sackcloth

The Hebrew or Greek which are translated into English as “sackcloth” are rendered into Chamula Tzotzil as “sad-heart clothes.” (Source: Robert Bascom)

Pohnpeian and Chuukese translate it as “clothing-of sadness,” Eastern Highland Otomi uses “clothing that hurts,” Central Mazahua “that which is scratchy,” and Tae’ and Zarma “rags.” (Source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)

Click or tap here to see a short video clip showing what a sackcloth looked like in biblical times (source: Bible Lands 2012)

See also you have loosed my sackcloth.

fishing

The Ghari translation uses different terms for “fishing”: with nets when fishing for fish and with a line when fishing for men. (Source: David Clark)

The translation for “fishing” (when referring to catching fish) in Ojitlán Chinantec is “catching water animals” and in Aguaruna “killing fish.” (Source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)

Click or tap here to see a short video clip showing the different kinds of fishing with a net in biblical times (source: Bible Lands 2012)

See also cast a net.

anchor

The Greek that is translated into English as “anchor” in English is, due to non-existing nautical language, rendered as kayo’ barko (“an instrument that keeps the boat from drifting”) in Chol (source: Steven 1979, p. 76), “iron hooks” (“that make the boat stop”) in Isthmus Mixe, “irons called ‘anchors’ with ropes” in Teutila Cuicatec (source for this and above: Ronald D. Olson in Notes on Translation January, 1968, p. 15ff.), “weights, and thus they were able to make the boat stand” in Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac (source: Larson 1998, p. 99), “an iron attached to a rope attached to the boat so that it may not drift away” in Lalana Chinantec (source: John Beekman in Notes on Translation, March 1965, p. 2ff.), “a thing that makes the water vehicle stand still” in Kamwe (source: Roger Mohrlang in here), and “big canoe stopping metal” in Kouya.

Eddie Arthur tells the story of the translation into Kouya: “A slightly more prosaic example comes from Paul’s sea voyages in the Book of Acts. In Acts 27, when Paul’s ship was facing a huge storm, there are several references to throwing out the anchor to save the ship. Now the Kouya live in a tropical rain-forest and have no vessels larger than dug-out canoes used for fishing on rivers. The idea of an anchor was entirely foreign to them. However, it was relatively easy to devise a descriptive term along the lines of ‘boat stopping metal’ that captured the essential nature of the concept. This was fine when we were translating the word anchor in its literal sense. However, in Hebrews 6:19 we read that hope is an anchor for our souls. It would clearly make no sense to use ‘boat stopping metal’ at this point as the concept would simply not have any meaning. So in this verse we said that faith was like the foundation which keeps a house secure. One group working in the Sahel region of West Africa spoke of faith being like a tent peg which keeps a tent firm against the wind. I hope you can see the way in which these two translations capture the essence of the image in the Hebrews verse while being more appropriate to the culture.”

Click or tap here to see a short video clip showing an anchor in biblical times (source: Bible Lands 2012)

See also ship / boat, rudder, and anchor (figurative).

wine

The Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek that are translated as “wine” in English is translated into Pass Valley Yali as “grape juice pressed long ago (= fermented)” or “strong water” (source: Daud Soesilo). In Guhu-Samane it is also translated as “strong water” (source: Ernest L. Richert in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 198ff.).

Click or tap here to see a short video clip about wine in biblical times (source: Bible Lands 2012)

See also proceeds from the vine / anything that comes from the grapevine.

anoint

The Greek and Hebrew that is translated in English as “anoint” is translated in Lakota with azilyA: “to smudge.”

Steve Berneking (in Beerle-Moor / Voinov, p. 121) tells the story of that translation:

“During one visit with the Lakota team, we were reading texts and discussing key biblical terms and how they are best rendered into Lakota. Reference was made to the ritual we label ‘anointing.’ When the Lakota word that had been glossed as ‘anoint’ was read aloud, I heard giggling among the reviewers. Knowing that this reaction called for some explanation, I asked.

