soul

The Hebrew, Greek, and Latin that is translated as “soul” in English is translated in Chol with a term that refers to the invisible aspects of human beings (source: Robert Bascom).

The Mandarin Chinese línghún (靈魂 / 灵魂), literally “spirit-soul,” is often used for “soul” (along with xīn [心] or “heart”). This is a term that was adopted from Buddhist sources into early Catholic writings and later also by Protestant translators. (Source: Zetzsche 1996, p. 32, see also Clara Ho-yan Chan in this article )

See also heart, soul, mind.

hell

The Greek that is translated in English versions as “hell” (or “Gehenna”) is translated (1) by borrowing a term from a trade or national language (this is done in a number of Indian languages in Latin America, which have borrowed Spanish “infierno” — from Latin “infernus”: “of the lower regions”), (2) by using an expression denoting judgment or punishment, e.g. “place of punishment” (Loma), “place of suffering” (Highland Totonac, San Blas Kuna) and (3) by describing a significant characteristic: (a) the presence of fire or burning, e.g. “place of fire” (Kipsigis, Mossi), “the large bonfire” (Shipibo-Conibo), or (b) the traditionally presumed location, e.g. “the lowest place” (a well-known term in Ngäbere), “the place inside” long used to designate hell, as a place inside the earth (Aymara). (Source for this and above: Bratcher / Nida)

In Noongar it is translated as Djinbaminyap or “Punishing place” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang) and in Tagbanwa as “the fire which had no dying down” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation).

The Mandarin Chinese dìyù (地獄 / 地狱), literally “(under) earth prison,” is a term that was adopted from Buddhist sources into early Catholic writings and later also by Protestant translators. (Source: Zetzsche 1996, p. 32)

devil

The Greek that is translated in English as “devil” is sometimes translated with indigenous specific names, such as “the avaricious one” in Tetelcingo Nahuatl, “the malicious deity” in Toraja-Sa’dan (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel), or in Yoruba as èṣù. “Èṣù is thought of as bringing evil, but also as giving protection. The birth of a child may be attributed to him, as the names given to some babies show, Èṣùbiyi (Èṣù brought this forth), and Èṣùtoyin (Èṣù is worthy of praise).” (Source: John Hargreaves in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 39ff. )

Other translations include:

  • Muna: Kafeompu’ando seetani or “Master of the evil-spirits” (source: René van den Berg)
  • Mairasi: owe er epar nan or “headman of malevolent spirits” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • Central Subanen: Palin or “Perverter” (incl. in 2 Cor. 6:15) (source: Robert Brichoux in OPTAT 1988/2, p. 80ff. )
  • Huehuetla Tepehua: “chief of demons”
  • Ojitlán Chinantec: as “head of the worldlings” (source for the last two: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125).
  • Mandarin Chinese móguǐ (魔鬼), literally “magical ghost.” This is a term that was adopted from Buddhist sources into early Catholic writings and later also by Protestant translators. (Source: Zetzsche 1996, p. 32)
In Lak and Shughni it is translated with terms of feminine gender. Vitaly Voinov tells this story (click or tap here to see the rest of this insight):

“In the Lak language of Dagestan, the names ‘Iblis’ and ‘sheytan’ (referring to Satan and his minions, respectively) in this language were borrowed from the Arabic Islamic tradition, but they entered Lak as feminine nouns, not masculine nouns. This means that they grammatically function like nouns referring to females in Lak; in other words, Laks are likely to think of Iblis as a woman, not a man, because of the obligatory grammatical patterning of Lak noun classes. Thus, when the team explained (in Russian) what the Lak translation of Jesus’ wilderness temptation narrative at the beginning of Matthew 4 said, it sounded something like the following: ‘After this, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Iblis… .The temptress came to Jesus, and she said to Him…’

“Since this information (that the devil is a female spirit) is part of the very name used for Satan in Lak, nothing can really be done about this in the translation. The Lak translator did not think that the feminine gender of Iblis should cause any serious misunderstandings among readers, so we agreed to leave it in the translation. Prior to this, I had never heard about languages in which the devil is pictured as a woman, but recently I was told by a speaker of the Shughni language that in their language Sheytan is also feminine. This puts an interesting spin on things. The devil is of course a spirit, neither male nor female in a biologically-meaningful sense. But Bible translators are by nature very risk-aversive and, where possible, want to avoid any translation that might feed misleading information to readers. So what can a translator do about this? In many cases, such as the present one, one has to just accept the existing language structure and go on.”

See also unclean spirit / evil spirit, demon, and Beelzebul.

Pharisee

The Greek that is a transliteration of the Hebrew Pərūšīm and is typically transliterated into English as “Pharisee” is transliterated in Mandarin Chinese as Fǎlìsài (法利賽 / 法利赛) (Protestant) or Fǎlìsāi (法利塞) (Catholic). In Chinese, transliterations can typically be done with a great number of different and identical-sounding characters. Often the meaning of the characters are not relevant, unless they are chosen carefully as in these cases. The Protestant Fǎlìsài can mean something like “Competition for the profit of the law” and the Catholic Fǎlìsāi “Stuffed by/with the profit of the law.” (Source: Zetzsche 1996, p. 51)

In Finnish Sign Language it is translated with the sign signifying “prayer shawl”. (Source: Tarja Sandholm)


“Pharisee” in Finnish Sign Language (source )

In British Sign Language it is translated with a sign that depicts “pointing out the law.” (Source: Anna Smith)


“Pharisee” in British Sign Language (source: Christian BSL, used with permission)

In French Sign Language it is translated with a sign that depicts the box of the phylacteries attached to the forehead:


“Pharisees” in French Sign Language (source: La Bible en langue des signes française )

Scot McKnight (in The Second Testament, publ. 2023) translates it into English as Observant. He explains (p. 302): “Pharisee has become a public, universal pejorative term for a hypocrite. Pharisees were observant of the interpretation of the Covenant Code called the ‘tradition of the elders.’ They conformed their behaviors to the interpretation. Among the various groups of Jews at the time of Jesus, they were perhaps closest to Jesus in their overall concern to make a radical commitment to the will of God (as they understood it).”

See also Nicodemus.