one

The Greek that is translated as “one” in English in these verses (John 10:30, 17:11, 17:21, 17:22, and 17:23) is translated in Kikuyu as ũmwe or “one singular entity.” This translation required a complex theological interpretation in relation to the nature of the trinity and the unity of Jesus and his disciples. The translators determined that both the unity of the Father and Jesus is that of “one person” or “the same” as well the unity between Jesus and his followers (and the followers to each other).

A.R. Barlow (in The Bible Translator 1952, p. 29ff. ) explains:

“‘One’ in Kikuyu is expressed by the stem -mwe combined with a prefix appropriate to the noun it qualifies (when used as an adjective) or represents (when used as a pronoun). As in all Bantu languages, nouns fall into groups or classes, each of which, generally speaking, has its distinctive prefix. Thus with the word for ‘shoe’ (kiratu) –mwe becomes kĩmwe (kĩratũ kĩmwe ‘one shoe’); with the word for ‘man,’ ‘person,’ ‘being’ (mũndũ) it becomes ũmwe (mũndũ ũmwe “one person”). Singular and plural are likewise distinguished by change of prefix, and a singular noun necessitates the use of a singular prefix with its associated adjective or pronoun, whereas a plural noun requires its adjective or pronoun to take a plural prefix.

“In common with other adjective-pronouns –mwe assumes plural as well as singular forms. When used with a plural noun it conveys one of three meanings: (a) ‘one lot (set. kind, family, fraternity, group, etc.),’ (b) ‘the same,’ or (c) ‘some.’ The form appropriate to persons, men, beings (andũ) is amwe.

“So in translating ‘one’ in any of the above passages in St. John’s Gospel we have to choose between ũmwe (sing.) and amwe (pl.).

“The choice involves questions as to the nature of the Trinity and the character of the unity which being ‘in Christ’ imparts to His followers, both in relation to Himself and to one another. This is a case in which the translator cannot avoid theological issues.

“In John 10:30 (‘I and my Father are one’) by using ũmwe we are stating ‘I and my Father are one (person, entity)’ or ‘the same.’ Grammatically the use of ũmwe (sing.) is wrong; ‘I and my Father’ should strictly be followed by the plural amwe. But the use of amwe (‘one lot’) would denote a mere family or sectional relationship.

In John 17:11 and 17:22 (‘so that they may be one, as we are one’) also, grammar demands amwe (in both occurrences of ‘one’). But this would again limit the desired degree of unity to that of membership in a family or other (more or less) close association: ‘that they may be united (associated, belong to the same fraternity), even as we are united (etc.).’ If a deeper, more mystical union is to be indicated we are thrown back on ũmwe: ‘that they may be one person (one entity), even as we are one person (one entity).’ Or are we to differentiate between the disciples and the Divine Persons and use amwe for the former and ũmwe for the latter?

“In all these passages the existing Kikuyu New Testament has ũmwe, whether the reference is to the disciples or to Christ and the Father. As far as I am aware this has never been criticized by our African Christians, although in 17:11, 21, and 22 its use in ‘that they (all) may be one’ might even convey the sense ‘that they (all) may be reduced to one,’ i.e. to a single individual!”

Note: All three currently (2022) available Kikuyu Bible translations (Ibuku Rĩrĩa Itheru Rĩa Ngai; Kiugo Gĩtheru Kĩa Ngai, Kĩrĩkanĩro Kĩrĩa Gĩkũrũ Na Kĩrĩa Kĩerũ; and Kĩrĩkanĩro Gĩa Gĩkũyũ) still only use ũmwe in all of the above instances.

See also this lectionary in The Christian Century .

remove the roof

The Greek that is translated in English with “remove the roof” is translated into Avaric with an existing term: t’ox bichize. “Demolishing a roof in order to reach the interior of a house is an entirely familiar action, used, for example, in assaults on strongholds and fortified buildings in wartime; there is even a special phrase for this in Avaric (t’ox bichize).”

Source: Magomed-Kamil Gimbatov and Yakov Testelets in The Bible Translator 1996, p. 434ff.

See also Mark 2:1-12 in Russian Sign Language.

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Matt. 17:4 / Mark 9:5 / Luke 9:33)

Many languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns (“we”). (Click or tap here to see more details)

The inclusive “we” specifically includes the addressee (“you and I and possibly others”), while the exclusive “we” specifically excludes the addressee (“he/she/they and I, but not you”). This grammatical distinction is called “clusivity.” While Semitic languages such as Hebrew or most Indo-European languages such as Greek or English do not make that distinction, translators of languages with that distinction have to make a choice every time they encounter “we” or a form thereof (in English: “we,” “our,” or “us”).

For this verse (“Lord, it is good for us to be here” in English translations), Yagua translators selected the exclusive form (excluding Jesus), whereas Avaric, Tok Pisin, Jarai, Fijian, and Adamawa Fulfulde translators chose the inclusive form (which includes Jesus).

Source: Paul Powlison in Notes on Translation with Drills, p. 165ff. and Magomed-Kamil Gimbatov and Yakov Testelets in The Bible Translator 1996, p. 434ff.

SIL International Translation Department (1999) documents that there are reasonable differences of opinions about the use of the inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun for this verse mentioned above.

