The Greek that is translated as “with you (or: whom) I am well pleased” in English is often translated in other languages with figurative expressions, including “you are the heart of my eye” (Huastec), “you arrive at my gall” (with the gall being the seat of the emotions and intelligence) (Mossi), “I see you very well” (Tzotzil), “you make me very happy” (Sayula Popoluca), “my bowels are sweet with you” (Shilluk) (source for this and all above: Bratcher / Nida), “you pull at my heart” (Central Pame), “my thoughts are arranged” (Mashco Piro), “my heart rests in you” (Wè Southern) (source for this and two above: Nida 1952, p. 127).
The Greek that is translated as “Jesus gave no answer” is translated as “Jesus didn’t answer, but he wasn’t angry” in Central Pame. “In Pame culture, refusal to answer normally indicates anger, so an addition was necessary in order to avoid this wrong meaning.”
(Source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
The term that is translated as “hypocrisy” in English versions is translated with a term in Oxchuc Tzeltal that means “two hearts,” in Central Pame “two mouths” (source: Nida 1952, p. 150), and in San Miguel El Grande Mixtec “having two heads” (source: Nida 1947, p. 150).
Kituba uses a specialized idiom for “hypocrisy”: “eye under leaf.” (Source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
In Shipibo-Conibo it is translated as “to brag about God” (“This may strike some at first as being an unspiritual approach, but it surely is Pauline, for Paul used the word ‘to brag’ when he declared his confidence in Jesus Christ and in the salvation of the world which God wrought through His Son.”) (Source: Nida 1952, p. 162)
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:
Bauzi: “good on top person” (source: David Briley in Kroneman (2004), p. 502)
The English version of Sarah Ruden (2021) uses “play-actor.” She explains (p. li): “A hupokrites is fundamentally an actor. The word has deep negativity in the Gospels on two counts: professional actors were not respectable people in the ancient world, and traditional Judaism did not countenance any kind of playacting. I write ‘play-actor’ throughout.”
Ik: waan: “beg.” Terrill Schrock (in Wycliffe Bible Translators 2016, p. 93) explains (click or tap here to read more):
What do begging and praying have to do with each other? Do you beg when you pray? Do I?
“The Ik word for ‘visitor’ is waanam, which means ‘begging person.’ Do you beg when you go visiting? The Ik do. Maybe you don’t beg, but maybe when you visit someone, you are looking for something. Maybe it’s just a listening ear.
When the Ik hear that [my wife] Amber and I are planning trip to this or that place for a certain amount of time, the letters and lists start coming. As the days dwindle before our departure, the little stack of guests grows. ‘Please, sir, remember me for the allowing: shoes, jacket (rainproof), watch, box, trousers, pens, and money for the children. Thank you, sir, for your assistance.’
“A few people come by just to greet us or spend bit of time with us. Another precious few will occasionally confide in us about their problems without asking for anything more than a listening ear. I love that.
“The other day I was in our spare bedroom praying my list of requests to God — a nice list covering most areas of my life, certainly all the points of anxiety. Then it hit me: Does God want my list, or does he want my relationship?
“I decided to try something. Instead of reading off my list of requests to God, I just talk to him about my issues without any expectation of how he should respond. I make it more about our relationship than my list, because if our personhood is like God’s personhood, then maybe God prefers our confidence and time to our lists, letters, and enumerations.”
In Luang it is translated with different shades of meaning (click or tap here to read more):
For Acts 1:14, 20:36, 21:5: kola ttieru-yawur nehla — “hold the waist and hug the neck.” (“This is the more general term for prayer and often refers to worship in prayer as opposed to petition. The Luang people spend the majority of their prayers worshiping rather than petitioning, which explains why this term often is used generically for prayer.”)
For Acts 1:14, 28:9: sumbiani — “pray.” (“This term is also used generically for ‘prayer’. When praying is referred to several times in close proximity, it serves as a variation for kola ttieru-yawur nehla, in keeping with Luang discourse style. It is also used when a prayer is made up of many requests.”)
