I am who I am

The Hebrew that is translated as “I am who I am” or in various other ways is translated in Lisu as ꓥW., Jꓵ: ꓥW., MU., — ngaw dzhy ngaw mu, verbatim translated as “I — govern — I — make.” (Or: “I will do as please” or “My control my decision.”) This construction follows a traditional four-couplet construct in oral Lisu poetry that is usually in the form ABAC or ABCB. (source: Arrington 2020, p. 58 and 211)

See also translations with a Hebraic voice (Exodus 3:14) and complete verse (Exod. 3:14-15).

eternity, forever, forever and ever

The Greek that is typically translated as “eternity,” “forever,” or “forever and ever” in English are translated in Mairasi as “mashed out infinitely.” Lloyd Peckham explains: “Bark cloth required pounding. It got longer and wider as it got pounded. Similarly, life gets pounded or mashed to lengthen it into infinity. Tubers also get mashed into the standard way of serving the staple food, like the fufu of Uganda, or like poi of Hawaii. It spreads out into infinity.” (Source: Lloyd Peckham)

In Lisu the phrase “forever and ever” is translated as ꓕꓲꓽ ꓞꓲꓼ ꓕꓲ ꓑ — thi tsi thi pa, verbatim translated as “one – lifetime – one – world.” This construction follows a traditional four-couplet construct in oral Lisu poetry that is usually in the form ABAC or ABCB. (Source: Arrington 2020, p. 57f.)

See also forever, eternal life and salvation.

creation

The Greek, and Latin that is translated as “creation” in English is translated in Lisu as ꓟꓵ ꓚꓰꓼ ꓟꓲ ꓚꓰꓼ — my tshe mi tshe, verbatim translated as “place — make — earth — make.” This construction follows a traditional four-couplet construct in oral Lisu poetry that is usually in the form ABAC or ABCB. (Source: Arrington 2020, p. 58)

In American Sign Language it is translated with a sign that signifies creating out of nothing. (Source: RuthAnna Spooner, Ron Lawer)


“Creation” in American Sign Language, source: Deaf Harbor

In the beginning

The Greek and Hebrew that is translated as “In the beginning” is translated in Lisu as ꓬꓲ ꓚꓰ ꓬꓲ ꓪꓴꓸ — yi tshe yi vu: “In very early times, when there were no people.” This construction follows a traditional four-couplet construct in oral Lisu poetry that is usually in the form ABAC or ABCB. The same phrase is also used as a title for the book of “Genesis.”(Source: Arrington 2020, p. 58)

In the most widely used Mandarin Chinese Bible translation, the Union Version, the term 太初 — tàichū is used in John 1:1 (but not for Gen. 1:1) — vice versa in the Yue Chinese (Cantonese) New Cantonese Bible of 1997, whereas in Hakka Chinese, 太初 — thai-chhû in Hakka — is used in both cases).

Tàichū originally was used in early Daoist writings (Liezi, Zhuangzi — both 5th century BC) which is remarkable because of the connection with “dào” (道) in the same verse (see Word / Logos), suggesting connections between Chinese culture and John 1:1. (Source: Zetzsche)

The English translation of the gospels of Sarah Ruden (2021, p. xlii) chooses the term “inauguration” which “echoes similar connotations of a Hebrew word in Genesis.”

assurance

The Greek words that are often translated with “assurance” in English are translated in Lisu with a combination of “to know” + “faith” + “satisfied.”

