Most High

The Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, or Greek that is translated as “(God) the Most High” or “Most High God” in English is translated in various way:

LORD God / Lord God

The Hebrew and Greek that is translated in English as “Lord God” or “Lord God” encountered an issue in Tok Pisin. Norm Mundhenk explains why (in The Bible Translator 1985, p. 442ff. ):

“I am not aware of any serious objections to either the word God [for “God”] or Bikpela [for YHWH] alone. However, when trying to translate the expression ‘the Lord God,’ the translators first tried to use Bikpela God. But Bikpela is also an adjective meaning ‘big’ and in the expression Bikpela God, it would usually be understood as “Big God,’ as though there were other smaller gods around also.

“In the Old Testament, as the recent articles have clearly pointed out, the English word ‘Lord‘ often stands for the Hebrew name of God, YHWH, which is usually spelled these days as Yahweh. With this in mind, the name Yawe was tried in Tok Pisin, but it was felt that most readers did not connect this strange name with God. Eventually, we decided to keep Bikpela, but to translate ‘Lord God’ as God, Bikpela, literally ‘God, the Lord.’

“The reason for this decision was really only that the words could be used naturally in this order, without the problem of giving a wrong meaning which we had when putting Bikpela first. It was not until some people asked if it was right to ‘turn around’ the name and the title in this way that we realized that there was really a deeper reason for doing what we did. In fact, for most speakers of Tok Pisin, God is the only God they know, and it seems likely that God is understood as the personal name of God, rather than as a class name. Bikpela, on the other hand, is a class name — there can be more than one Bikpela, though it is recognized that God is the greatest of them and there is no confusion when he is referred to simply as Bikpela. Thus, in Hebrew an expression like ‘YHWH, the God of Israel,’ has the personal name first, followed by the class name explaining who he is. And we have exactly the same situation in Tok Pisin when we say God, Bikpela bilong Isrel. I suspect that in many other languages which have borrowed the word ‘God,’ we might find that it has been borrowed basically as a personal name, rather than as a class name.”

Pantokrator

The Ancient Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible used the word pantokrator (παντοκράτωρ) or “Ruler of All” as a translation of the second part of the Hebrew term YHWH Tz’vaót (יְהוָ֨ה צְבָא֜וֹת) or “Lord of hosts” (see here) and occasionally ʼĒl Šadạy (אֵל שַׁדַּי‎), translated in English commonly as “God Almighty.” In the deuterocanonical/apocryphal books, pantokrator might have also been used in the original writing. The New Testament uses it one time in the writings of Paul (2 Cor. 6:18) and several times in the book of Revelation (see esp. Rev. 1:8).

One of the most influential icon styles of the Orthodox church has developed from this concept: Christ Pantocrator. In this icon style, Christ is looking straight at the viewer, his right hand is typically spelling a short form of “Jesus Christ” (see the bottom of the entry on Jesus and icons for an explanation), and his left hand holds a New Testament. His head is often surrounded by a halo.

The earliest preserved icon is found in the Greek Orthodox Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai from the 6th century:

In order to express the two natures of Christ, the two sides of the face are not symmetrical. The right side might represent the qualities of his divinity, while his left side represents human nature. (Source )

Orthodox icons are not drawings or creations of imagination. They are in fact writings of things not of this world. Icons can represent our Lord Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the Saints. They can also represent the Holy Trinity, Angels, the Heavenly hosts, and even events. Orthodox icons, unlike Western pictures, change the perspective and form of the image so that it is not naturalistic. This is done so that we can look beyond appearances of the world, and instead look to the spiritual truth of the holy person or event. (Source )

See also LORD of hosts.

bless(ed)

The Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and Aramaic that is translated into English as “(to) bless” or “blessed” is translated into a wide variety of possibilities.

The Hebrew term barak (and the Aramaic term berak) also (and originally) means “kneel” (a meaning which the word has retained — see Gen. 24:11) and can be used for God blessing people (or things), people blessing each other, or people blessing God. While English Bible translators have not seen a stumbling block in always using the same term (“bless” in its various forms), other languages need to make distinctions (see below).

In Bari, spoken in South Sudan, the connection between blessing and knees/legs is still apparent. For Genesis 30:30 (in English: “the Lord has blessed you wherever I turned”), Bari uses a common expression that says (much like the Hebrew), ‘… blessed you to my feet.'” (Source: P. Guillebaud in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 189ff. .)

