The Greek that is rendered as “in his right mind” or “sound-minded” in English is translated as “his mind had returned” (Amganad Ifugao), “his heart was sitting down” (Tojolabal), “his head was healed” (Chicahuaxtla Triqui), “his mind was straightened” (Tzotzil), “with a clear mind again” (Javanese), “come to his senses” (Indonesian) (source for this and all above: Bratcher / Nida), “come to his cleanness/purity” (Marathi), “(his) thoughts having become right” (Ekari), “his intelligence having-become clean again” (Sranan Tongo), “having-mind” (Batak Toba), “settled his mind” (Tae’), “settled/fixed” (Balinese) (source for this and five above: Reiling / Swellengrebel), or “had well-split vision” (Mairasi) (source: Enggavoter 2004).
The Greek that is translated as “hardness of heart” in English is translated as “large heart” into San Mateo Del Mar Huave, “tightness of heart” in Shilluk, “blind in their thoughts” in Copainalá Zoque, “hard heads” in Chicahuaxtla Triqui, “ears without holes” in Shipibo-Conibo and “do not have pain in their heart” in both Tzotzil and Tzeltal.
See also harden heart.
The Greek that is translated as “anger” in English in this verse is translated with a variety of solutions (Bratcher / Nida says: “Since anger has so many manifestations and seems to affect so many aspects of personality, it is not strange that expressions used to describe this emotional response are so varied).
- Chicahuaxtla Triqui: “to be warm inside”
- Mende: “to have a cut heart”
- Mískito: “to have a split heart”
- Tzotzil: “to have a hot heart”
- Mossi: “a swollen heart”
- Western Kanjobal: “fire of the viscera”
- San Blas Kuna: “pain in the heart”
- Chimborazo Highland Quichua: “not with good eye”
See also God’s anger.
The Greek that is translated as “resurrection” in English is translated in Chicahuaxtla Triqui and Pohnpeian as “live-up” (i.e. return to life) (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel) and in Iloko as panagungar: a term that stems “from the word ‘agungar,’ an agricultural term used to describe the coming back to life of a plant which was wilting but which has been watered by the farmer, or of a bulb which was apparently dead but grows again” (source: G. Henry Waterman in The Bible Translator 1960, p. 24ff.)
(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 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:
- Tetelcingo Nahuatl: “to not accept self”
- Amganad Ifugao and South Bolivian Quechua: “to forget self”
- Inupiaq: “to have no regard for oneself”
- Toraja-Sa’dan: “not bother oneself about oneself”
- Huautla Mazatec: “to cover up oneself”
- San Miguel El Grande Mixtec: “to not worship oneself”
- Tzeltal: “to stop doing what one’s own heart wants”
- Western Kanjobal: “to not belong to oneself any longer”
- Yaka: “to let go that which he wants to do himself”
- Cashibo-Cacataibo: “says, I will not do just what I want to do”
- Tzotzil: “to let him say, I do not serve for anything” (in the sense of having no personal value)
- Sapo: “to not do what is passing through his mind”
- Central Mazahua: “to not take constant thought for himself”
- Tabasco Chontal: “to quit what he himself wants”
- Highland Totonac: “to undo one’s own way of thinking”
- Dan: “to put his own things down”
- Kekchí: “to despise himself”
- Kituba: “to refuse himself”
- Javanese: “to turn his back on himself”
- Southern Bobo Madaré: “to disobey himself” (in the sense of denying one’s own wishes)
- Huastec: “to leave himself at the side”
- Chicahuaxtla Triqui: “to leave his own way”
- Loma: “to take his mind out of himself completely”
- Panao Huánuco Quechua: “to say, I do not live for myself”
- Mitla Zapotec: “to say No to oneself” (source for this and all above: Bratcher / Nida)
- Copainalá Zoque: “forgetting self”
- Huallaga Huánuco Quechua: “declaring I do not live for myself” (source: Nida 1952, p. 154)
- Galela: “put self down” (source: Howard Shelden in Kroneman 2004, p. 501)
- Mairasi: “to shuffle out of one’s vision (=forget) everything which is one’s own” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
The Greek that is translated as “parable” in English is translated in other languages in a number of ways:
- Piro: “picture with words”
- Pamona: “message in the manner of a comparison”
- Highland Totonac and South Bolivian Quechua: “comparison word”
- Tzeltal: “picture story”
- Yucateco and Central Tarahumara: “likeness word”
- Cashibo-Cacataibo: “story which says like that”
- Chicahuaxtla Triqui and Wayuu: “story told for teaching”
- Navajo: “story from which understanding comes”
- Western Kanjobal: “notice from which comes teaching” (source for this and all above: Bratcher / Nida)
- Inupiaq: “story with a meaning”
- Kekchí: “change, or, turned-about word” (source for this and one above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
- Mairasi: “example” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
(To view the different translations of this term in a simplified graphical form on a new page, click or tap here.)
