bed, mat

The Greek terms that are translated “mat” or “bed” or similar in English are translated in Ebira as odooro or “stretcher.” Hans-Jürgen Scholz (in Holzhausen 1991, p. 42f.) explains the long odyssey of finding the right term: The regular term for “bed” (ode) didn’t work since this only referred to the traditional raised mud floor used for sleeping which was unmovable and could not be used in the story. The term iveedi was used for a movable bed with a metal frame also did not work since it exclusively referred to modern beds imported from Japan which of course could also not be used in the context of the story. The word for “mat” (uvene) was also impossible to use since traditional mats are fragile and and could not possible be used to lower someone down from the roof. Finally the term odooro for “stretcher” was used.

Still the first version that used that term and said “roll up your stretcher and leave” still had to be changed one more time since stretchers are traditionally made of old rags and only used once. Therefore in the final text it had to be emphasized that the odooro had to be just cleared out of the house as a courtesy by the healed paralytic rather than to be kept for further use.

leaven

The Greek that is translated in English as “leaven” or “yeast” is translated in Alekano as “bile.”

Ellis Deibler (in Holzhausen 1991, p. 46f. explains): “A translation helper from the Gahuku people [one of the tribes that speak Alekano] and I had just finished translating chapter 5 of 1 Corinthians. In it, Paul gives instructions to the Corinthians on how to behave toward an immoral man in the church. In verse 6 it says ‘Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?’ Patiently, I explained to my trusted translation helper all about leaven and its function in baking bread. He shook his head in resignation and said, ‘We can try to translate it that way if you want, but people won’t understand. They don’t know how to bake bread, just as they don’t know what leaven is or what it does. How then will they understand what Paul is saying here? But …’ he added, following a sudden inspiration, ‘there would be another way. When we slaughter an animal, there’s a small part on its body that we never cut up, because otherwise when we cook it, all the rest of the meat becomes inedible.’ I could tell that he was thinking of bile. It was also clear to me that he had found a fitting example from the culture of his people. ‘We can translate it this way,’ he continued, ‘the gall bladder is a small thing, but if just a little of it is cooked together with the meat, the whole dish becomes so bitter that it cannot be eaten. Don’t you know that?’ He was quite confident in his version of translating this verse, but I had reservations. ‘What about the next verse, then, where Paul says to clean sweep out the old leaven?’, I asked. ‘Oh, that’s not difficult,’ he replied. Then he explained to me that it is customary among the Gahuku to use the word leaven figuratively to refer to an evil quality in a person, and added, ‘We can simply say, ‘Expel this disgusting stuff from your midst, and you will be truly palatable.” I thought about his suggestion for a while and discussed it at length with other colleagues. After that, I too was convinced that we had found an excellent substitute for the biblical figure of speech ‘leaven,’ and one that the Gahukus could not misunderstand. After all, they know a lot about cooking meat, but nothing at all about baking bread.”

See also leaven.

seal with the promised Holy Spirit

The Greek that is translated as “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” in English is translated in Northwestern Dinka as “You were branded in the heart by the Holy Spirit who was promised.”

Nida (1952, p. 54) tells this story: “The Northwestern Dinkas do not employ seals to indicate ownership nor do they confirm an agreement by using sealing wax and a signet ring, but they do mark ownership of their cattle by branding them. When speaking of the Christian’s relationship to God, it is not enough to use the words ‘to brand,’ but this phrase has been expanded and enriched by the words ‘in the heart’.”

In Alekano it is translated as “(God) having bestowed his spirit on you, you have become accompanied with God’s ownership-mark.” (Source: Larson 1998, p. 134)

In Gumatj, the concept of a “seal” (or “letter”) is unknown so the translation team used an expression that relates to a traditional custom. When a man is planning to build a dugout canoe, he goes into the forest and looks for a tree that is particularly well suited for that task. He then marks the tree with his knife to claim it for his use. That term for marking the tree was used in the translation for “seal.” (Source: Holzhausen 1991, p. 44f.)

justified by his blood

The Greek that is translated in English as “justified by his blood” or similar is translated in Wik-Mungkan with the expression chaapar theetath. The verbatim translation of that expression is “to give one’s blood for someone,” and it refers to a custom (that is presently not practiced anymore) where the father of a woman whose hand was asked for in marriage would stab the groom-to-be in the thigh with a spear. Once the father would see the blood running down the leg of the man he would be satisfied that since the man had given his blood he could now marry the daughter. (Source: Chris Kilham in Holzhausen 1991, p. 49)

desert, wilderness

The Greek that is translated as “desert” or “wilderness” in English is translated as “a place where noisiness is cut off (or: stops)” in Mairasi, “big barren-field” (pandaso bhalano) in Muna, “uninhabited place” in Wantoat, or “where no people dwell” in Umiray Dumaget Agta.

