cast lots

The Greek that is translated as “casting” or “drawing lots” in English is often translated with a specific idiom, such as “to take out bamboo slips” — 掣 籤 chè qiān (in most Chinese Bibles), “each to pick-up which is-written (i.e. small sticks inscribed with characters and used as slots)” (Batak Toba), a term for divination by means of reed stalks (Toraja-Sa’dan).

In some cases a cultural equivalent is not available, or it is felt to be unsuitable in this situation, e.g. in Ekari where “to spin acorns” has the connotation of gambling, one may have to state the fact without mentioning the means, e.g. “it came to him,” (source for this and all above: Reiling / Swellengrebel). In Shipibo-Conibo there was no equivalent for “casting lots” so the translation for Mark 15:24 is descriptive: “they shook little things to decide what each one should take” (source: Nida 1952, p. 47).

Other solutions include:

  • Purari: “throw shells” (source: David Clark)
  • Kwara’ae (in Acts 1:26) “they played something like dice to find out who of the two God chose (God revealed his will that way)” (source: Carl Gross)
  • Navajo: “draw straws”
  • Yatzachi Zapotec “raffle”
  • Chol “choose by a game” (source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125)
  • Chichimeca-Jonaz: “threw one or two little hard things that had a sign…to see which person it would be”
  • Kekchí: “tried with luck
  • Lalana Chinantec: “there were little things they played with that made evident who it would be who would be lucky”
  • Chuj: “entered luck upon them”
  • Ayutla Mixtec: “put out luck” (Source for this and five above: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August 1966, p. 86ff.)

In North Alaskan Inupiatun a term for “gambling” is used. The same Inupiatun term is also used in Esther 3:7, “though there winning and losing is not in view, but rather choosing by chance” (source: Robert Bascom)

The stand-alone term that is translated “lots” in English is translated as “two pieces of potsherd” in Highland Totonac. (Source: Ronald D. Olson in Notes on Translation January, 1968, p. 15ff.)

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 “inferno” 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).

hypocrite

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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:

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.”

See also hypocrisy.

peace (absence of strife)

The Greek that is translated as “peace” in English, and like the English can refer to a mental state as well as a lack of strife or absence or cessation of war, needs to be expressed with distinguished terms in other languages. For the meaning of peace when referring to absence of strife, Northern Grebo renders “the palaver has passed,” Highland Totonac “well arranged” (implying reconciliation), Tae’ and Toraja-Sa’dan “being-good-with-each-other” (in Luke 12:51, the 1933 edition of Tae’ has “land and water are well”) or Sranan Tongo “free” (in the sense of “to conclude peace”).

See also peace (absence of conflict).

praise (God)

The Greek and Hebrew that is translated as “praise (God)” in English is translated in a nuymber of ways:

In Dan a figurative expression for praising God is used: “pushing God’s horse.” “In the distant past people closely followed the horses ridden by chiefs, so ‘pushing’ them.” (Source: Don Slager)

conversion, convert, turn back

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

  • North Alaskan Inupiatun: “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)

faithful

The Greek that is rendered as “faithful” in English is (back-) translated in various ways:

See also faith / believe.

deny oneself

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The Greek that is translated with “deny himself” or deny oneself” is according to Bratcher / Nida “without doubt one of the most difficult expressions in all of Mark to translate adequately.” These are many of the (back-) translations:

throne

The Greek that is translated into English versions as “throne” is translated into Naro as ntcõó-q’oo: “he will rule.” The figure of the “throne” cannot be translated in the egalitarian Naro culture, so the idea had to be expressed more explicitly. (Source: Gerrit van Steenbergen)

In other languages it is translated as “stool/seat of the king” (Marathi), “seat of commanding/chieftainship” (Highland Totonac, Kituba), “seat of the Supreme one (lit. of-him-who-has-the umbrella)” (Toraja-Sa’dan — the umbrella being a well-known symbol of power in various parts of South and South-East Asia), “glorious place to sit” (Ekari) (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel), “where God sits and rules” (Estado de México Otomi), “where God reigns” (Central Mazahua) (source: John Beekman in Notes on Translation, March 1965, p. 2ff.), or “bed of kingship” (Kafa) (source: Loren Bliese).

miracle, miraculous power

The Greek and Hebrew that are often translated as “miracles” or “miraculous powers” into English are translated as “things which no one has ever seen before” (San Blas Kuna), “thing marveled at” (Tepeuxila Cuicatec), “breathtaking thing” (Ngäbere), “long-necked thing” (referring to the onlookers who stretch their necks to see) (Huautla Mazatec), “sign done by God’s power” (Mossi), “supernatural power” (Javanese), “things that have heaven-strength” (Highland Totonac) (source for all above: Bratcher / Nida), “amazing thing” (Muna) (source: René van den Berg), or “impossible things” (Mairasi) (source: Enggavoter 2004).

See also wonder.

saint

The Greek that is translated as “saint” in English is rendered into Highland Puebla Nahuatl as “those with clean hearts,” into Northwestern Dinka as “those with white hearts,” and into Western Kanjobal as “people of prayer.” (Source: Nida 1952, p. 146)

Other translations include:

  • Ixcatlán Mazatec: “followers of Jesus” (source: Robert Bascom)
  • Tzeltal: “whom God possesses”
  • Highland Totonac: “children of God”
  • Yatzachi Zapotec: “clean-hearted people” (source for this and two above: Waterhouse / Parrott in Notes on Translation October 1967, p. 1ff.)
  • Garifuna: “people consecrated to God”
  • Isthmus Mixe: “the ones who believe God’s words”
  • Ayutla Mixtec: “those of God’s”
  • Tepeuxila Cuicatec: “people God has cleansed” (source for this and three above: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August 1966, p. 86ff.)