The Greek and Hebrew that is often translated as “repent” or “repentance” is (back-) translated in various ways:
- Western Kanjobal: “to think in the soul”
- Kekchí: “pain in the heart”
- Northwestern Dinka: “to turn the heart”
- Pedi: “to become untwisted”
- Baoulé: “it hurts to make you quit it” (source for this and above: Nida 1952, p. 137)
- Balinese: “putting on a new mind”
- Chicahuaxtla Triqui: “be sorry on account of [your] sins”
- Uab Meto: “to turn the heart upside down” (source for this and the two above: Bratcher / Nida)
- Central Mazahua: “turning back the heart” (source: Nida 1952, p. 40)
- Yamba and Bulu: “turn over the heart (source: W. Reyburn in The Bible Translator 1959, p. 1ff.)
- Nyanja: kutembenuka mtima (“to be turned around in one’s heart”) (source: Ernst Wendland in The Bible Translator 2002, p. 319ff.)
- Caribbean Javanese: mertobat (“tired of old life”)
- Saramaccan: bia libi ko a Massa Gadu (“turn your life to the Lord God”)
- Sranan Tongo: drai yu libi (“turn your life”) or kenki libi (“change life”)
- Eastern Maroon Creole: dai yu libi (“turn your life”) (source for this and 3 above: Jabini 2015)
- Eggon: “bow in the dust” (source: Kilgour, p. 80)
- Embu: “changing heart” (“2 Cor. 7:10 says ‘For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death.’ In ordinary speech the terms ‘repent’ and ‘regret’ are used interchangeably in Embu, so that this verse comes out as: ‘godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no repentance,’ which is contradictory. The problem was solved by using ‘changing heart’ in the first, and ‘sadness’ in the second.”) (source: Jan Sterk)
- Anuak: “liver falls down”
- Kafa: “return from way of sin to God” (source for this and the one above: Loren Bliese)
- Latvian: atgriezties (verb) / atgriešanās (noun) (“turn around / return” — see turn around / convert) (source: Katie Roth)
- Obolo: igwugwu ikom: “turning back (from evil)” (source: Enene Enene)
- Mairasi: make an end (of wrongdoing) (source: Enggavoter 2004)
- Muna: dofetompa’ao dhosa bhe dodoli ne Lahata’ala: “to radically-end sin and to turn to God” (source: René van den Berg)
- Bacama: por-njiya: “fetch sand” (“Before the coming of Christianity 100 years ago, when the elders went to pray to the gods, they would take sand and throw it over each shoulder and down their backs while confessing their sins. Covering themselves with sand was a ritual to show that they were sorry for what they had done wrong, sort of like covering oneself with sackcloth and ashes. Now idol worship for the most part is abandoned in Bacama culture, but the Christian church has retained the phrase por-njiya to mean ‘repent, doing something to show sorrow for one’s sins’” — source: David Frank in this blog post.)
