complete verse (1John 2:1)

Following are a number of back-translation of 1John 2:1:

Yatzachi Zapotec: “My little children, these things I write you in order that you will not do evil. But if any of us should do evil, there is a person who speaks in favor of us before our father God, he is Jesus Christ the person who walks straight (is righteous).”

Eastern Highland Otomi: “My dear children who are believers, I am writing this paper to you. I’m telling you not to do sin. But if a believer does sin, there is our Helper, who is Jesus Christ, the Good-person, he will speak to the Father about us when we sin.”

Tzotzil: “My children, I wrote thus to you in order that you not anymore sin. If there are those of you who have sinned, remember that Jesus Christ talks for us (on our behalf) before our Father God. He (Jesus Christ) has a straight heart.”

Source: John Beekman in Notes on Translation 12, November 1964, p. 1ff.

cares 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”

See also end of the age / end of the world.

Logos, Word

Newman / Nida describe some of the difficulties surrounding the translation of the Greek “Logos” which is typically translated as “Word” in English (click or tap here to read more):

“The term ‘the Word’ has a rich heritage, by way of both its Greek and Jewish backgrounds. For the Greeks who held to a theistic view of the universe, it could be understood as the means by which God reveals himself to the world, while among those who were pantheistic in outlook, the Word was the principle that held the world together and at the same time endowed men with the wisdom for living. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint), the Word could be used both of the means by which God had created the world (Ps 33:6) and through which he had revealed himself to the world (Jer 1:4; Ezek 1:3; Amos 3:1). Among certain of the Greek-speaking Jews of New Testament times, there was much speculation about the ‘wisdom’ of God, which God ‘made in the very beginning, at the first, before the world began’ (Prov 8:22-23). (…) By the time that John writes his Gospel, the Word is close to being recognized as a personal being, and it has roles relating to the manner in which God created the world and to the way in which God reveals himself to the world that he brought into being. Moffatt [whose English translation of the New Testament was published in 1913], realizing the difficulty in finding a term equivalent in meaning to the one used by John, transliterates the Greek term: ‘the Logos existed in the very beginning’; while Phillips [New Testament translation published in 1958] at least makes an effort to give his translation meaning: ‘at the beginning God expressed himself.’

“Though the Greek term logos may be rendered ‘word,’ it would be wrong to think it indicates primarily a grammatical or lexical unit in a sentence. Greek has two other terms which primarily identify individual words, whether they occur in a list (as in a dictionary) or in a sentence. The term logos, though applicable to an individual word, is more accurately understood as an expression with meaning; that is, it is ‘a message,’ ‘a communication,’ and, as indicated, a type of ‘revelation.’ A literal translation, therefore, more or less equivalent to English ‘word,’ is frequently misleading.
In some languages there are additional complications. For example, in some languages the term ‘word’ is feminine in gender, and therefore any reference to it must also be feminine [or neuter — see German below]. As a result, the possible use of pronouns in reference to Jesus Christ can be confusing. Furthermore, in many languages a term such as ‘word’ must be possessed. One cannot speak about ‘the word’ without indicating who spoke the word, since words do not exist apart from the persons who utter them.

“Because of these and other difficulties, many translators treat the term ‘Word’ or Logos as a title, and that is precisely what it is. The very fact that it is normally capitalized in English translations marks it as a title; but in many languages the fact of its being a title must be more clearly indicated by some explicit expression, for example, ‘the one who was called the Word’ [see Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac below] or ‘the one known as the Word’ [see German below] In this way the reader can understand from the beginning that ‘Word’ is to be understood as a designation for a person.

“Therefore, this first sentence in John 1:1 may be rendered ‘Before the world was created, the one who was known as the Word existed’ or ‘… the person called the Word existed.’ In languages which employ honorific forms it is particularly appropriate to use such an indication with the title ‘Word.’ Such a form immediately marks the designation as the title of deity or of a very important personage, depending, of course, upon the usage in the language in question.”

