The Greek that is translated as “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” or similar in English is “makes the hearts soft for the Lord” in (Panao Huánuco Quechua), “a people fit to be used by the Lord” (wéi zhǔ yùbèi héyòng de bǎixìng 為 主 預 備 合 用 的 百 姓) (Chinese Union Version, 1919), “will prepare people to be Above-One’s people” (Mairasi) (source: Enggavoter 2004).
Newman / Nida describe some of the difficulties surrounding the translation of the Greek “Logos” which is typically translated as “Word” in English (click or tap here to read more):
“The term ‘the Word’ has a rich heritage, by way of both its Greek and Jewish backgrounds. For the Greeks who held to a theistic view of the universe, it could be understood as the means by which God reveals himself to the world, while among those who were pantheistic in outlook, the Word was the principle that held the world together and at the same time endowed men with the wisdom for living. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint), the Word could be used both of the means by which God had created the world (Ps 33:6) and through which he had revealed himself to the world (Jer 1:4; Ezek 1:3; Amos 3:1). Among certain of the Greek-speaking Jews of New Testament times, there was much speculation about the ‘wisdom’ of God, which God ‘made in the very beginning, at the first, before the world began’ (Prov 8:22-23). (…) By the time that John writes his Gospel, the Word is close to being recognized as a personal being, and it has roles relating to the manner in which God created the world and to the way in which God reveals himself to the world that he brought into being. Moffatt [whose English translation of the New Testament was published in 1913], realizing the difficulty in finding a term equivalent in meaning to the one used by John, transliterates the Greek term: ‘the Logos existed in the very beginning’ [see also Hart’s translation below]; while Phillips [New Testament translation published in 1958] at least makes an effort to give his translation meaning: ‘at the beginning God expressed himself.’
“Though the Greek term logos may be rendered ‘word,’ it would be wrong to think it indicates primarily a grammatical or lexical unit in a sentence. Greek has two other terms which primarily identify individual words, whether they occur in a list (as in a dictionary) or in a sentence. The term logos, though applicable to an individual word, is more accurately understood as an expression with meaning; that is, it is ‘a message,’ ‘a communication,’ and, as indicated, a type of ‘revelation.’ A literal translation, therefore, more or less equivalent to English ‘word,’ is frequently misleading.
“In some languages there are additional complications. For example, in some languages the term ‘word’ is feminine in gender, and therefore any reference to it must also be feminine [or neuter — see German below]. As a result, the possible use of pronouns in reference to Jesus Christ can be confusing. Furthermore, in many languages a term such as ‘word’ must be possessed. One cannot speak about ‘the word’ without indicating who spoke the word, since words do not exist apart from the persons who utter them.
“Because of these and other difficulties, many translators treat the term ‘Word’ or Logos as a title, and that is precisely what it is. The very fact that it is normally capitalized in English translations marks it as a title; but in many languages the fact of its being a title must be more clearly indicated by some explicit expression, for example, ‘the one who was called the Word’ [see Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac below] or ‘the one known as the Word’ [see German below] In this way the reader can understand from the beginning that ‘Word’ is to be understood as a designation for a person.
“Therefore, this first sentence in John 1:1 may be rendered ‘Before the world was created, the one who was known as the Word existed’ or ‘… the person called the Word existed.’ In languages which employ honorific forms it is particularly appropriate to use such an indication with the title ‘Word.’ Such a form immediately marks the designation as the title of deity or of a very important personage, depending, of course, upon the usage in the language in question.”
Translation for “Logos” include:
- Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac: “the one who is called the Word”
- Sayula Popoluca: “the Word by which God is known”
- Miahuatlán Zapotec: “one who revealed God’s thoughts”
- Alekano: “God’s wise Speech”
- Tojolabal: “he who told us about God” (Source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February, 1970, p. 1-125.)
- Yatzachi Zapotec: “Jesus Christ the person who is the Word, he who gives eternal life”
- Eastern Highland Otomi: “the Word that gives new life to our hearts”
- Garifuna: “the one named Word, the one who gives life” (Source for this and two above: John Beekman in Notes on Translation 12, November 1964, p. 1ff.)