Other examples for the translation of “bless” when God is the one who blesses include (click or tap here to see the rest of this insight):

  • “think well of” (San Blas Kuna)
  • “speak good to” (Amganad Ifugao)
  • “make happy” (Pohnpeian)
  • “cause-to-live-as-a-chief” (Zulu)
  • “sprinkle with a propitious (lit. cool) face” (a poetic expression occurring in the priests’ language) (Toraja Sa’dan) (source for this and above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • “give good things” (Mairasi) (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • “ask good” (Yakan) (source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • “praise, say good things” (Central Yupik) (source: Robert Bascom)
  • “greatly love” (Candoshi-Shapra) (source: John C. Tuggy)
  • “showing a good heart” (Kutu) (source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext)
  • “good luck — have — good fortune — have” (verbatim) ꓶꓼ ꓙꓳ ꓫꓱꓹ ꓙꓳ — ɯa dzho shes zho (Lisu). This construction follows a traditional four-couplet construct in oral Lisu poetry that is usually in the form ABAC or ABCB. (Source: Arrington 2020, p. 58)

In Tagbanwa a phrase is used for both the blessing done by people and God that back-translates to “caused to be pierced by words causing grace/favor” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation).

Ixcatlán Mazatec had to select a separate term when relating “to people ‘blessing’ God” (or things of God): “praise(d)” or “give thanks for” (in 1 Cor. 10:16) (“as it is humans doing the ‘blessing’ and people do not bless the things of God or God himself the way God blesses people” — source: Robert Bascom). Eastern Bru and Kui also use “praise” for this a God-directed blessing (source: Bru back translation and Helen Evans in The Bible Translator 1954, p. 40ff. ) and Uma uses “appropriate/worthy to be worshipped” (source: Uma back translation).

When related to someone who is blessing someone else, it is translated into Tsou as “speak good hopes for.” In Waiwai it is translated as “may God be good and kind to you now.” (Sources: Peng Kuo-Wei for Tsou and Robert Hawkins in The Bible Translator 1962, pp. 164ff. for Waiwai.)

Some languages associate an expression that originally means “spitting” or “saliva” with blessing. The Bantu language Koonzime, for instance, uses that expression for “blessing” in their translation coming from either God or man. Traditionally, the term was used in an application of blessing by an aged superior upon a younger inferior, often in relation to a desire for fertility, or in a ritualistic, but not actually performed spitting past the back of the hand. The spitting of saliva has the effect of giving that person “tenderness of face,” which can be translated as “blessedness.” (Source: Keith Beavon)

Martin Ehrensvärd, one of the translators for the Danish Bibelen 2020, comments on the translation of this term: “As for ‘blessing’, in the end we in most instances actually kept the word, after initially preferring the expression ‘giving life strength’. The backlash against dropping the word blessing was too hard. But we would often add a few words to help the reader understand what the word means in a given context — people often understand it to refer more to a spiritual connection with God, but in the Hebrew texts, it usually has to do with material things or good health or many children. So when e.g. in Isaiah 19:25 the Hebrew text says ‘God bless them’, we say ‘God bless them’ and we add: ‘and give them strength’. ‘And give them strength’ is not found in the overt Hebrew text, but we are again making explicit what we believe is the meaning so as to avoid misunderstanding.” (Source: Ehrensvärd in HIPHIL Novum 8/2023, p. 81ff. )

See also bless (food and drink), blessed (Christ in Mark 11:9), and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.

See also “Blessed by ‘The Blessing’ in the World’s Indigenous Languages” and Multilingual version of “The Blessing” based on Numbers 6:24-26 .

Ezra

The Hebrew, Latin, and Greek that is transliterated as “Ezra” in English is translated in Spanish Sign Language with the sign for “scribe” referring to Ezra’s profession. (Source: Steve Parkhurst)


“Ezra” in Spanish Sign Language, source: Sociedad Bíblica de España

In Swiss-German Sign Language it is translated with a sign that depicts the return from Babylon to Jerusalem and toward God.


“Ezra” in Swiss-German Sign Language, source: DSGS-Lexikon biblischer Begriffe , © CGG Schweiz

More information on Ezra .

Lord

The Hebrew adonai in the Old Testament typically refers to God. The shorter adon (and in two cases in the book of Daniel the Aramaic mare [מָרֵא]) is also used to refer to God but more often for concepts like “master,” “owner,” etc. In English Bible translations all of those are translated with “Lord” if they refer to God.

In English Old Testament translations, as in Old Testament translations in many other languages, the use of Lord (or an equivalent term in other languages) is not to be confused with Lord (or the equivalent term with a different typographical display for other languages). While the former translates adonai, adon and mare, the latter is a translation for the tetragrammaton (YHWH) or the Name of God. See tetragrammaton (YHWH) and the article by Andy Warren-Rothlin in Noss / Houser, p. 618ff. for more information.

In the New Testament, the Greek term kurios has at least four different kinds of use:

  • referring to “God,” especially in Old Testament quotations,
  • meaning “master” or “owner,” especially in parables, etc.,
  • as a form of address (see for instance John 4:11: “Sir, you have no bucket”),
  • or, most often, referring to Jesus

In the first and fourth case, it is also translated as “Lord” in English.

