holy

The Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek that is translated in English as “holy” has many translations that often only cover one aspect of its meaning

In an article from 2017, Andrew Case (in: The Bible Translator 2017, p. 269ff.) describes some of the problems of the concept of “holiness” in English as well as in translation in other languages and asks for “a creative effort to turn the tide toward a more biblical understanding. He challenges the standard understanding of God’s holiness as “separation,” “transcendence,” or “infinite purity,” and suggests that in certain contexts it also carries the meaning of “totally devoted.”

(Click here to read more of his article.)

“For a long time there has been considerable confusion regarding the meaning of the word ‘holy’. For the limited scope of this paper, we will focus on this confusion and its development within the English-speaking world, which has a widespread influence in other countries. The word for holy in English can be traced back at least to the eleventh century (although there is evidence of its use in Old Norse around A.D. 825). The Oxford English Dictionary describes the use of holy as applied to deities, stating:

“‘the development of meaning has probably been: held in religious regard or veneration, kept reverently sacred from human profanation or defilement; (hence) of a character that evokes human veneration and reverence; (and thus, in Christian use) free from all contamination of sin and evil, morally and spiritually perfect and unsullied, possessing the infinite moral perfection which Christianity attributes to the Divine character.’

“Thus ‘infinite moral perfection’ persists as an understood meaning by many in the English-speaking world today. Others gloss this as ‘purity’ or ‘cleanness,’ and the effects of this interpretation can be seen in residual missionary influence in different parts of the world. These effects manifest themselves in people groups who have long-standing traditions of referring to the Holy Spirit as the ‘clean’ Spirit or the ‘pure’ Spirit. And subsequently, their idea of what it means for God to be holy remains limited by a concept of high sinlessness or perfection. After years of this mentality embedding itself into a culture’s fabric, it turns out to be extremely difficult to translate the Bible into their language using any terminology that might differ from the ingrained tradition handed down to them by missionaries who had a faulty understanding of the word holy. One of the purposes of this paper is to offer persuasive biblical evidence that translations and traditions like those mentioned may be limited in what they convey and may often be unhelpful.

“The persistence of this confusion around the word ‘holy’ in our present day stems from various factors, of which two will be mentioned. First, English translations of the Bible have insisted on retaining the term ‘holy’ even though few modern people intuitively understand the meaning of the term. This phenomenon is similar to the use of the word hosts in phrases like ‘LORD of hosts’ or ‘heavenly hosts,’ which most modern people do not know refers to armies. Within much of the English-speaking church there is an assumption that Christians understand the word ‘holy’, yet at the same time authors continue to write books to help explain the term. These varied explanations have contributed to a conceptual muddiness, which is related to the second primary factor: the promotion and proliferation of an etymological fallacy. This etymological fallacy’s roots can be traced back to the influence of W. W. Baudissin, who published The Concept of Holiness in the Old Testament in 1878. In this work he proposed that the Hebrew קדשׁ originally came from קד, which meant ‘to cut’ (Baudissin 1878). This led to the widespread notion that the primary or essential meaning of ‘holy’ is ‘apart, separate.’ This meaning of holy has been further engrafted into the culture and tradition of evangelicals by influential authors and speakers like R. C. Sproul. His book The Holiness of God, which has sold almost 200,000 copies since it was first released in the 1980s, tends to be a staple volume on every pastor’s shelf, and became an immensely popular video series. In it he writes,

“‘The primary meaning of holy is ‘separate.’ It comes from an ancient word meaning ‘to cut,’ or ‘to separate.’ To translate this basic meaning into contemporary language would be to use the phrase ‘a cut apart.’ . . . God’s holiness is more than just separateness. His holiness is also transcendent. . . . When we speak of the transcendence of God, we are talking about that sense in which God is above and beyond us. Transcendence describes His supreme and absolute greatness. . . . Transcendence describes God in His consuming majesty, His exalted loftiness. It points to the infinite distance that separates Him from every creature.’ (Sproul 1985, 37)

“J. I. Packer also contributes to the spread of this idea in his book Rediscovering Holiness: ‘Holy in both biblical languages means separated and set apart for God, consecrated and made over to Him’ (Packer 2009, 18).

“Widely influential author A. W. Tozer also offers a definition:

“‘What does this word holiness really mean? . . . Holiness in the Bible means moral wholeness — a positive quality which actually includes kindness, mercy, purity, moral blamelessness and godliness. It is always to be thought of in a positive, white intensity of degree.’ (Tozer 1991, 34)

“Thus one can imagine the average Christian trying to juggle this hazy collection of abstractions: infinite moral purity and wholeness, kindness, mercy, blamelessness, godliness, transcendence, exalted loftiness, and separateness. Trying to apply such a vast definition to one’s reading of Scripture can be baffling. (. . .)