Arrington (2020, p. 74) explains: “A persistent stumbling block with the Bible translation was that the Lisu language lacked many essential words that were commonly used in the biblical text. In 1931, Leila Cooke reported that Lisu church leaders had approved the addition of seventy-one words to the Lisu language at recent Bible schools at Muchengpo and at Gospel Mountain. ‘Among these is the word for assurance.’ To make the new word they combine the Lisu ‘to know,’ ‘faith,’ and ‘satisfied.’”

salvation

The Greek that is translated with “salvation” in English is translated in the following ways:

  • San Blas Kuna: “receive help for bad deeds” (“this help is not just any kind of help but help for the soul which has sinned)
  • Northwestern Dinka: “help as to his soul” (“or literally, ‘his breath'”) (source for this and the one above: Nida 1952, p. 140)
  • Central Mazahua: “healing the heart” (source: Nida 1952, p. 40)
  • Tzeltal: col: “get loose,” “go free,” “get well” (source: Marianna C. Slocum in The Bible Translator 1958, p. 49f. )
  • Aari: “the day our Savior comes” (in Rom 13:11) (source: Loren Bliese)

in Mairasi its is translated as “life fruit” or “life fruit all mashed out.” Lloyd Peckham explains: “In secret stories, not knowable to women nor children, there was a magical fruit of life. If referred to vaguely, without specifying the specific ‘fruit,’ it can be an expression for eternity.” And for “all masked out” he explains: “Bark cloth required pounding. It got longer and wider as it got pounded. Similarly, life gets pounded or mashed to lengthen it into infinity. Tubers also get mashed into the standard way of serving the staple food, like the fufu of Uganda, or like poi of Hawaii. It spreads out into infinity.” (See also eternity / forever)

In Lisu a poetic construct is used for this term. Arrington (2020, p. 58f.) explains: “A four-word couplet uses Lisu poetic forms to bridge the abstract concrete divide, an essential divide to cross if Christian theology is to be understood by those with oral thought patterns. Each couplet uses three concrete nouns or verbs to express an abstract term. An example of this is the word for salvation, a quite abstract term essential to understanding Christian theology. To coin this new word, the missionary translators used a four-word couplet: ℲO., CYU. W: CYU (person … save … person … save). In this particular case, the word for person was not the ordinary word (ʁ) but rather the combination of ℲO., and W: used in oral poetry. The word for ‘save’ also had to be coined; in this case, it was borrowed from Chinese [from jiù / 救]. These aspects of Lisu poetry, originally based on animism, likely would have been lost as Lisu society encountered communism and modernization. Yet they are now codified in the Lisu Bible as well as the hymnbook.”

See also save.

cross

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) or in Ancient Greek manuscripts with the staurogram (⳨) a ligature of the Greek letters tau (Τ) and rho (Ρ) that was used to abbreviate stauros (σταυρός), the Greek word for cross, and may visually have represented Jesus on the cross.

A staurogram spelling of the word σταυρον (as Ϲ⳨ΟΝ) in Luke 14:27 (Papyrus Bodmer XIV, 2nd century). Source: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Elsewhere it refers to the function, e.g. a newly coined term, like one 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)

In Lisu it is translated as ꓡꓯꓼ ꓐꓳ ꓔꓶꓸ DU — lä bo tɯ du: “a place to stretch the arms across” (source: Arrington 2020, p. 215), in Noongar as boorn-yambo: “crossed tree” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang), and in Tibetan as rgyangs shing (རྒྱངས་​ཤིང་​།), lit. “stretch + wood” (“translators have adopted the name of this traditional Tibetan instrument of torture to denote the object on which Jesus died”) (source: gSungrab website ).

The English translation of Ruden (2021) uses “stake.” She explains (p. xlv): “The cross was the perpendicular joining of two execution stakes, and the English word euphemistically emphasized the geometry: a cross could also be an abstract cross drawn on paper. The Greeks used their word for ‘stake,’ and this carries the imagery of what was done with it, as our ‘stake’ carries images of burning and impaling. ‘Hang on the stakes’ for ‘crucify’ is my habitual usage.”

See also crucify and this devotion on YouVersion .

bless(ed)

The Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and Aramaic that is translated into English as “(to) bless” or “blessed” is translated into a wide variety of possibilities.

The Hebrew term barak (and the Aramaic term berak) also (and originally) means “kneel” (a meaning which the word has retained — see Gen. 24:11) and can be used for God blessing people (or things), people blessing each other, or people blessing God. While English Bible translators have not seen a stumbling block in always using the same term (“bless” in its various forms), other languages need to make distinctions (see below).