Translation for “Logos” include:

  • Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac: “the one who is called the Word”
  • Sayula Popoluca: “the Word by which God is known”
  • Miahuatlán Zapotec: “one who revealed God’s thoughts”
  • Alekano: “God’s wise Speech”
  • Tojolabal: “he who told us about God” (Source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February, 1970, p. 1-125.)
  • Yatzachi Zapotec: “Jesus Christ the person who is the Word, he who gives eternal life”
  • Eastern Highland Otomi: “the Word that gives new life to our hearts”
  • Garifuna: “the one named Word, the one who gives life” (Source for this and two above: John Beekman in Notes on Translation 12, November 1964, p. 1ff.)
  • Tzeltal de Oxchuc y Tenejapa (Highland Tzeltal): te C’opile: “the Word” (in a new, 2001 version of the New Testament to avoid the previous translation “the Word of God,” a term also used for “Bible.” — Source: Robert Bascom)
  • Mairasi: “The Message” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • German: Er, der ‘das Wort’ ist: “He who is ‘the Word'” — this solution circumvents the different gender of Jesus (masculine) and “das Wort” (neuter) (in: Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch, 3rd edition: 1997)
  • Anindilyakwa: Originally translated as N-ayakwa-murra or “he having the properties of a word/message/language.” Since this was not understandable, it is now “Jesus Christ, the one who revealed God who was hidden from us” (Source: Julie Waddy in The Bible Translator 2004, p. 452ff.)
  • Tonga: Folofola: “Originally, the term is used in the kingly language and is related to the meaning of unrolling the mat, an indispensable item in Tongan traditions. The mats, especially those with beautiful and elaborate designs, are usually rolled up and kept carefully until the visit of a guest to the house. The term thus evokes to the Tongans the idea of God’s Word being unrolled to reveal his love and salvation for mankind.” (Source: Joseph Hong in The Bible Translator 1994, p. 329ff.)
  • Ajië: (click or tap here to read an explanation by Maurice Leenhardt — in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 154ff.):

    “There are other words that the learned translators of the West have in vain tried to render into rich tongues as French or Latin. They found obscure expressions for the common ‘word’ or ‘speech’ (…) It would seem that these words would present insurmountable difficulties for the translator in primitive languages. Missionaries of the Loyalty Islands could not find the word to translate ‘Word,’ nor have they imagined that there could be a corresponding term in the native language. They simply introduced the Greek word into the vocabulary, pronouncing it in the native fashion, ‘In the beginning the Logos’. These people are intelligent; and do not appreciate pronouncing words which make no sense whatsoever. However, when a Caledonian speaks French, he translates his thoughts as they seem to him the most adequate. He can easily express himself relative to the man who has conceived good things, has said them, or done them. He simply describes such a person as, ‘The word of this man is good’. Thought, speech, and action are all included in the New Caledonian term no. In speaking of an adulterous man one may say, ‘He has done an evil word’. One may speak of a chief who does not think, order, or act correctly as, ‘His word is not good’. The expression ‘the Word of God’ is limited in our speech to meaning of the divine Scriptures, but in New Caledonian it includes the thoughts and acts of God, ‘God said and it was done’. The New Caledonian has no difficulty in seeing the Word becoming action, becoming flesh, the word becoming a physical reality. Our deceased colleague Laffay once said: ‘I prefer to read John in the Ajië rather than in French’.

The recent English New Testament translation by David Bentley Hart (2017), that uses the transliteration Logos for the Greek Λόγος, says this about its translation (p. 549p.): “In certain special instances it is quite impossible for a translator to reduce [Λόγος] to a single word in English, or in any other tongue (though one standard Chinese version of the Bible renders logos in the prologue of John’s Gospel as 道 (tao), which is about as near as any translation could come to capturing the scope and depth of the word’s religious, philosophical, and metaphoric associations in those verses, while also carrying the additional meaning of “speech” or “discourse”).”

Below you can find some background of this remarkable Chinese translation (click or tap here to read more):

Dao 道, which developed into a central concept of classical Chinese philosophy, originally carried the meaning of “path” and “(main) road.” From there it developed into “leading” and “teaching” as well as “say” and “speak.”

As early as the 7th century BC, however, dao appears with the meaning “method.” With this and the derived meaning of “the (right) way” and “moral principle,” dao became one of the central concepts of the Confucian writings.

In Daoist writings (especially in the Daodejing), dao goes far beyond the Confucian meaning to take on creative qualities.

With this new compendium of meaning, the term became suitable for numerous foreign religions to represent central points of their doctrine, including Buddhism (as a translation for bodhi — “enlightenment”), Judaism (similar to the Confucians as the “right [Jewish] way”), and Islam (likewise the “right [Muslim] way”).

The Jesuits, who had intensively dealt with Confucianism from the 16th century on, also took over dao as the “correct (Catholic) way,” and the so-called Figurists, a group of Jesuits in the 18th century who saw the Messianic figure of Jesus Christ outlined in Chinese history, went so far as to point to the existence of John’s Logos in the dao of Daodejing.

