believe, faith

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

Translations of the Greek pistis and its various forms that are typically translated as “faith” in English (itself deriving from Latin “fides,” meaning “trust, faith, confidence, reliance, credence”) and “believe,” cover a wide range of approaches.

Bratcher and Nida say this (1961, p. 38) (click or tap here to read more):

“Since belief or faith is so essentially an intimate psychological experience, it is not strange that so many terms denoting faith should be highly figurative and represent an almost unlimited range of emotional ‘centers’ and descriptions of relationships, e.g. ‘steadfast his heart’ (Chol), ‘to arrive on the inside’ (Chicahuaxtla Triqui), ‘to conform with the heart’ (Uab Meto), ‘to join the word to the body’ (Uduk), ‘to hear in the insides’ (or ‘to hear within one’s self and not let go’ – Nida 1952) (Laka), ‘to make the mind big for something’ (Sapo), ‘to make the heart straight about’ (Mitla Zapotec), ‘to cause a word to enter the insides’ (Lacandon), ‘to leave one’s heart with’ (Baniwa), ‘to catch in the mind’ (Ngäbere), ‘that which one leans on’ (Vai), ‘to be strong on’ (Shipibo-Conibo), ‘to have no doubts’ (San Blas Kuna), ‘to hear and take into the insides’ (Kare), ‘to accept’ (Pamona).”

Following is a list of (back-) translations from other languages (click or tap here to read more):

  • Western Kanjobal: “truth entering into one’s soul”
  • Highland Puebla Nahuatl: “following close after”
  • Huichol: “conform to the truth”
  • Loma: “lay one’s hand on it”
  • Mashco Piro: “obey-believe”
  • Mossi: “leaning on God” (this and all the above acc. to Nida 1952, p. 119ff.)
  • Thai: “place one’s heart in” (source: Bratcher / Hatton 2000, p. 37)
  • Cameroon Pidgin: “to put one’s heart in God” (source: Jan Sterk)
  • Kafa: “decide for God only” (source Loren Bliese)
  • Martu Wangka: “sit true to God’s talk” (source: Carl Gross)
  • Awabakal: ngurruliko: “to know, to perceive by the ear” (as distinct from knowing by sight or by touch — source: Lake, p. 70) (click or tap here to read more)

    “[The missionary translator] Lancelot Threlkeld learned that Awabakal, like many Australian languages, made no distinction between knowing and believing. Of course the distinction only needs to be made where there are rival systems of knowing. The Awabakal language expressed a seamless world. But as the stress on ‘belief’ itself suggests, Christianity has always existed in pluralist settings. Conversion involves deep conviction, not just intellectual assent or understanding. (…) Translating such texts posed a great challenge in Australia. Threlkeld and [his indigenous colleague] Biraban debated the possibilities at length. In the end they opted not to introduce a new term for belief, but to use the Awabakal ngurruliko, meaning ‘to know, to perceive by the ear,’ as distinct from knowing by sight or by touch.”

  • Language in southern Nigeria: a word based on the idiom “lose feathers.” Randy Groff in Wycliffe Bible Translators 2016, p. 65 explains (click or tap here to read more):


    What does losing feathers have to do with faith? [The translator] explained that there is a species of bird in his area that, upon hatching its eggs, loses its feathers. During this molting phase, the mother bird is no longer able to fly away from the nest and look for food for her hungry hatchlings. She has to remain in the nest where she and her babies are completely dependent upon the male bird to bring them food. Without the diligent, dependable work of the male bird, the mother and babies would all die. This scenario was the basis for the word for faith in his language.

J.A. van Roy (in The Bible Translator 1972, p. 418ff.) discusses how a translation of “faith” in a an earlier translation into Venda created difficult perceptions of the concept of faith (click or tap here):

The Venda term u tenda, lutendo. This term corresponds to the terms ho dumela (Southern Sotho), and ku pfumela (Tsonga) that have been used in these translations of the Bible, and means “to assent,” “to agree to a suggestion.” It is important to understand this term in the context of the character of the people who use it.

The way in which the Venda use this term reveals much about the priority of interpersonal relationships among them. They place a much higher priority on responding in the way they think they are expected to respond than on telling the truth. Smooth interpersonal relationships, especially with a dominant individual or group, take precedence over everything else.