“In the levitical and priestly tradition of the Pentateuch, the term ‘holy’ is applied to people (priests, Nazirites, the congregation), places (especially the sanctuary), gifts and offerings, occasions (all the feasts), as well as to Yahweh. While we cannot assume that the meaning is totally different when applied to these different categories, neither should we assume that it is the same. This paper does not propose to address the meaning of holy when referring to things. The purpose is to explore how holy should be understood when applied mainly to persons. It is common for a word to carry a different meaning when applied to a human being than when applied to a thing. In English, for example, a person can be ‘tender’ in a way a steak cannot. Context is king. Also, it should be understood that the semantic range of a word is not permanently fixed and may shift considerably over time. It would be linguistically disingenuous to say that a word always means ‘such and such.’ As Nida explains, a word’s meaning is a ‘set of relations for which a verbal symbol is a sign’ (Nida 1975, 14). Words are not infinitely malleable, but they are also not completely static or inextricably bound by their root or history. Thus this paper acknowledges that ‘holy’ may connote other things such as ‘purity, separate, set apart,’ depending on the context. In summary, this paper should be considered a simple beginning to a discussion that may help stir up others to develop the idea further. (…)

“As mentioned at the beginning of this paper, translations that gloss ‘holy’ as ‘pure’ or ‘clean’ in reference to God or the Spirit are limited and potentially misleading. Therefore, what is the alternative way forward? Obviously, when considering the issue of perceived authenticity, many will not be able to change decades or even centuries of tradition within their communities. Once the translation of a name is established, especially a name so pervasive and primal as Holy Spirit, it is exceedingly difficult to reverse the decision. As in all cases with translation of key terms, best practice involves letting the community make an informed decision and test it amongst themselves.

“In all probability, communities who already use terms such as ‘Clean/Pure Spirit’ will opt to maintain them, even after gaining a better understanding as presented in this paper. In those cases it may be helpful to encourage them to include a clarifying discussion of what it means for God to be holy, in a glossary or a footnote.

“In cultures that have assimilated a loan word from English or some other language, there must be corrective teaching on the term, since it will be impossible to change. We are forever stuck with holy in the English-speaking world, but pastors, leaders, and writers can begin to turn the tide towards a better understanding of the term. Likewise, other cultures can begin to resurrect the biblical meaning through offering wise guidance to their congregations.

“In pioneering contexts where no church or Christian terminology has been established, translators have a unique opportunity to create translations that communicate more accurately what Scripture says about God’s holiness. The equivalent of a single abstract term ‘devoted’ or ‘dedicated’ may often be lacking in other languages, but there are always creative and compelling ways to communicate the concept. Even the translation ‘Faithful Spirit’ would be closer to the meaning than ‘pure.’ ‘Committed’ would be better than ‘separate’ or ‘blameless.’ Nevertheless, it should be clearly understood that finding a viable alternative for translation will be a difficult challenge in many languages.

“Although our devotion to God will involve separating ourselves from certain things and striving to be blameless, they are not equal concepts, just as loving one’s wife is not the same as avoiding pornography (even though it should include that). The one is positive and the other negative. What we want to communicate is the positive and fundamental aspect of holiness, wherein God pours himself out for the good of his people, and people offer their hands and hearts to God and his glory.

“A helpful tool for eliciting a proper translation would be to tell a story of a father (or a mother in some cultures) who was totally devoted to the well-being of his children, or of a husband who was totally devoted to the welfare of his wife. After choosing culturally appropriate examples of how the man went above and beyond the normal call of duty because of his devotion, ask, ‘What would you call this man? What was he like?’ This would open up a potentially valuable discussion that may unveil the right word or phrase.

“Ultimately God’s manifestation of his covenantal character in action towards humanity (his people in particular) and his people manifesting the covenantal character of God in their lives — that is, holiness — complements our understanding of the gospel. God poured out the life of his Son as a demonstration not only of his righteousness (Rom 3:25), but also to show his holiness. Jesus himself was obedient unto death for his Father’s chosen ones, and thus it is no surprise that he is referred to by the quaking demons as ‘the Holy One of God’ (Mark 1:24). And it is the Holy Spirit who manifests God’s holiness through the gospel, enabling people to understand it, bringing them to embrace it, and empowering them to live it.