- “In Tzotzil two reflexive verbs to communicate the biblical concept of repentance are used. Xca’i jba means to know or to reflect inwardly on one’s self. This self inquiry or self examination is similar to the attitude of the prodigal son where Luke 15:17 records that ‘he came to his senses.’ Broke, starving, and slopping hogs, the prodigal admitted to himself that he was in the wrong place. The second reflexive verb ‘jsutes jba’ means turning away from what one is and turning to something else. In a sense, it is deciding against one’s self and toward someone else. It is similar to the attitude of the prodigal son when he said, ‘I will get up and go to my father’ (v. 18).” (source: Aeilts, p. 118)
(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 translated as “Son of Man” and is mostly used by Jesus to refer to himself is (back-) translated in the following languages as (click or tap for details):
- San Miguel El Grande Mixtec: “I who am a person”
- Tzotzil: “I who am equal with men” or “The Older Brother of Everybody” (“expressing the dignity and authority of the Messiah and the universality of his work”)
- Chuj: “I who became human”
- Terêna: “The True Man”
- Tenango Otomi: “The Man Appointed” (i.e. the man to whom authority has been delegated) (source for this and preceding: Beekman, p. 189-190, see also Ralph Hill in Notes on Translation February 1983, p. 35-50)
- Alekano: “the true man”
- Huehuetla Tepehua: “friend of all men”
- Tenango Otomi “the Man who came from heaven”
- Aguaruna: “I the one who was born becoming a person”
- Yatzachi Zapotec: “I whom God sent, I was born a human.” (source for this and four above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
- Central Tarahumara: “I have been stood up to help” (“This suggests that Christ has been given authority to some appointed task. A very generic word, help, was selected to fill in the lexically obligatory purpose required by the word which means to appoint or commission. Usually this word is used of menial tasks but not exclusively. The choice of this generic term retains the veiled reference to the character of Christ’s work which He intended in using the ‘Son of Man’ title.”)
- Chicahuaxtla Triqui: “He who is relative of all people.” (“The Triqui word for relative is a rather generic term and in its extended sense sometimes is diluted to neighbor and friend. But the primary meaning is relative.”)
- Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac: “Sibling of All People”
- Tepeuxila Cuicatec: “I, the Person who Accompanies All People.” (“The literal equivalents ‘son of man’ and ‘son of people’ were both rejected because of the false inference of natural birth involving a human father. Furthermore, it was necessary to expand any translation of the Bible by the addition of the pronoun ‘I’ so as to clarify the fact that Jesus is using the third person in referring to Himself. A common expression used by the Cuicatecos when difficulties befall someone, is to say to that one, ‘don’t worry, we are accompanying you.’ By this they mean they share that person’s sorrow. When wedding guests arrive at the home of a son who has just been married, they say to the father, ‘We have come to accompany you.’ By this they mean that they have come to share the father’s joy. These expressions do not refer to ordinary physical accompaniment, which is expressed by a set of different verbs. For example, visits are always announced by some such greeting as, “I have come to visit you,’ ‘I have come to see you,’ or ‘I have come to ask you something.’ The desire to accompany a friend on a journey is expressed by saying, ‘I will go with you.’ Translation helpers used the verb ‘accompany’ in constructing the phrase ‘I, the Person who Accompanies All People.'(…) It reflects the fact that Jesus closely identified Himself with all of us, understands our weaknesses, shares our burdens, rejoices with us in times of gladness, etc.”) (source for this and the three preceding: Beekman in Notes on Translation January 1963, p. 1-10)
- Guhu-Samane: “elder-brother-man” (“Since the term denotes an elder brother in every way such as honor, power, leadership, representation of the younger, etc. it is a meaningful and fitting — though not ostentatious — title.” Source: Ernest Richert in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 198ff.)
- Avaric: “Son of Adam” (“from Islam, which means ‘human'”) (source: Magomed-Kamil Gimbatov and Yakov Testelets in The Bible Translator 1996, p. 434ff.)
