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.).
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.).
See also adultery
The Greek that is translated as “the exact imprint of God’s very being” or similar in English is translated in Chol as “He is the one who reveals Him.”
Wilbur Aulie (in The Bible Translator 1957, p. 109ff.) explains: “The word charaktér in Hebrews 1:3 was the word used for the impression on a coin or seal. Since the nearest Chol term ’picture’ is inadequate, the phrase ‘the very image of His substance’ was translated: ‘He is the one who reveals Him’.”
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.)
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.
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).”
During the translation of the New Testament into Huixtán Tzotzil, translation consultant Marion Cowan found that questions where the answer is obvious, affirmative rhetorical questions, as well questions raising objections tended to cause confusion among the readers. So these are rendered as simple or emphatic statements.
Accordingly, John 7:51 reads “Thus says our law that first we ask the one who is to be judged, first we find out what sin he has committed.”
Source: Marion Cowan in The Bible Translator 1960, p. 123ff.
The Greek that is translated in English as “grain” (or: “corn”) is translated in Kui as “(unthreshed) rice.” Helen Evans (in The Bible Translator 1954, p. 40ff.) explains: “Padddy [unthreshed rice] is the main crop of the country and rice the staple diet of the people, besides which [grain] is unknown and there is no word for it, and it seemed to us that paddy and rice in the mind of the Kui people stood for all that corn meant to the Jews.”
(To view the different translations of this term in a simplified graphical form on a new page, click or tap here.)
The Greek and Hebrew terms that are translated as “hypocrite” in English typically have a counterpart in most languages. According to Bratcher / Nida (1961, p. 225), they can be categorized into the following categories:
- those which employ some concept of “two” or “double”
- those which make use of some expression of “mouth” or “speaking”
- those which are based upon some special cultural feature
- those which employ a non-metaphorical phrase
Following is a list of (back-) translations from some languages:
- Highland Totonac, Huautla Mazatec, Lacandon, Cuicatec, Highland Puebla Nahuatl: “two faced”
- Obolo: ebi isi iba: “double-faced person” (source: Enene Enene)
- Tzeltal, Chol: “two hearts”
- Pame: “two mouths”
- San Miguel El Grande Mixtec: “two heads”
- Kekchí: “two sides”
- Shipibo-Conibo: “double (or “forked”) tongue”
- Eastern Highland Otomi: “double talk”
- Huehuetla Tepehua: “to talk false”
- Copainalá Zoque: “to lie-act”
- Kituba, Amganad Ifugao, Chuukese: “to lie”
- Toraja-Sa’dan: “someone whose lips are fair” (i.e. “gracious”)
- Mossi: “to have a sweet mouth”
- Mazahua: “to have a swollen mouth” (from too much speaking)
- Tai Dam: “to have a straight mouth and a crooked heart”
- Kongo: “the bitterness of white” (an idiom based on the fact that white-wash looks nice but tastes bitter)
- Malagasy: “to spread a clean carpet” (an expression used in Madagascar to describe one who covers up the dirt of an unswept floor just before the arrival of guests)
- Zanaki: “those who make themselves out to be good”
- Tetelcingo Nahuatl: “those who deceive” (this and all examples above acc. to Bratcher / Nida 1961, p. 225)
- Kafa: “one who makes as if his belly is clean” (source: Loren Bliese)
- Agatu: ɔcɛ gigbefu — “disguised person acting a part” (source: Mackay, The Bible Translator 1962, 211f)
- Mairasi: “deceiver person” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
- Bauzi: “good on top person” (source: David Briley in Kroneman (2004), p. 502)
See also hypocrisy.
Translator Lee Bramlett submitted this on the translation of the Greek word that is translated into English as “love” (referring to God’s love). This letter was then reposted by Wycliffe Bible Translators (see here):
“Translator Lee Bramlett was confident that God had left His mark on the Hdi culture somewhere, but though he searched, he could not find it. Where was the footprint of God in the history or daily life of these Cameroonian people? What clue had He planted to let the Hdi know who He was and how He wanted to relate to them?
“Then one night in a dream, God prompted Lee to look again at the Hdi word for ‘love.’ Lee and his wife, Tammi, had learned that verbs in Hdi consistently end in one of three vowels. For almost every verb, they could find forms ending in i, a, and u. But when it came to the word for love, they could only find i and a. Why no u?
“Lee asked the Hdi translation committee, which included the most influential leaders in the community, ‘Could you ‘ɗvi’ your wife?’ ‘Yes,’ they said. That would mean that the wife had been loved but the love was gone.
“‘Could you ‘ɗva’ your wife?’ ‘Yes,’ they said. That kind of love depended on the wife’s actions. She would be loved as long as she remained faithful and cared for her husband well.
“‘Could you ‘ɗvu’ your wife?’ Everyone laughed. ‘Of course not! If you said that, you would have to keep loving your wife no matter what she did, even if she never got you water, never made you meals. Even if she committed adultery, you would be compelled to just keep on loving her. No, we would never say ‘ɗvu.’ It just doesn’t exist.’
“Lee sat quietly for a while, thinking about John 3:16, and then he asked, ‘Could God ‘ɗvu’ people?’
“There was complete silence for three or four minutes; then tears started to trickle down the weathered faces of these elderly men. Finally they responded. ‘Do you know what this would mean? This would mean that God kept loving us over and over, millennia after millennia, while all that time we rejected His great love. He is compelled to love us, even though we have sinned more than any people.’
“One simple vowel and the meaning was changed from ‘I love you based on what you do and who you are,’ to ‘I love you, based on Who I am. I love you because of Me and NOT because of you.’
“God had encoded the story of His unconditional love right into their language. For centuries, the little word was there — unused but available, grammatically correct and quite understandable. When the word was finally spoken, it called into question their entire belief system. If God was like that, did they need the spirits of the ancestors to intercede for them? Did they need sorcery to relate to the spirits? Many decided the answer was no, and the number of Christ-followers quickly grew from a few hundred to several thousand.
“The New Testament in Hdi is ready to be printed now, and 29,000 speakers will soon be able to feel the impact of passages like Ephesians 5:25: ‘Husbands, ‘ɗvu’ your wives, just as Christ ‘ɗvu’-d the church…'”
In Hawai’i Creole English the love that God has is often translated as love an aloha. Aloha has a variety of meanings, including “hello,” “goodbye,” “love,” “thank you,” etc.
The Philippine languages of Cebuano, Tagalog, and Pampanga use a word (gugma, pag-ibig, and lugud respectively) that is also used for a “noble, refined love of people for each other,” distinct from romantic love. (Source: G. Henry Waterman in The Bible Translator 1960, p. 24ff.)
In Mairasi, the term that is used for love by God, for God and for people is the same: “desire one’s face.” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
The Greek that is translated in English as “daughter” is translated in Lamba as “(non-gendered) child,” wemwana wanji. This is the idiomatic way of referring to children and while it’s possible to specify “female child,” it was felt to be unidiomatic and therefore to be avoided. (Source C. M. Doke in The Bible Translator 1958, p. 57ff.)
See also son.