In the 1960s Bratcher / Nida described the difficulty of translation the concept (in connection with “Holy Spirit”) like this:

“An almost equally difficult element in the phrase Holy Spirit is the unit meaning ‘holy,’ which in the Biblical languages involves a concept of separation (i.e. unto God or for His service). In general, however, it is difficult to employ a term meaning primarily ‘separated’, for this often leads to the idea of ‘cast out’. One must make sure that the concept of ‘separated’ implies not merely ‘separated from’ (hence, often culturally ostracized), but ‘separated to’ (in the idea of consecrated, dedicated, or ‘taboo’ — in its proper technical sense). Perhaps the most naive mistakes in rendering Holy have been to assume that this word can be translated as ‘white’ or ‘clean’, for we assume that “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” a belief which is quite foreign to most peoples in the world. Holy may, however, be rendered in some languages as ‘clear’, ‘pure’ (in Toraja-Sa’dan, Pamona and Javanese ‘clean’ or ‘pure’), ‘shining’, or ‘brilliant’ (with the connotation of awesomeness), concepts which are generally much more closely related to ‘holiness’ than is ‘whiteness’ or ‘cleanness’.”

Other translations include:

  • Southern Bobo Madaré: “good”
  • Huichol: “without sin”
  • Vai: “uncontaminated” (source for this and two above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Balinese: “purety”
  • Tae’ (1933 translation): “roundness of heart” (=”perfection”)
  • Kituba: “being-sufficient” (=”complete, perfect, acceptable”)
  • Tboli: “unreserved obedience” (“using a noun built on the expression ‘his breath/soul is conformed'”) (source for this and three above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • Folopa: “separate (from sin) / pure / distinct” (source: Anderson / Moore 2006, p. 202)
  • Khmer: visoth — “unmixed, exceptional” (rather than Buddhist concept of purity) (source: Joseph Hong in The Bible Translator 1996, p. 233ff.)
  • Warlpiri: “God-possessive” (in connection with “Holy Spirit) (source: Stephen Swartz in The Bible Translator 1985, p. 415ff.)
  • Pass Valley Yali: “great and shiny” (source: Daud Soesilo)
  • Lama: “belonging especially to God” or “set apart for God’s purposes” (source: Joshua Ham)
  • Naro: tcom-tcomsam — “lucky” (“the concept of holiness is unknown”) (source: van Steenbergen)
  • Aguaruna: “blameless” (Source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation 1970, p. 1ff.)
  • Mandara: tamat (“In the Mandara culture, there is a place where only the traditional leaders of high standing can enter, and only during special feasts. This place is tamat, meaning set apart, sacred.” (source: Karen Weaver)
  • Awabakal: yirri yirri Lake (2018, p. 71) describes that choice: “As language historian Anne Keary has explained, yirri yirri meant ‘sacred, reverend, holy, not to be regarded but with awe’. It also had the more concrete meaning of an initiation site, ‘the place marked out for mystic rites, not to be profaned by common use’. As such, yirri yirri was not a generic term for ‘holy’: it invoked a specifically male spiritual domain.

The use of the word “tapu” (from which the English word “taboo” derives) in translations of various languages in the South Pacific is noteworthy. The English term “taboo” was first used by Captain Cook in 1785. It does not only mean “forbidden, prohibited, untouchable,” but also “sacred, holy.” This concept is attested in almost all South Pacific islands (see this listing for the use of forms of “tapu” in many of the languages — for a modern-day definition of tapu, according to Māori usage, see here).

While some Bible translators working in South Pacific languages did not use “tapu” for the Hebrew Old Testament term קֹדֶשׁ (“holy” in English translation), many did, including in Tongan (“tapuha”), Gilbertese (“tabu”), Tuvalu (“tapu”), Rarotongan (“tapu”), and Māori (“tapu”). (See: Joseph Hong, The Bible Translator 1994, p. 329.)

In some of those languages, for instance in the Kiribati (Gilbertese) New Version Bible of 2016, other Old (and New) Testament terms that don’t contain a “Holy” marker in the source language, use “tabu” as a modifier for terms that are rendered in English as “Bread of Presence (shewbread),” “Sabbath,” or “Temple.”

Some South Pacific languages also use forms of “tapu” in translation of the “Holy” (Ἅγιον) in “Holy Spirit.”

Other languages that use “taboo” for a translation of “holy” include the Bantu languages Luvale and Lunda (source: A.E. Horton in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 122ff.).