- Navajo: “Diné Silíi’ii” — “Man he-became-the-one-who” (“This terra presented a difficulty not only in Navajo but also one peculiar to all the Athapaskan languages. It lies in the fact that all these languages, so far as we know, have a word phonetically similar to the Navajo diné which has three meanings: ‘man, people in general,’ ‘a man,’ ‘The People’ which is the name the Navajos use for themselves. (The name Navajo was first used by the Spanish explorers.) Although it seemed natural to say diné biye’ ‘a-man his-son,’ this could also mean ‘The-People their-son’ or ‘a-Navajo his-son,’ in contrast to the son of a white man or of another Indian tribe. Since the concept of the humanity of Christ is so important, we felt that diné biye’ with its three possible meanings should not be used. The term finally decided on was Diné Silíi’ii ‘Man he-became-the-one-who.’ This could be interpreted to mean ‘the one who became a Navajo,’ but since it still would impart the idea of Christ’s becoming man, it was deemed adequate, and it has proven acceptable to the Navajos.”) (Source: Faye Edgerton in The Bible Translator 1962, p. 25ff.)
- Toraja-Sa’dan: “son (lit. child) descended in the world” (“using a poetic verb, often found in songs that [deal with] the contacts between heaven and earth”) (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
- Obolo: Gwun̄ Ebilene: ” it is translated as itutumu ijo isibi : “Child of Human (source: Enene Enene).
- Mairasi: Jaanoug Tat: “Person Child” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
In many West African languages, using a third person reference as a first person indicator is common practice with a large range of semantic effects. Languages that use the exact expression “son of man” as a self-reference or reference to another person include Lukpa, Baatonum, Mossi (“son of Adam”), Yoruba (“son of person”), Guiberoua Béte, or Samo. (Source: Lynell Zogbo in: Omanson 2000, p. 167-188.)
In Balinese “we are again bordering on theological questions when we inquire as to which vocabulary shall be used to translate the texts where Jesus speaks of himself as ‘the Son of man.’ One of the fixed rules governing the use of these special vocabularies is that one may never use the deferential terms in speaking of oneself. This would be the extreme of arrogance. Now if one considers the expression ‘Son of man’ primarily as a description of ‘I,’ then one must continually indicate the possessions or actions of the Son of man by Low Balinese words. In doing this the mystery of the expression is largely lost. In any case the vocabulary used in most of the contexts would betray that Jesus means the title for himself.
“However, a distinction can actually be made in Balinese between the person and the exalted position he occupies. For example, the chairman of a judicial body may employ deferential terms when referring to this body and its chairman, without this being taken as an expression of arrogance. Considered from this standpoint, one may translate in such a way that Jesus is understood as using such deferential words and phrases in speaking of himself. The danger is, however, that the unity between his person and the figure of “the Son of man” is blurred by such usage.
“On request, the New Testament committee of the Netherlands Bible Society advised that ‘the sublimity of this mysterious term be considered the most important point and thus High Balinese be used.'”
Source: J.L. Swellengrebel in The Bible Translator 1950, p. 124ff.
In Malay, Barclay Newman reports on the translation of “Today’s Malay Version” (Alkitab Berita Baik) of 1987:
“One of the first things that we did in working through the earlier part of the New Testament was to decide on how we would translate some of the more difficult technical terms. It was immediately obvious that something must be done with the translation of ‘the Son of Man,’ since the literal rendering anak manusia (literally ‘child of a man’) held absolutely no meaning for Malay readers. We felt that the title should emphasize the divine origin and authority of the one who used this title, and at the same time, since it was a title, we decided that it should not be too long a phrase. Finally, a phrase meaning ‘the One whom God has ordained’ was chosen (yang dilantik Allah). It is interesting to note that the newly-begun Common Indonesian (Alkitab Kabar Baik, published in 1985) has followed a similar route by translating ‘the One whom God has chosen’ (yang depilih Allah).”
