complete verse (Isaiah 33:15)

The back-translation of Isaiah 33:15 from Alur is as follows:

“The person who walks white, and that speaks straight; the person who hates deceitful exchange for personal gain, that snaps clean his hands from taking this world’s riches, who corks up his ears from hearing bloody (things), who closes his eyes from looking upon evil; He will abide up high”.

Source: F. G. Lasse in The Bible Translator 1956, p. 22ff.

vain (worship)

The Greek that is translated into English as “vain” or “in vain” in English is (back-) translated in various ways:

  • Cashibo-Cacataibo: “say I am important, but they do not believe it”
  • Kekchí: “has no meaning when they praise me”
  • Toraja-Sa’dan, Pamona: “uselessly”
  • Copainalá Zoque: “uselessly they remember”
  • Farefare: “their religion is their mouth”
  • Southern Subanen: “their worship has no meaning”
  • Tzotzil: “they say they love me, but this means nothing”
  • Southern Bobo Madaré: “they worship me but they do not mean what they say”
  • Central Mazahua: “it is of no value that they honor me”
  • San Blas Kuna: “their thinking is not in their hearts” (source for this and above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Mairasi: “tribute of theirs for me [which] will-be-on-their-own” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • Guhu-Samane: “with the front teeth of their mouths they worship me” (“‘In vain’ caused puzzlement [because] why should their efforts to worship God produce no results, try as they may? [But the idiom] ‘with the front teeth of their mouths they worship me’ comes from the picture of one who is making a pretense at eating food, hence their deceit is apparent.’ Source: Ernest L. Richert in Notes on Translation December 1963: p. 4-7; reprinted in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 198ff.)

bread, loaf

The Greek term that is translated in English as “bread” or “loaf” is translated in Samo, it is translated as “Sago,” which serves “like ‘bread’ for the Hebrews, as a generic for food in the Samo language. It is a near-perfect metonymy that has all the semantic elements necessary for effective communication.” (Source: Daniel Shaw in: Scriptura 96/2007, p. 501ff.)

In Chol as waj, the equivalent of a tortilla.

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.”

Robert Bascom adds his thoughts to this in relation to other Mayan languages (in Omanson 2001, p. 260: “In many Mayan languages, ‘bread’ can be translated waj or kaxlan waj. The first term literally means anything made from corn meal, while the second term literally means ‘foreigner’s waj,’ and refers to the local wheat-based sweet breads which are so popular within the broader European-influenced culture of the region. On the one hand, waj would be a better dynamic equivalent in cases where ‘bread’ meant ‘food,’ but in cases where the focus is literal or the reference well-known, kaxlan waj would preserve a flour-based meaning (though in biblical times barley was more in use than wheat) and not insert corn into a time and place where it does not belong. On the other hand kaxlan waj is not the staff of life, but refers to a local delicacy. In cases such as these, it is even tempting to suggest borrowing pan, the Spanish word for ‘bread,’ but native speakers might respond that borrowing a foreign word is not necessary since both waj and kaxlan waj are native terms that cover the meaning (though in this case, perhaps not all that well).”

anchor (figurative)

The Greek that is translated into English as “anchor (of the soul)” in English is, due to non-existing nautical language, rendered as xuk’chotontib (“that which becomes unmovable”) in Chol (source: Steven 1979, p. 75), as “iron crab” in Bawm Chin (source; David Clark), as “foundation” in Tsou (source: Peng Kuo-Wei), in Mossi as “a strong and steadfast picketting-peg” (source: Nida 1952, p. 46) and in Enlhet as “that holds up like a rope” (source: See Jacob Loewen in The Bible Translator 1969, p. 24ff).

In Kouya the translation is “the foundation which keeps a house secure.” Eddie Arthur tells this story: “A slightly more prosaic example comes from Paul’s sea voyages in the Book of Acts. In Acts 27, when Paul’s ship was facing a huge storm, there are several references to throwing out the anchor to save the ship. Now the Kouya live in a tropical rain-forest and have no vessels larger than dug-out canoes used for fishing on rivers. The idea of an anchor was entirely foreign to them. However, it was relatively easy to devise a descriptive term along the lines of ‘boat stopping metal’ that captured the essential nature of the concept. This was fine when we were translating the word anchor in its literal sense. However, in Hebrews 6:19 we read that hope is an anchor for our souls. It would clearly make no sense to use ‘boat stopping metal’ at this point as the concept would simply not have any meaning. So in this verse we said that faith was like the foundation which keeps a house secure. One group working in the Sahel region of West Africa spoke of faith being like a tent peg which keeps a tent firm against the wind. I hope you can see the way in which these two translations capture the essence of the image in the Hebrews verse while being more appropriate to the culture.”

relationship of elder son and father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son

New Testament Greek is by Balinese standards an extremely impolite language. Consider, for example, the second person pronoun. When speaking to God, to a nobleman, to a friend, to a pupil, or to a slave, the same word is used. In Balinese this is completely different. In the above examples one would differentiate various social ranks and use terms which, more or less freely translated, mean “adored one” or “he who is borne on the head”, “feet of Your Highness”, “older (or younger) brother”, “little one”, and “you”. (…) In Balinese one has to cope with three vocabularies within the language, each of which, at a moderate estimate, includes some hundreds of words. One employs the ordinary common language (“Low Balinese”) when speaking with intimates, equals, or inferiors; polite terms must, however, be used as soon as one begins to speak to one’s superiors or to strangers; and “deferential” terms are obligatory in all cases when one is so bold as to speak of parts of the body, or the acts, possessions, and qualities of important people. The Balinese sums up the two last named vocabularies under the term alus (“fine”, or “noble”): we say “High Balinese”. (…)

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the younger son, who feels himself less than a slave, speaks to his father in High Balinese; the elder son may use the intimate Low Balinese. When, however, the latter severs himself from the intimate family community, he uses High Balinese to express his contempt, thus placing a gulf between himself and his father.

Source: J.L. Swellengrebel in The Bible Translator 1950, p. 124ff.

majestic

The Hebrew that is translated as “majestic” in most English translations is translated in Guhu-Samane as “the quality of the bull-roarer call.” Ernest Richert explains: “In searching for a suitable equivalent for ‘majestic’ it was learned that the bull-roarer had the important function not only of announcing poro ceremonies [poro is the traditional religion], but also the arrival of a great or important person. Of a notable man it is said that his name had the quality of the bull-roarer call. Thus the passage is translated: ‘O Lord, our Lord in all the great earth your name has the quality of the bull-roarer call’.”

Source: Ernest Richert in The Bible Translator, 1965, p. 81ff.

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.

dust

The two Hebrew terms that are translated in English as “dust” are referring to “dry earth” (aphar) and “fine dust” (abaq). In Lamba, like in Hebrew, two different terms are used: ikuŋgu: “dust in the air” and ifukutu: “settled dust.”

In Genesis 2:7, for instance, ifukutu in Lamba and aphar in Hebrew is used and ind Ezekiel 26:10 ikuŋgu and abaq are being used.

In the only occurrence where both Hebrew terms are used side by side (in Deuteronomy 28:24), English versions use “powder and dust” or simply drop one of the terms. Lamba, however, is able to closely and naturally follow the Hebrew by using both of the available terms (likuŋgu lifukutu). (Source C. M. Doke in The Bible Translator 1958, p. 57ff.)

busybody

The Greek that is sometimes translated in English as “busybody” is translated in Chokwe as mukwa moko a jiji or “he with the hands of a fly.” D. B. Long (in The Bible Translator 1952, p. 87ff.) explains: “This seems startling, but then these people have a firsthand knowledge of flies in large numbers, and thoroughly detest them. They say they dabble in everyone’s food and add insult to injury by rubbing their ‘hands’ first in front of them and then behind. So a busybody is always puttering in other people’s affairs and he does not always rub his hands in the same way: part of hit is behind his back, you are never sure that you know what he is doing.”

salvation

The Greek and Hebrew that is translated with “salvation” in English is translated in the following ways:

  • San Blas Kuna: “to receive help for bad deeds” (“this help is not just any kind of help but help for the soul which has sinned)
  • Northwestern Dinka: “help as to his soul” (“or literally, ‘his breath'”) (source for this and the one above: Nida 1952, p. 140)
  • Central Mazahua: “healing the heart” (source: Nida 1952, p. 40)
  • Tzeltal: col: “to get loose,” “to go free,” “to get well” (source: Marianna C. Slocum in The Bible Translator 1958, p. 49f.)
  • Aari: “the day our Savior comes” (in Rom 13:11) (source: Loren Bliese)

in Mairasi its is translated as “life fruit” or “life fruit all mashed out.” Lloyd Peckham explains: “In secret stories, not knowable to women nor children, there was a magical fruit of life. If referred to vaguely, without specifying the specific ‘fruit,’ it can be an expression for eternity.” And for “all masked out” he expains: “Bark cloth required pounding. It got longer and wider as it got pounded. Similarly, life gets pounded or mashed to lengthen it into infinity. Tubers also get mashed into the standard way of serving the staple food, like the fufu of Uganda, or like poi of Hawaii. It spreads out into infinity.” (See also eternity / forever)

filled with the Holy Spirit, full with the Holy Spirit

The Greek that is rendered in English as “filled with the Holy Spirit” or “full with the Holy Spirit” is translated in Tboli as “the Holy Spirit shall be with him,” in Shipibo-Conibo as “the Holy Spirit shall permeate him” (using a term said of medicines), in Cuyonon as “he shall be under the control of the Holy Spirit” (esp. Luke 4:1, Acts 7:55, Acts 11:24) in Ngäbere as “the full strength of the Holy Spirit shall stay in him,” in Tae’ (translation of 1933) as “he shall carry the Holy Spirit in his inner being” (sourse for this and all above: Reiling / Swellengrebel), and in Yamba and Bulu as “the Holy Spirit filled their hearts” (source: W. Reyburn in The Bible Translator 1959, p. 1ff.).

The following story is relayed by Martha Duff Tripp as she led the translation of the New Testament into Yanesha’ (p. 310):

I continue to work with Casper Mountain [an Yanesha’ translator] on translation. As we start the book of Luke, we run into another problem. In Chapter 1, verse 15, the text reads (speaking of John the Baptist), “and he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit.” The Amueshas [Yanesha’s] have never associated their word for “fill” with anything except pots and baskets. How can a person be “filled”? Even their word for a full stomach is not the word for “fill.” We talk together about what “filled with the Holy Spirit” means (obsessed with or possessed by). The thought comes to me of what the Amueshas [Yanesha’s] say about the shaman. They say that he can “wear” the spirit of the tiger, that they can tell when he is wearing the tiger spirit because he then will act like a tiger. Their word for “wear” is the same word as to “wear or put on a garment.” Can this possibly be the way to say “filled with God’s Spirit”? As I cautiously question Casper about this, his face lights up immediately. “Yes, that is the way we would say it, he is ’wearing’ God’s Holy Spirit.”

See also Holy Spirit.