The Greek that is translated as “ponder” in English is translated as “continually think-about” in Tboli, “turn around in the mind” in Batak Toba, “puzzle forth, puzzle back” in Sranan Tongo (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel), “constantly setting down her visions” in Mairasi (source: Enggavoter 2004), “carried all those words in her heart and then sat thinking” in Enga (source: Adam Boyd on his blog), or “moved them in her heart” (bewegte sie in ihrem Herzen) (German Luther translation).


The Greek and Hebrew term that is translated into English as “yoke,” the Afar translation uses koyta (poles of camel pack) which refers to two poles in front of the hump and two behind; elsewhere in agricultural Ethiopia the yoke is only in front of the hump.

In Chol it is translated with tajbal, a term for “headband” (for carrying) (source: Ronald D. Olson in Notes on Translation January, 1968, p. 15ff.). Likewise, in Kele, it is translated with njɛmbɛ, “a carrying strap worn around the head and across the chest or shoulders to support a burden of firewood, garden produce or even a child carried by this on the back or hip” (source: William Ford in The Bible Translator 1957, p. 203ff. ).

In Kwasio it is translated with a term that refers to a “bulky piece of wood attached to the neck of a goat, preventing it from roaming freely in the brushy undergrowth.”

Joshua Ham explains: “When checking this verse in Kwasio, I was surprised to find that the Kwasio had a word for yoke. You see, none of the language groups we have worked with have a tradition of using animals to pull carts or plows. Since yokes don’t exist in the culture, there’s no need for a word for that concept in these languages.

“When I asked the Kwasio team about their word for yoke, they said that they don’t use yokes to help animals pull plows; rather, their word for yoke refers to a bulky piece of wood attached to the neck of a goat, preventing it from roaming freely in the brushy undergrowth. So while the exact use of a Kwasio yoke is not the same as a biblical yoke, there are a lot of similarities: in both cases, it’s a piece of wood around an animal’s neck that serves to keep the animal under control. While the overlap isn’t perfect, it’s pretty good — and almost certainly better than trying to squeeze in a distracting explanation of how yokes function in the biblical cultures.”

Adam Boyd (in The PNG Experience) tells this story about finding the right term in Enga: “Jesus’s words in Matthew 11:29-30 are some of the most difficult to translate into the Enga language. From the time that I became a Christian, I was taught that a yoke is a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the neck of two animals and attached to a plough or cart that they are to pull. This is an easy enough concept to understand for people who come from societies that make use of beasts of burden, but in Papua New Guinea, there are no beasts of burden. Consequently the concept of a yoke placed on animals is completely foreign. Thus, we have struggled greatly in our attempt to translate Matthew 11:29-30.

“Recently, however, I came to learn that a yoke can also refer to a wooden frame that a person places on his neck or shoulders to make it easier to carry a heavy load. Indeed, the Bible often makes figurative use of the word ‘yoke’ as it refers to people and not to beasts of burden (see 1 Kings 12:4-14). As I was pondering that idea, I began to notice that when Engan men carry heavy logs on one shoulder, they often balance the load by supporting it with a small stick placed across the other shoulder. A few weeks ago, it clicked in my mind that the small stick they use to make it easier to carry a heavy log is like a yoke.

“Excited by this realization, I quickly asked my friend Benjamin if the stick that men use to make it easier to carry a heavy log has a name in Enga. Sure enough it does. It is called a pyakende. With great anticipation, I asked the translation team if we could use the word pyakende to translate the word ‘yoke’. After wrestling with the phrasing for a little while, we came up with the following translation: ‘In order to remove the heaviness from your shoulders, take my pyakende. When you have taken it, you will receive rest. As my pyakende helps you, what I give you to carry is not heavy and you will carry it without struggling.’”

Click or tap here to see a short video clip showing how yokes were used in biblical times (source: Bible Lands 2012)

be cheered

The Greek that is translated in English as “(I may) be cheered” or similar is translated into Enga as “my heart will go thud.”