Sources: Mairasi: Enggavoter 2004; Muna: René van den Berg; Wantoat: Holzhausen 1991, p. 38; Umiray Dumaget Agta: Larson 1998, p. 98).

See also wilderness.

demon

The Greek that is typically translated/transliterated in English as “demon” is translated in Central Mazahua as “the evil spirit(s) of the devil” (source: Ellis Deibler in Notes on Translation July, 1967, p. 5ff.).

In Sissala it is translated with kaŋtɔŋ, which traditionally referred to “either a spirit of natural phenomena such as trees, rivers, stones, etc., or the spirit of a deceased person that has not been taken into the realm of the dead. Kaŋtɔŋ can be good or evil. Evil kaŋtɔŋ can bring much harm to people and are feared accordingly. A kaŋtɔŋ can also dwell in a person living on this earth. A person possessed by kaŋtɔŋ does not behave normally.” (Source: Regina Blass in Holzhausen 1991, p. 48f.)

See also devil and formal pronoun: demons or Satan addressing Jesus.

snake

In Kuy culture, snakes are eaten, so here the Kuy translation says the equivalent of “a yellow snake” as these are taboo (source: David Clark). For the same reason, the term used in Barasana-Eduria is “eel” since eels are detested among the speakers (source: Larry Clark in Holzhausen 1991, p. 45).

See also serpent.

right hand of

The Greek and Hebrew that is typically translated as “(to the) right hand of” is often translated much more descriptively in other languages. In Yakan it is translated as “at the right side, here in the greatest/most important/most honored place/seat,” in Mezquital Otomi as “the right hand, at the place of honor,” in Chuj as “exalted at the right hand,” in Chichimeca-Jonaz as “in a high place there at the right,” in Lalana Chinantec as “make great,” in Isthmus Mixe as “given great authority,” in Morelos Nahuatl as “placed big” (source: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August, 1966, p. 1ff), and in Teutila Cuicatec as “in all authority at the right side” (source: Ronald D. Olson in Notes on Translation January, 1968, p. 15ff.).

In Lamnso’, the seat on the right-hand side signifies that the person seated there would have a higher position than the one to his left (vs. just being a seat of honor). To circumvent any misunderstanding of the biblical text, the translation here refers to the “highest seat next to God.” (Source: Karl Grebe in Holzhausen 1991, p. 52)

rock, sand

Fuyug houses are built with poles which cannot be put into rock, so in this passage the Fuyug translation for the term that is “rock” in English becomes “firm ground” and “sand” becomes “soft ground.” (Source: David Clark)

Likewise, and for the same reason, the wise man builds his house in Manam on “firm ground” as well. (Source: Blaine Turner in Holzhausen 1991, p. 47)

Since speakers of Kara-Kalpak do indeed build their houses on sand, the translators had to find a slightly different solution to not imply that the Karakalpaks themselves are foolish. They ended up choosing shege qum, the term for loose yellow sand along river banks, since this indeed is a kind of sand Karakalpaks would not build their houses on. (Source: Holzhausen / Riderer 2010, p. 57)

gospel

In choosing a word for the Greek that is typically translated as “gospel” in English, a number of languages construct a phrase meaning “good news,” “joyful report” or “happiness-bringing words.” In some instances such a phrase may be slightly expanded in order to convey the proper meaning, e.g. “new good word” (Tzotzil), or it may involve some special local usage, e.g. “good story” (Navajo), “joyful telling” (Tausug), “joyful message” (Toraja-Sa’dan) (source for this and all above: Bratcher / Nida), “message of God” (Shilluk) (source: Nida 1964, p. 237), or cohuen ñoñets or “good news” in Yanesha’ (source: Martha Duff in Holzhausen 1991, p. 11)

Vitaly Voinov tells this story about the translation into Rutul:

