He will cover you with his feathers and under his wings you will find refuge

The Hebrew that is translated as “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge” or similar in English is translated in Una as Maka ner aryi er mabwe irirandi to, er Imtamnyi biryi kansi ol amwe tam irikurur: “Like a mother bird hugs her children, the heavenly One hugs you under his wings.” (Source: Kroneman 2004, p. 477)

those who sit in the region and shadow of death

The Greek that is translated as “those who sat in the region and shadow of death” is translated in Mairasi as “those who live in the malevolent spirit’s (=demon’s) own village”. (Source: Lloyd Peckham in Kroneman 2004, p. 538)

become one flesh

The Greek and Hebrew that is often translated into English as “(the two) shall become one flesh” is translated as “become just one” in Copainalá Zoque and San Mateo del Mar Huave or with existing idiomatic equivalents such as “become one blood” in Mitla Zapotec, “become the complement of each other’s spirit” in Tzeltal (source for this and above Bratcher / Nida), or “tie with wife as one, so that they tie one insides” in Luang (source: Kathy and Mark Taber in Kroneman (2004), p. 539).

See also I am your bone and flesh.

complete verse (Matt. 7:3 / Luke 6:41), speck vs. log

The Greek that is translated in English as “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” or similar is translated in Uma with an existing figure of speech: “Why do we stare at the sleep in another’s eye, yet the piece of wood that is in our own eye we don’t know it’s there!” (Source: Kroneman 2004, p. 501)

In Una, it had to be translated with a more explicit translation because “a more literal and shorter version of this verse had led to major misunderstanding or zero understanding.” It’s back-translation says: “You (pl.) are doing very evil things, but you think, ‘We do not do evil things’. But, regarding other people who do not do very evil things, you think, ‘They are doing evil things, for shame’. As for the very big thorn that broke off and entered your eyes, you think, ‘There is no big thorn that entered my eye’, but with regard to the very small piece of wood dust that might have entered someone else’s eye, why would you say, ‘A piece of wood dust has entered his eye?’ That is not appropriate.” (Source: Dick Kronemann)

In Uripiv it is translated as “How is it you see the fowl dropping stuck on the bottom of your brother’s foot, but you can’t see the cow-pat you have stood on? … You could stand on his foot by mistake and make it dirtier!” (Ross McKerras remarked about this translation: “Our village father laughed when he heard this, which was the right reaction.”)

Other back-translations include:

  • Uma: “‘Why do we look at the sleep in another’s eye, yet the splinter of wood in our own eye, we do not know is there!” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “You who puts down his companion,’ said Isa, ‘why do you notice a speck (lit. of sawdust) in the eye of your companion but you, the tree trunk in your own eye you don’t notice.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And again Jesus spoke, ‘You who are always rebuking your companions, why do you rebuke the sin of your companion which is just like a speck that got into his eye. But you — you have a sin which is as big as a log, which has blinded your eye, and you pay no attention to it.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “‘Why do you (singular) notice the small bit-of-eye-discharge (as when waking up) in the eye of your (singular) fellow, and you (singular) don’t notice the large bit-of-eye-discharge in your (singular) eye?” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “I don’t know why, when someone else has a foreign-body-in-the-eye which is only dust, that is what you(s) keep looking for. But when your own foreign-body-in-the-eye is wedged across your eye (implies too big to go in), you just leave it alone.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)

brothers - up to this day I have lived my life with a clear conscience before God

The Greek that is translated in English as “brothers, up to this day I have lived my life with a clear conscience before God” or similar is translated in Uma as “My relatives! My heart is chicken-egg smooth! Until this day, I consider that there is no fault of mine in God’s sight.” (Ni kwityabwe e, minob aryi kuboka arub ababyi nira Er Imtamnyi biryi arungsurur to nirya kununun. Ara, ni kanya dam aryi, ‘Malyi kun dinyi nirya bai donokman,’ tenen bikdandoka kununun ati ebman.).

