Peter - rock

The word pun that Jesus makes in Matthew 16:18 in Greek (using similar words for “Peter” and “rock”: πετρος and πετρα) is lost in most languages (such as in English) but is naturally preserved in some languages, such as French (Pierre and pierre), Portuguese (Pedro and pedra), Italian (Pietro and pietra), Latin (Petrus and petram), Corsican (Petru and petra), Modern Greek (Πέτρος and πέτρα), and — to a lesser degree — in Spanish (Pedro and piedra) and in Romanian (Petru and piatră).

Despite the similarity between the words in those languages, readers might not automatically catch the word play, as Carlo Buzzetti (in The Bible Translator 1983, p. 308ff. ) explains for Italian (click here to read more)

“In many languages it is not possible to repeat the same word, because the equivalent of Petros has become a personal name, while the equivalent of petra is a common noun, the gender of which may be different from that of the equivalent of Petros. The Italian linguistic situation seems at first sight to be very similar to the Greek: to translate Petrospetra we can use Pietropietra. But unfortunately this conveys a different meaning to the average Italian reader: first, because Pietro is now not a new nickname, but a common traditional personal name; and second, because pietra is a feminine noun similar in form to Pietro, but carrying no suggestion that the two have the same meaning. Indeed, Pietro, like ‘Peter’ and most personal names, carries no meaning at all for the average reader or speaker.

“The common language translators felt that it was possible to make the identification between Petros and petra explicit, and at the same time exploit the similarity between the two words. We thus translated: tu sei Pietro e su di te, come su una pietra, io costruirò la mia comunità [in the original Common Language Version: Chiesa] (‘you are Peter and on you, as on a rock, I will build my community [originally: ‘Church’]. Our te (‘you’) connected Pietro and pietra. while our come (‘as’) expressed the fact that the connection was based on an image. In this way we suggested the meaning of Pietro.”

Like the Peshitta translation in Syriac Aramaic (Classical Syriac) with the term ܟܹܐܦܵܐ (kēpā), the Neo-Aramaic languages of Assyrian and Chaldean use terms for both “Peter” and “rock” (and “Cephas”) that are identical (ܟܹܐܦܵܐ and كِيپَا, both pronounced kēpā) so the word pun is preserved in those translations as well. (Source: Ken Bunge)

See also Cephas and this lectionary in The Christian Century.

burnt-offering

The Hebrew olah (עֹלָה) originally means “that which goes up (in smoke).” English Bibles often translates it as “burnt-offering” or “whole burnt-offering,” focusing on the aspect of the complete burning of the offering.

The Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate Bibles translate it as holokautōma / holocautōsis (ὁλοκαύτωμα / ὁλοκαύτωσις) and holocaustum, respectively, meaning “wholly burnt.” While a form of this term is widely used in many Romance languages (Spanish: holocaustos, French: holocaustes, Italian: olocausti, Portuguese: holocaustos) and originally also in the Catholic tradition of English Bible translations, it is largely not used in English anymore today (the preface of the revised edition of the Catholic New American Bible of 2011: “There have been changes in vocabulary; for example, the term ‘holocaust’ is now normally reserved for the sacrilegious attempt to destroy the Jewish people by the Third Reich.”)

Since translation into Georgian was traditionally done on the basis of the Greek Septuagint, a transliteration of holokautōma was used as well, which was changed to a translation with the meaning of “burnt offering” when the Old Testament was retranslated in the 1980’s on the basis of the Hebrew text.

In the Koongo (Ki-manianga) translation by the Alliance Biblique de la R.D. Congo (publ. in 2015) olah is translated as “kill and offer sacrifice.” (Source: Anicet Bassilua)

The English translation of Everett Fox uses offering-up (similarly, the German translation by Buber-Rosenzweig has Darhöhung and the French translation by Chouraqui montée).

See also offering (qorban).

hell

The Greek that is translated in English versions as “hell” (or “Gehenna”) is translated (1) by borrowing a term from a trade or national language (this is done in a number of Indian languages in Latin America, which have borrowed Spanish “infierno” — from Latin “infernus”: “of the lower regions”), (2) by using an expression denoting judgment or punishment, e.g. “place of punishment” (Loma), “place of suffering” (Highland Totonac, San Blas Kuna) and (3) by describing a significant characteristic: (a) the presence of fire or burning, e.g. “place of fire” (Kipsigis, Mossi), “the large bonfire” (Shipibo-Conibo), or (b) the traditionally presumed location, e.g. “the lowest place” (a well-known term in Ngäbere), “the place inside” long used to designate hell, as a place inside the earth (Aymara). (Source for this and above: Bratcher / Nida)

In Noongar it is translated as Djinbaminyap or “Punishing place” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang) and in Tagbanwa as “the fire which had no dying down” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation).

