bread, loaf

The Greek term that is translated in English as “bread” or “loaf” is translated 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.”

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.)

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.)

blood guilt

The concept of “blood guilt” that is referred to in Matt 27:24-25 and Acts 5:28 is translated in Gbaya and other languages of Central Africa with familiar terms that denote concepts relating to Hebrew thought in a way that English, for instance, does not have.

Philip Noss reports (in The Bible Translator 1996, p. 139ff.):

“In the Musey language of western Chad it is called tògòrò, in Sara-Madjingai of southeastern Chad it is known as mōsēyō, in Gbaya as spoken in central Cameroon and in the Central African Republic it is called simbò. (…). Strangely, perhaps, standard English does not have an equivalent word, at least not in contemporary speech. The closest functional equivalent may be the English reference to ‘the stain of blood’ or the expression ‘to have blood on one’s hands.’ These various words and expressions all express the result of shedding blood.

“A person who is guilty of shedding blood becomes the victim of his/her deed. The consequence of the act of killing will inevitably fall upon the killer and potentially upon anyone who comes in contact with the killer, unless the killer is purified.

“In Gbaya a simbò thing is anything that causes someone to become a simbò person, including killing certain animals (incl. leopards, elands and bongos) and humans. (…) The spilling of human blood brought the curse of simbò upon the person who was responsible for the death of a fellow human being. From this curse there was no escape for the guilty person and his family and his village without purification by another person who himself had been purified from simbò.

“For the translator of the Bible the question that must be asked is whether the concept associated with the spilling of blood by these central African cultures is similar to the concepts reflected in the Old and New Testaments or whether it is too culture-specific to be applied within the context of Hebrew and Jewish religious thought and expression.

“When Pilate washes his hands before the people and says, ‘I am not responsible for this man’s death.’ and the mob responds. ‘Let the punishment for his death fall on us and on our children’ (Matt 27:24-25, Good News Bible), the Gbaya understand this to refer to simbò. Pilate attempts to cleanse himself from the consequence of his responsibility in the death of Jesus while the people call for that very consequence to fall upon themselves. In the Gbaya understanding of the shedding of blood, no amount of self-cleansing can remove the curse of spilled blood which will surely fall upon Pilate and the people and their descendants.

“In Acts 5:28 the Jews express an implied fear of simbò when the High Priest says to the apostles, “you want to make us responsible for this man’s death” (Good News Bible). The New International Version of the Bible renders this statement, ‘you are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.’ The Gbaya would say, ‘you want this man’s simbò to take us.’

“The Greek text of these verses reflects the Hebrew underlying thought, for in each of the three sentences quoted, explicit reference is made to blood. (…)

“Although there does not seem to be a specific word that expresses the concept of simbò in Hebrew, in Greek we do come very close to an explicit expression of the result of the shedding of blood. The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible cites the Greek word miasma which it defines as the ‘slain, pollution” of homicide, “an automatic, objective state” for which purification was required. The early Greek verb miainō meant “to stain, to dye.’ A specialized meaning of this verb resulted from its use with blood where it came to mean ‘to defile, to sully.’ The stain or defilement was known as miasma, the person who was defiled was miaros. For the Gbaya this was simbò. for the Sar speaker it was möseyö which is literally, ‘the blood of death,’ that is, ‘the stain/defilement of the spilling of human blood.’ (…)

“In conclusion, the components that are central to the Old Testament concept of dam/damim and the New Testament miasma are widely recognized in the cultures of central Africa. The implications of this fact need to be considered by translator and theologian alike.”

addressing Moses and Elijah with a different pronoun than the disciples, complete verse (Luke 9:34)

Balinese uses 4 different 3rd person pronouns: two to indicate important and very important persons (dane and ida), one to speak of a person of lower standing but in a familiar manner, and one to speak of such a person in a polite manner (ia and ipun). In the case of this verse where the Greek (and English) does not give any indication to whom the three instances of the third person plural pronoun refers to, the Balinese has to make a disctinction: jeg wenten mega nyayubin Ida miwah dane sareng sami, tur rikala Ida miwah dane kasayubin antuk megane punika, sisiane makatetiga punika pada karesresan: “a cloud came and overshadowed them (Moses and Elijah — marked as very important); and they (the disciples — marked as important) were terrified as they (Moses and Elijah — marked as very important) entered the cloud.”