It is therefore regarded as bad form to refuse directly when asked for something one does not in fact intend to give. The correct way is to agree, u tenda, and then forget about it or find some excuse for not keeping to the agreement. Thus u tenda does not necessarily convey the information that one means what one says. One can tenda verbally while heartily disagreeing with the statement made or having no intention whatsoever to carry out what one has just promised to do. This is not regarded as dishonesty, but is a matter of politeness.

The term u sokou tenda, “to consent reluctantly,” is often used for expressing the fatalistic attitude of the Venda in the face of misfortune or force which he is unable to resist.

The form lutendo was introduced by missionaries to express “faith.”

According to the rules of derivations and their meanings in the lu-class, it should mean “the habit of readily consenting to everything´.” But since it is a coined word which does not have a clearly defined set of meanings in everyday speech, it has acquired in church language a meaning of “steadfastness in the Christian life.” Una lutendo means something like “he is steadfast in the face of persecution.” It is quite clear that the term u tenda has no element of “trust” in it. (…)

In “The Christian Minister” of July 1969 we find the following statement about faith by Albert N. Martin: “We must never forget that one of the great issues which the Reformers brought into focus was that faith was something more than an ‘assensus,’ a mere nodding of the head to the body of truth presented by the church as ‘the faith.’ The Reformers set forth the biblical concept that faith was ‘fiducia.’ They made plain that saving faith involved trust, commitment, a trust and commitment involving the whole man with the truth which was believed and with the Christ who was the focus of that truth. The time has come when we need to spell this out clearly in categorical statements so that people will realize that a mere nodding of assent to the doctrines that they are exposed to is not the essence of saving faith. They need to be brought to the understanding that saving faith involves the commitment of the whole man to the whole Christ, as Prophet, Priest and King as he is set forth in the gospel.”

We quote at length from this article because what Martin says of the current concept of faith in the Church is even to a greater extent true of the Venda Church, and because the terms used for communicating that concept in the Venda Bible cannot be expected to communicate anything more than “a mere nodding of assent”. I have during many years of evangelistic work hardly ever come across a Venda who, when confronted with the gospel, would not say, Ndi khou tenda, “I admit the truth of what you say.” What they really mean when saying this amounts to, “1 believe that God exists, and I have no objection to the fact that he exists. I suppose that the rest of what you are talking about is also true.” They would often add, Ndi sa tendi hani-hani? “Just imagine my not believing such an obvious fact!” To the experienced evangelist this is a clear indication that his message is rejected in so far as it has been understood at all! To get a negative answer, one would have to press on for a promise that the “convert” will attend the baptism class and come to church on Sundays, and even then he will most probably just tenda in order to get rid of the evangelist, whether he intends to come or not. Isn’t that what u tenda means? So when an inexperienced and gullible white man ventures out on an evangelistic campaign with great enthusiasm, and with great rejoicing returns with a list of hundreds of names of persons who “believed”, he should not afterwards blame the Venda when only one tenth of those who were supposed to be converts actually turn up for baptismal instruction.

Moreover, it is not surprising at all that one often comes across church members of many years’ standing who do not have any assurance of their salvation or even realise that it is possible to have that assurance. They are vhatendi, “consenters.” They have consented to a new way of life, to abandoning (some of) the old customs. Lutendo means to them at most some steadfastness in that new way of life.

The concept of faith in religion is strange to Africa. It is an essential part of a religion of revelation such as Christianity or Islam, but not of a naturalistic religion such as Venda religion, in which not faith and belief are important, but ritual, and not so much the content of the word as the power of it.

The terms employed in the Venda Bible for this vital Christian concept have done nothing to effect a change in the approach of the Venda to religion.

It is a pity that not only in the Venda translation has this been the case, but in all the other Southern Bantu languages. In the Nguni languages the term ukukholwa, “to believe a fact,” has been used for pisteuo, and ukholo, the deverbative of ukukholwa, for pistis. In some of the older Protestant translations in Zulu, but not in the new translation, the term ithemba, “trust”, has been used.

priest

The Greek hierus and its various forms that are typically translated as “priest” in English (itself deriving from Latin “presbyter” — “elder”) is often translated with a consideration of existing religious traditions. (Click or tap for details)

Bratcher / Nida (1961) say this:

However, rather than borrow local names for priests, some of which have unwanted connotations, a number of translations have employed descriptive phrases based on certain functions: (1) those describing a ceremonial activity: Pamona uses “tadu,” the priestess who recites the litanies in which she describes her journey to the upper or under-world to fetch life-spirit for sick people, animals or plants; Batak Toba uses the Arabic “malim,” “Muslim religious teacher;” “one who presents man’s sacrifice to God” (Bambara, Eastern Maninkakan), “one who presents sacrifices” (Baoulé, Navajo), “one who takes the name of the sacrifice” (Kpelle), and “to make a sacrifice go out” (Hausa); (2) those describing an intermediary function: “one who speaks to God” (Shipibo-Conibo) and “spokesman of the people before God” (Tabasco Chontal).