In Mark and Luke the second plural pronoun (“let us put us a tent” in English) is always translated with an exclusive pronoun (excluding Jesus). Likewise, in Fijian, the exclusive trial keitou (I and two others but not you) is used, specifically including Peter, James and John, but not Jesus.

word play in Isaiah 5:7

The Hebrew of Isaiah 5:7 employs a word play with “justice” and “bloodshed” (mišpāṭ — miśpāḥ) and “righteousness” and “cry” (liṣḏāqāh — ṣə‘āqāh) that the German common language version (Die Gute Nachricht, 1982) is able to replicate:

Er hoffte auf Rechtsspruch
— und erntete Rechtsbruch,
statt Liebe und Treue
nur Hilfeschreie.

Source: John Ellington in The Bible Translator 1991, p. 301ff.

See also poetry in Isaiah 5:1-6.

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.”

Originally, the translation in Tsafiki used “plantain of life,” plantains being the primary food source and bread virtually unknown by Tsáchila people. For a current revision this is in the process of being changed to “bread of life,” because bread is now widely known and used. (Source: Carol Shaw)

See also bread, loaf.

proclaim (in 1 Corinthians 11:26)

The Greek that is translated in 1 Corinthians 11:26 as “proclaim” in English is traditionally translated in Vietnamese with rao: “spread (the word)” (in the Cadman translation of 1934, see here ). The Greek term katangellete is ambiguous since it could either be the second-person plural form of the present active indicative (“show, proclaim [by doing]”) or the second-person plural form of the present active imperative (“[actively] spread”). More recent Vietnamese translations either confirm the meaning of the 1934 translation or leave the meaning ambiguous.

In most other languages, katangellete in 1 Cor 11:26 is interpreted as a present indicative rather than as a present imperative because “it makes much more sense that the Apostle Paul would have been expressing to the Corinthian Christians the idea that the act of celebrating the Lord’s Supper was itself an act that proclaims the Lord’s death rather than commanding them to remember to go out and evangelize as a response every time that they might have had the privilege of participating in the Lord’s Supper. This is due to the fact that the communion elements graphically bring to mind the body and blood of our Lord to those participating in the meal.”

As a result of this, according to the author (see source below), “some Vietnamese believers say that when they celebrate the Lord’s Supper, they often feel pressure or feel guilty that they have not been evangelizing their family, friends, and associates as much as they should have been. The remarkable thing about this distinctive theological emphasis is that it is actually based on the traditional translation of 1 Cor 11:26 into Vietnamese, which is most likely a mistranslation of that particular verse.”

Source: Steven R. Coxhead in The Bible Translator 2023, p. 42ff.

I the LORD your God am a jealous God

The Hebrew that is translated in English as “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” or similar is translated in Toraja-Sa’dan with an established figure of speech: “I am the Lord your God who will not that His face is drawn as water is drawn” (i.e “who will not that a person treats Him without respect, or refuses to figure with Him, or dishonors Him, or in passing Him by honors others above him.”) (Source: H. van der Veen in The Bible Translator 1950, p. 21 ff. ).

In Orma, the phrase is translated as “I, the Lord your God, will not tolerate if you bow down and worship them.” George Payton explains: “When we translated Exodus in Orma, we had difficulty translating ‘jealous’ in the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. The first commandments in vv.3-5 read, ‘You shall have no other gods before me. 4 ‘You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents…’

“Verse 5 says ‘I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God’ The word jealous/jealousy in Orma is hinaafa. This word brings two negative connotations. One is feeling envious of someone else’s property, or of the prosperity of their livestock or the produce of their farms. In other words, envy or coveting what someone else has but you do not. The word hinaafa can also refer to a jealous husband in a bad way. When a husband is always suspicious of his wife being unfaithful, he easily flies into a rage when she does something that triggers his suspicions, even if she is innocent. Sometimes the husband attacks her or someone else and harms them because of his jealousy. Hinaafa communicates that idea of blind rage, often unreasonable or irrational. We had to choose a different way to communicate God’s attitude. God promised to punish them if they worship any gods because He will not put up with them if they do. We ended up translating vv3-5: ‘Apart from me, you shall not worship any other gods. You shall not make a statue of anything in heaven or anything on earth or anything in the waters. I, the LORD your God, will not tolerate if you bow down and worship them. If you do, I will punish even the children for the sin of their parents…'”

In Chichewa “‘jealousy’ very commonly includes a prominent sexual component” so the solution there was to translated “(a God) who does not allow competition with me” (source: Wendland 1987, p. 127) and in Chamula Tzotzil it is not appropriate to use the usual word for jealousy of humans in relation to God when translating the Hebrew term that is translated as “jealous” in English versions. Here “I get angry with those who go with others” is used (source: Robert Bascom).

you shall not commit adultery

The Hebrew and Greek that is translated in English as “you shall not commit adultery” is translated in Toraja-Sa’dan with an established figure of speech: Da’ mupasandak salu lako rampanan kapa’ or “you shall not fathom the river of marriage” (i.e “approach the marriage relationship of another.”) (Source: H. van der Veen in The Bible Translator 1950, p. 21 ff. ).

It is translated as “practice illicit relationship with women” in Tzeltal, as “go in with other people’s wives” in Isthmus Zapotec, as “live with some one who isn’t your wife” in Huehuetla Tepehua, and as “sleep with a strange partner” in Central Tarahumara. (Source: Waterhouse / Parrott in Notes on Translation October 1967, p. 1ff.)

See also adultery