cast lots

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), and in 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)

make His paths straight, make ready the way of the Lord

The Greek (originally quotes from the Hebrew in Isaiah) that is translated as “(make ready the way of the Lord,) make His paths straight” or something similar in English is translated in Sa’a as “You, tidy up well the paths that are dirty.” Carl Gross reports: “The Sa’a people have a practice which beautifully captures the idea expressed in the Isaianic quote. One line of this was rendered ‘You, tidy up well the paths that are dirty.’ This may conjure up the idea of an anti-litter campaign, but assurances were given that, before a feast when other villages would come to visit, or when an important person was about to come, the whole village would go out and tidy up the road, removing stones, branches, and other obstacles, as well as litter. It is a road maintenance exercise, as well as a way of welcoming honored visitors.” (Source: Carl Gross)

In Chol it says “Make straight the way of the Lord: Go, clean up the path of our Lord.” (Source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)

fishers of men

The Greek that is translated as “(I will make you) fishers of men (or: people)” in English is rendered in Martu Wangka as “before you used to work getting fish for people, now i think you should do another work getting people and teaching them to be my relatives” (source: Carl Gross).

In Galela it is translated as “. . . you teach people to follow me, which is similar to you netting fish to gather them in” (source: Howard Shelden in Kroneman 2004, p. 501).

complete verse (1John 4:18)

Following are a number of back-translation of 1John 4:18:

Yatzachi Zapotec: “If we love God there is nothing for us to fear. And if we love God as we ought, there is nothing left for us to fear, because it is like a punishment for us when we are afraid. And if we fear anything, we do not love God as we ought.”

Eastern Highland Otomi: “He who fears the judgment, he fears it because he hasn’t yet known well the love that God does to him. God’s love removes fear. When we fear, we think God will punish us.”

Tzotzil: “If we believe that God loves us, therefore we are not afraid. Because if we are afraid, it is because we think that God is going to punish us. If we believe that God really and truly loves us, not thus we think. Therefore if we are afraid it is because we have not believed that God loves us.”

Sayula Popoluca: “He who loves God, doesn’t fear. Because he who truly loves God will not fear anything. Because he who fears will suffer. He who fears, he doesn’t truly love God.” (Source for all above: John Beekman in Notes on Translation 12, November 1964, p. 1ff.

Eastern Arrernte “The person who knows that God loves him does not fear God. But the person who fears that God will punish him, he does not yet know that God loves him very much.” (Source: Carl Gross)

kiss

The Hebrew and the Greek that is usually directly translated as “kiss” in English is translated more indirectly in other languages because kissing is deemed as inappropriate, is not a custom at all, or is not customary in the particular context (see the English translation of J.B. Phillips, 1960 in Rom. 16:16: “Give each other a hearty handshake”). Here are some examples:

  • Pökoot: “greet warmly” (“kissing in public, certainly between men, is absolutely unacceptable in Pökoot.”) (Source: Gerrit van Steenbergen)
  • Chamula Tzotzil, Ixcatlán Mazatec, Tojolabal: “greet each other warmly” or “hug with feeling” (source: Robert Bascom)
  • Afar: “gaba tittal ucuya” (“give hands to each other”) (Afar kiss each other’s hands in greeting) (source: Loren Bliese)
  • Roviana: “welcome one another joyfully”
  • Cheke Holo: “Love each other in the way-joined-together that is holy” (esp. in Rom. 16:16) or “greet with love” (esp. 1Thess. 5:26 and 1Pet. 5.14)
  • Pitjantjatjara: “And when you meet/join up with others of Jesus’ relatives hug and kiss them [footnote], for you are each a relative of the other through Jesus.” Footnote: “This was their custom in that place to hug and kiss one another in happiness. Maybe when we see another relative of Jesus we shake hands and rejoice.” (esp. Rom. 16:16) (source for this and two above: Carl Gross)
  • Balanta-Kentohe and Mandinka: “touch cheek” or “cheek-touching” (“sumbu” in Malinka)
  • Mende: “embrace” (“greet one another with the kiss of love”: “greet one another and embrace one another to show that you love one another”) (source for this and two above: Rob Koops)
  • Gen: “embrace affectionately” (source: John Ellington)
  • Kachin: “holy and pure customary greetings” (source: Gam Seng Shae)
  • Kahua: “smell” (source: David Clark) (also in Ekari and Kekchí, source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • Nyanja: “to suck” (“habit and term a novelty amongst the young and more or less westernized people, the traditional term for greeting a friend after a long absence being, ‘to clap in the hands and laugh happily'”)
  • Medumba: “suck the cheek” (“a novelty, the traditional term being ‘to embrace.'”)
  • Shona (version of 1966): “to hug”
  • Balinese: “to caress” (source for this and three above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)