- Tzeltal de Oxchuc y Tenejapa (Highland Tzeltal): te C’opile: “the Word” (in a new, 2001 version of the New Testament to avoid the previous translation “the Word of God,” a term also used for “Bible.” — Source: Robert Bascom)
- Mairasi: “The Message” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
- German: Er, der ‘das Wort’ ist: “He who is ‘the Word'” — this solution circumvents the different gender of Jesus (masculine) and “das Wort” (neuter) (in: Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch, 3rd edition: 1997)
- Anindilyakwa: Originally translated as N-ayakwa-murra or “he having the properties of a word/message/language.” Since this was not understandable, it is now “Jesus Christ, the one who revealed God who was hidden from us” (Source: Julie Waddy in The Bible Translator 2004, p. 452ff.)
- Tonga: Folofola: “Originally, the term is used in the kingly language and is related to the meaning of unrolling the mat, an indispensable item in Tongan traditions. The mats, especially those with beautiful and elaborate designs, are usually rolled up and kept carefully until the visit of a guest to the house. The term thus evokes to the Tongans the idea of God’s Word being unrolled to reveal his love and salvation for mankind.” (Source: Joseph Hong in The Bible Translator 1994, p. 329ff.)
Ajië: Nô (click or tap here to read an explanation by Maurice Leenhardt — in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 154ff.):
“There are other words that the learned translators of the West have in vain tried to render into rich tongues as French or Latin. They found obscure expressions for the common ‘word’ or ‘speech’ (…) It would seem that these words would present insurmountable difficulties for the translator in primitive languages. Missionaries of the Loyalty Islands could not find the word to translate ‘Word,’ nor have they imagined that there could be a corresponding term in the native language. They simply introduced the Greek word into the vocabulary, pronouncing it in the native fashion, ‘In the beginning the Logos’. These people are intelligent; and do not appreciate pronouncing words which make no sense whatsoever. However, when a Caledonian speaks French, he translates his thoughts as they seem to him the most adequate. He can easily express himself relative to the man who has conceived good things, has said them, or done them. He simply describes such a person as, ‘The word of this man is good’. Thought, speech, and action are all included in the New Caledonian term no. In speaking of an adulterous man one may say, ‘He has done an evil word’. One may speak of a chief who does not think, order, or act correctly as, ‘His word is not good’. The expression ‘the Word of God’ is limited in our speech to meaning of the divine Scriptures, but in New Caledonian it includes the thoughts and acts of God, ‘God said and it was done’. The New Caledonian has no difficulty in seeing the Word becoming action, becoming flesh, the word becoming a physical reality. Our deceased colleague Laffay once said: ‘I prefer to read John in the Ajië rather than in French’.
The recent English New Testament translation by David Bentley Hart (2017), that uses the transliteration Logos for the Greek Λόγος, says this about its translation (p. 549p.): “In certain special instances it is quite impossible for a translator to reduce [Λόγος] to a single word in English, or in any other tongue (though one standard Chinese version of the Bible renders logos in the prologue of John’s Gospel as 道 (tao), which is about as near as any translation could come to capturing the scope and depth of the word’s religious, philosophical, and metaphoric associations in those verses, while also carrying the additional meaning of “speech” or “discourse”).”
Below you can find some background of this remarkable Chinese translation (click or tap here to read more):
Dao 道, which developed into a central concept of classical Chinese philosophy, originally carried the meaning of “path” and “(main) road.” From there it developed into “leading” and “teaching” as well as “say” and “speak.”
As early as the 7th century BC, however, dao appears with the meaning “method.” With this and the derived meaning of “the (right) way” and “moral principle,” dao became one of the central concepts of the Confucian writings.
In Daoist writings (especially in the Daodejing), dao goes far beyond the Confucian meaning to take on creative qualities.
With this new compendium of meaning, the term became suitable for numerous foreign religions to represent central points of their doctrine, including Buddhism (as a translation for bodhi — “enlightenment”), Judaism (similar to the Confucians as the “right [Jewish] way”), and Islam (likewise the “right [Muslim] way”).
The Jesuits, who had intensively dealt with Confucianism from the 16th century on, also took over dao as the “correct (Catholic) way,” and the so-called Figurists, a group of Jesuits in the 18th century who saw the Messianic figure of Jesus Christ outlined in Chinese history, went so far as to point to the existence of John’s Logos in the dao of Daodejing.