In Bari, spoken in South Sudan, the connection between blessing and knees/legs is still apparent. For Genesis 30:30 (in English: “the Lord has blessed you wherever I turned”), Bari uses a common expression that says (much like the Hebrew), ‘… blessed you to my feet.'” (Source: P. Guillebaud in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 189ff. .)

Other examples for the translation of “bless” when God is the one who blesses include (click or tap here to see the rest of this insight):

  • “think well of” (San Blas Kuna)
  • “speak good to” (Amganad Ifugao)
  • “make happy” (Pohnpeian)
  • “cause-to-live-as-a-chief” (Zulu)
  • “sprinkle with a propitious (lit. cool) face” (a poetic expression occurring in the priests’ language) (Toraja Sa’dan) (source for this and above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • “give good things” (Mairasi) (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • “ask good” (Yakan) (source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • “praise, say good things” (Central Yupik) (source: Robert Bascom)
  • “greatly love” (Candoshi-Shapra) (source: John C. Tuggy)
  • “showing a good heart” (Kutu) (source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext)
  • “good luck — have — good fortune — have” (verbatim) ꓶꓼ ꓙꓳ ꓫꓱꓹ ꓙꓳ — ɯa dzho shes zho (Lisu). This construction follows a traditional four-couplet construct in oral Lisu poetry that is usually in the form ABAC or ABCB. (Source: Arrington 2020, p. 58)

In Tagbanwa a phrase is used for both the blessing done by people and God that back-translates to “caused to be pierced by words causing grace/favor” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation).

Ixcatlán Mazatec had to select a separate term when relating “to people ‘blessing’ God” (or things of God): “praise(d)” or “give thanks for” (in 1 Cor. 10:16) (“as it is humans doing the ‘blessing’ and people do not bless the things of God or God himself the way God blesses people” — source: Robert Bascom). Eastern Bru and Kui also use “praise” for this a God-directed blessing (source: Bru back translation and Helen Evans in The Bible Translator 1954, p. 40ff. ) and Uma uses “appropriate/worthy to be worshipped” (source: Uma back translation).

When related to someone who is blessing someone else, it is translated into Tsou as “speak good hopes for.” In Waiwai it is translated as “may God be good and kind to you now.” (Sources: Peng Kuo-Wei for Tsou and Robert Hawkins in The Bible Translator 1962, pp. 164ff. for Waiwai.)

Some languages associate an expression that originally means “spitting” or “saliva” with blessing. The Bantu language Koonzime, for instance, uses that expression for “blessing” in their translation coming from either God or man. Traditionally, the term was used in an application of blessing by an aged superior upon a younger inferior, often in relation to a desire for fertility, or in a ritualistic, but not actually performed spitting past the back of the hand. The spitting of saliva has the effect of giving that person “tenderness of face,” which can be translated as “blessedness.” (Source: Keith Beavon)

Martin Ehrensvärd, one of the translators for the Danish Bibelen 2020, comments on the translation of this term: “As for ‘blessing’, in the end we in most instances actually kept the word, after initially preferring the expression ‘giving life strength’. The backlash against dropping the word blessing was too hard. But we would often add a few words to help the reader understand what the word means in a given context — people often understand it to refer more to a spiritual connection with God, but in the Hebrew texts, it usually has to do with material things or good health or many children. So when e.g. in Isaiah 19:25 the Hebrew text says ‘God bless them’, we say ‘God bless them’ and we add: ‘and give them strength’. ‘And give them strength’ is not found in the overt Hebrew text, but we are again making explicit what we believe is the meaning so as to avoid misunderstanding.” (Source: Ehrensvärd in HIPHIL Novum 8/2023, p. 81ff. )

See also bless (food and drink), blessed (Christ in Mark 11:9), and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.

See also “Blessed by ‘The Blessing’ in the World’s Indigenous Languages” and Multilingual version of “The Blessing” based on Numbers 6:24-26 .