“There is no specific term in Uma for ‘conscience,’ (see also conscience) so this idiom of saying that one’s heart is ‘chicken-egg smooth’ explains the meaning in an idiomatic way.” (Source: Kroneman 2004, p. 502)

fishers of men

The Greek that is translated as “(I will make you) fishers of men (or: people)” in English is rendered in Martu Wangka as “before you used to work getting fish for people, now i think you should do another work getting people and teaching them to be my relatives” (source: Carl Gross).

In Galela it is translated as “. . . you teach people to follow me, which is similar to you netting fish to gather them in” (source: Howard Shelden in Kroneman 2004, p. 501).

bread of life

The Greek that is translated in English is translated in Bambam as “food of life” since “bread is considered a light and unnecessary snack.” (Source: Phil Campbell in Kroneman 2004, p. 500) Similarly, Huehuetla Tepehua has “that food that gives eternal life” and Aguaruna has “the food that gives eternal life.” (Source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125)

In Chol, it is translated as Joñon Wajo, the “waj (tortilla) of life.” John Beekman (in The Bible Translator 1962, p. 180f.) explains: “The word ‘bread’ in Scripture primarily occurs as either a specific term for bread (including the Lord’s Supper), or as a generic term for food. It is not surprising, however, the some aboriginal groups use something other than bread as the staff of life. The Chols, with their cultural focus in the cultivation of corn, use waj, a type of thin corn flake. Since a meal is not complete without this main item of food, the term has been extended to include any other foods which may be served along with waj. While bread is known to them, its use is limited to a few occasions during the year when it functions as a dessert. In translating this term in the Chol New Testament, consistent use has been made of the word waj whenever the function of bread as a basic food was in focus. John 6:35, “I am the bread of life,” was thus translated with this word. If the word for bread had been used, it was feared that the Chol would compare Christ to the desirable, but not absolutely necessary, dessert.”

See also bread, loaf.


The Greek term that is translated in virtually all English translations as “fox” (exceptions: Passion Translation of 2014 with “deceiver” and The Voice of 2012 with “sly fox”) presents an intriguing example of the complexity of translation and meaning across different cultures.

Edward Hope (2003, p. 64ff.) describes the occurrence of the fox and its meaning in the Bible as an inferior rather than crafty animal (click or tap here to see the details)

“In biblical times, and even today, there are three species of fox found in Israel and one type of jackal. An additional type of fox was found in Egypt. In the Bible the Hebrew word shu’al and its Greek equivalent alōpēx refer to any of these animals. These are members of the same animal family, which includes the wolf and the dog. The word “jackal” was borrowed from the Arabic jakal, which is from the same Semitic root as the Hebrew word shu’al. In the days of the King James Version the word “jackal” had not yet been introduced into the English language, and so in that version “fox” is used throughout for shu’al. (…)

“Both foxes and jackals are extremely intelligent animals, and their quick-witted, crafty opportunism is legendary in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. The fables of Aesop, a North African philosopher and storyteller, which feature the crafty fox, date from about the time of Daniel. The fox also figures in Greek and Roman fables. Similar fables about opportunistic jackals have been widespread in Africa and the Middle East for centuries.

“In ancient Arabic literature and in the Talmud and Midrash, the word ‘lion’ stands for a truly great and powerful person. In contrast, ‘jackal’ is used to designate an insignificant but self-important person. Since this figurative usage of ‘lion’ (or ‘lioness’) is also common in the Bible, there is a strong probability that the term ‘jackal’ or ‘fox’ used as a metaphor in the Bible for a person carries the connotation of self-important insignificance.

“However, the main symbolism associated with the jackal in the Bible is related to its habit of living among ruins and feeding on carcasses. To say that a certain place would become the dwelling place of jackals meant that the place would become deserted and lie in ruins, as the result of war. The jackal was thus a symbol of death and desolation, as well as insignificance and opportunistic craftiness. (…)

“[When in Luke 13:32 the term] alōpēx is used figuratively, it is more important to retain the inference associated with the word than to signify the exact animal. The word is slightly insulting, and the main exegetical decision to be made here is whether Jesus is using the term with the Greek connotation of ‘crafty opportunist’ or with the Semitic connotation of ‘insignificant but self-important person.’ Either would fit the context. If the former is in focus, Jesus is inferring that even though Herod Antipas is a crafty opportunist, his plans are known. If the latter sense is intended, as seems more likely, then Jesus is inferring that Herod does not have the power to stop him doing what he has to do. Some commentators have argued that both inferences are intended since both the Greek and Hebrew metaphors would have been known.

“If the Greek inference is decided upon, then the word alōpēx could be translated ‘crafty fox’ or ‘crafty jackal.’ If the Semitic inference is preferred, the word could be translated ‘insignificant jackal.’ In either case the word for a local animal that symbolizes crafty opportunism (for example, baboon) or self-important insignificance (for example, rabbit) can be used in the text, with a footnote to indicate that the original word means fox or jackal.”

Due to a lack of understanding of the above-described differences in the meaning of “fox” as a metaphor in Hebrew and Greek culture, early versions of translations tended to emphasize the craftiness of the metaphor:

Harry McArthur (in Notes on Translation 1992, p. 16ff), who had worked on a translation of the Aguacateco New Testament in the 1970s and then revised that version in the 1990s describes the original translation of this passage as one of “the few places where, when I was translating, I did not understand the original text (or the translations of it). (…) The helps we had at that time told us that the point of comparison was that Herod was a ‘cheater.’ We have since come to understand from the use of the word ‘fox’ on many other Biblical passages that Jesus was calling him a small or inconsequential man: a better rendering would be “go tell that poor benighted soul…”

An early Swati version translates “fox” as “nyoka“: “snake” (in the 1996 Swati translation it says “mphungutja“: “jackal”). Eric Hermanson comments on this: “This change, however, rather than bringing out what was intended in the original utterance, made it suggest even more strongly that Jesus was calling Herod a twisty schemer than is indicated when ‘fox’ is used as a metaphor in English. What happened in this case. then, was that replacing a metaphor from the original language with a different metaphor from the second language resulted in readers and hearers having different thoughts and ideas than were intended by the original author. (…)

“In Zulu and other African languages, however, itnpungushe (‘the jackal’) is also seen as an insignificant animal; and referring metaphorically to a king as itnpungushe instead of as iSilo or iNgonyama (‘the lion’), the normal praise-names of a paramount chief, has the same effect (…) that was intended by Jesus.” (Source: Eric Hermanson in The Bible Translator 1999, p. 235 ff..)

The German translation by Jörg Zink (1965) translates “dieser Fuchs, dieser Verderber”: “that fox, that spoiler (or: destroyer)”.

In Meyah, it is translated as “evil person” (source: Gilles Gravelle in Kroneman 2004, p. 502).

now that I am old (past child-bearing age)

The Hebrew that is translated as “(shall I indeed bear a child,) now that I am old?” in English is translated in Bambam as inde yabo palempämä’: “here up at the branch off from the main water source” (note that the one word “palempämä’” means “branch-from-main-water-source”). (Source: Phil Campbell in Kroneman 2004, p. 502)

See also heal (from infertility).

snow (color)

The Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic that is translated in English as “(as white as) snow” is translated in San Miguel El Grande Mixtec as “(as white as) volcano frost,” the only white kind of frost that is known in that language. (Source: Nida 1947, p. 160.)

In Obolo it is translated as abalara: “white cloth” (source: Enene Enene), in Bambam as “like the white of cotton” (source: Phil Campbell in Kroneman 2004, p. 500), in Muna as “white like cotton flowers” (source: René van den Berg), in Sharanahua as “like fresh Yuca root” (source: Holzhauen / Riderer 2010, p. 72), and in Cerma “white like the full moon,” except in Psalm 51:7 where the Cerma translators chose “wash me with water until I shine” (source: Andrea Suter in Holzhauen / Riderer 2010, p. 36).

See also frost.

come to me all you who are weary and burdened

The Greek that is translated in English as “come to me, all you who are weary and burdened” is translated in Bambam as “Come-here all of you who are tired and who carry a heavy load of traditions on their head related-to religion.” (Source: Phil Campbell in Kroneman 2004, p. 526)

You shall not murder / kill

The Hebrew and Greek that is translated as “You shall not kill/murder” or similar in English is translated in Una as Ninyi ona mem: “Don’t kill people” because in Una an object needed to be added. (Source: Kroneman 2004, p. 407)