In later Catholic Bible translations, dao was rarely used as a translation for Logos; instead, the Latin Verbum (from the Latin Vulgate) was transliterated, or yan 言 — “language”, “meaning” — was used, usually with the prefix sheng 圣 — “holy” (also used by the Russian Orthodox Church).
Protestant translations, however, began to use dao as a translation for Logos in the 1830s and have largely retained this practice to this day.
Some voices went so far as to describe Logos and dao as a point of contact between Christianity and the Chinese religions. By its gradual shaping in Greek and Jewish philosophy, Logos had become an appropriate “word vessel.” Similarly, dao’s final formation in Daodejing had also assumed the necessary capacity to serve as a translation for Logos.
The origins of dao and Logos have some clear differences, not the least being the personal relationship of Logos as the Son of God with God the Father. But it is remarkable that using dao as the translation of Logos emulates John’s likely intention with the use of Logos: the central concept of the philosophical and religious ideas of the target culture was used to translate the central concept of Christian theology.
This was not possible in the case of European cultures, which for the most part have offered only translations such as Word or Verbum, terms without any prior philosophical or religious meaning. Only advanced civilizations like China — or ancient Greece — were able to accomplish that. (Summarized version of: Zetzsche, Jost. Aspekte der chinesischen Bibelübersetzung. R. Malek (ed.) Fallbeispiel China. Beiträge zur Religion, Theologie und Kirche im chinesischen Kontext. Nettetal: Steyler Verlag, 1996.)
Peng Kuo-Wei add this perspective (in Noss / Houser, p. 885): “The Chinese term chosen for logos in the is not hua (“word” or “utterance”) but dao from which the term “Taoism” is derived and which can denote a general principle, a way (concrete or abstract), or reason. Thus, Chinese readers can understand that the dao of God is not just words spoken by God, but it constitutes the guiding salvific principle underlying the whole biblical account, including his action in history and teaching and action of Jesus whom he sent. Jesus is the dao of God because his ministry, death and resurrection comprises the fulfillment and realization of God’s theological and ethical principles for humanity.”
Many languages have terms for siblings that define whether one is younger or older in relation to another sibling.
Navajo translates accordingly but for a different reason: “since Martha seemed to take the responsibility of the housework, she was probably the older of the two.” (Source: Wallis 2000, p. 103f.)
In Fuyug Lazarus is assumed to be the oldest sibling on the grounds that he died first. (Source: David Clark)
For the Greek that is translated as “dragon” in English, the Bawm Chin translation uses a term referring to a mythical serpent (source: David Clark), Sranan Tongo uses the local bigi kaiman or “big Caiman” (source: Jabini 2015, p. 33) and Chinese translation typically use lóng 龙/龍 which brings it in conflict with Chinese culture where lóng 龙 has a highly positive connotation.
Simon Wong explains:
“The translation process often involves finding the lexical equivalent in the receptor language for words or expressions in the source language. If finding the equivalent of concrete objects from ancient times is challenging, identifying the equivalent for mythical (or legendary) figures is nearly unimaginable. In the English-speaking world (or perhaps in most European contexts), what is represented by the English word ‘dragon’ is often portrayed as monsters to be tamed or overcome, but in Chinese culture, lóng 龙 (traditional script: 龍), the commonly accepted Chinese equivalent of ‘dragon’ always represents a cultural mascot of good fortune. It is the highest-ranking animal in the Chinese animal hierarchy; it is even surmised that the pronunciation represents the sound of thunder. Dragons were also identified with the emperors of China in the old days; ordinary people were not allowed to use any portrait of the dragon. It is only a relatively recent expression that the Chinese are called ‘people of the dragon’ and that its portrait is popularized. Many East Asian deities and demigods have dragons as their personal mounts or companions.
