high places

The Hebrew that is translated as “high places” in English is translated in Chitonga as malende. Ernst Wendland (1987, p. 57) explains: “The preceding expression [‘place for worship/sacrifice on top of hills’], though intelligible linguistically, sounds rather strange to the Tonga who live on the relatively flat plains of southern Zambia. There are ‘hills’ in their country, but normally no one would ever worship regularly there. For this reason the new translation will try out a cultural substitute (see below), malende, the ‘local shrine’ of Tonga traditional religion, where the ‘priest’ (clan head, who may be a chief as well) makes sacrifices to the spirits in time of corporate calamity, especially drought. This would seem to approximate quite closely the main elements of both form and function of the term ‘high places’ in the Old Testament, which were not always or even usually set upon hills, especially in the latter days of the monarchy (cp. 2 Kings 17:9, 29).”

In the Chichewa interconfessional translation (publ. 1999), it is translated as “shrines for worshiping images there.” (Source: Ernst Wendland in The Bible Translator 2002, p. 319ff.)

fear (of God)

The Hebrew and Greek that are translated as “fear (of God)” (or: “honor,” “worship,” or “respect”) is translated as “to have respect/reverence for” (Southern Subanen, Western Highland Purepecha, Navajo, Javanese, Tboli), “to make great before oneself” (Ngäbere), “fear-devotion” (Kannada — currently used as a description of the life of piety), “those-with-whom he-is-holy” (those who fear God) (Western Apache) (source for this and above: Reiling / Swellengrebel), “revere God” Lalana Chinantec, “worship God” (Palantla Chinantec) (source for this and one above: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August 1966, p. 86ff.), “obey” (Chichewa) (source: Ernst Wendland), or with a term that communicates awe (rather than fear of an evil source) (Chol) (source: Robert Bascom).

Bullard / Hatton (2008, p. 8) say the following about this concept: “As the writer of Proverbs states in 1:7, ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.’ (…) ‘The fear of the Lord,’ that is, human fear of God, is an exceptionally difficult concept to express, at least in English. Other languages may have more appropriate terms. The idea probably is rooted in the most ancient days when people were indeed afraid of any deity. But in Israel the concept of fearing God was transformed by God’s revelation into a much fuller idea. Basically, as used in the Bible, the fear of God refers to the proper attitude of reverence and awe before the Holy One. To fear God is to recognize one’s own place as a mere mortal before the Creator, one’s place as a sinner before the Judge, one’s place as a child before the Father, one’s place as the recipient of God’s love. It thus involves submission, repentance, trust, and grateful love toward the One who is fearsome in holiness, in justice, in power that both protects and punishes, and in love. Using the word “fear” is sometimes as good as we can do, but often we will alternate that word with terms like ‘reverence’ or ‘awe.’”

See also fear of the LORD (Isa 11:2) and complete verse (Genesis 22:12) et al.


The Greek that is translated as “mediator” in English is translated in Mandarin Chinese as zhòng bǎo (中保), lit. “middle protector.” (Source: Zetzsche)

In the Chichewa interconfessional translation (publ. 1999), it is translated as “one who stays in the middle” (Source: Ernst Wendland in The Bible Translator 2002, p. 319ff.).

flesh (human nature)

The Greek that is often translated as “flesh” in English (when referring to the lower human nature) can, according to Nida (1947, p. 153) “very rarely be literally translated into another language. ‘My meat’ or ‘my muscle’ does not make sense in most languages.” He then gives a catalog of almost 30 questions to determine a correct translation for that term.

Accordingly, the translations are very varied:

The Toraja-Sa’dan translation uses a variety of terms for the translation of the same Greek term (click or tap here to see the rest of this insight)

  • A form of kale tolinona or “corporeal” is for instance used in Romans 9:5 or Colossians 1:22 (and also in Genesis 6:3 and Exodus 30:32)
  • A form of mentolinona or “the human” is for instance used in Matthew 16:17 or John 1:14
  • Phrases that include pa’kalean or “bodiliness” (also: “human shape”) are for instance used in Romans 6:6 or 1 Peter 2:11 (as well as in Isa 52:14, Isa 53:2, and Lamentations 4:7

(Source: H. van der Veen in The Bible Translator 1952, p. 207ff. )

See also spirit / flesh, old self, and flesh (John 1:14).

soul was departing

The Hebrew that is translated “her soul was departing” or similar in English is emphasized in the interconfessional Chichewa translation (publ. 1999) with the ideophone ŵefuŵefu (“she was panting her last ŵefuŵefu“). An ideophone is a word that expresses what is perceived by the five senses. (Source: Ernst Wendland in The Bible Translator 1981, p. 107)

land flowing with milk and honey

The phrase that is rendered in English versions as “land flowing with milk and honey” is translated into Afar as niqmatak tan baaxoy buqre kee lacah meqehiyya: “a blessed land good for fields and cattle.” (Source: Loren Bliese)

In the interconfessional Chichewa translation (publ. 1999) it is translated with the existing proverb dziko lamwanaalirenji or “a land of what (type of food) can the child cry for?” (i.e. there is more than enough to eat). (Source: Ernst Wendland in The Bible Translator 1981, p. 107)

In Kwere it is “good/fertile land.” (Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext)

cypress wood

The Hebrew that is translated “cypress wood” or “gopher wood” in English is translated in the interconfessional Chichewa translation (publ. 1999) with mnjale or “(boards of the) canoe tree,” a tree that grows along the banks of rivers and is used to make boats.

Ernst Wendland (in The Bible Translator 1981, p. 107) explains: “Some might argue that the use of such local substitutes constitutes a misrepresentation of the biblical setting in that they give the impression that the indigenous item was actually found in the Holy Land. That may be true, but difficulties also arise with alternative solutions. Use of a generic term (e.g. ‘good timber’ — Good News Translation) is probably the safest, but this procedure, if overused, produces a dull text due to the lack of descriptive detail.15 A generic word modified by a descriptive word/phrase is also possible, but it is not very easy sometimes to find an expression that fits neatly into the account. (…) Frequently a generic or qualifying phrase turns out to be rather awkward and tends to upset the smooth flow of the discourse. They are particularly unnatural in dialogue since they can make the speaker (or his addressee) sound as if he doesn’t know his own language properly (e.g., build a ship with the boards of a tree like the mnjale…”). A loanword, unless it is one that is widely circulated in the speech community, is the least satisfactory as a descriptive term. Either its referent lies completely outside the experience of the receptors, or it is strongly associated with life in the twentieth century, hence an obvious anachronism.”