In Obolo it is translated as ogwu ngwugwa: “The one who offers sacrifice” (source: Enene Enene).

For Guhu-Samane Ernest Richert (in The Bible Translator, 1965, p. 81ff.) reports this:

The [local] cult of Poro used to be an all-encompassing religious system that essentially governed all areas of life. (…) For ‘priest’ the term “poro father” would at first seem to be a natural choice. However, several priests of the old cult are still living. Although they no longer function primarily as priests of the old system they still have a substantial influence on the community, and there would be more than a chance that the unqualified term would (in some contexts particularly) be equated with the priest of the poro cult. We learned, then, that the poro fathers would sometimes be called “knife men” in relation to their sacrificial work. The panel was pleased to apply this term to the Jewish priest, and the Christian community has adopted it fully. [Mark 1:44, for instance, now] verse reads: “You must definitely not tell any man of this. But you go show your body to the knife man and do what Moses said about a sacrifice concerning your being healed, and the cause (base of this) will be apparent.”

For a revision of the 1968 version of the Bible in Khmer Joseph Hong (in: The Bible Translator 1996, 233ff.) talks about a change in wording for this term:

Bocheachary — The use of this new construction meaning “priest” is maintained to translate the Greek word hiereus. The term “lauk sang” used in the old version actually means a “Buddhist monk,” and is felt to be theologically misleading. The Khmer considers the Buddhist monk as a “paddy field of merits,” a reserve of merits to be shared with other people. So a Khmer reader would find unthinkable that the lauk sang in the Bible killed animals, the gravest sin for a Buddhist; and what a scandal it would be to say that a lauk sang was married, had children, and drank wine.

baptism, baptize

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

About the translation of the Greek term that is usually transliterated with the terms “baptism” or “baptize” (baptise) in English (for other English translations see below), Bratcher / Nida (1961) say this (click or tap for details):

“[It] has given rise not only to an immense amount of discussion in terms of its meaning within the Judaeo-Christian historical context, but also continues to introduce serious problems for translators today. In many instances the recommendation has been to transliterate, i.e. employing some indigenous equivalent of the sounds of the word in some more prestigious language spoken in the region, e.g. English, French, Spanish, or Portuguese. Though this solution tends to remove some theological controversies, it does not completely satisfy everyone, for not only does it avoid the problem of the mode of baptism, but it leaves the Scriptures with a zero word. Unfortunately, many of the controversies over the indigenous equivalent of baptism arise because of a false evaluation of a word’s so-called etymology. For example, in Yucateco the word for baptism means literally ‘to enter the water’, but this term is used freely by both Presbyterians and Roman Catholics, even though it might appear to be strictly ‘Baptist nomenclature.’ Similarly, in Kekchí, an even ‘stronger’ term ‘to put under the water’ is employed by Nazarenes and Roman Catholics. Obviously the meanings of these Yucateco and Kekchí words are not derivable from their literal significance but from the fact that they now designate a particular kind of Christian rite. To insist on changing such a well-established usage (and one to which immersionists could certainly not object) would seem quite unwarranted. The situation may, on the other hand, be reversed. There are instances in which immersionists are quite happy to use a term which though it means literally ‘to put water on the head’ [see below for the translation in Northern Emberá] has actually lost this etymological value and refers simply to the rite itself, regardless of the way in which it is performed. A translator should not, however, employ an already existing expression or construct a new phrase which will in its evident meaning rule out any major Christian constituency.

“There are, of course, a number of instances in which traditional terms for ‘baptism’ need modification. In some situations the word may mean only ‘to give a new name to’ (one aspect of christening) or ‘to be one who lights’ (referring to a custom in some traditions of lighting a candle at the time of baptism). However, in order to reproduce the core of significant meaning of the original Biblical term, it is important to explore the entire range if indigenous usage in order that whatever term is chosen may have at least some measure of cultural relevance. In Navajo, for example, there were four principal possibilities of choice: (1) borrowing some transliterated form of the English word, (2) constructing a phrase meaning ‘to touch with water’ (an expression which would have been acceptable with some groups in the field, but not with others), (3) using a phrase meaning ‘ceremonial washing’ (but this expression seemed to be too closely related to indigenous practices in healing ceremonies), and (4) devising an expression meaning ‘to dedicate (or consecrate) by water’, without specifying the amount of water employed. This last alternative was chosen as the most meaningful and the best basis for metaphorical extension and teaching.