“The author of Revelation used the Greek δράκων (which is translated into English as ‘dragon’) to represent the mythical Satanic incarnation coming down from heaven. The most popular Protestant Chinese version (Chinese Union Version published in 1919) renders this Greek word δράκων as lóng 龙. This rendering represents a long tradition that can be traced back to the earliest Protestant translations of the 1820s. Since then, almost all Protestant Chinese versions have followed this tradition of using lóng 龙, a rendering that inevitably creates a cultural crash with Chinese culture. Many new converts are asked to demolish all vases or artefacts portraying this mythical figure, and some people are even asked to have their name changed if the character lóng 龙 is found in their names. While modern Catholic Chinese translations also use the same rendering, the first Catholic Chinese version (unpublished) which included the Book of Revelation (1813, by the French Jesuit Loui Antoine de Poirot) used the term mǎng 蟒 (meaning ‘python’). The python’s fierce nature carries a negative connotation that is far more appropriate and indeed conveys the meaning of the Greek word far more adequately than lóng 龙. In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible with the Pentateuch completed in mid-3rd century B.C.), it was said that, when Moses and Pharoah’s priests threw their staffs on the ground, the staffs became δράκων (Exod 7:9, 10, 12). This Greek word was used to translate the Hebrew word ‘tanin,’ unmistakenly understood to be ‘serpent.’ Some recent Chinese translations rightly render it as móshé 魔蛇 (‘evil serpent’). As a translation strategy, it could also render δράκων phonetically dùlāgēn 杜拉根 (see Rev 12:3 footnote in the Revised Chinese Union Version).
“The different translation strategies that Protestant and Catholics employ shows the greater Protestant emphasis on the conversion experience. By using lóng 龙 for δράκων, Protestant translators emphasized the separation from the ‘old self’ (old lives), which in this case encompassed an element of Chinese culture that was often idolatrized. Catholic missionaries (especially the Jesuits), on the other hand, had a far more positive appreciation of Chinese culture that enabled them to see no such necessary point of demarcation from the recipient’s cultural context.”
《启示录》作者用希腊文δράκων一词来描述撒但成为肉身，从天上坠落下来（启12:3，4，7，9，13，16，17，13:2，4）。最重要的新教中文圣经译本《和合本》（1919年出版）将这个希腊文词语译作"龙"。事实上，这个译法由来已久，可以追溯到马礼逊（Robert Morrison）在1823年发行的译本，或者馬殊曼和拉瑟（Marshman-Lassar）在1822年完成的译本。几乎所有新教中文圣经译本都沿用了"龙"的译法，这不可避免地与中国文化产生了冲突。有保守的传道人会要求初归信的人丢掉所有以这个神秘形象为图案的花瓶或艺术品，如果他们的名字中有"龙"字，传道人甚至会要求他们改名。第一本包含《启示录》的天主教中文圣经译本由法国耶稣会会士賀清泰神父（Louis Antoine de Poirot）在1813年译成，他采用了"蟒"的译法（并非完整，亦未有出版），然而现代的天主教中文圣经译本仍译作"龙"。"蟒"的凶猛体现出原词带负面形象的涵义。这种译法确实比"龙"合适的多，更加全面地表达出希腊文的意思。《七十士译本》是《希伯来圣经》的希腊文译本，其中的摩西五经于主前三世纪中翻译完成；这个译本叙述摩西与埃及术士争斗的故事时，说他们的杖变成了δράκων（出7:9，10，12）。《七十士译本》用这个希腊文词语来翻译希伯来文tanin，而tanin毫无疑问是指"蛇"。近期有中文译本将希腊文δράκων译作"魔蛇"，这是很好的翻译。另外，δράκων也可以音译为"杜拉根"。参《和合本修订版》关于《启示录》12:3的脚注。
Translator: Simon Wong
The Hebrew term that is translated as “found” in many English versions is translated in Chinese as yùjiàn (遇見) — “meet” — which correctly does not indicate the conclusion of a search for something lost, but simply coming across something by chance.
The Greek that is translated as “casting” or “drawing lots” in English is often translated with a specific idiom, such as “to take out bamboo slips” — 規 矩 掣 籤 guījǔ chè qiān (in most Chinese Bibles), “each to pick-up which is-written (i.e. small sticks inscribed with characters and used as slots)” (Batak Toba), a term for divination by means of reed stalks (Toraja-Sa’dan). In some cases a cultural equivalent is not available, or it is felt to be unsuitable in this situation, e.g. in Ekari where “to spin acorns” has the connotation of gambling, one may have to state the fact without mentioning the means, e.g. “it came to him,” (source for this and all above: Reiling / Swellengrebel). In Shipibo-Conibo there was no equivalent for “casting lots” so the translation for Mark 15:24 is descriptive: “they shook little things to decide what each one should take” (source: Nida 1952, p. 47).