Source: J.L. Swellengrebel in The Bible Translator 1963, p. 158ff.

formal pronoun: Jesus and his brothers

Like many languages (but unlike Greek or Hebrew or English), Tuvan uses a formal vs. informal 2nd person pronoun (a familiar vs. a respectful “you”). Unlike other languages that have this feature, however, the translators of the Tuvan Bible have attempted to be very consistent in using the different forms of address in every case a 2nd person pronoun has to be used in the translation of the biblical text.

As Voinov shows in Pronominal Theology in Translating the Gospels (in: The Bible Translator 2002, p. 210ff.), the choice to use either of the pronouns many times involved theological judgment. While the formal pronoun can signal personal distance or a social/power distance between the speaker and addressee, the informal pronoun can indicate familiarity or social/power equality between speaker and addressee.

Here, Jesus’ brothers address Jesus with the informal pronoun.

Vitaly Voinov explains: “Whether one believes that these were Jesus’ younger brothers, his older half¬brothers, or his cousins, it seems that their familial intimacy coupled with a lack of faith and respect would preclude them from using a polite form in addressing Jesus. Using the informal address here in the Tuvan text is an excellent means to reinforce their expression of disbelief and possible mockery of Jesus’ mission.”


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.)


(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:

See also hypocrisy.

cast my shoe, throw my shoe

The Hebrew that is often translated in English as “throw (or: cast) my shoe” (“symbolizing taking possession of the territory”) is translated into Bamun as “I plant my war spear (in the land of Edom)” (“In the Bamun culture occupation or possession is indicated by planting a spear in the enemy’s territory.”)

Source: Jan de Waard in The Bible Translator 1969, p. 143ff.

taste death

The Greek that is translated as “taste death” in English is translated in Guhu-Samane as “die” because “the term suggests cannibalism to Papua New Guinea natives.”

Source: Ernest L. Richert in Notes on Translation December 1963: p. 4-7; reprinted in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 198ff..

Joab the son of Zeruiah

The Hebrew that is translated as “Joab (also: Abishai) the son of Zeruiah” in English presented a problem in Mano (Mann). “In a patriarchal society like Mano, Zeruiah is assumed to be the father of Joab. Since we know that she was his mother (see 2Sam 17:25), we expressed this phrase as ‘Joab whose mother was Zeruiah.'”

In Batak Karo Zeruiah has to be identified as a woman. M.K. Sembiring (in The Bible Translator 1991, p. 217ff.) explains: “Unlike the Hebrew language, nouns in Batak Karo have no gender. The literal translation of the biblical names therefore does not indicate whether they are female or male names. Names are generally understood as male names when they occur in expressions like ‘the son of…’ or ‘the daughter of…,’ because in the Karo culture, if ever the names of the parents are mentioned, it is usually the name of the father that is used in identifying the children. For example, 1 Sam 26:6 says, ‘Then David said to Ahimelech the Hittite, and to Joab’s brother Abishai the son of Zeruiah,’Who will go down with me into the camp to Saul?” In Hebrew, Zeruiah will be recognized as a female name because of its ending, but in Karo the name will be considered as a male name for the reason given above. It is necessary then to identify Zeruiah as a female name by saying that Zeruiah was the mother of Joab and Abishai. The translation of the first part of that verse into Batak Karo is as follows,’Then David said to Ahimelech the Hittite, and to Joab’s brother Abishai (the mother of these two is Zeruiah)…'”

anoint (chrió)

The Greek chrió that is translated as “anoint” in English is translated in Chol as “choose.”

Wilbur Aulie (in The Bible Translator 1957, p. 109ff.) explains: “Another illustration of translating a figure in a non-figurative manner is the treatment of chrió ‘anoint’. In Luke 4:18, Acts 4:27 and 10:38, and in 2 Corinthians 1:21 it is metaphorical of consecration to office by God. We translated the metaphor ‘choose’.”