The Hebraist Franz Steiner gave a series of lectures on the topic of “taboo” and the Old Testament idea of “holy” or “sacred” that are now considered classic. Steiner died shortly after giving the lectures and they were published posthumously. While he never actually arrives at an actual definition of “taboo” in his lectures the following excerpts show something of the difficult relationship between “taboo” and “קֹדֶשׁ” (Click or tap here):

“The most common form of the word is tapu. That is the Maori, Tahitian, Marquesan, Rarotongan, Mangarevan and Paumotan pronunciation, which in some cases sounds more like tafu. The Hawaiian form is kapu, the Tongan tabu. Forms like tambu and tampu are not unknown, particularly in the mixed linguistic area or in the Polynesian periphery. The word is used extensively outside Polynesia proper. Thus in Fiji tabu means unlawful, sacred, and superlatively good; in Malagassy, tabaka, profaned, polluted. The New English Dictionary remarks: ‘The accentuation taboó, and the use of the word as substantive and verb, are English; in all the native languages the word is stressed on the first syllable, and is used only as an adjective, the substantive and verb being expressed by derivative words and phrases.’

“Up to this point my report is straightforward, and I only wish I could continue, as so many have done, with the following words: ‘A brief glance at any compilation of the forms and meanings of this word in the various Polynesian languages shows that in all of them the word has two main meanings from which the others derive, and these meanings are: prohibited and sacred.’ The comparison of these data, however, suggests something rather different to me; namely, (i) that the same kind of people have compiled all these dictionaries, assessing the meaning of words in European terms, and (a) that, with few exceptions, there are no Polynesian words meaning approximately what the word ‘holy’ means in contemporary usage without concomitantly meaning ‘forbidden’. The distinction between prohibition and sacredness cannot be expressed in Polynesian terms. Modern European languages on the other hand lack a word with the Polynesian range of meaning; hence Europeans discovered that taboo means both prohibition and sacredness. Once this distinction has been discovered, it can be conveyed within the Polynesian cultural idiom by the citation of examples in which only one of the two European translations would be appropriate. I have no wish to labour this point, but I do want to stress a difficulty all too seldom realized. It is for this reason that it is so hard to accept uncritically the vocabulary-list classifications of meanings on which so much of the interpretation of taboo has been based. Tregear’s (Tregear Edward: “The Maoris of New Zealand,” 1890) definition of the Maori tapu is an example: ‘Under restriction, prohibited. Used in two senses: (i) sacred, holy, hedged with religious sanctity; (2) to be defiled, as a common person who touches some chief or tapued property; entering a prohibited dwelling; handling a corpse or human bones . . .’ and so forth.

“This sort of classification almost suggests that there was in Polynesian life a time in which, or a group of objects and situations in relation to which, the notion of prohibition was employed while the society did not yet know, or related to a different group of objects and situations, the notion of sacredness. This is not so. Taboo is a single, not an ‘undifferentiated’, concept. The distinction between prohibition and sacredness is artificially introduced by us and has no bearing on the concept we are discussing. (…)

“Before we go on to the meaning of impurity in taboo, I should like to mention the exceptions I alluded to before: when, according to dictionary evidence, taboo means only ‘sacred’ and not ‘prohibited’. As translations of tapu Tregear gives for the island of Fotuna ‘sacred’, and for the island of Aniwan, ‘sacred, hallowed’. There they are, but I think one is entitled to be suspicious of such cases, since they are not accompanied by any examples of non-Christian, non-translatory use, for the word taboo was widely used by missionaries in the translation of the Bible: in the Lord’s Prayer for ‘hallowed’, ‘sacred’, and as an adjective for words like Sabbath. On the other hand, Tregear’s second point is plausible: that the notion of impurity is derived from that of prohibition (or, as one should rather say, prohibition and sacredness). A mere glance into Polynesian dictionaries reaffirms this statement, for while there is no use of a word — with, as I said, a few exceptions — which connotes sacredness without implying prohibition, there are many words meaning dirty, filthy, not nice, putrid, impure, defiled, etc. Thus it was possible to convey a notion of an object’s unfitness for consumption, or unsatisfactory surface or state of preservation, without any reference to sacredness and prohibition. Only some of the notions of impurity were connected with taboo notions. (p. 33-34)

(…)

“Qodesh [קדש] is, for the man of the Pentateuch, unthinkable without manifestation. Furthermore, it is a relation, and what is related to God becomes separated from other things, and separation implies taboo behaviour. According to taboo concepts, man must behave in a certain way once the relationship has been established, whether or not he is part of the qodesh relationship. For it does not follow from either the behavioural or the doctrinal element of qodesh that (1) in the establishment of the relationship the incipient part must be God, or that (2) man must be the other part.

