as thick as locusts

The Hebrew that is translated as “as thick as locusts” or similar in English is translated in Falam Chin as “as many as ants.”

Stephen Hre Kio explains (in The Bible Translator 1990, p. 210ff. ): “Sixteen years ago we were translating into Falam the story in Judges chapter 6 about the Midianites and the Amalekites, who had come in great numbers against the Israelites and were destroying their crops. The text says that their number was so great that it was beyond counting, ‘like locusts.’ In translating this passage we faced problems at both the literal and figurative levels of meaning. In our part of the world we have no locusts and the closest equivalent to the locust is the grasshopper. But even if this substitution was acceptable, and I believed that it was, we still had a problem: grasshoppers are so few in our region that they are not easy to find, and therefore to substitute grasshoppers for locusts to convey the meaning of “beyond counting” would not make sense. In fact the meaning would be the opposite: ‘as many as grasshoppers’ would mean very few! This led us to make a different adjustment: locusts would have to be replaced by ants, since we have ants in great numbers, and we also have a saying, ‘as many as ants.’ Thus in our rendering of the passage we literally had the following: ‘the Midianites and Amalekites were as many as ants.’ This in my view is an acceptable and meaningful translation, faithful to the meaning of the text.”

woman (Jesus addressing his mother)

Stephen Hre Kio reports on the translation of the Greek word into Falam Chin that is translated as “woman” in English, specifically when it refers to Jesus addressing his mother (see The Bible Translator 1988, p. 442ff. ):

“No child would call his parents by their names, either half name or full name, in private or in public. To do so would show disrespect of a high degree. It would be an open insult. The only possible situation where the children might address their parents by name would be where a combination of an endearment title and the name was used as a form of introduction, and the listeners were people not familiar with the parents. For example, the son Za Hu can introduce his father to an unfamiliar audience by saying, ‘This is my father U Kaw Kaw. . .’ If he does it without saying ‘my father,’ Za Hu is creating a distance between himself and his father, but not disrespect. If he addresses his father as ‘Man!’ and his mother as ‘Woman!,’ he is in real trouble. He would be creating an image of being uncultured, disrespectful and downright contemptuous.

“That is precisely the situation we find in John 2:4 and 19:26, where Jesus addressed his mother as ‘woman’ (Greek gunai). To translate this utterance literally would be Nunau in Falam Chin, and this would be offensive to Falam readers. Although we find the same utterance in John 20:13, by two angels who say to Mary, ‘Woman, why are you crying?,’ this is not as offensive as the other uses. The difference lies in the person who said it. For the angels to say to the woman “Woman,” is acceptable. But for the son to say ‘Woman’ to his mother demonstrates utter disrespect and contempt or even extreme anger. That is precisely what we found the text of John put in the mouth of Jesus. But is that actually what Jesus meant when he said ‘Woman’? Fortunately, we are told that ‘Jesus’ use of ‘woman’ (RSV) in direct address was normal and polite. . . It showed neither disrespect nor lack of love. . .’ (quoted from: Newman / Nida 1980). In Falam, the word ‘woman’ Nunau, will have to be avoided and replaced by Ka Nu, meaning ‘My Mother.’ This is the only choice possible in the situation. ‘Woman’ (Nunau) would be insulting, and ‘mother’ Nu Nu would be childish.”

Abel Tabalaka (in: Scriptura 81 (2002), p. 453ff. ) reports something similar from the translation into the apparent semantic equivalent mosadi into Tswana. Readers found this also unacceptably rude and it might therefore distort the meaning of the Greek text (even though it’s used in all Tswana Bibles except the the 1993 paraphrase by Biblica where the word is just skipped.)

See also formal pronoun: Jesus and his mother,


The Greek that is translated as “cloak” or similar in English is translated in Ulithian as “rain coat.” Stephen Hre Kio (in The Bible Translator 1987, p. 246f. ) explains: “What about Bartimaeus cloak in Mark 10:50? What did blind Bartimaeus throw off before he came to Jesus? Since, in this part of the world neither men nor women wear upper body clothes, there is no word for coat or cloak. We decided to put rain coat — the only alternative that makes sense.”

buying / selling

The Greek that is translated as “buying” and “selling” in English is both translated in Ulithian as “exchange.” Stephen Hre Kio (in The Bible Translator 1987, p. 246f. ) explains: “There are buyers and sellers in the Temple whom Jesus drove away. But Ulithians do not buy or sell; they only exchange. And so we have ‘exchange’ for both buying and selling.”

Saul has killed his thousands; and David his tens of thousands

The Hebrew that is translated as “Saul has killed his thousands; and David his tens of thousands” or similar in English is translated in Falam Chin as “Saul killed by the hundreds, David killed by the thousands.”

Stephen Hre Kio explains (in The Bible Translator 1990, p. 210ff. ):

“While translating the book of 1 Samuel, we came across a number of verses (18:7; 21:11; 29:5) where people sang praises to David for his skill in killing the Philistines. The people sang: ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.’ I asked myself: Did the people of Israel actually count the bodies killed by Saul (thousands) and by David (ten thousands) at every place where battles had taken place? It was very doubtful to me that they did it. It seemed more likely that they sang this song with a figurative meaning: that is, David had killed ten times more than Saul had, without any thought for the exact numbers. Being figurative it was not necessary that we translate the verse literally; adjustment could be made if necessary without being unfaithful to the text. Compelling us in this direction was also the fact that in the Falam language it would be unnatural to translate the above song literally. It would be funny to sing it. So we changed it to read ‘hundreds’ and ‘thousands’:

“(English equivalent):
‘Saul killed by the hundreds,
David killed by the thousands.’

“Fortunately there is even an internal rhyme in this verse in Falam. And the figurative meaning of David killing ‘ten times’ more than Saul did is kept. This, in my view, is an acceptable translation in spite of the adjustment made. The principle of making an appropriate adjustment in figurative language without being unfaithful to the text seems to be true in this case also.”

See also 1 Samuel 18:8.