ark of the covenant

The Hebrew, Greek, and Latin that is sometimes translated as “ark of the covenant” in English (other English options: “pact chest” [translation by John Goldingay, 2018] or “Coffer of the Covenant” [translation by Everett Fox, 1995]) is translated in various ways:

  • Mairasi: Anasi Farjora or “Covenant Place” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • Uma: “Promise Box” (source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “Covenant Chest” (source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Chest of the Agreement” (source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Chest of the Initiated-agreement” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Danish Bibelen 2020: kisten med den hellige aftale or “chest with the holy agreement” (source: Ehrensvärd in HIPHIL Novum 8/2023, p. 81ff. )

Following is reverse applique stitching (“mola”) by an unknown Guna artist depicting the ark:

Source: Sacred Art Pilgrim website .

In American Sign Language it is translated with a sign that combines “box” and the wings of the cherubim on top of the ark (see Exod 25:18 and following). (Source: RuthAnna Spooner, Ron Lawer)


“Ark of the covenant” in American Sign Language, source: Deaf Harbor

See also cherub and tabernacle (noun).

fear of the LORD (Isa 11:2)

The Hebrew that is translated as “fear of the Lord” in English is translated in the Danish Bibelen 2020 “love of God.”

Martin Ehrensvärd, one of the translators explains: “Another interesting case is Isaiah 11:2 where it says that the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. This last part, i.e. fear of God, we translate as ‘love of God’. That could be taking the biblical concept of fear a bit too far but I stand by it. Love probably at least was an aspect of the Hebrew concept of fear of God.” (Source: Ehrensvärd in HIPHIL Novum 8/2023, p. 81ff. )

See also fear (of God).

Send out your bread upon the waters - for after many days you will get it back.

The Danish Bibelen 2020 translates this as “Be generous to ungrateful people because you will receive your reward at some point.”

Martin Ehrensvärd, one of the translators explains: “The first text we worked on in 2013 was Ecclesiastes. We used it as a test case to find out how we would implement our principles. We agreed then that we couldn’t do anything about obscure texts such as the saying in Eccl. 11:1: ‘Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.’ It’s a proverb, known from other sources in antiquity, but we are not sure about the deeper meaning of it. But five years down line we decided, for better or worse, that we should also help the reader in such difficult cases, and so instead of saying anything about casting bread, we said: ‘Be generous to ungrateful people because you will receive your reward at some point.'” (Source: Ehrensvärd in HIPHIL Novum 8/2023, p. 81ff. )

send out your bread upon the waters.

elder (of the community)

The Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek that is typically translated as “elders” in English is translated in the Danish Bibelen 2020 as folkets ledere or “leaders of the people.”

Martin Ehrensvärd, one of the translators, explains: “The term ‘elder’ turned out to pose a particularly thorny problem. In traditional bibles, you can find elders all of over the place and they never pose a problem for a translator, they are just always elders. But how to find a contemporary term for this semi-official, complex position? This may have been our longest-standing problem. A couple of times we thought we had the solution, and then implemented it throughout the texts, only to find out that it didn’t work. Like when we used city council or village council, depending on the context. In the end we felt that the texts didn’t work with such official terms, and throughout the years in the desert, these terms didn’t make much sense. Other suggestions were ‘the eldest and wisest’, ‘the respected citizens’, ‘the Israelites with a certain position in society’, ‘the elder council’ –- and let me point out that these terms sound better in Danish than in English (‘de fremtrædende borgere,’ ‘de mest fremtrædende israelitter,’ ‘alle israelitter med en vis position,’ ‘de ældste og de klogeste,’ ‘ældsterådet’). In the end we just said ‘leaders of the people.’ After a lot of hand-wringing, it turned out that we actually found a term that worked well. So, we had to give up conveying the fact that they were old, but the most important point is that they were community leaders.” (Source: Ehrensvärd in HIPHIL Novum 8/2023, p. 81ff. )

The German das Buch translation by Roland Werner (publ. 2009-2022) translates likewise as “leader of the people” (Anführer des Volkes).

Judges

The Hebrew and Greek that is translated in English translations as “Judges” (as the title of the biblical book) of “judges” (in Judg 2:16 and 2:17 Ruth 1:1, and in Acts 13:20) is translated into Bukusu as “leaders” (in the case of the title of the book ‘The book of Leaders’). In light of this, there is no real need to explain that these persons were not judges of a court of law, but leaders.

