gospel

In choosing a word for the Greek that is typically translated as “gospel” in English, a number of languages construct a phrase meaning “good news,” “joyful report” or “happiness-bringing words.” In some instances such a phrase may be slightly expanded in order to convey the proper meaning, e.g. “new good word” (Tzotzil), or it may involve some special local usage:

  • “good story” (Navajo)
  • “joyful telling” (Tausug)
  • “joyful message” (Toraja-Sa’dan) (source for this and all above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • cohuen ñoñets or “message of God” (Shilluk) (source: Nida 1964, p. 237)
  • “good news” (Yanesha’) (source: Martha Duff in Holzhausen 1991, p. 11)
  • “voice of good spirit” (San Blas Kuna) (source: Claudio Iglesias [Mr. and Mrs.] in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 85ff. )
  • suviśēṣattinṟe (0സുവിശേഷം) or “good narrative” (Malayalam)
  • susmachar (ସୁସମାଚାର) or “good matter” (Odia)
  • suvārteya (ಸುವಾರ್ತೆಯ) or “good word” (Kannada) (source for this and two above: Y.D. Tiwari in The Bible Translator 1962, p. 132ff. )
  • the German das Buch translation by Roland Werner (publ. 2009-2022) translates as “all-transformative good news” (alles verändernde gute Botschaft), also “good news”
Vitaly Voinov tells this story about the translation into Rutul (click or tap here to see the rest of this insight):

“In Rutul, it was only during the most recent consultant checking session that I realized that the Rutul word for Gospel – Incir (from Arabic إنجيل — Injil) — sounds and looks exactly like the word that means ‘fig’ in Rutul. This is a case of homonymy, in which two completely non-related words from differing historical sources have come to sound exactly alike. Most Rutul speakers know that incir means ‘fig’ because they grow this fruit in their yard or buy it at the market every week. However, because the religious sphere of discourse was heavily disparaged during the Soviet era, most people simply never encountered Incir with the meaning of ‘Gospel.’ This meaning of the word, which Rutuls of the pre-Soviet era knew from the Koran, simply fell into disuse and never had much reason for returning into contemporary Rutul since there is no Christian church established among the people. So if the translator continues to use the term Incir as the rendering for ‘Gospel,’ he runs the risk that most readers will, at best, read the word with a smile because they know that it also means ‘fig,’ and, at worst, will completely misunderstand the word. The seemingly ‘easy’ solution in this case is for the translator to use a Rutul neologism meaning ‘Joyful Message’ or ‘Good News,’ [see above] instead of Incir; but in fact it is not all that easy to make this change if the translator himself insists on using the historical word because at least some Rutuls still understand it as meaning ‘Gospel.’ This is a situation in which the translation team has to gradually grow into the understanding that a fully intelligible translation of Scripture is preferable to one that maintains old words at the cost of alienating much of the readership.”

For “good news,” see also Isaiah 52:7.

complete verse (1 Corinthians 9:16)

Following are a number of back-translations of 1 Corinthians 9:16:

  • Uma: “I cannot boast [lit., make-big my heart] in my work carrying the Good News, for God ordered me to do that work. In fact it would be disaster for me if I didn’t carry the Good News!” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “It is not possible that I boast about my proclaiming the good news, because this work Isa Almasi commanded me to do, and it is not possible if I don’t do it. Truly very bad (things) would come to me if I would not proclaim the good news.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “But it’s not allowable for me to boast about my spreading the Good News, because this was commanded me by the Lord, and it’s not possible that I do not carry it out. His punishment on me would be very heavy if I did not spread the Good News.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Because there is nothing else that I can boast-about. My preaching the good news, I can’t boast-about that, because I am to-be-pitied if I don’t preach it, so it-is-mandatory (lit. it-is-forced) that I do it.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “I don’t mean that this teaching of mine of the Good News is a means-of-my-being-praised, since that is the position/responsibility to which I was appointed. It really is not possible/acceptable in my mind/inner-being and I am asking for God’s judgment if I don’t teach.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “Do not think that I am only doing you a favor when I tell you the good news. For me it is my work, I am obliged to tell this word. Pity me if I do not speak the good word.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

Translation commentary on 1 Corinthians 9:16

If we consider Paul’s general theme in this chapter, the first part of this verse implies “It is not the fact I am preaching the gospel that in itself gives me the reason for boasting.” The rest of the verse then explains that to preach the gospel is an obligation, not a matter of free choice.

The first For may be expanded to “The truth is” or “Truly.”

For ground of boasting see comments on verse 15.

The clause For necessity is laid upon me may be rendered as “God has commanded me to do so.”

Is laid refers by implication to the action of God in calling Paul to be an apostle (see 1.1).

Woe to me is more than an interjection expressing sorrow; it refers implicitly to future judgment. In that case one can translate this as “How terrible it will be for me.” Paul does not use this expression elsewhere, but the translator may compare, for example, Matt 23.13-23; Luke 6.24-26; and Rev 18.10-19.

Quoted with permission from Ellingworth, Paul and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, 2nd edition. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1985/1994. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .