complete verse (John 1:14)

Following are a number of back-translations of John 1:14:

  • Aguaruna: “That word, when he arrived here, was born a human being, and in this way he lived with us. That completely good person was a speaker of the truth. And also we came to know his greatness because his Father, God, had said to his only Son, ‘You are great.'”
  • Yatzachi Zapotec: “The Person who is the Word was born human and he was with us. He loved mankind very much and he taught mankind all the true words of God. We saw him and we realized that he is the Person of greatest worth because he is the only Son of our Father God.”
  • Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac: “And the One who is called Word, he became a Person, and he lived in our midst. And we saw how he had power. That power is that of the only Son of Father God. He is very kind and merciful and all which he says it is true.” (Source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
  • Uma: “That Word, he became man[kind], and he lived among us (incl.). We (excl.) saw his power. That power of his he received from his Father, for He is the Only Child. [It is] from him that we know God and his grace [lit., white insides] to us.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “So-then, the Word appeared/was-born here in the world having a human body and living among mankind. All love and truth was there with him. We (excl.) were-able to see his power and his brightness, and this his power and brightness were fitting for him for he is the only Son of God.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And the one called the Word of God became human and joined himself to us. He is very gracious and his words are very true. We saw his great high rank which is the high rank of the only child of God. And as for that high rank of his, it was given to him by his Father God.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “The Word, he became a person and stayed-with us (excl.). He was consistently-compassionate and what he said was all true. We (excl.) saw his godhood which was the godhood of the only Child of God who came-from his Father.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “This Jesus who is called Word, he became a human and then lived here in the world together-with us. His praiseworthiness/glory was experienced by our (excl.) eyes, this glory of his being the glory of the one-and-only Son/child of God the Father. We (excl.) also comprehended the big-size of his grace/mercy and that everything which he revealed/came-out-with is indeed truth.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “He who makes known how God is became a person. He lived here where we live. We saw that he is the greatest. He is the greatest because he is God’s only son. He spoke only what is true and he loves the people without limit.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
  • Anindilyakwa: “And that same one who revealed God who was hidden from us, he became a human being like us. He was born, he had flesh and bones and then he lived here and went around with us people. He is rich in love, he was very kind and he kept on and on speaking the truth. We saw that he was the leading powerful and beautiful one, the one who was his Father’s one and only Son, the one who came from his Father to here.” (Source: Julie Waddy in The Bible Translator 2004, p. 452ff.)

complete verse (Ephesians 5:18)

Following are a number of back-translations of Ephesians 5:18:

  • Uma: “Don’t be drunk, for that causes evil desires to appear. We must be controlled by the Holy Spirit. From that power of the Holy Spirit,” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “You should not be/get drunk because it destroys you. Instead that’s what you should do, you should allow/let God’s Spirit rule over you.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Dont’t you get drunk on wine because this can destroy you; but rather, it’s necessary that you are thoroughly inspired by the Holy Spirit.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Don’t be getting drunk, because that of course is destructive, but rather be full of the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Be disgusted now with the habit of getting drunk, for that is what takes you to a messed up life (lit: life which has no fixing-up). It’s necessary that it’s not alcoholic-drink which is controlling and guiding-you-from-within, but rather the Espiritu Santo now.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “In order to live happily, do not give your heart to getting drunk. Because the drunkard is hurting himself. Rather give your hearts up to the Holy Spirit who will teach you what you must do.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
  • Rotuman: “And you (3 or more) to not (get) drunk [lit.: poisoned] with wine, (a) thing that causes violent character; be full (filled) instead with (the) Holy Spirit.” (Ma ’au la se ’oan ’e uaini, tēet ne ho’ ag rạhrạhi; ’an la hoi ke ‘e ’At Ha’a) (for an analysis of this translation, click or tap here)

    “This text has been widely used as a proof text for the ‘Spirit-filled life’ by the so-called Holy Spirit movement. It has therefore been the focus of much interest and controversy among Rotuman readers as to its true meaning.

    “As with all translation, it is important to understand not just the meaning intended by the translator, but also what the readers and hearers take the words to mean. We will try to illustrate this in the comments that follow.

    Ma … la se. Beginning a sentence with ma gives this conjunction a much stronger force that usual, like saying, ‘But . . . must . . .’ Likewise the use of la with the negative se is also a strong expression, ‘Beware to not …’

    ’an. This plural, referring to three or more people is well understood in Rotuman: ‘you and you and you and . . .’ Any address, or warning, or instruction to the community is always to ’au. This includes all listeners, men, women, young, and old.