For Acts 8:15, 12:5: polu-waka — “call-ask.” (“This is a term for petition that is used especially when the need is very intense.”)
Source: Kathy Taber in Notes on Translation 1/1999, p. 9-16.
Following are a number of back-translations of John 17:10:
Chol: “All who belong to you also are mine. All who are mine are yours. My greatness has been shown in the believers.”
Mezquital Otomi: “All mine are yours and all yours are mine. We own them together. My glory appears in them.”
Yatzachi Zapotec: “And all the people who follow me are your children. And thus it is, whoever are your children are also my children. I receive honor because of what they do.”
Central Pame: “. . . It is apparent that I am glorious when the people I rule live righteously.” (Source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
Uma: “All people who are my portion are your (sing.) portion, Father. And all people who are your (sing.) portion are my portion. They are the ones who show the bigness of my life.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
Yakan: “All that are/is mine are/is yours and all that are/is yours are/is mine. And I am honored/made great by them, because they trust in me.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And as for the people who belong to you, they are mine also, and all that are mine are yours also. And by means of them my power is known.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
Kankanaey: “Because all that-is/who-are mine is/are yours (sing.), and what is/are yours (sing.), is/are likewise also mine. And I am already being-honored/praised by-means-of them.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
Tagbanwa: “All the ones who are mine, these are indeed yours, and all who are yours, they’re mine too. And my glory is apparent in/to them.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
Tenango Otomi: “All those who are in my hand are in your hand. Those who are in your hand are in my hand. I will be looked upon favorably because of them.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
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):
“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)
The Hebrew adonai in the Old Testament typically refers to God. The shorter adon (and in two cases in the book of Daniel the Aramaic mare [מָרֵא]) is also used to refer to God but more often for concepts like “master,” “owner,” etc. In English Bible translations all of those are translated with “Lord” if they refer to God.
In English Old Testament translations, as in Old Testament translations in many other languages, the use of Lord (or an equivalent term in other languages) is not to be confused with Lord (or the equivalent term with a different typographical display for other languages). While the former translates adonai, adon and mare, the latter is a translation for the tetragrammaton (YHWH) or the Name of God. See tetragrammaton (YHWH) and the article by Andy Warren-Rothlin in Noss / Houser, p. 618ff. for more information.
In the New Testament, the Greek term kurios has at least four different kinds of use:
referring to “God,” especially in Old Testament quotations,
meaning “master” or “owner,” especially in parables, etc.,
as a form of address (see for instance John 4:11: “Sir, you have no bucket”),
or, most often, referring to Jesus
In the first and fourth case, it is also translated as “Lord” in English.
Most languages naturally don’t have one word that covers all these meanings. According to Bratcher / Nida, “the alternatives are usually (1) a term which is an honorific title of respect for a high-ranking person and (2) a word meaning ‘boss’, ‘master’, or ‘chief.’ (…) and on the whole it has generally seemed better to employ a word of the second category, in order to emphasize the immediate personal relationship, and then by context to build into the word the prestigeful character, since its very association with Jesus Christ will tend to accomplish this purpose.”
When looking at the following list of back-translations of the terms that translators in the different languages have used for both kurios and adonai to refer to God and Jesus respectively, it might be helpful for English readers to recall the etymology of the English “Lord.” While this term might have gained an exalted meaning in the understanding of many, it actually comes from hlaford or “loaf-ward,” referring to the lord of the castle who was the keeper of the bread (source: Rosin 1956, p. 121).
Click or tap here to see the rest of this insight
Following are some of the solutions that don’t rely on a different typographical display (see above):
Iyansi: Mwol. Mwol is traditionally used for the “chief of a group of communities and villages” with legal, temporal, and spiritual authority (versus the “mfum [the term used in other Bantu languages] which is used for the chief of one community of people in one village”). Mwol is also used for twins who are “treated as special children, highly honored, and taken care of like kings and queens.” (Source: Kividi Kikama in Greed / Kruger, p. 396ff.)