Adam Boyd (in The PNG Experience ) tells the story: “One of the things I love about Enga is the rich metaphors it employs. Sometimes, however, these metaphors can be difficult to grasp at first. There is one particular metaphor that I have struggled to understand precisely: mona lyuu lenge. I knew that the entire phrase meant something like ‘to be at peace in your heart’. I also knew that mona meant ‘heart’ and that lenge meant ‘produce a sound’, but I really struggled to know what lyuu meant. Usually a word that comes before lenge is some sort of sound or speech, but what sound is produced when your heart is at peace?

“As we were translating Philippians 2:19, the team used this phrase to describe how Paul would feel when he received news of how the Philippians were doing. So I asked the team what exactly mona lyuu lenge meant. Often it is hard to get a straightforward answer to such questions, but the team explained that the literal meaning of lyuu lenge is the sound that is made when a large object hits the ground. For example, when a cluster of pandanus nuts [see here ] hits the ground, it makes such a sound. Finally I realized that the word lyuu literally means ‘thud’ and that lyuu lenge means ‘go thud’ or ‘make a thud sound.’

“Well, I was happy to figure out the literal meaning of the word lyuu, but I still couldn’t see what it had to do with being at peace in your heart. The team then further explained that when you feel anxious about something, it is like your heart is hung up on whatever it is that you are anxious about. But when your anxiety is relieved, your heart falls back into place. And when your heart falls back into place, metaphorically speaking, it makes a thud sound just like a cluster of pandanus nuts when it falls to the ground.

“So, in the Enga translation of Philippians 2:19, Paul literally writes, ‘When [Timothy] tells me how you are doing, I will hear and then my heart will go thud.’ I think my own heart went thud when I finally realized the meaning of this rich metaphor!”

See also be of good cheer.


The Greek that is translated in English as “worthy” does not have an immediate equivalent in Enga. Adam Boyd (on his blog) explains how this was solved in two cases:

“Enga does not have a word that is equivalent to the word ‘worthy,’ we translate the concept by focusing on the goodness or badness of the person in comparison to the action or circumstance under consideration. For example, we translated Luke 15:19 as follows: ‘I am not a good man, so do not call me your son.’ This emphasizes that the goodness of the prodigal son is not commensurate with being called his father’s son. Similarly, in Luke 7:6, the centurion sends a message to Jesus, saying, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.’ In Enga, we have translated this as, ‘Big Man, I am an unimportant person with no reputation, so do not come to my house.’ Again, the centurion does not consider his personal value to be commensurate with the idea of a person like Jesus entering his house.”

See also worthy / fit and not worthy / not fit.

lake of fire

The Greek that is typically translated int English as “lake of fire” is translated in Enga as “the place where big fire continually burns.”

Adam Boyd (on his blog) explains:

“The difficulty in Enga is that there is no traditional concept or imagery of a lake that is made out of fire. Lakes are made out of water, not fire. And there is not even really one word for lake. Instead Enga people literally say water depression. Now the word depression is not referring to an emotional state in which a person is feeling sad, but rather it means ‘a sunken place or hollow on a surface.’ In other words it refers to an area where there is an indentation in the ground. And when the word depression is preceded by the word water, it indicates that the indentation in the ground is filled with water.

“So, knowing that the Enga people say water depression to talk about a lake, I of course suggested that we should translate lake of fire by saying fire depression. In other words, a sunken place or indentation on the surface of the earth that is filled with fire instead of water. Well, as often happens when I think that I have made a brilliant suggestion, I was met with blank stares. In Papua New Guinean cultures, people will often not disagree with you directly, but they will show their disagreement by simply ignoring what you say. Not only that, but it can be difficult to articulate why something doesn’t sound quite right. The translators knew that fire depression didn’t sound right, but they might not have been able to articulate right away why that was the case. English speakers also have the same problem. For example, a typical English speaker would immediately be able to recognize that goed is not the past tense of go, but if they had to explain why, they would run into difficulty. (It is because the past tense went is actually from the verb wend as in wend your way through a crowd.) So just as English speakers know when something does not sound right but can’t always explain why, Enga speakers also encounter difficulties in explaining why something sounds wrong, especially since most Enga speakers have never had any formal training in their own language. Well as we continued pondering the best translation, I kept ignoring the nonverbal cues and pushing for fire depression as our answer. Finally, it dawned on our lead translator Maniosa why fire depression did not sound right. He said, ‘Do you know what a fire depression is? It is the little fire pit that we have in our homes that we cook over.’