“On the other hand, it would be wrong to think that the meaning of ‘washing’ must be rejected in all languages. For example, it is quite appropriate in Kpelle culture, since it ties in with male puberty rites, and in the San Blas Kuna society, since washing is a very important aspect of female puberty ceremonies, in some translations ‘water’ is introduced into the expression for baptism, but the quantity and means of administrating it are left quite ambiguous, e.g. ‘to get (take, receive) water’ (Tzeltal). Toraja-Sa’dan, Pamona and Batak Toba render the verb ‘to pour water over, give a bath’.” (Source: Bratcher / Nida)

Other examples of translation include:

  • Javanese, Indonesian: transliterated forms of the Greek “baptizo”
  • Pamona, Wejewa: “to bathe, wash with water”
  • Sundanese: “to apply water to”
  • Padoe: “to make one wet with water”
  • Batak Simalungun: “to wash with a little bit of water” (“used in speaking of a ceremony in which very small children are ceremonially cleansed”)
  • Kambera: “to dip into”
  • Balinese: ngelukat (a Balinese initiation ceremony in which persons were sprinkled with consecrated water) (source for this and above: Biblical Terms in The Bible Translator 1952, p. 225ff.
  • Kwara’ae: “holy wash” (traditional church term for baptism) (source: Carl Gross)
  • Shipibo-Conibo: “to wash” (Catholic: “to name;” Seventh Day Adventists: “to bathe”) (source: James Lauriault in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 56ff.)
  • Northern Emberá: “head-poured” (source: Loewen 1980, p. 107)
  • Halh Mongolian: argon ochial (“holy washing”) (“The people in Mongolia are strictly religious and understand the meaning very well. They are familiar with the idea of water being used as a symbol of a new life and having received ‘holy washing’ means to have entered into a new sphere of life.”) (Source: A. Marthinson in The Bible Translator 1954, p. 74ff.)
  • Many Germanic languages use a term that originally means “dip” or “make deep”: German: Taufe, Danish: dåbSwedish: dop, Norwegian: dåp, Dutch: doop, Faroese: dópur
  • Yatzachi Zapotec: (Spanish loan word and transliteration of the Greek term) bautizar (Source: Otis M. Leal in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 164ff.
  • For more about this see here

    “The Yatzachi Zapotec know the practice of baptism and have a word to express it. There would thus seem to be no problem involved. Unfortunately, however, the word for ‘baptize’ is a compound, one part being a word nowhere else used and the other part being the word for ‘water.’ Perhaps ‘water-baptize’ is the closest equivalent in English. For most contexts this presents no problem, but if the word is used in Mark 1:8, it would say, ‘He will water-baptize you with the Holy Ghost.’ In Zapotec the idea is unintelligible. To meet the problem, the Spanish word ‘bautizar’ was introduced at this point though the Zapotec word is ordinarily used. The disadvantages of this substitution are obvious, but no better solution was found.”

  • Uab Meto: antam oe (“to enter into the water”) (Source: P. Middelkoop in The Bible Translator 1952 p. 165ff.)
  • For more about this see here

    Formerly in Uab Meto the word used for ’baptism” was ‘nasrami’ which actually came by way of Arabic from ‘Nazarene.’ Its meaning was ‘to make a Christian’ and the idea was that the one who baptized actually made Christians. Such an expression was obviously inadequate. We have used for ‘baptize’ the phrase in ‘antam oe’ which means ‘to enter into the water.’ This phrase can be used for sprinkling, for water is used as a symbol of the new life, and being baptized means for the Uab Meto to enter into a new sphere of life. Baptism is so frequently spoken of in connection with the giving of the Holy Spirit that the proper associations have arisen in the thinking of the people.”