Binumarien: Karaambaia: “fight-leader” (Source: Oates 1995, p. 255)
Warlpiri: Warlaljamarri (owner or possessor of something — for more information tap or click here)
We have come to rely on another term which emphasizes God’s essential nature as YHWH, namely jukurrarnu (see tetragrammaton (YHWH)). This word is built on the same root jukurr– as is jukurrpa, ‘dreaming.’ Its basic meaning is ‘timelessness’ and it is used to describe physical features of the land which are viewed as always being there. Some speakers view jukurrarnu in terms of ‘history.’ In all Genesis references to YHWH we have used Kaatu Jukurrarnu. In all Mark passages where kurios refers to God and not specifically to Christ we have also used Kaatu Jukurrarnu.
New Testament references to Christ as kurios are handled differently. At one stage we experimented with the term Watirirririrri which refers to a ceremonial boss of highest rank who has the authority to instigate ceremonies. While adequately conveying the sense of Christ’s authority, there remained potential negative connotations relating to Warlpiri ceremonial life of which we might be unaware.
Here it is that the Holy Spirit led us to make a chance discovery. Transcribing the personal testimony of the local Warlpiri pastor, I noticed that he described how ‘my Warlaljamarri called and embraced me (to the faith)’. Warlaljamarri is based on the root warlalja which means variously ‘family, possessions, belongingness’. A warlaljamarri is the ‘owner’ or ‘possessor’ of something. While previously being aware of the ‘ownership’ aspect of warlaljamarri, this was the first time I had heard it applied spontaneously and naturally in a fashion which did justice to the entire concept of ‘Lordship’. Thus references to Christ as kurios are now being handled by Warlaljamarri.” (Source: Stephen Swartz, The Bible Translator 1985, p. 415ff. )
Mairasi: Onggoao Nem (“Throated One” — “Leader,” “Elder”) or Enggavot Nan (“Above-One”) (source: Enggavoter 2004)
Obolo: Okaan̄-ene (“Owner of person(s)”) (source: Enene Enene)
Seediq: Tholang, loan word from Min Nan Chinese (the majority language in Taiwan) thâu-lâng (頭儂): “Master” (source: Covell 1998, p. 248)
Thai: phra’ phu pen cao (พระผู้เป็นเจ้า) (divine person who is lord) or ong(kh) cao nay (องค์เจ้านาย) (<divine classifier>-lord-boss) (source: Stephen Pattemore)
Arabic often uses different terms for adonai or kurios referring to God (al-rabb الرب) and kurios referring to Jesus (al-sayyid الـسـيـد). Al-rabb is also the term traditionally used in Arabic Christian-idiom translations for YHWH, and al-sayyid is an honorary term, similar to English “lord” or “sir” (source: Andy Warren-Rothlin).
Tamil also uses different terms for adonai/kurios when referring to God and kurios when referring to Jesus. The former is Karttar கர்த்தர், a Sanskrit-derived term with the original meaning of “creator,” and the latter in Āṇṭavar ஆண்டவர், a Tamil term originally meaning “govern” or “reign” (source: Natarajan Subramani).
Burunge: Looimoo: “owner who owns everything” (in the Burunge Bible translation, this term is only used as a reference to Jesus and was originally used to refer to the traditional highest deity — source: Michael Endl in Holzhausen / Riderer 2010, p. 48)
Aguacateco: Ajcaw ske’j: “the one to whom we belong and who is above us” (source: Rita Peterson in Holzhausen / Riderer 2010, p. 49)
Konkomba: Tidindaan: “He who is the owner of the land and reigns over the people” (source: Lidorio 2007, p. 66)
Law (2013, p. 97) writes about how the Ancient GreekSeptuagint‘s translation of the Hebrew adonai was used by the New Testament writers as a bridge between the Old and New Testaments: “Another case is the use of kurios referring to Jesus. For Yahweh (in English Bibles: ‘the Lord‘), the Septuagint uses kurios. Although the term kurios usually has to do with one’s authority over others, when the New Testament authors use this word from the Septuagint to refer to Jesus, they are making an extraordinary claim: Jesus of Nazareth is to be identified with Yahweh.”