Source: Barclay Newman in The Bible Translator 1974, p. 432ff.
See also Son of God.
The concept of “forgiveness” is expressed in varied ways through translations. Following is a list of (back-) translations from some languages:
- Tswa, Inupiaq, Panao Huánuco Quechua: “forgetting about”
- Navajo: “to give back” (based on the idea that sin produces an indebtedness, which only the one who has been sinned against can restore)
- Huichol, Shipibo-Conibo, Eastern Highland Otomi, Uduk: “erase,” “wipe out,” “blot out”
- Highland Totonac, Huautla Mazatec: “to lose,” “cause to be lost,” “to make lacking”
- Tzeltal: “to lose another’s sin out of one’s heart”
- Lahu, Burmese: “to be released,” “to be freed”
- Ayacucho Quechua: “to level off”
- Yatzachi Zapotec: “to cast away”
- Chol: “to pass by”
- Wayuu: “to make pass”
- Kpelle: “to turn one’s back on”
- Chicahuaxtla Triqui: “to cover over” (a figure of speech which is also employed in Hebrew, but which in many languages is not acceptable, because it implies “hiding” or “concealment”)
- Tabasco Chontal, Huichol: “to take away sins”
- Toraja-Sa’dan, Javanese: “to do away with sins”
- San Blas Kuna: “erasing the evil heart” (this and all above: Bratcher / Nida)
- Eggon: “to withdraw the hand”
- Mískito: “take a man’s fault out of your heart” (source of this and the one above: Kilgour, p. 80)
- Western Parbate Kham: “unstring someone” (“hold a grudge” – “have someone strung up in your heart”) (source: Watters, p. 171)
- Cebuano: based on saylo: “go beyond”
- Iloko: based on awan: “none” or “no more” (source for this and above: G. Henry Waterman in The Bible Translator 1960, p. 24ff.)
- Tzotzil: ch’aybilxa (“it has been lost”) (source: Aeilts, p. 118)
- Martu Wangka: “throw out badness” (source: Carl Gross)
- Mairasi: “dismantle wrongs” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
- Koonzime: “removing the bad deed-counters” (“The Koonzime lay out the deeds symbolically — usually strips of banana leaf — and rehearse their grievances with the person addressed.”) (Source: Keith and Mary Beavon in Notes on Translation 3/1996, p. 16)
- Amahuaca: “erasing” / “smoothing over” (“It was an expression the people used for smoothing over dirt when marks or drawings had been made in it. It meant wiping off dust in which marks had been made, or wiping off writing on the blackboard. To wipe off the slate, to erase, to take completely away — it has a very wide meaning and applies very well to God’s wiping away sins, removing them from the record, taking them away.”) (Source: Robert Russel, quoted in Walls / Bennett 1959, p. 193)
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” (from Old English belyfan: “to have faith or confidence in a person’) 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.)
- Tzeltal: “heart believe / heart obedience” (source: Marianna C. Slocum in The Bible Translator 1958, p. 49f. — see also wisdom (Proverbs))
- 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)
- Muna: kataino lalo or “stickiness of heart” (for “faithfulness”) (source: René van den Berg)
- Limos Kalinga: manuttuwa. Wiens (2013) explains: “It goes back to the word for ‘truth’ which is ‘tuttuwa.’ When used as a verb this term is commonly used to mean ‘believe’ as well as ‘obey.'”
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, “I 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.
Some languages, including Santali, have two terms — like English (see above) — to differentiate a noun from a verb form. Biswạs is used for faith, whereas pạtiạu for “believe.” R.M. Macphail (in The Bible Translator 1961, p. 36ff.) explains this choice: “While there is little difference between the meaning and use of the two in everyday Santali, in which any word may be used as a verb, we felt that in this way we enriched the translation while making a useful distinction, roughly corresponding to that between ‘faith’ and ‘to believe’ in English.”