“The full relationship, including the ritual behaviour which it to some extent explains, is basically a triangular one, but two corners of the tri¬angle may coincide. Thus the Pentateuch tells us of qodesh, holiness: (1) when God manifests Himself, then the spot is qodesh for it has been related to Him. Here the notion of contagion operates. (2) When some thing, animal, or human being has been dedicated to Him, then it is qodesh and hence taboo. Contagion, however, is in no way involved in this case. (3) The baruch relationship, the so-called blessing, also establishes holiness. God himself — this comes as a shock to most superficial Bible readers — is never called holy, qodesh, unless and in so far as He is related to something else. He is holy in His capacity as Lord of Hosts, though He is not here related to man. Very often the Bible says. The Holy One, blessed be He, or blessed be His name. The name is, in the framework of the doctrinal logic of the Pentateuch, always qodesh because it establishes a relationship: it has, so we primitives think, to be pronounced in order to exist.” (p. 85-86)

See also consecrate / consecration and complete verse (Exod. 3:14-15).

complete verse (2 Corinthians 10:12)

Following are a number of back-translations of 2 Corinthians 10:12:

  • Uma: “We(excl.) really don’t dare to follow the behavior of those there [where you are] that put their own selves forward. We(excl.) are not the same as they. They, they praise each other, they say that they are good in their own sight. How stupid they are!” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “We (excl.) don’t dare compare ourselves to those people who make themselves great. They think-mistakenly that they are the ones who know what is the best. They are really stupid/dull. Because those people make their own customs the-ones-to-be-copied. Therefore even whatever they do, good or bad, according to them it is only good.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “We really are cowards to imitate the activity of some of the people there who are puffed-up with pride. They suppose mistakenly that they are the ones who can decide what good works are. They are very stupid! For when people imitate their behavior, they say that it’s very good. However, when people don’t imitate them, they say that those people who do not imitate them are mistaken.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “We (excl.) admittedly don’t want to compare ourselves with those aforementioned-people who boast-about themselves. It’s as if their minds are lacking! Because their measure of their goodness, it is their very own behavior.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “It’s not possible/acceptable that we (excl.) include ourselves or make ourselves(excl.) like those who are elevating themselves, for is it not so that, as for them, they are without equal? But that is not true. In their stupidity, they are all making-themselves-the-same-as-each-other with just their own understanding/perception.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “But concerning the word I speak, I am not able to say that I will do like those other people do, who speak, elevating themselves. They think that they are greater wise-people than other people. But these are people who are stupid. These only hunt for how to be better than their fellow teachers.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
  • Warlpiri: “Are you people forcing me so that I live like those ones who reckoning they are important boast about themselves? They are ignorant, not knowing! They just follow their word, and they make up and establish their own law so that they all can call themselves good.” (Source: Carl Gross)

complete verse (John 2:11)

Following are a number of back-translations of John 2:11:

  • Uma: “Yesus did that miracle in Kana town in Galilea land. That was the first miracle that he did. With that sign he showed his power, and his disciples believed in him.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “This is the wonder-causing deed that Isa did as the first. He did this there in Kana, in the country Jalil. He showed his power, so-then his disciples believed in him.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “That was the first miracle which Jesus did; he did it in the village of Cana in the province of Galilee and by means of this he showed his great power, and his disciples believed in him.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “This that Jesus did in Cana a town in Galilea, that was the first sign by-which-he-showed his godhood. And his disciples believed even-more in him.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “This which Jesus did there in Cana in the district of Galilea, this was the first sign which was an amazing thing which he did. And as for this which he did, it testified to his praiseworthiness, and the outcome of it was that those disciples of his then believed in him.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “This is what Jesus did in the town of Cana in the land of Galilee. It is the first sign he did and not anyone else is able to do it. Thus it became evident that Jesus is the greatest. The learners believed even more that he was the Christ.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
  • Warlpiri: “When Jesus turned the water into wine in a place called Cana in Galilee, it was with God’s power. Before this time, the disciples didn’t know that Jesus had power. And he showed himself to them that he was really powerful just like God. When the disciples saw the power, they started trusting Jesus.” (Source: Carl Gross)

complete verse (2 Corinthians 1:21)

Following are a number of back-translations of 2 Corinthians 1:21:

  • Uma: “God himself is the one who strengthens us all, both us (excl.) and you, relatives, so that we (inc) are connected with Kristus. He purposely chose us (inc) to be his portion,” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “God is hep the one who helps us (incl.) so that our (dual) trust in Isa Almasi is really firm. And it is also God who chose us (incl.) to become his portion to belong to him.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Because as for God, He is the one who strengthens our belief in Jesus Christ, and He’s the one who chose us (incl.).” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “This God is the one who is-strengthening our faith in Cristo and he has chosen us to serve him.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “This God is the one who makes us (excl.) firm/stable, and you also, so that our believing/obeying Cristo is firmly-founded, and God is also the one who raised us up to be his servants.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “Concerning myself and also you, it is God who strengthens us so that we do not separate from Christ. God has made us to be his people.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
  • Warlpiri: “God unites us with Christ Jesus altogether, you people and us Apostles. God alone chose us so that we can live and work for him.” (Source: Carl Gross)

complete verse (2 Corinthians 1:22)