“The people there told me that the Lakota verb that was used to translate ‘anoint’ was funny in that context. It is not that the verb is an uncommon one; quite the contrary. Lakota uses that verb frequently, but almost exclusively as a verb of food preparation; the verb belongs to the culinary domain. In other words, the Lakota verb used for ‘anoint’ actually referred to rubbing oil on something that was to be cooked or grilled, in this case, the apostles. The Lakota verb ipáṫaŋṫtaŋ ‘to apply oil on something’ was used quite innocently by the missionaries. The linguistic transfer was understandable: the missionaries needed a verb to translate ‘putting oil on something’; Lakota has a verb; they used that verb. The result was comical. So, during that conversation with the Lakota community, I encouraged the translators to come up with a Lakota verb that is used not simply in ‘the application of oil,’ but more pointedly in the consecration of something or somebody for a special task, or in the appointment of someone for a special purpose. Their response was almost immediate: azilyA or wazílyA ‘to smudge.’ That is how, they told me, warriors and messengers and tribal leaders have always been consecrated (or blessed) before being sent out on a special mission. Sage grass was burned, and the smoke was waved over the person or object. The trans-cultural process of using the traditional Lakota verb azilyA for the biblical notion of ‘anoint’ became, at that moment, part of the Lakota Bible.”

Click or tap here to see a short video clip showing how anointing was done in biblical times (source: Bible Lands 2012)

yoke

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)

wine press

The Greek that is translated in English as “wine press” is translated in Tzotzil and in Mairasi as “a hole dug in the rock where juice is pressed out of grapes.” (Sources: Holzhausen 1991, p. 39 (Tzotzil) and Enggavoter 2004 (Mairasi).)

Click or tap here to see a short video clip showing a wine press in biblical times (source: Bible Lands 2012)

crucify

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

The Greek that is translated into English as “crucify” is translated into Naro with xgàu which literally means “to stretch” as is done with a skin after slaughtering in order to dry it. The word is also widely accepted in the churches. (Source: Gerrit van Steenbergen)

Similarly, Balinese and Toraja-Sa’dan also translate as “stretch him” (Source: Reiling / Swellengrebel) and in Rendille as lakakaaha — “stretched and nailed down” (source: Holzhausen / Riderer 2010, p. 33).

In Ghari it becomes “hammer to the cross” (source: David Clark), in Loma “fasten him to a spread-back-stick” (source: Bratcher / Nida), in Sundanese “hang him on a crossbeam” (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel), in Aguaruna “fasten him to the tree,” in Navajo “nail him to the cross”, in Yatzachi Zapotec “fasten him to the cross” (source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.), and in Apali the different aspects of the crucifixion have to be spelled out: “nail to a tree piece put cross-wise, lift up to stand upright (for the crucified person) to die (and in some contexts: to die and rise again)” (source: Martha Wade).

Click or tap here to see a short video clip showing how crucifixion was done in biblical times (source: Bible Lands 2012)

See also cross and hang on a tree.

David

The name that is transliterated as “David” in English is translated in Spanish Sign Language with the sign signifying a sling and king (referring to 1 Samuel 17:49 and 2 Samuel 5:4). (Source: John Elwode in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 78ff.)


“David” in Spanish Sign Language (source)

The (Protestant) Chinese transliteration of “David” is 大卫 (衛) / Dàwèi which carries an additional meaning of “Great Protector.”

Click or tap here to see a short video clip about David (source: Bible Lands 2012)

baptism, baptize

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

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 wout 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.
  • Mairasi: fat jaenggom; “water washing” (“baptize with the Holy Spirit”: “wash with the Holy Spirit) (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • 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)
  • Muna: kadiu sarani “Christian bathing” (source: René von den Berg)
  • 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.) (Note: In more recent Mongolian translations a transliteration of baptizo is used instead)
  • Many Germanic languages use a term that originally means “dip” or “make deep”: German: Taufe, Danish: dåb Swedish: dop, Norwegian: dåp, Dutch: doop, Faroese: dópur; and so do Creole languages with a strong Dutch influence, such as Saramaccan, Sranan Tongo, or Eastern Maroon Creole: dopu
  • 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)

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