baptism, baptize

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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)

synagogue, temple (inner), temple (outer)

In many English translations the Greek terms “hieron” (the whole “temple” in Jerusalem or specifically the outer courts open to worshippers) and “naos” (the inner “shrine” or “sanctuary”) are translated with only one word: “temple” (see also for instance “Tempel” in German and “tempel” in Dutch, Danish, or Afrikaans).

Other languages make a distinction: (Click or tap here to see more)

  • Navajo: “house in which worship is carried out” (for naos)
  • Balinese: “inner part of the Great Temple” (“the term ‘inner part’ denoting the hindmost and holiest of the two or three courts that temples on Bali usually possess”) vs. “Great Temple”
  • Telugu: “womb (i.e. interior)-of-the-abode” vs. “abode”
  • Thai: a term denoting the main audience hall of a Buddhist temple compound vs. “environs-of-the-main-audience-hall”
  • Kituba: “place of holiness of house-God Lord” vs. “house-God Lord”
  • Shipibo-Conibo: “deep in God’s house” vs. “God’s house” (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)

Languages that, like English, German, Dutch, Danish, or Afrikaans don’t make that distinction include:

  • Chinese: “聖殿 Shèng diàn” (“holy palace”)
  • Loma: “the holy place”
  • Pular: “the sacred house” (source for this and the one above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Zarma: “God’s compound”
  • Eastern Highland Otomi: “big church of the Jews”
  • Yatzachi Zapotec: “big house on top (i.e. most important)”
  • Toraja-Sa’dan: “house that is looked upon as holy, that is sacred, that is taboo and where one may not set foot” (lit. “house where-the-belly-gets-swollen” — because taboo is violated — using a term that is also applied to a Muslim mosque) (source for this and the three above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • Guhu-Samane: “festival longhouse of God” (“The biiri, ‘festival longhouse’, being the religious and social center of the community, is a possible term for ‘temple’. It is not the ‘poro house’ as such. That would be too closely identified with the cult of poro. The physical features of the building, huge and sub-divided, lend it further favor for this consideration. By qualifying it as ‘God’s biiri’ the term has become meaningful and appropriate in the context of the Scriptures.”) (Source: Ernest Richert in The Bible Translator, 1965, p. 81ff.)

Another distinction that tends to be overlooked in translations is that between hieron (“temple” in English) and sunagógé (“synagogue” in English). Euan Fry (in The Bible Translator 1987, p. 213ff.) reports on this:

“Many older translations have simply used transliterations of ‘temple’ and ‘synagogue’ rather than trying to find equivalent terms or meaningful expressions in their own languages. This approach does keep the two terms separate; but it makes the readers depend on explanations given by pastors or teachers for their understanding of the text.

“Translators who have tried to find meaningful equivalents, for the two terms ‘temple’ and ‘synagogue’ have usually made a distinction between them in one of two ways (which focus on the contrasting components of meaning). One way takes the size and importance of the Temple to make a contrast, so that expressions such as ‘sacred meeting/ worship house of the Jews’ and ‘big sacred meeting/worship house of the Jews’ are used. The other way focuses on the different nature of the religious activity at each of the places, so that expressions such as ‘meeting/worship house of the Jews’ and ‘sacrifice/ceremony place of the Jews’ are used.

“It is not my purpose in this article to discuss how to arrive at the most precise equivalent to cover all the components of meaning of ‘temple’. That is something that each translator really has to work through for himself in the light of the present usage and possibilities in his own language. My chief concern here is that the basic term or terms chosen for ‘temple’ should give the reader of a translation a clear and correct picture of the location referred to in each passage. And I am afraid that in many cases where an equivalent like ‘house of God’ or ‘worship house’ has been chosen, the readers have quite the wrong picture of what going to the Temple or being in the Temple means. (This may be the case for the word ‘temple’ in English too, for many readers.)”

Here are some examples:

  • Bambara: “house of God” (or: “big house of worship”) vs. “worship house” (or: “small houses of worship”)
  • Toraja-Sa’dan: “house where-the-belly-gets-swollen” (see above) vs. “meeting house for discussing matters concerning religious customs” (and “church” is “house where one meets on Sunday”)
  • Navajo: “house in which worship is carried out” vs. “house of gathering” (source for all above: Bratcher / Nida)

blind

Some languages have distinctive terms for congenital and non-congenital blindness. The Greek that is translated here as “blind” in English is translated with the term for the non-congenital blindness in Yatzachi Zapotec.

Other terms for “blind” include “(having) eyes dark/night” in Ekari or “having no eyes” in Zarma.