Following are a number of back-translations of 2 Corinthians 1:22:

  • Uma: “and he gave us the Holy Spirit as an indication that we are his portion. The Holy Spirit is like God’s seal [Indonesian ‘cap’] in our hearts, that strengthens his promises to us, so that it is certain/clear [lit., straight] to us that he will give us all that he promised to us in the future.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “God made a sign that we (incl.) belong to him. He caused the Holy Spirit to dwell in our (incl.) livers. Because of God’s Spirit we (incl.) are assured that we (incl.) will receive all that God has prepared for us (incl.).” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And He has given us (incl.) power which is a sign that we belong to Him. He has made it possible that we be guided by the Holy Spirit, who is the sign that He will fulfill every one of His promises to us.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “He has also given us the Holy Spirit who is like a mark or sign that we are his people, and his remaining-in us is our means-of-knowing for-sure that he will fulfill all that he has promised us.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Furthermore he caused-us -to-be-indwelt by the Espiritu Santo who is like his trade-mark on us, an indicator that we really are his people. And this Espiritu Santo whom God caused-to-come-on-ahead so that we can be sure that the day will come when he will bring-to-completion the good-situation that is being reserved for us.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “Now we are in God’s hand. Now he has sent the Holy Spirit to walk with us. Therefore we now recognize that all the rest of the word God promised concerning the good he would give us will all happen.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
  • Warlpiri: “We are God’s people. For that reason certainly he put his skin mark/scar on us, that mark is the Holy Spirit inside Christians. From that we know that he will give us everything later on that he promised us long ago.” (Source: Carl Gross)

complete verse (2 Corinthians 2:15)

Following are a number of back-translations of 2 Corinthians 2:15:

  • Uma: “In God’s sight, we (excl.) are like incense that is burned, that is smelled by all people. For we (excl.) are the ones he has sent to proclaim the News of Kristus to all people. To people who believe the Good News we (excl.) are like something fragrant, for we tell them the news that gives them good life forever. But to people who reject the Good News we (excl.) are like something stinking, for we tell them that God will punish them in hell. Who is able to do this work? With our own ability, no-one of course. [implied here and stated by Paul in 3:5]” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “We (excl.) are like incense burned by Almasi for God. The news preached by us (excl.) is like a fragrance spreading to all people, the people who are saved and the people who are not saved.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And since we have been made the messengers of Christ so that we might spread this news, God likes this very much, and this news comes to people who are being freed from punishment, and also those who are not being freed.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Because our (excl.) preaching concerning Cristo, it is like fragrant incense with-which-God -is-satisfied which all who hear are smelling, believers and non believers.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “For because of our (excl.) teaching the Good News concerning Cristo, we (excl.) are like the most-fragrant-thing which pleases God, which can be smelled by the people who now have salvation/freedom, and those who will arrive at death which is punishment which is without ending.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “God looks well on my spreading the word about Christ. When the incense burns, its smell is smelled by all the people. Like this is the word I speak now, all the people hear the word, alike for those whose souls are saved and alike for those who will go to punishment, all hear the word.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
  • Warlpiri: (verses 15 and 16) “We Apostles did Christ Jesus give to God like special meat which they burned and gave to God long ago in order to placate him. Many people whom God is keeping safe, and many others who are still going away from him, the whole lot of them we tell the Good News. People who are going the wrong way from God, they hear the Good News. After that, they say that it is bad like meat that has gone off and smells bad, like that. Other people whom God is keeping, they also hear that Good News. After that, they say this, ‘The Good News, it makes us alive. It is really good just like the way grass smells after the rain.’ That is true.” (Source: Carl Gross)

complete verse (2 Corinthians 2:16)

Following are a number of back-translations of 2 Corinthians 2:16:

