Kingdom (of God / heaven)

The German Good News Bible (Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch) (1st edition: 1968, 2nd edition: 1982, 3rd edition: 1997) says this about the translation of the Greek expressions that in English are often translated as “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven” respectively:

An example for how a term evolved is the rendering of ‘heavenly kingdom’ or ‘kingdom of God.’ A verbatim translation will be misunderstood by most readers today: as if it talks about a kingdom that is located in heaven, when in reality it refers in the Bible to God being the ruler, to that area in which that rule has been realized and everything that human beings can expect because of that. Dependent on the context, the term is therefore translated differently in this present version: When it focuses on the presence of God’s kingdom it is rendered as ‘God establishes his rule’ (‘Gott richtet seine Herrschaft auf’), when the focus is on the future it is translated as ‘Once God finalizes his creation (or ‘work’) . . . ‘ (‘Wenn Gott sein Werk vollendet . . .’), and when the focus is on that finished creation it is ‘God’s new world’ (‘Gottes neue Welt’).” (p. 299)

The respective translation choice in that German translation:

Daud Soesilo writes this about the translation of those terms in the Malay translation:

In the New Testament [of the Revised Malay Translation (Alkitab Berita Baik, 1996)] “the Kingdom of God/Heaven” does not refer primarily to a region, or place, or to a political or national territory.
The meaning of “kingdom” is fundamentally that of “sovereignty” or “rule.” Since the primary idea is that of kingship, kingly rule, or sovereignty of God, rather than of the sphere or realm in which his rule operates, the sense of this term should be expressed in translation as “kingly rule,” “reign,” or “sovereignty,” rather than by the literal “kingdom.” Translating “Kingdom of God” The most common literal translation of the term “Kingdom of God” in Malay is “Kerajaan Allah.”
And “Kerajaan Syurga” is used for its variant “Kingdom of Heaven.” However, careful linguistic analysis of the meaning and usage of the term “kerajaan” “kingdom” shows that when it is unmarked it carries the following components:

  • a territory
  • in which a king rules
  • his people

Thus the expressions “Kerajaan Allah” and “Kerajaan Syurga” have primarily a territorial sense, rather than expressing the idea of “kingly rule.” This means, then, that we should consider replacing the literal renderings “Kerajaan Allah/Syurga” with expressions that are better able to give the New Testament meaning of “he basileia tau theou,” as expressed in the following components:

  • God’s kingly rule, including his activity in bringing about his rule in this world
  • the people God rules over, in particular those who accept his rule in their lives,
  • the situation in which God rules completely, which is the consummation of God’s activity of bringing about God’s rule. (This is the situation which the German Common Language Bible “Die Gute Nachricht” translates as “God’s New World.” From one point of view, however, this use of the expression is the one that relates most closely to the “territory” sense mentioned above.)

The Malay translation team has tried to render the expression “he basileia tou theou” faithfully and meaningfully according to the main focus in each context in which it occurs. However, to help readers who are looking for the formal features of the term, we have added footnotes that give a literal rendering. (Source: Daud Soesilo in The Bible Translator 2001, p. 239ff.)

(See also Barclay Newman in: The Bible Translator 1974, p. 401ff.)

Likewise in the Gurung translation the term was also, depending on context, rendered in four different ways:

  • God’s power at work in the world,
  • the personal response to God, in obedience and receiving blessing,
  • God’s future open ruling of the world,
  • the ultimate blessings of God’s rule in heaven.

(Source: Warren Glover in The Bible Translator 1978, p. 231ff. — here you can also find comprehensive list of examples where which translation was applied.)

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

  • Tzeltal: “persons like these will reach God’s government” (as in Mark 10:14 and Luke 18:16: “the Kingdom of God belongs to those”) or “the jurisdiction of God” (in the sense of where God has the authority)
  • Western Kanjobal: “receive God as king”
  • Copainalá Zoque: “like God to rule over”
  • San Miguel El Grande Mixtec: “agree to God reigning over”
  • Kekchí: “power (or authority) of God”
  • Laka: “God’s commanding”
  • Javanese: “the rule of God”
  • Huave: “where God rules”
  • Huastec: “God as ruler”
  • San Blas Kuna: “God’s government”
  • Navajo: “what God has charge of”
  • Sayula Popoluca: “to have God rule over”
  • Tzotzil: “to have God as chief”
  • Highland Puebla Nahuatl: “the leadership of God”
  • Wayuu: “where God is chief” (this and examples above in Bratcher / Nida)
  • Fuyug “God’s clan”
  • Mono: “sana lala’aha nang” – “area of chiefly rule”
  • Martu Wangka: “The Father looks after his own relatives” (source for this and the two preceding: Carl Gross)

prophet

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

Eugene Nida wrote the following about the translation of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek terms that are typically translated with “prophet” in English:

