advocate, comforter, helper

The Greek that is translated as “comforter,” “advocate,” or “helper” in English is similarly difficult to translate in other languages.

Nida (1952, p. 164) notes:

“Perhaps no word in all the New Testament is so hard to translate adequately as the word ‘Comforter.’ The Greek word, generally transliterated as Paraclete, is exceedingly rich in its wealth of meaning, for it implies not only “to comfort” but also “to admonish,” “to exhort,” “to encourage,” and “to help.” To put all these meanings into one native expression is indeed difficult, and yet the missionary translator must try to find a term or phrase which will give the people an adequate picture of the unique ministry of the Holy Spirit.

“In the Tausug language of southern Philippines the people use the phrase ‘the one who goes alongside continuously.’ In this sense He is the constant companion of the believer. In Eastern Highland Otomi of central Mexico the native believers have suggested the phrase “He who gives warmth in our soul.’ One can readily see the picture of the chilled heart and life seeking comfort in the Living Word and finding in the ministry of the Spirit of God that warmth which the soul so needs if it has to live in the freezing atmosphere of sin and worldly cares.

“The Baoulé Christians speak of the Comforter as ‘He who ties up the thoughts.’ The thoughts of the worried heart are scattered every place in senseless and tormenting disorder. The Comforter ties up these distracted thoughts, and though they still exist, they are under the control of the Spirit.”

In Luba-Katanga the legal aspect of Paraclete is particularly emphasized with the term Nsenga Mukwashi, a term that’s also used in the traditional legal system, referring to a person who in court proceedings “interests himself in the people and stands by them in trouble, in other words to plead their cause and be their advocate.” (Source: Wilfred Bradnock in The Bible Translator 1953, p. 49ff. )

In South Bolivian Quechua it is translated as “the heartener (=one who make one have a heart)” (source: T.E. Hudspith in The Bible Translator 1952, p. 66ff. ).

Here is another story that Nida (1952, p. 20) retells of Kare (click or tap here):

“When porters, carrying heavy loads on their heads, go on long journeys, often for as long as two or three months, they may become sick with malaria or dysentery, and in their weakness they straggle to the end of the line of carriers. Finally in complete exhaustion they may collapse along the trail, knowing full well that if they do not get to the safety of the next village, they will be killed and eaten by wild animals during the night. If, however, someone passing along the trail sees them lying there prostrate, and if he takes pity on them, stooping down to pick them up and helping them to reach the safety and protection of the next village, they speak of such a person as ‘the one who falls down beside us.’ It is this expression [that was] taken to translate ‘Comforter,’ for this is the One who sustains, protects, and keeps the children of God on their journey toward their heavenly home.”

“In Chichewa, it is translated in 1 John 2:1 by nkhoswe yotinenera: ‘mediator who speaks on our behalf.’ The nkhoswe is the traditional clan representative who speaks on behalf of individual members in negotiations involving another clan, as when a marriage is being arranged or a dispute (‘case’) is being settled. The modification yotinenera emphasizes the fact that the group as a whole requires this representation — certainly a very fitting metaphor depicting Christ’s role in pleading the case of humanity before his heavenly Father.” (Source: Wendland 1987, p. 78)

In Burmese, Adoniram Judson’s translation (publ. 1835) uses the term upjitze saya (ဥ​ပ​ဇ္ဈာယ်​ဆ​ရာ). This term refers to one’s first teacher, guide, and mentor. Specifically, in a Buddhist context, it refers to a senior monk who trains novitiate monks. At their ordination this senior monk is positioned closest to the novitiate when he recites his memorized lines for ordination, and can serve as a “prompter” if he stumbles, or forgets his lines. This connects with the Holy Spirit’s role to “teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). More recent Burmese translations have abandoned this term in favor of various, more generic, terms for “helper”, perhaps because upjitze saya is a rare term and not understood well for those coming from a non-Buddhist context.

In Miao (Chuanqiandian Cluster) it is translated as “one who gets at the heart round the corner” (source Kilgour 1939, p. 150) and in Tsafiki as “helping Counselor” (source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.).