The Mandarin Chinese dìyù (地獄 / 地狱), literally “(under) earth prison,” is a term that was adopted from Buddhist sources into early Catholic writings and later also by Protestant translators. (Source: Zetzsche 1996, p. 32)

in the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius

The Greek that is typically translated in English as “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius” is translated by the Italian La Sua Parola è Vita translation as Passarono circa due decenni. Era adesso il quindicesimo anno del regno dell’imperatore Tiberio Cesare or “About two decades passed. It was now the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Caesar.” Cotrozzi (2019) explains: “There is a time gap between the last events recounted in 2:52 and those in 3:1. Jesus was 12 at the end of chapter 2 but about 30 years old when he began his work (3:23). As a result, some 18 years must have elapsed since 2:51-52. However, this is not readily apparent to most modern readers. All the more so since the gap coincides with a break at chapter level and is followed by the same name (Herod) as in 1:5 which seems to indicate continuity. What most readers are not aware of is that the same name refers in Luke to two different historical figures, Herod the Great (1:5) and his son Herod Antipas (3:1). Only a few Bibles — Danish Bibelen på Hverdagsdansk and Den Nye Aftale, English New Living Translation, French La Parole de Vie, German Die Gute Nachricht and Neues Leben Übersetzung, and Spanish Traducción en lenguaje actual — make this clear in the text.”

mercy

The Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin terms that are typically translated as “mercy” (or “compassion” or “kindness”) in English are translated in various ways. Bratcher / Nida classify them in (1) those based on the quality of heart, or other psychological center, (2) those which introduce the concept of weeping or extreme sorrow, (3) those which involve willingness to look upon and recognize the condition of others, or (4) those which involve a variety of intense feelings.

While the English mercy originates from the Latin merces, originally “price paid,” Romance languages (Italian, Spanish, Corsican, Catalan) and other Germanic languages (German, Swedish, DanishBarmherzigkeit, barmhärtighet and barmhjertighed, respectively) tend to follow the Latin misericordia, lit. “misery-heart.”

Here are some other (back-) translations:

See also steadfast love.

not on talk but on power

The Greek that is translated “not on talk but on power” or similar in English is translated with a alliteration in the common language version of the Spanish Biblia Dios Habla Hoy (“no es cuestión de palabras, sino de poder“) and the French Parole de Vie (“pas une affaire de paroles mais de puissance“). An early version of the German Gute Nachricht also had an alliteration with “Wort” and “Wirkung” (source: Barclay Newman in The Bible Translator 1978, p. 225ff. )

one and only son, only begotten son, only son

“A particularly interesting development in the history of Christianity [related to translation] took place with respect to the Greek term monogenés, literally, ‘only, unique, one of kind.’ It was used of Isaac as the son of Abraham [see Gen. 22:2], though Isaac was not the only son of Abraham, for he had a son Ishmael, and with a later wife Keturah, several sons. But Isaac was the only son of a particular kind, that is to say, the unique son of the promise. The term monogenés was translated into the Latin Vulgate as unigenitus, meaning literally ‘only begotten’ [in English — or likewise traditionally in Mandarin Chinese: “dúshēng 獨 生,” Italian: “unigenito,” Spanish “unigénito,” or German: “eingeboren”] but in Greek the equivalent of ‘only begotten’ would have two n’s and not just one (monogennes). Nevertheless, the Latin misinterpretation of monogenés has constituted such a long tradition that any attempt to speak of Jesus as the ‘unique son of God’ rather than the ‘only begotten son’ is often announced as a case of blatant heresy.” (Source: Nida 1984, p. 114.)

In Waiwai, the Greek that is translated as “only begotten Son” in English in John 3:16 is translated as cewnan tumumururosa okwe, where the “particle okwe indicates dearness, and it must be included in Waiwai for the expression ‘only begotten Son’ to mean anything like what it means to God or to us as Christians.” (Source: Robert Hawkins (in The Bible Translator 1962, pp. 164ff. )

See also complete verse (John 3:16), firstborn and begotten you / become your father.

whole land

The Greek that is usually translated as “the whole land” in English is translated in Uma as “all over the village” (source: Uma Back Translation), in Yakan as “that whole place/country” (source: Yakan Back Translation), in Western Bukidnon Manobo as “the whole world” (source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation), and in Tenango Otomi as “all the earth” (source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation).

Catholic translations that rely on the Latin Vulgate‘s ambiguous totam terram (which, just as the Greek, could refer to the terrestrial globe or a particular place of land) tend to also stay ambiguous. The Spanish Reina Valera has toda la tierra and the English Douay Rheims likewise reads the whole earth. (Source: Knox 1949, p. 20)