In later Catholic Bible translations, dao was rarely used as a translation for Logos; instead, the Latin Verbum (from the Latin Vulgate) was transliterated, or yan 言 — “language”, “meaning” — was used, usually with the prefix sheng 圣 — “holy” (also used by the Russian Orthodox Church).

Protestant translations, however, began to use dao as a translation for Logos in the 1830s and have largely retained this practice to this day.

Some voices went so far as to describe Logos and dao as a point of contact between Christianity and the Chinese religions. By its gradual shaping in Greek and Jewish philosophy, Logos had become an appropriate “word vessel.” Similarly, dao’s final formation in Daodejing had also assumed the necessary capacity to serve as a translation for Logos.

The origins of dao and Logos have some clear differences, not the least being the personal relationship of Logos as the Son of God with God the Father. But it is remarkable that using dao as the translation of Logos emulates John’s likely intention with the use of Logos: the central concept of the philosophical and religious ideas of the target culture was used to translate the central concept of Christian theology.

This was not possible in the case of European cultures, which for the most part have offered only translations such as Word or Verbum, terms without any prior philosophical or religious meaning. Only advanced civilizations like China — or ancient Greece — were able to accomplish that. (Summarized version of: Zetzsche, Jost. Aspekte der chinesischen Bibelübersetzung. R. Malek (ed.) Fallbeispiel China. Beiträge zur Religion, Theologie und Kirche im chinesischen Kontext. Nettetal: Steyler Verlag, 1996.)

Peng Kuo-Wei add this perspective (in Noss / Houser, p. 885): “The Chinese term chosen for logos in the is not hua (“word” or “utterance”) but dao from which the term “Taoism” is derived and which can denote a general principle, a way (concrete or abstract), or reason. Thus, Chinese readers can understand that the dao of God is not just words spoken by God, but it constitutes the guiding salvific principle underlying the whole biblical account, including his action in history and teaching and action of Jesus whom he sent. Jesus is the dao of God because his ministry, death and resurrection comprises the fulfillment and realization of God’s theological and ethical principles for humanity.”

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).

complete verse (1John 2:16)

Following are a number of back-translation of 1John 2:16:

Yatzachi Zapotec: “All these things people do who are in this world: they do evil which their evil head-hearts desire intensely, and they do evil which they want to do by reason of what they see, and they are proud of their possessions. The people who do like that think only of what happens on this earth. They do not do what our father God wants.”

Eastern Highland Otomi: “Because all the deeds of the world, God didn’t cause (prescribe, ordain) them like doing one’s own will, and the sins which one’s heart likes, and when one is proud because of what he possesses. But doings like these originated here in the world.”

Tzotzil: “The people (unbelieving) who are here in the world, their hearts are taken up with what their bodies want and what looks nice to their eyes, and what they are proud about (raise themselves up about), our (in) Father God does not want that we (in) still do this also like the people do.”

Sayula Popoluca: “Because all that is in this world, the evil our heart begs for, and we want that evil we see, and if we boast because of our possessions, these things our father doesn’t give, but this world gives them.”

Source: John Beekman in Notes on Translation 12, November 1964, p. 1ff.

complete verse (1John 3:19)

Following are a number of back-translation of 1John 3:19:

Yatzachi Zapotec: “We know that we are children of God, if we love our fellows with all our hearts. And if there are times when we think in our head-hearts that we are not worthy for God to say”

Eastern Highland Otomi: “And if we really have love, we will know that we follow the true Word. And our hearts will rest before the face of God.”

Tzotzil: “Because if we love each other thus we know that we have really and truly believed. Therefore we are one-hearted (at peace) in the presence of God.”

Garifuna: “If we love each other thus, then we know that we are in (progressive) (united to) the true belief (faith). Also then there is tranquillity with our hearts before God. (we are not worried, upset).”

Source: John Beekman in Notes on Translation 12, November 1964, p. 1ff.

complete verse (1John 5:8)

Following are a number of back-translation of 1John 5:8:

Yatzachi Zapotec: “Likewise three witnesses are on this earth. The Spirit speaks of Jesus Christ. And his being baptized and the shedding of his blood when he died likewise speak of him. And the words which these things speak agree with the words which the Spirit speaks.”

Eastern Highland Otomi: “And there are three who witness here on earth, who say the same thing about Jesus Christ. One is God’s Good Spirit, one is the baptism of Jesus Christ, one is the death of Jesus Christ. And all three say the same thing, that Jesus Christ is God’s Chosen-One.”

