church

The Greek that is often translated as “church” in English is translated into Avaric as imanl’urazul ahlu: “the community of believers” or “the believing people.”

Gimbatov and Testelets talk about the genesis of this term in Avaric (click or tap here to read):


The word “Church” presents particular difficulties, as we might expect when we think that even many Christians do not understand it correctly. When people today say “church”, they often mean a particular building, or an organization consisting chiefly of clergy (priests and monks). It is even harder to find a word or combination of words which adequately translates the meaning for people unfamiliar with Christianity. Surprisingly, the Greek word ekklesia, indicating in the classical language “an assembly of the people”, “a gathering of citizens”, has come into Avar and other Dagestani languages in the form kilisa. This, like the word qanch (“cross”), is an ancient borrowing, presumably from the time before the arrival of Islam, when Dagestan came under the influence of neighboring Christian states. In modern usage, however, this word indicates a place of Christian worship. Thus it is completely inappropriate as a translation of its New Testament ancestor ekklesia.

We were obliged to look at various words which are closer to the meaning of the Greek. Some of these words are dandel’i (“meeting”), danderussin (“assembly”), the Arabic-derived mazhlis (“meeting, conference”), zhama’at (“society, community”), ahlu (“race, people, family, group of people united by a common goal or interest”, as in the Arabic phrase ahlu-l-kitab “people of the Book” or “people of the Scriptures”), which describes both Jews and Christians, and ummat (“people, tribe”). In Islamic theology the phrase “Mohammed’s ummat” means the universal community of Muslims, the Muslim world, in the same way as the Christian world is known as “Isa’s ummat.” None of these descriptions on their own, without explanation, can be used to translate the word “Church” in the New Testament. Thus, after long consideration, we adopted the phrase imanl’urazul ahlu, meaning “the community of believers,” “the believing people,” This translation corresponds closely to New Testament teaching about the Church.

It is interesting that the same word ahlu with the meaning “tribe, community” has been used by translators for different reasons in the introduction to the Gospel of Luke in order to translate the expression in the original Greek pepleroforemenon en hemin pragmaton (πεπληροφορημένων ἐν ἡμῖν πραγμάτων), which the Russian Synodal translation renders “about the events well-known amongst us” (Luke 1:1). The expression “amongst us” cannot be translated literally into Avar, but has to be rendered “among our people”; and here the same term was used as for the word “church”, literally “among our tribe, community (ahlu)”.

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