  • Uma: “In God’s sight, we (excl.) are like incense that is burned, that is smelled by all people. For we (excl.) are the ones he has sent to proclaim the News of Kristus to all people. To people who believe the Good News we (excl.) are like something fragrant, for we tell them the news that gives them good life forever. But to people who reject the Good News we (excl.) are like something stinking, for we tell them that God will punish them in hell. Who is able to do this work? With our own ability, no-one of course. [implied here and stated by Paul in 3:5]” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “To the ones who are not saved our (excl.) preaching is like a bad smell that causes them to die. But for those who are saved, our (excl.) preaching is like a fragrance that gives them life. This doing is hep really difficult. It almost cannot be done by humans.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And as for the people who will not let themselves be freed, we let them know that death without end is their punishment. And as for those people who are asking Christ to free them, we let them know that what is given to them is life without end. But it seems as if there’s nobody who’s worthy to spread this news.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “As for the people who are being saved, its smell is fragrant to them, because it leads to their life which has no end which Cristo gives. But as for those who are being-lost, it stinks to them like the stink of a dead-one, for their not believing, it leads to their punishment that is forever. This work of ours (excl.) is extremely important. Who indeed is capable of doing it?” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Well now, to the people who are not paying-attention-to/taking-seriously this salvation, it’s like what they can smell repulses them, therefore that is what leads them to death which is punishment which has no end. But to those who will be saved, it’s fragrant, therefore life which has no ending is what they will arrive at. Well since it’s like that, who has ability to do well this work of teaching the Good News?” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “Concerning the people who will be punished, this word they hear is as though poison accompanies it. But concerning the people whose souls are saved, this word they hear is beautiful and their hearts understand that this is the word by which they find the new life. Whoever could arise who knows of himself how to accomplish such work?” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
  • Warlpiri: (verses 15 and 16) “We Apostles did Christ Jesus give to God like special meat which they burned and gave to God long ago in order to placate him. Many people whom God is keeping safe, and many others who are still going away from him, the whole lot of them we tell the Good News. People who are going the wrong way from God, they hear the Good News. After that, they say that it is bad like meat that has gone off and smells bad, like that. Other people whom God is keeping, they also hear that Good News. After that, they say this, ‘The Good News, it makes us alive. It is really good just like the way grass smells after the rain.’ That is true.” (Source: Carl Gross)

complete verse (2 Corinthians 3:1)

Following are a number of back-translations of 2 Corinthians 3:1:

  • Uma: “But don’t you say that we (excl.) are praising ourselves again here/now! We(excl.) are not like some of those religion teachers there [with you (implied in locational)]. When they arrive in your village, they show letters of praise from others so that you will receive them. And if they leave your village, they also request praise letters from you. We(excl.) don’t need to get letters like that.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “Perhaps you say that we (excl.) make ourselves great again so that we (excl.) might be accepted by you. We (excl.) are not like the others. We (excl.) don’t have to carry letters that we (excl.) are truely gurus (religious teacher) when we (excl.) go to visit you, or to ask for a letter from you when we (excl.) go to a different place.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Perhaps you are thinking mistakenly that this is just only our boast. We are not like others who teach, because you won’t accept them if they have no letter which they can show which says that their activities are not bad. And in the same way also, they are not accepted by other people if they have no letter like that which comes from you.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Maybe you think/say that here we (excl.) are boasting-about ourselves (excl.) again, but is it indeed-the-case (RQ implying of course not) that we (excl.) need to do that? Is it indeed-the-case that we (excl.) need letters to introduce (lit. make-known) ourselves to you? Is it also necessary that we (excl.) have-you -write something that we (excl.) will show to people in other towns/countries where we (excl.) go? That (empathy particle) is what others are doing, but we (excl.) don’t need to.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Maybe you mistakenly-thought that we (excl.) are praising ourselves so that you will accept us (excl.). What’s this, are we (excl.) like others who need a letter to show to you which testifies to the good-quality of their ways/nature, or a letter which is your testimony concerning their ways/nature which they will show to others they are teaching?” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “Let it not be said that I speak this word in order to boast. Do you think that it is necessary for me to carry a letter to deliver to you which tells that the word I do is good? Or that you need to give me a letter to take with me which says that the word I do is good, like some need?” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
  • Warlpiri (verses 1-3) “You people talk and reckon that I am just boasting and calling myself big. But me, you people know me as a Church Apostle. I am not like many others who reckon that they themselves are Apostles. They show you papers/letters with their names so that you can look at them and know, so they reckon, that they are Apostles. And as for me, I am not asking you so that you can give me a paper like that so that I can go around showing it. You people are like a paper with story that God wrote in my heart. When other people see you, they think about me as God’s Apostle. And they know you also that you are like a letter that Christ Jesus wrote on paper. He did not write the story on stone with something like charcoal. In your hearts he wrote it with God’s Holy Spirit, God who is really alive. This certainly is the paper I show to people.” (Source: Carl Gross)

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (2Cor. 2:15)

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”).