Most languages naturally don’t have one word that covers all these meanings. According to Bratcher / Nida, “the alternatives are usually (1) a term which is an honorific title of respect for a high-ranking person and (2) a word meaning ‘boss’, ‘master’, or ‘chief.’ (…) and on the whole it has generally seemed better to employ a word of the second category, in order to emphasize the immediate personal relationship, and then by context to build into the word the prestigeful character, since its very association with Jesus Christ will tend to accomplish this purpose.”

When looking at the following list of back-translations of the terms that translators in the different languages have used for both kurios and adonai to refer to God and Jesus respectively, it might be helpful for English readers to recall the etymology of the English “Lord.” While this term might have gained an exalted meaning in the understanding of many, it actually comes from hlaford or “loaf-ward,” referring to the lord of the castle who was the keeper of the bread (source: Rosin 1956, p. 121).

Click or tap here to see the rest of this insight

Following are some of the solutions that don’t rely on a different typographical display (see above):

  • Navajo: “the one who has charge”
  • Mossi: “the one who has the head” (the leader)
  • Uduk: “chief”
  • Guerrero Amuzgo: “the one who commands”
  • Kpelle: “person-owner” (a term which may be applied to a chief)
  • Central Pame: “the one who owns us” (or “commands us”)
  • Piro: “the big one” (used commonly of one in authority)
  • San Blas Kuna: “the great one over all” (source for this and above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Guhu-Samane: Soopara (“our Supervisor”) (source: Ellis Deibler in Notes on Translation July, 1967, p. 5ff.)
  • Balinese: “Venerated-one” (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • Yanesha’: “the one who carries us” (source: Nida 1952, p. 159)
  • Northern Emberá: Dadjirã Boro (“our Head”)
  • Rarotongan: Atu (“master or owner of a property”)
  • Gilbertese: Uea (“a person of high status invested with authority to rule the people”)
  • Rotuman: Gagaja (“village chief”)
  • Samoan: Ali’i (“an important word in the native culture, it derives from the Samoan understanding of lordship based on the local traditions”)
  • Tahitian: Fatu (“owner,” “master”)
  • Tuvalu: Te Aliki (“chief”)
  • Fijian: Liuliu (“leader”) (source for this and six above: Joseph Hong in The Bible Translator 1994, p. 329ff. )
  • Bacama: Həmə miye: “owner of people” (source: David Frank in this blog post )
  • Hopi: “Controller” (source: Walls 2000, p. 139)
  • Iyansi: Mwol. Mwol is traditionally used for the “chief of a group of communities and villages” with legal, temporal, and spiritual authority (versus the “mfum [the term used in other Bantu languages] which is used for the chief of one community of people in one village”). Mwol is also used for twins who are “treated as special children, highly honored, and taken care of like kings and queens.” (Source: Kividi Kikama in Greed / Kruger, p. 396ff.)
  • Ghomala’: Cyəpɔ (“he who is above everyone,” consisting of the verb cyə — to surpass or go beyond — and — referring to people. No human can claim this attribute, no matter what his or her social status or prestige.” (Source: Michel Kenmogne in Theologizing in Context: An Example from the Study of a Ghomala’ Christian Hymn )
  • Binumarien: Karaambaia: “fight-leader” (Source: Oates 1995, p. 255)
  • Warlpiri: Warlaljamarri (owner or possessor of something — for more information tap or click here)

    We have come to rely on another term which emphasizes God’s essential nature as YHWH, namely jukurrarnu (see tetragrammaton (YHWH)). This word is built on the same root jukurr– as is jukurrpa, ‘dreaming.’ Its basic meaning is ‘timelessness’ and it is used to describe physical features of the land which are viewed as always being there. Some speakers view jukurrarnu in terms of ‘history.’ In all Genesis references to YHWH we have used Kaatu Jukurrarnu. In all Mark passages where kurios refers to God and not specifically to Christ we have also used Kaatu Jukurrarnu.

    New Testament references to Christ as kurios are handled differently. At one stage we experimented with the term Watirirririrri which refers to a ceremonial boss of highest rank who has the authority to instigate ceremonies. While adequately conveying the sense of Christ’s authority, there remained potential negative connotations relating to Warlpiri ceremonial life of which we might be unaware.