    “’oan, ‘drunk’, literally means to be poisoned. The same word is used of fish poisoning, or any other food poisoning or overdose. With wine, the kind it obviously seems to refer to is the new wine which is still bubbling. Fruit wine at this early stage of fermentation is bubbling and foamy, and very poisonous.

    “Community drinking is always by a group (of men). If one person is drinking alone, he is selfish; if only two are drinking together, they arc secretive. Some of the purposes of such community drinking are:

    • relaxation after a hard day’s work
    • sharing, reflecting, evaluating the day’s work
    • leaving lime for the womenfolk to cook dinner
    • guarding against individuals getting drunk

    “‘To not get drunk (poisoned) with wine’ implies certain things. It can mean that moderate drinking is all right; it can mean that drinking is all right unless it causes a person to stagger or vomit. It can also mean that wine is prohibited, but other intoxicating drinks such as kava are allowed.

    Uaini is a transliteration of the English word ‘wine’. So does this verse speak only of Eastern wine or Western wine, wine made from grapes? The island brew is made from fruit such as oranges, pineapples, bananas, mangoes. The best is reckoned to be what is made from the juice of a green coconut, and this is always white, not red.

    “In fact tēet means ‘a thing’, and it never refers to a liquid like wine. And it is really the excessive drinking rather than the nature of the drink that leads to violence. But in normal community drinking no one drinks to get drunk—it is only an after-work pre-dinner fellowship.

    Ho’ means to ‘pile up’. The picture is of a person gradually getting more and more drunk, which eventually leads to violent behaviour.

    ag rahrahi. This expression is made up of two terms, aga or ‘character’, and rạhrạhi (from the root rạhi. ‘fire’), ‘rekindled fire’. It is thus intended to mean fiery or violent character. But it can also be understood in a number of other ways:

    • ‘recklessness’ — and this does not mean the unlawful use of force
    • ‘bravery’ or acting the daredevil
    • ‘prodigality’ or a life of gaiety
    • masculine, ‘macho’ behaviour, without any suggestion of immodesty. (Parents enjoy watching their sons grow up with some wildness in their behaviour.)
    • ‘reconciling’, as the rekindled fire cleans up all inflammable rubbish
    • ‘consistent’ or ‘enduring’

    “This indicates that ag rạhrạhi is really an expected and accepted pattern of behaviour; and in its Rotuman setting a person doesn’t get drunk to be ag rạhrạhi. In community life, (he worst form of behaviour to display or possess is ‘being inconsiderate’.

    hoi ke. The adverb ke, ‘instead’, again presents the idea of a strong contrast: ‘Never, never get drunk with wine, but always . . .’ Hoi means to be filled with, or to be full of. It is used mainly for filling something with liquid, although it can also mean to be ‘satisfied’ with solid food.

    “From the contrast between the two parts of the verse, it is understood that the person who is filled with the Holy Spirit will not possess or manifest violent character. Therefore the argument and controversy, and sometimes violent action, that have appeared with some people who claim to be ‘filled with the Spirit’, are seen to be a denial of that experience.

    ‘At Ha’a is quite clear in its meaning, ‘the Holy Spirit’. Unlike wine, the Holy Spirit cannot be seen; but still the idea of being filled with the Holy Spirit is clear. In Rotuman ancestral worship a person talked about being ‘possessed’ by the spirit of, say, his father. This was a totally ‘outside of me’ power or infilling.”

    Source: Jotama Vamarasi in The Bible Translator 1989, p. 241ff. )

fringe, tzitzvit

The Hebrew and Greek that is translated as “fringe” or “tzitzit” in many English translations is translated in Uma as “the decorations [lit.: “fruit”] of clothes” (source: Uma Back Translation), in Tenango Otomi as “clothing that reaches the ground” (source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation) and in Mairasi as “wings of the garments” (source: Enggavoter 2004).

In Bura-Pabir a term is used that is traditionally used for the tassels worn on clothes by hunters. (Source: Andy Warren-Rothlin)

In Paasaal it is translated as “cloth mouth.” (Source: Fabian N. Dapila in The Bible Translator 2024, p. 415ff.)