  • Chinese: Catholic: 洗 (“washing”); non-Baptist Protestant 聖洗 shèngxǐ (“holy washing”); Baptist: 浸洗 jìnxǐ (“immerse and wash”) (In the history of Chinese Bible translation the translation of the Greek baptizo was a point of great contention, so much so that in the 19th century Baptists had a completely different set of Bible translations and even today are using different editions with the different term of the same versions that other Protestants use.) (Source: Zetzsche 2008)

The disagreement about whether the translation of the Greek baptizo needed to include “immersion” not only caused conflict in China, it also led to splits — and different translations — in English-speaking countries: “The influential British and Foreign Bible Society had been a major supporter of the [Baptist] Serampore mission, but it finally severed its support in 1836 because of the Baptist interpretation of the Bible translations produced there. This led to the formation of the separate Baptist Bible Translation Society in Great Britain in 1840. Almost concurrently, in 1837, the American and Foreign Bible Society was founded in the United States as an offspring of the American Bible Society, over a controversy about a Baptist Bengali Bible translation. The American and Foreign Bible Society itself experienced another split in 1850, when a sub-group rejected the transliteration of baptizo in the English Bible and formed the American Bible Union, which published an own English New Testament in 1862/63” that used the term “immerse” instead of baptize see here). (Source: Zetzsche 2008)

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”

parable

The Greek that is translated as “parable” in English is translated in other languages in a number of ways:

See also image.

scribe

The Greek that is translated as “scribe” in English “were more than mere writers of the law. They were the trained interpreters of the law and expounders of tradition.”

Here are a number of its (back-) translations:

  • Yaka: “clerks in God’s house”
  • Amganad Ifugao: “men who wrote and taught in the synagogue”
  • Navajo: “teaching-writers” (“an attempt to emphasize their dual function”)
  • Shipibo-Conibo: “book-wise persons”
  • San Blas Kuna: “those who knew the Jews’ ways”
  • Loma: “the educated ones”
  • San Mateo del Mar Huave: “those knowing holy paper”
  • Central Mazahua: “writers of holy words”
  • Indonesian: “experts in the Torah”
  • Pamona: “men skilled in the ordinances” (source for this and all above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Sinhala: “bearer-of-the-law”
  • Marathi: “one-learned-in-the-Scriptures”
  • Shona (1966): “expert of the law”
  • Balinese: “expert of the books of Torah”
  • Ekari: “one knowing paper/book”
  • Tboli: “one who taught the law God before caused Moses to write” (or “one who taught the law of Moses”) (source for this and 5 above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • Nyanja: “teachers of Laws” (source: Ernst Wendland)

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).

blaspheme, blasphemy

The Greek that is translated as “blasphemy” or “blaspheme” is (back-) translatated in various forms:

beside himself, out of his mind

The Greek that is translated as “beside himself” or “lost his mind” or other variations in English is (back-) translated by the following languages like this:

  • Tzeltal: “his head had been touched” (“an expression to identify what might be called the half-way stage to insanity”)
  • Amganad Ifugao: “he acts as though he were crazy”
  • Shilluk: “he is acting like an imbecile”
  • Shipibo-Conibo: “his thoughts have gone out of him”
  • Pamona: “he is outside his senses”
  • Indonesian: “he is not by his reason”

conversion, convert, turn back

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

The Greek that is often rendered in English as “to be converted” or “to turn around” is (back-) translated in a number of ways:

  • Inupiaq: “to change completely”
  • Purepecha: “to turn around”
  • Highland Totonac: “to have one’s life changed”
  • Huautla Mazatec: “to make pass over bounds within”
  • San Blas Kuna: “turn the heart toward God”
  • Chol: “the heart turns itself back”
  • Highland Puebla Nahuatl: “self-heart change”
  • Pamona: “to turn away from, unlearn something”
  • Tepeuxila Cuicatec: “to turn around from the breast”
  • Luvale: “to return”
  • Balinese: “to put in a new behavior” (compare “repentance“: “to put on a new mind”)
  • Tzeltal: “to cause one’s heart to return to God” (compare “repentance”: “to cause one’s heart to return because of one’s sin”)
  • Pedi: “to retrace one’s step” (compare “repentance”: “to become untwisted”)
  • Uab Meto: “to return” (compare “repentance”: “to turn the heart upside down”)
  • Northwestern Dinka: “to turn oneself” (compare “repentance”: “to turn the heart”) (source for this and all above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Central Mazahua: “changing the heart” (compare “repentance”: “turning back the heart”) (source: Nida 1952, p. 40)
  • Western Kanjobal: “to molt” (like a butterfly) (source: Nida 1952, p. 136)
  • Latvian: atgriezties (verb) / atgriešanās (noun) (“turn around / return”) which is also the same term being used for “repentance” (source: Katie Roth)