    Here it is that the Holy Spirit led us to make a chance discovery. Transcribing the personal testimony of the local Warlpiri pastor, I noticed that he described how ‘my Warlaljamarri called and embraced me (to the faith)’. Warlaljamarri is based on the root warlalja which means variously ‘family, possessions, belongingness’. A warlaljamarri is the ‘owner’ or ‘possessor’ of something. While previously being aware of the ‘ownership’ aspect of warlaljamarri, this was the first time I had heard it applied spontaneously and naturally in a fashion which did justice to the entire concept of ‘Lordship’. Thus references to Christ as kurios are now being handled by Warlaljamarri.” (Source: Stephen Swartz, The Bible Translator 1985, p. 415ff. )

  • Mairasi: Onggoao Nem (“Throated One” — “Leader,” “Elder”) or Enggavot Nan (“Above-One”) (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • Obolo: Okaan̄-ene (“Owner of person(s)”) (source: Enene Enene)
  • Angami Naga: Niepu (“master,” “owner”)
  • Lotha Naga: Opvui (“owner of house / field / cattle”) — since both “Lord” and YHWH are translated as Opvui there is an understanding that “Opvui Jesus is the same as the Opvui of the Old Testament”
  • Ao Naga: Kibuba (“human master,” “teacher,” “owner of property,” etc.) (source for this and two above: Nitoy Achumi in The Bible Translator 1992 p. 438ff. )
  • Seediq: Tholang, loan word from Min Nan Chinese (the majority language in Taiwan) thâu-lâng (頭儂): “Master” (source: Covell 1998, p. 248)
  • Thai: phra’ phu pen cao (พระผู้เป็นเจ้า) (divine person who is lord) or ong(kh) cao nay (องค์เจ้านาย) (<divine classifier>-lord-boss) (source: Stephen Pattemore)
  • Arabic often uses different terms for adonai or kurios referring to God (al-rabb الرب) and kurios referring to Jesus (al-sayyid الـسـيـد). Al-rabb is also the term traditionally used in Arabic Christian-idiom translations for YHWH, and al-sayyid is an honorary term, similar to English “lord” or “sir” (source: Andy Warren-Rothlin).
  • Tamil also uses different terms for adonai/kurios when referring to God and kurios when referring to Jesus. The former is Karttar கர்த்தர், a Sanskrit-derived term with the original meaning of “creator,” and the latter in Āṇṭavar ஆண்டவர், a Tamil term originally meaning “govern” or “reign” (source: Natarajan Subramani).
  • Burunge: Looimoo: “owner who owns everything” (in the Burunge Bible translation, this term is only used as a reference to Jesus and was originally used to refer to the traditional highest deity — source: Michael Endl in Holzhausen / Riderer 2010, p. 48)
  • Aguacateco: Ajcaw ske’j: “the one to whom we belong and who is above us” (source: Rita Peterson in Holzhausen / Riderer 2010, p. 49)
  • Konkomba: Tidindaan: “He who is the owner of the land and reigns over the people” (source: Lidorio 2007, p. 66)

Law (2013, p. 97) writes about how the Ancient Greek Septuagint‘s translation of the Hebrew adonai was used by the New Testament writers as a bridge between the Old and New Testaments: “Another case is the use of kurios referring to Jesus. For Yahweh (in English Bibles: ‘the Lord‘), the Septuagint uses kurios. Although the term kurios usually has to do with one’s authority over others, when the New Testament authors use this word from the Septuagint to refer to Jesus, they are making an extraordinary claim: Jesus of Nazareth is to be identified with Yahweh.”

See also Father / Lord.

Translation commentary on 1 Esdras 9:46

And when he opened the law, they all stood erect: As Ezra unrolled the scroll, all the people stood up as a sign of respect for God’s Law. In this context the Greek verb for opened refers to the action of untying and unrolling a scroll.

And Ezra blessed the Lord God Most High, the God of hosts, the Almighty: Ezra then praised God, in a series of majestic titles. Here the verb blessed is better rendered “praised” (New English Bible, Revised English Bible; see the comments on 1 Esd 4.40). For the Lord God Most High, see the comments on 1 Esd 2.3 and 6.31. The God of hosts is literally “God Sabaoth.” “Sabaoth” transliterates a Hebrew word whose meaning is uncertain in this context. “Sabaoth,” traditionally translated as hosts, may refer to (1) the armies of Israel (as in 1 Sam 17.45), (2) angelic beings (as in Psa 103.21; 148.2), or (3) heavenly bodies, that is, the stars (as in Isa 40.26). However, the general meaning of this title is clear. It designates God as one who is an all-powerful ruler. Good News Bible‘s usual translation of the God of hosts is “God Almighty,” but since the word Almighty is used in this verse, Good News Bible says “Ruler of all” here. The God of hosts and the Almighty are similar in meaning. The majestic titles for God here may be rendered “the Lord God Most High, God the Triumphant and Almighty One” or “God who is above all gods, God who is victorious over all, and God who is All-powerful.” Good News Bible uses direct speech for this praise of God, which some languages may find helpful.

An alternative model for this verse is:

• When he opened the book [or, unrolled the scroll], everyone stood up. Then Ezra spoke words of praise, thanking and honoring the Lord God Most High, God the Triumphant and Almighty One.

Quoted with permission from Bullard, Roger A. and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on 1-2 Esdras. (UBS Helps for Translators). Miami: UBS, 2019. For this and other handbooks for translators see here.