“In Rutul, it was only during the most recent consultant checking session that I realized that the Rutul word for Gospel – Incir (from Arabic إنجيل — Injil) — sounds and looks exactly like the word that means ‘fig’ in Rutul. This is a case of homonymy, in which two completely non-related words from differing historical sources have come to sound exactly alike. Most Rutul speakers know that incir means ‘fig’ because they grow this fruit in their yard or buy it at the market every week. However, because the religious sphere of discourse was heavily disparaged during the Soviet era, most people simply never encountered Incir with the meaning of ‘Gospel.’ This meaning of the word, which Rutuls of the pre-Soviet era knew from the Koran, simply fell into disuse and never had much reason for returning into contemporary Rutul since there is no Christian church established among the people. So if the translator continues to use the term Incir as the rendering for ‘Gospel,’ he runs the risk that most readers will, at best, read the word with a smile because they know that it also means ‘fig,’ and, at worst, will completely misunderstand the word. The seemingly ‘easy’ solution in this case is for the translator to use a Rutul neologism meaning ‘Joyful Message’ or ‘Good News,’ [see above] instead of Incir; but in fact it is not all that easy to make this change if the translator himself insists on using the historical word because at least some Rutuls still understand it as meaning ‘Gospel.’ This is a situation in which the translation team has to gradually grow into the understanding that a fully intelligible translation of Scripture is preferable to one that maintains old words at the cost of alienating much of the readership.”

love (for God)

Nida (1952, p. 125ff.) reports on different translation of the Greek and Hebrew terms that are translated as “love” when referring to loving God:

“The Toro So Dogon people on the edge of the Sahara in French West Africa speak of ‘love for God’ as ‘to put God in our hearts.’ This does not mean that God can be contained wholly within the heart of a man, but the Eternal does live within the hearts of men by His Holy Spirit, and it is only love which prompts the soul to ‘put God in the heart.’

“The Mitla Zapotec Indians, nestled in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, describe ‘love’ in almost opposite words. Instead of putting God into one’s own heart, they say, ‘my heart goes away with God.’ Both the Toro So Dogon and the Zapotecs are right. There is a sense in which God dwells within us, and there is also a sense in which our hearts are no longer our own. They belong to Him, and the object of affection is not here on earth, but as pilgrims with no certain abiding place we long for that fuller fellowship of heaven itself.

“The Uduks seem to take a rather superficial view of love, for they speak of it as ‘good to the eye.’ But we must not judge spiritual insight or capacity purely on the basis of idioms. Furthermore, there is a sense in which this idiom is quite correct. In fact the Greek term agapé, which is used primarily with the meaning of love of God and of the Christian community, means essentially ‘to appreciate the worth and value of something.’ It is not primarily the love which arises from association and comradeship (this is philé), but it defines that aspect of love which prompted God to love us when there was no essential worth or value in us, except as we could be remade in the image of His Son. Furthermore, it is the love which must prompt us to see in men and women, still unclaimed for Jesus Christ, that which God can do by the working of His Spirit. This is the love which rises higher than personal interests and goes deeper than sentimental attachment. This is the basis of the communion of the saints.

“Love may sometimes be described in strong, powerful terms. The Miskitos of the swampy coasts of eastern Nicaragua and Honduras say that ‘love’ is ‘pain of the heart.’ There are joys which become so intense that they seem to hurt, and there is love which so dominates the soul that its closest emotion seems to be pain. The Tzotzils, living in the cloud-swept mountains of Chiapas in southern Mexico, describe love in almost the same way as the Miskitos. They say it is ‘to hurt in the heart.’ (…)

“The Akatek (Western Kanjobal) Indians of northern Guatemala have gone even a step further. They describe love as ‘my soul dies.’ Love is such that, without experiencing the joy of union with the object of our love, there is a real sense in which ‘the soul dies.’ A man who loves God according to the Conob idiom would say ‘my soul dies for God.’ This not only describes the powerful emotion felt by the one who loves, but it should imply a related truth—namely, that in true love there is no room for self. The man who loves God must die to self. True love is of all emotions the most unselfish, for it does not look out for self but for others. False love seeks to possess; true love seeks to be possessed. False love leads to cancerous jealousy; true love leads to a life-giving ministry.” (Source: Nida 1952)

In Mairasi, the term that is used for love for God, by God and for people is the same: “desire one’s face.” (source: Enggavoter 2004)

In Ogea the word for “love” is “die for someone.” (Source: Sandi Colburn in Holzhausen 1991, p. 22)

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)