In Purari it is translated as “throw shells” (source: David Clark), in Kwara’ae (in Acts 1:26) as “they played something like dice to find out who of the two God chose (God revealed his will that way)” (source: Carl Gross), in Navajo as “draw straws,” in Yatzachi Zapotec as “raffle,” in Chol “choose by a game” (source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.), and in Inupiaq a term for “gambling” is used. The same Inupiaq term is also used in Esther 3:7, “though there winning and losing is not in view, but rather choosing by chance” (source: Robert Bascom)
The stand-alone term that is translated “lots” in English is translated as “two pieces of potsherd” in Highland Totonac. (Source: Ronald D. Olson in Notes on Translation January, 1968, p. 15ff.)
The Greek that is transliterated “Cephas” in English — and is an alternative name for Peter — is transliterated in Chinese Protestant translations as jīfǎ (traditional Chinese: 磯法, simplified Chinese: 矶法). The first character jī (磯 / 矶) is not only chosen because of its sound but also because of its meaning: “rock,” corresponding to the meaning of the Aramaic kēp̄ā (כֵּיפָא), to which the Greek Kēphâs (Κηφᾶς) refers and also alluding to Jesus’ proclamation in Matthew 16:18 (see Peter – rock).
Note that Catholic Chinese versions don’t follow the English pronunciation of “Cephas” with its opening [s] sound. They use kēfǎ (刻法) transliterating the [k] sound from the Aramaic and Greek. Kēfǎ does not carry the additional meaning of “rock.” (Source: Jost Zetzsche)
In the Neo-Aramaic language of Assyrian the terms used for both “Peter” (English transliteration of the Greek “πετρος”) and “Cephas” are identical (كِيپَا, pronounced kēpā). (Source: Ken Bunge)
The passage in John 1:42 (“You are to be called Cephas (which is translated Peter)” in English) is solved by various translations like this: “‘I am going to name you Cephas.’ Cephas means ‘Peter.’ Both mean ‘rock.'” (Ojitlán Chinantec), “I am naming you Cephas. ‘Cephas’ in the Jews’ language, ‘Peter’ in the Greek language, the meaning being ‘stone’.” (Alekano), “You will become known as Cephas,’ he said, which in our language means ‘rock.'” (Chol), or “You will be called Cephas and also Peter.” Tenango Otomi. (Source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
See also Peter – rock.
The Greek that is translated as “cross” in English is often referred to a description of the shape (in Chinese, for instance it is translated as 十字架 shízìjià — “10-character-frame” because the character for “10” has the shape of a cross), elsewhere it refers to the function, e.g. a coined term, made up of two Sanskrit words, meaning “killing-pole” (Marathi NT revision of 1964), “wood to-stretch-out-with” (Toraja-Sa’dan), or “nailing pole” (Zarma). A combination of the two seems to be used in Balinese, which employs a word for the crossbeams in a house, derived from a verb that can refer both to a beam that stretches from side to side under a roof, and to a person stretched out for torture (source for this and above: Reling / Swellengrebel). Similarly, in Lamba it is translated “with umutaliko — ‘a pole with a cross-piece, on which maize was normally tied’ from the verb ‘talika’ which, strangely enough, is used of ‘holding down a man with arms and legs stretched out, someone gripping each limb.'” (Source C. M. Doke in The Bible Translator 1958, p. 57ff.)
“In Mongolian, the term that is used is togonoltchi mott, which is found in the top of a tent. The people on the steppes live in round felt-yurts and the round opening on the top of the tent serves as a window. The crosswood in that opening is called togonoltchi mott. ‘Crucified’ is translated ‘nailed on the crosswood.’ This term is very simple, but deep and interesting too. Light comes to men through the Cross. What a privilege to be able to proclaim such a message.” (Source: A. W. Marthinson in The Bible Translator 1954, p. 74ff.)