Click or tap here to see a short video clip about tzitzvits (source: Bible Lands 2012)

God's anger, wrath of God

The Hebrew and Greek What is translated into English as “the wrath of God” (Good News Translation: “God’s anger”) has to be referred to in Bengali as judgment, punishment or whatever fits the context. In Bengali culture, anger is by definition bad and can never be predicated of God. (Source: David Clark)

In Kikuyu the whole phrase that is translated in English as “storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath” or similar is translated as “you are increasing for yourself God’s wrath.” (Source: Jan Sterk)

In Quetzaltepec Mixe it is translated with a term “that not only expresses anger, but also punishment” (source: Robert Bascom), in Western Bukidnon Manobo as “the coming punishment of God on mankind” (source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation), in Kankanaey as “God’s fearful/terrible future punishing of people” (source: Kankanaey Back Translation), in Tagbanwa as “the coming anger/hatred of God” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation), and in Tenango Otomi as “the punishment which will come” (source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation).

Like a number of other East Asian languages, Japanese uses a complex system of honorifics, i.e. a system where a number of different levels of politeness are expressed in language via words, word forms or grammatical constructs. These can range from addressing someone or referring to someone with contempt (very informal) to expressing the highest level of reference (as used in addressing or referring to God) or any number of levels in-between.

One way to do this is through the usage (or a lack) of an honorific prefix as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017. When the referent is God, the “divine” honorific prefix mi- (御) is used as in mi-ikari (御怒り) or “wrath (of God)” in the referenced verses.

(Source: S. E. Doi, see also S. E. Doi in Journal of Translation, 18/2022, p. 37ff. )

See also anger.

flute players

The Greek that is translated in English as “flute players” (who were hired to express grief) is translated in Muna as “flute players” as well but has an explanatory note in brackets following the translation “[as-a-sign of grief].”

René van den Berg explains: “Music in Muna is always associated with joyous occasions, and to indicate that the presence of the flute players was perfectly normal then (such people were often hired musicians) the explanatory note in brackets was added.”

in Kankanaey it is translated as “nose-fluters” (source: Kankanaey Back Translation), in Tagbanwa as “players of stringed-instruments” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation), and in Tenango Otomi as “musicians” (source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation).

See also flute.

whole land

The Greek that is usually translated as “the whole land” in English is translated in Uma as “all over the village” (source: Uma Back Translation), in Yakan as “that whole place/country” (source: Yakan Back Translation), in Western Bukidnon Manobo as “the whole world” (source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation), and in Tenango Otomi as “all the earth” (source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation).

Catholic translations that rely on the Latin Vulgate‘s ambiguous totam terram (which, just as the Greek, could refer to the terrestrial globe or a particular place of land) tend to also stay ambiguous. The Spanish Reina Valera has toda la tierra and the English Douay Rheims likewise reads the whole earth. (Source: Knox 1949, p. 20)

take branches of palm trees

The Greek that is translated as “take branches of palm trees” or similar is translated in Aguaruna as “cut palm leaves,” in Waffa as “break off and held leaves like coconut leaves,” in Alekano as “break off leafy decorative things” (source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125), in Western Bukidnon Manobo as “get some leafy branches” (source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation), in Tagbanwa as “get fronds from a plant like a badangan (note: a local palm like coconut but smaller)(source: Tagbanwa Back Translation), and in Tenango Otomi as “pick palm branches” (source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation).

See also cut branches.

fellowship

The Greek that is translated in English as “fellowship” or “communion” is translated in Huba as daɓǝkǝr: “joining heads.” (Source: David Frank in this blog post )

Other translations include:

  • Lalana Chinantec: “they were very happy since they were with their brothers”
  • Chichimeca-Jonaz “always well they talk together”
  • Chuj: “were at peace with each other”
  • San Mateo del Mar Huave: “they accompanied the other believers”
  • Ayutla Mixtec: “they were united together”
  • Eastern Highland Otomi: “their hearts were happy because they all thought alike” (source for this and above: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August 1966, p. 86ff.)
  • Uma: “harmony” (source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “become one” (source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “have an intimate relationship” (source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “companionship” (source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “be friends” (source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
  • Yatzachi Zapotec: “head-hearts are one”
  • Eastern Highland Otomi: “be of the same mind” (source for this and two above: John Beekman in Notes on Translation 1964, p. 1ff.)