“What I was hoping would mean lake of fire actually just meant fire pit. Big difference! So the terminology that I was suggesting would have people envisioning that the lake of fire, which is supposed to be an intimidating image of the ultimate end for untold numbers of those whose names are not written in the book of life, was nothing more than the little fire pit where people cook food in their homes. In fact, if more than one or two people were thrown into a lake of fire like that, they would probably smother the fire and put it out, which is not quite what Jesus had in mind when he talked about the ‘fire that is not quenched.’ So we had to abandon the idea of using the term fire depression and translate lake of fire as the place where big fire continually burns. The idea that this fire is burning in a depression or indentation in the ground had to be left out because that concept created the wrong image of a fire pit where one cooks food in the house. And fire pits are considered to be useful things that help people cook. They are not places of punishment.”

In Chol it is translated as “big fire.” (Source: John Beekman in Notes on Translation, March 1965, p. 2ff.)

Let your word be 'Yes - Yes' or 'No - No'

The Greek that is translated as “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’, or ‘No, No'” or similar in English is translated in Enga as “When you say that you will do something, just say that you will do it. When you say that you will not do something, just say that you will not do it.”

Adam Boyd (on his blog) explains: “In Enga, it is even more complex because there is no word for ‘Yes’; there is only a word for ‘No.’ So, to say ‘Yes,’ Engans restate the action of the verb in the affirmative. For example, if I were to ask Martha in Enga, ‘Did you go to the store?’ she would reply, ‘I went.’ If she wanted to reply, ‘No,’ she could either say ‘I didn’t go,’ or ‘No, I didn’t go.’ Engans also have shortcuts for the word ‘Yes.’ One shortcut is to utter something in between a grunt and a sigh; the other is to raise one’s eyebrows. I still have trouble with the raising of the eyebrows. Often I find myself repeating a question over and over again when I forget that raised eyebrows means ‘Yes.’ Instead, I think that people have just misunderstood me or perhaps did not hear me.

“This makes things difficult when translating Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:37, ‘Let your word be ‘Yes, yes,’ or ‘No, no.’’ This is further complicated by the fact that the context of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:37 is his command not to swear any oaths at all. Not only does Enga have no word for ‘yes,’ but Enga also has no proper word for ‘oath.’ At first, we translated the idea of swearing an oath as ‘say that you are speaking very truly,’ but we soon discovered that such a translation would not work as Jesus himself frequently says, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you.’ So after much consideration, we translated ‘swear an oath’ as ‘say the name of something and then say very truly that you will do something.’ We found this to be an acceptable translation because swearing an oath usually requires invoking the name of God or something else (such as the saying, ‘I swear on my mother’s grave’). Having solved the problem of translating ‘swear an oath,’ we were then able to translate Jesus’ words, ‘Let your word be ‘Yes, yes,’ or ‘No, no,” as ‘When you say that you will do something, just say that you will do it. When you say that you will not do something, just say that you will not do it.'”

See also swear / vow.

visual vs. non-visual evidence

While translating Mark 6:14-16 into Enga the translators had to decide on the nature of evidence that is quoted here.