In Mairasi it is translated as iwo nasin ae: “chest measurement wood.” “This term refers to the process of making a coffin when a person dies. The man making the coffin takes a piece of bamboo and measures the body from head to heel. He then breaks the stick off at the appropriate point. For the width he measures the shoulders and then ties the two sticks together in the shape of a cross. As he works, he continually measures to make sure the coffin is the correct size. At the gravesite, the coffin is lowered. Then the gravecloth, palm leaves, and finally the chest measurement stick are laid on top of the coffin before the dirt is piled on. This term is full of meaning, because it is in the shape of a cross, and each person will have one. The meaning is vividly associated with death.” (Source: Enggavoter, 2004)
See also crucify.
The Greek terms that are translated into English as “preach” are regularly rendered into Aari as “speaking the word of salvation.” (Source: Loren Bliese)
Other languages (back-) translate it in the following manner:
- Chinese: “chuandao 傳道” (“to hand down the Way (or: the Logos)”)
- Kekchí: “declare the word”
- Kpelle “speak God’s word”
- Tzeltal: “he explains, they hear” (“the goal of all preachers”)
- Copainalá Zoque: “a preacher is ‘one who speaks-scatters'” (a figure based on the scattering of seed in the process of sowing) (source for this and above: Bratcher / Nida)
- Shilluk: “declare the word of of God.” (source: Nida 1964, p. 237)
In Luang it is translated with different shades of meaning:
- For Acts 9:20, 10:42: “nakotnohora”: “talk about” (“The generic term for preaching.”)
- For Acts 8:4, 8:5, 8:25: “rodkiota-ralde’etnohora” — “bring words, give news about.” (“This term is used when the preacher is moving from place to place to preach.”)
Source: Kathy Taber in Notes on Translation 1/1999, p. 9-16.
A particularly interesting development in the history of Christianity [related to translation] took place with respect to the Greek term monogenés, literally, ‘only, unique, one of kind.’ It was used of Isaac as the son of Abraham [see Gen. 22:2], though Isaac was not the only son of Abraham, for he had a son Ishmael, and with a later wife Keturah, several sons. But Isaac was the only son of a particular kind, that is to say, the unique son of the promise. The term monogenés was translated into Latin as unigenitus, meaning literally ‘only begotten’ [in English — or likewise traditionally in Chinese: “dúshēng 獨 生,” Italian: “unigenito,” Spanish “unigénito,” or German: “eingeboren”] but in Greek the equivalent of ‘only begotten’ would have two n’s and not just one. Nevertheless, the Latin misinterpretation of monogenés has constituted such a long tradition that any attempt to speak of Jesus as the ‘unique son of God’ rather than the ‘only begotten son’ is often announced as a case of blatant heresy. (Source: Nida 1984, p. 114.)
In Waiwai, the Greek that is translated as “only begotten Son” in English in John 3:16 is translated as cewnan tumumururosa okwe, where the “particle okwe indicates dearness, and it must be included in Waiwai for the expression ‘only begotten Son’ to mean anything like what it means to God or to us as Christians.” (Source: Robert Hawkins (in The Bible Translator 1962, pp. 164ff.)
See also complete verse (John 3:16).
The Greek that is translated as “angel” in English versions is translated as ngaṉka ngurrara (“one who belongs in the sky”) in Pintupi-Luritja. (Source: Ken Hansen quoted in Steven 1984a, p. 116.)
In Shipibo-Conibo it is translated as “word-carriers from heaven,” in Tetela, Kpelle, Balinese, and Chinese as “heavenly messengers,” in Shilluk “spirit messengers,” in Mashco Piro as “messengers of God,” in Batak Toba as “envoys, messengers,” in Navajo as “holy servants,” (source for this and above: Bratcher / Nida 1961), in Central Mazahua “one of God’s workers” (source: Ronald D. Olson in Notes on Translation January, 1968, p. 15ff.), in Tonga (Zambia) as “messenger from heaven” (source: Loewen 1980, p. 107), in Saramaccan as basia u Masa Gaangadu köndë or “messenger from God’s country” (source: Jabini 2015, p. 86), in Mairasi as atatnyev nyaa or “sent-one” (source: Enggavoter 2004), and in Apali as “God’s one with talk from the head” (“basically God’s messenger since head refers to any leader’s talk”) (source: Martha Wade).
See also angel (Acts 12:15).
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)
- Mairasi: Janav Enggwarjer Weso: “Great Above One’s (God’s) House” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
- Huehuetla Tepehua: “the big church of the Israelites”
- Aguaruna: “the house for talking to God” (source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
- 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)