Sources: Reiling / Swellengrebel and Nida 1964, p. 200.

forgive, forgiveness

(To view the different translations of this term in a simplified graphical form on a new page, click or tap here.)

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)
  • Tzotzil: ch’aybilxa (“it has been lost”) (source: Aeilts, p. 118)
  • Martu Wangka: “throw out badness” (source: Carl Gross)
  • 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)

righteous, righteousness

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The Greek and Hebrew terms that are translated mostly as “righteous” as an adjective or personified noun or “righteousness” are most commonly expressed with concept of “straightness,” though this may be expressed in a number of ways. (Click or tap here to see the details)

Following is a list of (back-) translations of various languages:

  • Bambara, Southern Bobo Madaré, Chokwe (“ululi”), Amganad Ifugao, Chol, Eastern Maninkakan, Toraja-Sa’dan, Pamona, Batak Toba, Bilua, Tiv: “to be straight”
  • Laka: “to follow the straight way” or “to straight-straight” (a reduplicated form for emphasis)
  • Highland Puebla Nahuatl, Kekchí: “to have a straight heart”
  • Kipsigis: “to do the truth”
  • Mezquital Otomi: “to do according to the truth”
  • Huautla Mazatec: “to have truth”
  • Yine: “to fulfill what one should do”
  • Indonesian: “people who are true”
  • Navajo: “to do just so”
  • Anuak: “to do as it should be”
  • Mossi: “to have a white stomach” (See also Seat of the Mind for traditional views of “ways of knowing, thinking, and feeling.”)
  • Nuer: “way of right” (“there is a complex concept of “right” vs. ‘left’ in Nuer where ‘right’ indicates that which is masculine, strong, good, and moral, and ‘left’ denotes what is feminine, weak, and sinful (a strictly masculine viewpoint!) The ‘way of right’ is therefore righteousness, but of course women may also attain this way, for the opposition is more classificatory than descriptive.”) (This and all above from Bratcher / Nida except for Bilua: Carl Gross; Tiv: Rob Koops)
  • Eastern Huasteca Nahuatl: “the result of heart-straightening” (source: Nida 1947, p. 224)
  • Eastern Highland Otomi: “entirely good” (when referred to God), “do good” (when referred to people)
  • Carib: “level”
  • Tzotzil: “straight-hearted”
  • Yatzachi Zapotec: “walk straight” (source for this and three previous: John Beekham in Notes on Translation November 1964, p. 1-22)
  • Aari: The Pauline word for “righteous” is generally rendered by “makes them without sin” in the Aari, sometimes “before God” is added for clarity. (Source: Loren Bliese)
  • Inupiaq: “having sin taken away” (Source: Nida 1952, p. 144)
  • Venda: “nothing wrong, OK” (Source: J.A. van Roy in The Bible Translator 1972, p. 418ff.)
  • Guhu-Samane: “pobi” or “right” (also: “right (side),” “(legal) right,” “straightness,” “correction,” “south,” “possession,” “pertinence,” “kingdom,” “fame,” “information,” or “speech” — “According to Mid-Waria (Guhu-Samane) thinking there is a common core of meaning among all these glosses. Even from an English point of view the first five can be seen to be closely related, simply because of their similarity in English. However, from that point the nuances of meaning are not so apparent. They relate in some such a fashion as this: As one faces the morning sun, south lies to the right hand (as north lies to the left); then at one’s right hand are his possessions and whatever pertains to him; thus, a rich man’s many possessions and scope of power and influence is his kingdom; so, the rich and other important people encounter fame; and all of this spreads as information and forms most of the framework of the people’s speech.”) (Source: Ernest Richert in Notes on Translation 1964, p. 11ff.)

See also respectable, righteous and righteous (person)

mind (heart / soul) (letters of John)

The concept that is expressed as “mind” in English is translated as “head-heart” in Yatzachi Zapotec. This concept is applied to terms that are translated in English as “fellowship” (“head-hearts are one”), the “inner-self” (“have no evil” is “have no evil in our head-hearts”), “eye” (in the sense of “understanding”), “heart” and “soul.”

Source: John Beekham in Notes on Translation November 1964, p. 1-22.

God is love

The Greek that is translated as “God is love” in most English versions is translated as “God loves mankind” in Yatzachi Zapotec and “God has the character of a lover (or God’s character is to habitually love)” in Tzotzil. (Source: John Beekham in Notes on Translation November 1964, p. 1-22.)

In Arrernte it is translated as “God always shows his love to people.” (Source: Carl Gross)

See also love (by God).