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 [publ. 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)
  • Southern Birifor: puor or “greet” (source: Andy Warren-Rothlin)
  • 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: “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)
  • San Blas Kuna: “smell the face” (source: Claudio and Marvel Iglesias in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 85ff.)
  • Chichewa: “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, ‘clap in the hands and laugh happily'”)
  • Medumba: “suck the cheek” (“a novelty, the traditional term being ‘to embrace.'”)
  • Shona (version of 1966) / Vidunda: “hug”
  • Balinese: “caress” (source for this and three above: Reiling / Swellengrebel; Vidunda: project-specific translation notes in Paratext)
  • Tsafiki: earlier version: “greet in a friendly way,” later revision: “kiss on the face” (Bruce Moore [in: Notes on Translation 1/1992), p. 1ff.] explains: “Formerly, kissing had presented a problem. Because of the Tsáchilas’ [speakers of Tsafiki] limited exposure to Hispanic culture they understood the kiss only in the eros context. Accordingly, the original translation had rendered ‘kiss’ in a greeting sense as ‘greet in a friendly way’. The actual word ‘kiss’ was not used. Today ‘kiss’ is still an awkward term, but the team’s judgment was that it could be used as long as long as it was qualified. So ‘kiss’ (in greeting) is now ‘kiss on the face’ (that is, not on the lips).)
  • Kwere / Kutu: “show true friendship” (source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext)

See also kissed (his feet).

fugitive, vagabond, wanderer

The Hebrew that is translated as “vagabond,” “fugitive,” or “wanderer” in English is translated in Western Lawa as one who has “no house to live in and no granary to eat out of.”

Mary (mother of Jesus)

The name that is transliterated as “Mary” in English is translated in Spanish Sign Language with arms folded over chest which is the typical pose of Mary in statues and artwork. (Source: John Elwode in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 78ff.)


“Mary” in Spanish Sign Language, source: Sociedad Bíblica de España

In American Sign Language it is translated with a sign for the letter M and the sign for “virgin,” which could also be interpreted as “head covering,” referring to the way that Mary is usually portrayed in art works. (Source: RuthAnna Spooner, Ron Lawer)


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

In the Burmese Common Language Version (publ. 2005), Mary is described as a king’s mother by using the royal noun suffix taw / တော် with the word “mother” in Matthew 1:16 and Luke 2:33. This is done to highlight the status of Jesus as a king or the divine Son. Othjer passages where taht is used include Matthew 2:11, 13, 14, 20, and 21. (Source: Gam Seng Shae, The Bible Translator 2002, p. 202ff.) See also Jesus’ human vs. divine nature in modern Burmese translation.

men of renown

The Greek that is often translated as “men of renown” in English is translated in Western Lawa as “men who are like horns of a barking deer” (= famous men).

Jesus' human vs. divine nature in modern Burmese translation

There are three different levels of speech in Burmese: common language, religious language (addressing and honoring monks, etc.), and royal language (which is not in active use anymore). Earliest Bible translations used exclusively royal and religious language (in the way Jesus is addressed by others and in the way Jesus is referred to via pronouns), which results in Jesus being divine and not human. Later editions try to make distinctions.

In the Common Language Version (publ. 2005) the human face of Jesus appears in the narrative of the angel’s message to Joseph and what Joseph did in response (Matthew 1:21-25). The angel told Joseph that Mary was going to give birth to a son, not a prince.

Likewise in Luke 2:6-7 the story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is told simply using the Common language. Again in the description of the shepherds’ visit to the baby Jesus (Mark 1:21-25), in the story of Jesus’ circumcision (Luke 2:6-2:7), and in the narrative of the child Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem (Luke 2:46-51), the human face of Jesus comes to the forefront.

On the other hand, the child Jesus is clearly depicted as a royal or a divine child in the story of the wise men (Matthew 2:9-12), the story of the flight to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-14), and the return to Nazareth (Matthew 2:20-21).

(Source: Gam Seng Shae, The Bible Translator 2002, p. 202ff.)

See also Mary (mother of Jesus).

my blood of the covenant

The Greek that is translated as “this is my blood of the covenant” is translated into Tase Naga as “this is my blood that caused the covenant to come into being.”