The Warlpiri and the Copainalá Zoque translators chose an exclusive form, because “we take this to refer to Paul and his associates speaking of their ministry” (source: Carl Gross and Roy and Margaret Harrison in Notes on Translation with Drills, p. 173ff.). SIL International Translation Department (1999) mentions the possibility that the inclusive form could possibly also be used.

complete verse (2 Corinthians 3:2)

Following are a number of back-translations of 2 Corinthians 3:2:

  • Uma: “You yourselves are a praise letter that we (excl.) possess/hold. You are like a letter that is written in our (excl.) hearts, for we (excl.) love you. Wherever our (excl.) journey goes, we (excl.) recount to all people how/that you received the Good News that we (excl.) carried.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “But I don’t have to carry letters like that, because you are a letter written in our (excl.) livers. You are seen by the people and immediately they know that your behavior is good, and because of this they know that we (excl.) have authority.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “But as for us, we don’t need anything like that; we know that you are our letter, for by means of your good works, everybody knows that our works are also good.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Because you yourselves are what are compared to a letter that is the evidence (lit. showing) of our (excl.) work. The contents of that-aforementioned letter are already in our (excl.) minds, and it is also easy for even any person who comes-to-know you to read-it.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “But as for us (excl.), we (excl.) don’t need (anything) like that, for you now are as it were a letter which testifies about us (excl.). We (excl.) really are sure about the new-quality of your lives and this also is what testifies to everyone of the good-quality of our (excl.) work among you.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “But I do not need a letter to help me. If there is someone who wants to know if the word I spoke there where you live came out good or not, then he can see how you are walking and thus know that the word came out well. As for me, always I am thinking of you.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
  • Warlpiri (verses 1-3) “You people talk and reckon that I am just boasting and calling myself big. But me, you people know me as a Church Apostle. I am not like many others who reckon that they themselves are Apostles. They show you papers/letters with their names so that you can look at them and know, so they reckon, that they are Apostles. And as for me, I am not asking you so that you can give me a paper like that so that I can go around showing it. You people are like a paper with story that God wrote in my heart. When other people see you, they think about me as God’s Apostle. And they know you also that you are like a letter that Christ Jesus wrote on paper. He did not write the story on stone with something like charcoal. In your hearts he wrote it with God’s Holy Spirit, God who is really alive. This certainly is the paper I show to people.” (Source: Carl Gross)

complete verse (2 Corinthians 3:3)

Following are a number of back-translations of 2 Corinthians 3:3:

  • Uma: “And more than that, because of your behavior, relatives, it has become clear to all people the fruit of our (excl.) work carrying the words of Kristus to you. We can say, you are like a letter that was written by Kristus. What he wrote in your hearts is better than the letter that is written with ink or that is written on a writing rock, like the Law of Musa that was written long ago on a writing rock. For Kristus wrote his words in your hearts with the power of the Spirit of God who Lives.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “It is clear that Almasi wrote this letter and we (excl.) were only used by him to write it. This was not written with ink but written with the Spirit of God who is living. And this letter was also not written on flat stones like the writing of Musa but this is written in people’s livers.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Your faith is like a letter which says there that our activity is right. The one who made this letter is Christ, because He sent us there in order that you might believe. And this letter is much better because it is not written with ink, it was not written on writing tablets of stone like the Law which Moses left behind, but rather, by means of the Holy Spirit, God wrote it in the breath of you people.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “It can be seen in your life that Cristo is the one who wrote it through us (excl.), but it wasn’t ink that was used-to-write-it but rather the Spirit of the living God. Neither was it flat stones like those-on-which-were-written the law of Moses that he-wrote-it-on but rather on your thoughts.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “It’s really clear that what you are now like is a letter of which Cristo is the one-who-wrote and we here are like the writing-instrument that he used. And this new-quality of your lives now, that’s like what he wrote, in which the ink (lit. that-with-which-it-stained) was none other than the Espiritu Santo whom the God who is alive forever caused-to-indwell. And what he wrote this letter on, it was not on flat rocks like the laws of Moises, but rather on your minds/inner-being.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “Christ wants the people to see how much good he has done for you by means of the word which I spoke. But he did not write a letter with ink in order that the people would see words. And he did not write letters on a rock slab like Moses wrote. Rather the Holy Spirit changed your hearts so that it would be apparent what Christ has done for you.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
  • Warlpiri (verses 1-3) “You people talk and reckon that I am just boasting and calling myself big. But me, you people know me as a Church Apostle. I am not like many others who reckon that they themselves are Apostles. They show you papers/letters with their names so that you can look at them and know, so they reckon, that they are Apostles. And as for me, I am not asking you so that you can give me a paper like that so that I can go around showing it. You people are like a paper with story that God wrote in my heart. When other people see you, they think about me as God’s Apostle. And they know you also that you are like a letter that Christ Jesus wrote on paper. He did not write the story on stone with something like charcoal. In your hearts he wrote it with God’s Holy Spirit, God who is really alive. This certainly is the paper I show to people.” (Source: Carl Gross)