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 of 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 its own English New Testament in 1862/63” that used the term “immerse” instead of baptize see here). (Source: Zetzsche 2008)

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (John 4:12)

Many languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns (“we”). The inclusive “we” specifically includes the addressee (“you and I and possibly others”), while the exclusive “we” specifically excludes the addressee (“he/she/they and I, but not you”). This grammatical distinction is called “clusivity.” While Semitic languages such as Hebrew or most Indo-European languages such as Greek or English do not make that distinction, translators of languages with that distinction have to make a choice every time they encounter “we” or a form thereof (in English: “we,” “our,” or “us”).

For the first part of this verse (“our father Jacob” in English translations), translators often select the inclusive form, whereas for the second part (“gave us this well” in English translations) the exclusive form.

Source: Velma Pickett and Florence Cowan in Notes on Translation January 1962, p. 1ff.

The Yagua translators (who, along with the translations into Malay, Sundanese, and Balinese, chose the exclusive for both parts of the verse) justify this by saying “Our choice here is exclusive assuming that the Samaritan woman to maintain the independent and factious spirit which this account shows existed between Jews and Samaritans.”

Source: Paul Powlison in Notes on Translation with Drills, p. 165ff.

Another opinion on using the inclusive pronoun for this verse and the remainder of the story:

“The Samaritan woman, in my view, is trying to get the better of Jesus; she appeals to Jacob (v. 12) and to ‘our fathers’ (v. 20) as to authorities higher than Jesus. If this is true, then it was important for her to show that those authorities were acknowledged by Jesus also. Therefore, we can imagine her to have thought or said ‘Your and my ancestor’ (v. 12) or ‘ancestors’ (v. 20) — inclusive pronoun in both verses.

“As for the phrase ‘who gave us the well’, there is certainly much truth in the consideration: “Since the well was in Samaritan territory, presumably she would use the exclusive form.” Yet, the inclusive can be defended here also, I think. With the remark that Jacob and his sons drank from the well, she is pointing back to a time anterior to the present antithesis between Jew and Samaritan; the well was given to ancestors of both peoples. Moreover, she comes to fetch water from the well and Jesus hopes to quench his thirst with its water. “The well is of common interest for both you and me,” she may have meant. It seems possible to find a third appeal to higher authority in v. 25. The woman has acknowledged Jesus as a prophet, but to the Messiah even a prophet has to bow; he, the prophet, as well as she, will have to be shown all things by the Messiah. Accepting this interpretation, we again have to use the inclusive ‘we’, Yet there is a difference with the verses first mentioned. In v. 12 and v. 20 the pronominal first person plural was used in phrases connected with the past; v. 25 points to the future, to the time when the Messiah will come and teach. A consciousness among the Samaritans of a Messianic belief common to both Jews and themselves is a necessary presupposition of the interpretation of v. 25 given above. So we are led to the preliminary question whether such a consciousness existed in Jesus’ times.”

Source: J. L. Swellengrebel in The Bible Translator 1959, p. 37.

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (John 4:25)

Many languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns (“we”). The inclusive “we” specifically includes the addressee (“you and I and possibly others”), while the exclusive “we” specifically excludes the addressee (“he/she/they and I, but not you”). This grammatical distinction is called “clusivity.” While Semitic languages such as Hebrew or most Indo-European languages such as Greek or English do not make that distinction, translators of languages with that distinction have to make a choice every time they encounter “we” or a form thereof (in English: “we,” “our,” or “us”).

For this verse (“declare all things to us” in English translations), translators often select the inclusive form.

Source: Velma Pickett and Florence Cowan in Notes on Translation January 1962, p. 1ff.

The Yagua translators chose the exclusive form (along with the Malay, Sundanese, and Balinese translators), and justify this by saying “Our choice here is exclusive assuming that the Samaritan woman to maintain the independent and factious spirit which this account shows existed between Jews and Samaritans.”

Source: Paul Powlison in Notes on Translation with Drills, p. 165ff.

Another opinion on using the inclusive pronoun for this verse and the remainder of the story:

“The Samaritan woman, in my view, is trying to get the better of Jesus; she appeals to Jacob (v. 12) and to ‘our fathers’ (v. 20) as to authorities higher than Jesus. If this is true, then it was important for her to show that those authorities were acknowledged by Jesus also. Therefore, we can imagine her to have thought or said ‘Your and my ancestor’ (v. 12) or ‘ancestors’ (v. 20) — inclusive pronoun in both verses.

“As for the phrase ‘who gave us the well’, there is certainly much truth in the consideration: “Since the well was in Samaritan territory, presumably she would use the exclusive form.” Yet, the inclusive can be defended here also, I think. With the remark that Jacob and his sons drank from the well, she is pointing back to a time anterior to the present antithesis between Jew and Samaritan; the well was given to ancestors of both peoples. Moreover, she comes to fetch water from the well and Jesus hopes to quench his thirst with its water. “The well is of common interest for both you and me,” she may have meant. It seems possible to find a third appeal to higher authority in v. 25. The woman has acknowledged Jesus as a prophet, but to the Messiah even a prophet has to bow; he, the prophet, as well as she, will have to be shown all things by the Messiah. Accepting this interpretation, we again have to use the inclusive ‘we’, Yet there is a difference with the verses first mentioned. In v. 12 and v. 20 the pronominal first person plural was used in phrases connected with the past; v. 25 points to the future, to the time when the Messiah will come and teach. A consciousness among the Samaritans of a Messianic belief common to both Jews and themselves is a necessary presupposition of the interpretation of v. 25 given above. So we are led to the preliminary question whether such a consciousness existed in Jesus’ times.”

Source: J. L. Swellengrebel in The Bible Translator 1959, p. 37.

crucify

The Greek that is translated into English as “crucify” is translated into Naro with xgàu which literally means “to stretch” as is done with a skin after slaughtering in order to dry it. The word is also widely accepted in the churches. (Source: Gerrit van Steenbergen)

Similarly, Balinese and Toraja-Sa’dan also translate as “stretch him.” (Source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)

In Ghari it becomes “hammer to the cross” (source: David Clark), in Loma “fasten him to a spread-back-stick” (source: Bratcher / Nida), in Sundanese “hang him on a crossbeam” (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel), and in Apali the different aspects of the crucifixion have to be spelled out: “nail to a tree piece put cross-wise, lift up to stand upright (for the crucified person) to die (and in some contexts: to die and rise again)” (source: Martha Wade).

See also cross.