the idea that sin produces an indebtedness, which only the one who has been sinned against can restore)
  • Huichol, Shipibo-Conibo, Eastern Highland Otomi, Uduk: “erase,” “wipe out,” “blot out”
  • Highland Totonac, Huautla Mazatec: “to lose,” “cause to be lost,” “to make lacking”
  • Tzeltal: “to lose another’s sin out of one’s heart”
  • Lahu, Burmese: “to be released,” “to be freed”
  • Ayacucho Quechua: “to level off”
  • Yatzachi Zapotec: “to cast away”
  • Chol: “to pass by”
  • Wayuu: “to make pass”
  • Kpelle: “to turn one’s back on”
  • Chicahuaxtla Triqui: “to cover over” (a figure of speech which is also employed in Hebrew, but which in many languages is not acceptable, because it implies “hiding” or “concealment”)
  • Tabasco Chontal, Huichol: “to take away sins”
  • Toraja-Sa’dan, Javanese: “to do away with sins”
  • San Blas Kuna: “erasing the evil heart” (this and all above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Eggon: “to withdraw the hand”
  • Mískito: “take a man’s fault out of your heart” (source of this and the one above: Kilgour, p. 80)
  • Western Parbate Kham: “unstring someone” (“hold a grudge” – “have someone strung up in your heart”) (source: Watters, p. 171)
  • Tzotzil: ch’aybilxa (“it has been lost”) (source: Aeilts, p. 118)
  • Martu Wangka: “throw out badness” (source: Carl Gross)
  • Koonzime: “removing the bad deed-counters” (“The Koonzime lay out the deeds symbolically — usually strips of banana leaf — and rehearse their grievances with the person addressed.”) (Source: Keith and Mary Beavon in Notes on Translation 3/1996, p. 16)
  • Amahuaca: “erasing” / “smoothing over” (“It was an expression the people used for smoothing over dirt when marks or drawings had been made in it. It meant wiping off dust in which marks had been made, or wiping off writing on the blackboard. To wipe off the slate, to erase, to take completely away — it has a very wide meaning and applies very well to God’s wiping away sins, removing them from the record, taking them away.”) (Source: Robert Russel, quoted in Walls / Bennett 1959, p. 193)

hypocrite

(To view the different translations of this term in a simplified graphical form on a new page, click or tap here.)

The Greek and Hebrew terms that are translated as “hypocrite” in English typically have a counterpart in most languages. According to Bratcher / Nida (1961, p. 225), they can be categorized into the following categories:

  • those which employ some concept of “two” or “double”
  • those which make use of some expression of “mouth” or “speaking”
  • those which are based upon some special cultural feature
  • those which employ a non-metaphorical phrase

Following is a list of (back-) translations from some languages:

See also hypocrisy.