Tzotzil: “There are three here in the world that tell us about Jesus Christ. They are the Holy Spirit and that Jesus Christ was baptized, and that he shed his blood on the cross. Each one says the same thing about him that Jesus Christ is God’s Son.”

Source: John Beekman in Notes on Translation 12, November 1964, p. 1ff.

complete verse (3John 1:6)

Following are a number of back-translation of 3John 1:6:

Yatzachi Zapotec: “They reported to us who are gathered together worshipping God how you love them. And we ought to do good to our brethren, giving to them what they may need while they are journeying, That is what we must do with all the people who speak God’s Word.”

Eastern Highland Otomi: “Some of the siblings who have returned from you (where you are) spoke in regard to you. When we (ex) were gathered together, they told us you have love. Please look after them when they arrive there again, giving them what they need. And when we help them, we help God’s work like he tells us.”

Isthmus Zapotec: “They were telling the brethren here how very much you love them. You do well if you help them when they leave your house so they can go on to another town. This is the way it is necessary for us to help those who are doing God’s work.”

Garifuna: “In the believers’ gathering together, those strangers spoke good words (messages) about your love. You do good when you help them concerning their travel/trip. Help you them well because they are working with God.”

Source: John Beekman in Notes on Translation 12, November 1964, p. 1ff.

complete verse (1John 1:5)

Following are a number of back-translation of 1John 1:5:

Yatzachi Zapotec: “We heard (with attention) what Jesus Christ said and we proclaim it to you how he said that God, for his doing good, is like light. Not even a little bit is he like darkness.”

Eastern Highland Otomi: “Then here is the word that Jesus Christ told us (ex), that God is Light, which wants to say, God is entirely good and there is no darkness with regards to him, not even a little.”

Tzotzil: “I will tell you the word of Jesus Christ how he told us. Thus he told us There is only sunlight in the presence of God. Not even a little bit is there darkness in his presence. Because God is straight-hearted, not even a little bit is there sin in his heart, he said.”

Source: John Beekman in Notes on Translation 12, November 1964, p. 1ff.

complete verse (1John 2:27)

Following are a number of back-translation of 1John 2:27:

Yatzachi Zapotec: “Christ gave you the Spirit of God and he is constantly with you. You do not need anyone else to teach you because the Spirit is present teaching you everything. He speaks true words and does not lie. Be constantly present with Jesus Christ because that is what the Spirit has taught you.”

Eastern Highland Otomi: “But we, the Good Spirit whom Jesus Christ gave us, He resides in our hearts. So we don’t need for anyone else to teach us. Because the Good Spirit of God resides in our hearts, he is what gives us an understanding in regard to everything we think about. And he is the one who speaks the truth and is no liar. And he tells us to habitually live with Christ, and we won’t depart from him.”

Tzotzil: “Jesus Christ gave us the Holy Spirit. Once and for all He is there in our hearts. Therefore it is not necessary that there be another our teacher because he teaches us all things. His word is true, he is not a liar. Just as the Holy Spirit has taught you, so stay in the presence of Jesus Christ.”

Source: John Beekman in Notes on Translation 12, November 1964, p. 1ff.

complete verse (1John 4:7)

Following are a number of back-translation of 1John 4:7:

Yatzachi Zapotec: “You whom I love, we must love our fellows each of us the other because God causes us who are his children to love our fellows. If we love our fellows we are God’s children and we are acquainted with him.”

Eastern Highland Otomi: “Loved ones, come let us love one another. Because love comes from God. And he who loves his fellow-man is born anew by God, and knows God well.”

Tzotzil: “You that I love, let us love one another because it is on account of God that we take on the character of a lover. (love) If we take on the character of a lover it is because we have been born again in the presence of God for sure. We know God.”

Source: John Beekman in Notes on Translation 12, November 1964, p. 1ff.

complete verse (1John 5:19)

Following are a number of back-translation of 1John 5:19:

Yatzachi Zapotec: “We know we are God’s children, but all the people whose heads are sitting (who are concerned) about just what is happening on this earth are under the feet of (ruled by) the deceiver.”

Eastern Highland Otomi: “And we know that we are God’s children. But all the rest who live in the world are in the power (dominion) of the big-evil-one.”

Tzotzil: “We know that we are in the hand of God. We know also that all the people are in the hand of the devil.”

Source: John Beekman in Notes on Translation 12, November 1964, p. 1ff.