In Isthmus Mixe it is also translated as “leaders,” in Morelos Nahuatl as “authorities,” and in Eastern Highland Otomi as “judges who were the rulers of the people.” (Source: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August 1966, p. 86ff.)

Martin Ehrensvärd, one of the translators for the Danish Bibelen 2020, comments on the translation of this term: “The ancient type of leader called judges in the bible (described in the Book of Judges) presents its own problems in a translation like this. Calling them ‘judges’ simply doesn’t work because that was such a small part of what they did. We discussed this at length but never came up with anything better than ‘leader’.” (Source: Ehrensvärd in HIPHIL Novum 8/2023, p. 81ff. )

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 .

sin

The Hebrew and Greek that is typically translated as “sin” in English has a wide variety of translations.

The Greek ἁμαρτάνω (hamartanō) carries the original verbatim meaning of “miss the mark.” Likewise, many translations contain the “connotation of moral responsibility.” Loma has (for certain types of sin) “leaving the road” (which “implies a definite standard, the transgression of which is sin”) or Navajo uses “that which is off to the side.” (Source: Bratcher / Nida). In Toraja-Sa’dan the translation is kasalan, which originally meant “transgression of a religious or moral rule” and has shifted its meaning in the context of the Bible to “transgression of God’s commandments.” (Source: H. van der Veen in The Bible Translator 1950, p. 21ff. ).

In Shipibo-Conibo the term is hocha. Nida (1952, p. 149) tells the story of its choosing: “In some instances a native expression for sin includes many connotations, and its full meaning must be completely understood before one ever attempts to use it. This was true, for example, of the term hocha first proposed by Shipibo-Conibo natives as an equivalent for ‘sin.’ The term seemed quite all right until one day the translator heard a girl say after having broken a little pottery jar that she was guilty of ‘hocha.’ Breaking such a little jar scarcely seemed to be sin. However, the Shipibos insisted that hocha was really sin, and they explained more fully the meaning of the word. It could be used of breaking a jar, but only if the jar belonged to someone else. Hocha was nothing more nor less than destroying the possessions of another, but the meaning did not stop with purely material possessions. In their belief God owns the world and all that is in it. Anyone who destroys the work and plan of God is guilty of hocha. Hence the murderer is of all men most guilty of hocha, for he has destroyed God’s most important possession in the world, namely, man. Any destructive and malevolent spirit is hocha, for it is antagonistic and harmful to God’s creation. Rather than being a feeble word for some accidental event, this word for sin turned out to be exceedingly rich in meaning and laid a foundation for the full presentation of the redemptive act of God.”

In Kaingang, the translation is “break God’s word” and in Sandawe the original meaning of the Greek term (see above) is perfectly reflected with “miss the mark.” (Source: Ursula Wiesemann in Holzhausen / Riderer 2010, p. 36ff., 43)

In Warao it is translated as “bad obojona.” Obojona is a term that “includes the concepts of consciousness, will, attitude, attention and a few other miscellaneous notions.” (Source: Henry Osborn in The Bible Translator 1969, p. 74ff. ). See other occurrences of Obojona in the Warao New Testament.

Martin Ehrensvärd, one of the translators for the Danish Bibelen 2020, comments on the translation of this term: “We would explain terms, such that e.g. sin often became ‘doing what God does not want’ or ‘breaking God’s law’, ‘letting God down’, ‘disrespecting God’, ‘doing evil’, ‘acting stupidly’, ‘becoming guilty’. Now why couldn’t we just use the word sin? Well, sin in contemporary Danish, outside of the church, is mostly used about things such as delicious but unhealthy foods. Exquisite cakes and chocolates are what a sin is today.” (Source: Ehrensvärd in HIPHIL Novum 8/2023, p. 81ff. )

See also sinner.

complete verse (Genesis 3:20)

Following are a number of back-translations as well as a sample translation for translators of Genesis 3:20:

  • Kankanaey: “When it was finished that he said that, he went and got animal skins and made (them) into clothing and caused- them -to-put-it-on. And Adan, he named his spouse Eva, because she was the original-source of all people.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Hiligaynon: “Adan named his wife ‘Eva’ because she would become the mother of all people.” (Source: Hiligaynon Back Translation)
  • Danish Bibelen 2020: “Adam called the woman Eve, which means ‘life’, because she became the mother of all people.” (Source: Ehrensvärd in HIPHIL Novum 8/2023, p. 81ff. )
  • English: “The man, whose name was Adam, named his wife Eve, which means ‘living’, because she became the ancestor of all living people.” (Source: Translation for Translators)