Adam Boyd on his blog) explains: “”When drawing conclusions in Enga, a person has to state whether the evidence for the conclusion is visual or non-visual. So, for example, with King Herod, it is clear that his conclusion that Jesus was John the Baptist was based on non-visual evidence, namely, the reports that he had been hearing. But what about the other people who concluded that Jesus was Elijah or one of the prophets? Were their conclusions based on seeing Jesus in action or were their conclusions based only on reports that they had heard about Jesus. The text of Scripture doesn’t tell us, but in Enga, we are required to answer this question. So we decided that the reports of others were based on visual evidence, assuming that the reports had come, at least initially, from people who had been eye-witnesses of Jesus’ miraculous works.”

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)
  • Mairasi: Janav Enggwarjer Weso: “Great Above One’s (God’s) House” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • Nyongar: Maya-maya-Kooranyi: “Sacred House” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • 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. )
  • Enga: “God’s restricted access house” (source: Adam Boyd on his blog)

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)
Click or tap here to see a short video clip about Herod’s temple (source: Bible Lands 2012)

Click or tap here to see a short video clip showing synagogues in New Testament times (source: Bible Lands 2012)

complete verse (Matthew 5:3)

Following are a number of back-translations of Matthew 5:3:

  • Uma: “‘Blessed are the people who know how pitiful are their lives in the sight of God, for they are the ones who will be the God’s people/subjects, and God will be their King.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “‘Better off (lit. better yet) are the people who know, that God is not pleased with them, if they do not trust in him, because God is ruling over them.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “He said, ‘Much better off are those who know they can’t do good if God doesn’t help them, because God will take good care of them when he rules.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “‘Fortunate are the people who know that they are poor in ability in the sight of God, because they are the ones who are included in his ruling.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “‘The people can be happy who regard themselves as really having no ability of their own to rely on but only on God, because they will be able to be included in his kingdom.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “‘The good fortune will be met by the people who are as though poor, because they find in their hearts that they lack what is good. Because these are the people who will enter the hand of God who is in heaven.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
  • Enga: “God blesses those who set their hearts upon Him alone … ” (source: Adam Boyd on his blog)

complete verse (Luke 2:5)

Following are a number of back-translations of Luke 2:5:

  • Nyongar: “He and his wife Mary, the two went to Bethlehem to write their names. Mary’s people had given Mary to Joseph to marry. Mary was pregnant.” (Source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • Uma: “So also Yusuf left from Nazaret town, accompanied by Maria his fiancee, who was at the time pregnant. They left from Galilea land, climbed going to Yudea land, towards Betlehem town, the birth town of King Daud long ago. Yusuf had to request that his name be written there, because he was a descendant of King Daud.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “He went together with his fiancé Mariyam to register. Mariyam was pregnant.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And Joseph took along with him, Mary, the woman that was promised to him, because they would register themselves. Now Mary at that time was pregnant.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Maria also went-along to go register, because it was arranged that they were to be married. Maria’s fetus was already full-term,” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Maria also went with him, whom he had married, although they were not yet living together (implies sexual relations). Maria’s pregnancy was then about-full-term.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Enga: “That Maria [who was just mentioned], Josepe said he would take her as [his] woman, and he stood wooing her; because of that, while she sat, child in utero, they two went together, saying {we shall set [our] names}.” (Source: Adam Boyd on his blog)
  • Central Tunebo: (verses 3-5) “Everyone went to his own city to be counted. Joseph also went to be counted. Joseph was from the land of Galilee. He was from the city of Nazareth. Joseph’s grandfather is David. He is David’s relative. As a result he went to David’s city to be counted. He went to Bethlehem to be counted. In the city of Bethlehem. He went with Mary. Joseph would soon marry Mary. Mary was pregnant. They went together, with Mary.” (“The typical narrative text in Tunebo introduces 3 or 4 information bits in the first sentence. This includes the predicate and subject and, where appropriate, the object. A locative element is quite often introduced, too. From there, new information bearing on the stage or opening event is introduced, usually at the rate of one new bit per sentence, keeping the main verb constant.” Source: Edna Headland in Notes on Translation, 58/1975, pp. 2ff.)