“The tendency in many translations is to use ‘to foretell the future’ for ‘prophesy,’ and ‘one who foretells the future’ for ‘prophet.’ This is not always a recommended usage, particularly if such expressions denote certain special native practices of spirit contact and control. It is true, of course, that prophets of the Bible did foretell the future, but this was not always their principal function. One essential significance of the Greek word prophētēs is ‘one who speaks forth,’ principally, of course, as a forth-teller of the Divine will. A translation such as ‘spokesman for God’ may often be employed profitably.” (1947, p. 234f.)

Following is a list of (back-) translations from other languages (click or tap for details):

  • San Blas Kuna: “one who speaks the voice of God”
  • Central Pame and Vai: “interpreter for God”
  • Kaqchikel, Navajo, Yaka: “one who speaks for God”
  • Northern Grebo: “God’s town crier” (see more about this below)
  • Sapo: “God’s sent-word person”
  • Shipibo-Conibo, Ngäbere: “one who speaks God’s word”
  • Copainalá Zoque: “one who speaks-opens” (a compound meaning “one who discloses or reveals”)
  • Sierra Totonac: “one who causes them to know” (in the sense of “revealer”)
  • Batak Toba: “foreteller” (this and all the above acc. to Nida 1961, p. 7)
  • Ekari: “person who speaks under divine impulse”
  • Chinese: 先知 xiānzhī — “one who foreknows” (or the 1946/1970 translation by Lü Zhenzhong: 神言人 shényánrén — “divine-word-man”)
  • Uab Meto: “holy spokesman” (source for this and two above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • Kouya: Lagɔɔ gbʋgbanyɔ — “the one who seeks God’s affairs” (source: Saunders, p. 269)
  • Kafa: “decide for God only” (source: Loren Bliese)
  • Martu Wangka: “sit true to God’s talk” (source: Carl Gross)
  • Eastern Highland Otomi: “word passer” (source: John Beekham in Notes on Translation November 1964, p. 1-22)
  • Obolo: ebi nriran: “those with power of divine revelation” (source: Enene Enene)

In Ixcatlán Mazatec a term is used that specifically includes women. (Source: Robert Bascom)

About the translation into Northern Grebo:

In some instances these spiritual terms result from adaptations reflecting the native life and culture. Among the Northern Grebo people of Liberia, a missionary wanted some adequate term for ‘prophet,’ and she was fully aware that the native word for ‘soothsayer’ or ‘diviner’ was no equivalent for the Biblical prophet who spoke forth for God. Of course, much of what the prophets said referred to the future, and though this was an essential part of much of their ministry, it was by no means all. The right word for the Gbeapo people would have to include something which would not only mean the foretelling of important events but the proclamation of truth as God’s representative among the people. At last the right word came; it was ‘God’s town-crier.’ Every morning and evening the official representative of the chief goes through the village crying out the news, delivering the orders of the chief, and announcing important coming events. ‘God’s town-crier’ would be the official representative of God, announcing to the people God’s doings, His commands, and His pronouncements for their salvation and well-being. For the Northern Grebo people the prophet is no weird person from forgotten times; he is as real as the human, moving message of the plowman Amos, who became God’s town-crier to a calloused people.” (source: Nida 1952, p. 20)

See also prophesy and prophesy / prophetic frenzy.

council

The Greek that is translated as “council” or “Council” in English is (back-) translated in a variety of ways:

  • Tzeltal: “officials who gather together”
  • Copainalá Zoque: “those who think together”
  • Amaganad Ifugao: “those who take charge of the affairs” (soucre fior this and all above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Ekari: “place for speech-making/discussion”
  • Tae’: “great assembly”
  • Sranan Tongo, Javanese: “(high) tribunal”
  • Marathi: “assembly of their Judgement-court” (source for this and three above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)

adjure (by God), implore (by God)

The Greek that is translated into English as “(I) implore (or: adjure) (you) by God” is translated as “tell you before God” (Copainalá Zoque), “ask in front of God” (Huautla Mazatec) “ask you by God” (Eastern Highland Otomi), “ask you in God’s presence” (Southern Subanen), “I swear, calling on the name of God, requesting you” (Toraja-Sa’dan), “I want your oath by God” (Indonesian), “will assure me by using a curse on yourself calling on the name of God” (Pamona), and “ask you; God has seen it” (Tzotzil).

vain (worship)

The Greek that is translated into English as “vain” or “in vain” in English is (back-) translated in various ways:

  • Cashibo-Cacataibo: “say I am important, but they do not believe it”
  • Kekchí: “has no meaning when they praise me”
  • Toraja-Sa’dan, Pamona: “uselessly”
  • Copainalá Zoque: “uselessly they remember”
  • Farefare: “their religion is their mouth”
  • Southern Subanen: “their worship has no meaning”
  • Tzotzil: “they say they love me, but this means nothing”
  • Southern Bobo Madaré: “they worship me but they do not mean what they say”
  • Central Mazahua: “it is of no value that they honor me”
  • San Blas Kuna: “their thinking is not in their hearts”
  • Guhu-Samane: “with the front teeth of their mouths they worship me” (“‘In vain’ caused puzzlement [because] why should their efforts to worship God produce no results, try as they may? [But the idiom] ‘with the front teeth of their mouths they worship me’ comes from the picture of one who is making a pretense at eating food, hence their deceit is apparent.’ Source: Ernest L. Richert in Notes on Translation December 1963: p. 4-7; reprinted in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 198ff.)

pray

The Greek that is translated as a form of “pray” in English is often translated as “talking with God” (Central Pame, Tzeltal, Chol, Chimborazo Highland Quichua, Shipibo-Conibo, Kaqchikel, Tepeuxila Cuicatec, Copainalá Zoque, Central Tarahumara).

Other solutions include:

  • “to beg” or “to ask,” (full expression: “to ask with one’s heart coming out,” which leaves out selfish praying, for asking with the heart out leaves no place for self to hide) (Tzotzil)
  • “to cause God to know” (Huichol)
  • “to raise up one’s words to God” (implying an element of worship, as well as communication) (Miskito, Lacandon) (Source of this and all above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Shilluk: “speak to God” (source: Nida 1964, p. 237)
  • Ik: waan: “beg.” Terrill Schrock (in Wycliffe Bible Translators 2016, p. 93) explains (click or tap here to read more):

    What do begging and praying have to do with each other? Do you beg when you pray? Do I?

    “The Ik word for ‘visitor’ is waanam, which means ‘begging person.’ Do you beg when you go visiting? The Ik do. Maybe you don’t beg, but maybe when you visit someone, you are looking for something. Maybe it’s just a listening ear.

    When the Ik hear that [my wife] Amber and I are planning trip to this or that place for a certain amount of time, the letters and lists start coming. As the days dwindle before our departure, the little stack of guests grows. ‘Please, sir, remember me for the allowing: shoes, jacket (rainproof), watch, box, trousers, pens, and money for the children. Thank you, sir, for your assistance.’

    “A few people come by just to greet us or spend bit of time with us. Another precious few will occasionally confide in us about their problems without asking for anything more than a listening ear. I love that.

    “The other day I was in our spare bedroom praying my list of requests to God — a nice list covering most areas of my life, certainly all the points of anxiety. Then it hit me: Does God want my list, or does he want my relationship?

    “I decided to try something. Instead of reading off my list of requests to God, I just talk to him about my issues without any expectation of how he should respond. I make it more about our relationship than my list, because if our personhood is like God’s personhood, then maybe God prefers our confidence and time to our lists, letters, and enumerations.”

In Luang it is translated with different shades of meaning:

  • For Acts 1:14, 20:36, 21:5: kola ttieru-yawur nehla — “hold the waist and hug the neck.” (“This is the more general term for prayer and often refers to worship in prayer as opposed to petition. The Luang people spend the majority of their prayers worshiping rather than petitioning, which explains why this term often is used generically for prayer.”)
  • For Acts 1:14, 28:9: sumbiani — “pray.” (“This term is also used generically for ‘prayer’. When praying is referred to several times in close proximity, it serves as a variation for kola ttieru-yawur nehla, in keeping with Luang discourse style. It is also used when a prayer is made up of many requests.”)
  • For Acts 8:15, 12:5: polu-waka — “call-ask.” (“This is a term for petition that is used especially when the need is very intense.”)

Source: Kathy Taber in Notes on Translation 1/1999, p. 9-16.