See also this devotion on YouVersion .

Father (address for God)

The Greek that is translated with the capitalized “Father” in English when referring to God is translated in Highland Totonac with the regular word for (biological) father to which a suffix is added to indicate respect. The same also is used for “Lord” when referring to Jesus. (Source: Hermann Aschmann in The Bible Translator 1950, p. 171ff. )

Like a number of other East Asian languages, Japanese uses a complex system of honorifics, i.e. a system where a number of different levels of politeness are expressed in language via words, word forms or grammatical constructs. These can range from addressing someone or referring to someone with contempt (very informal) to expressing the highest level of reference (as used in addressing or referring to God) or any number of levels in-between.

In the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017, God the Father is addressed with mi-chichi (御父). This form has the “divine” honorific prefix mi– preceding the archaic honorific form chichi for “father.”

If, however, Jesus addresses his Father, he is using chichi-o (父を) which is also highly respectful but does not have the “divine” honorific.

(Source: S. E. Doi, see also S. E. Doi in Journal of Translation, 18/2022, p. 37ff. )

See also Lord.

mediator

The Greek that is translated as “mediator” in English is translated in Mandarin Chinese as zhòng bǎo (中保), lit. “middle protector.” (Source: Zetzsche)

In the Chichewa interconfessional translation (publ. 1999), it is translated as “one who stays in the middle” (Source: Ernst Wendland in The Bible Translator 2002, p. 319ff. ).

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (1John 2:1)

Many languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns (“we”). (Click or tap here to see more details)

The inclusive “we” specifically includes the addressee (“you and I and possibly others”), while the exclusive “we” specifically excludes the addressee (“he/she/they and I, but not you”). This grammatical distinction is called “clusivity.” While Semitic languages such as Hebrew or most Indo-European languages such as Greek or English do not make that distinction, translators of languages with that distinction have to make a choice every time they encounter “we” or a form thereof (in English: “we,” “our,” or “us”).

For this verse, translators typically select the inclusive form (including the addressee).

Source: Velma Pickett and Florence Cowan in Notes on Translation January 1962, p. 1ff.

sin

The Hebrew and Greek that is typically translated as “sin” in English has a wide variety of translations.

The Greek ἁμαρτάνω (hamartanō) carries the original verbatim meaning of “miss the mark.” Likewise, many translations contain the “connotation of moral responsibility.” Loma has (for certain types of sin) “leaving the road” (which “implies a definite standard, the transgression of which is sin”) or Navajo uses “that which is off to the side.” (Source: Bratcher / Nida). In Toraja-Sa’dan the translation is kasalan, which originally meant “transgression of a religious or moral rule” and has shifted its meaning in the context of the Bible to “transgression of God’s commandments.” (Source: H. van der Veen in The Bible Translator 1950, p. 21ff. ).

In Shipibo-Conibo the term is hocha. Nida (1952, p. 149) tells the story of its choosing: “In some instances a native expression for sin includes many connotations, and its full meaning must be completely understood before one ever attempts to use it. This was true, for example, of the term hocha first proposed by Shipibo-Conibo natives as an equivalent for ‘sin.’ The term seemed quite all right until one day the translator heard a girl say after having broken a little pottery jar that she was guilty of ‘hocha.’ Breaking such a little jar scarcely seemed to be sin. However, the Shipibos insisted that hocha was really sin, and they explained more fully the meaning of the word. It could be used of breaking a jar, but only if the jar belonged to someone else. Hocha was nothing more nor less than destroying the possessions of another, but the meaning did not stop with purely material possessions. In their belief God owns the world and all that is in it. Anyone who destroys the work and plan of God is guilty of hocha. Hence the murderer is of all men most guilty of hocha, for he has destroyed God’s most important possession in the world, namely, man. Any destructive and malevolent spirit is hocha, for it is antagonistic and harmful to God’s creation. Rather than being a feeble word for some accidental event, this word for sin turned out to be exceedingly rich in meaning and laid a foundation for the full presentation of the redemptive act of God.”

In Kaingang, the translation is “break God’s word” and in Sandawe the original meaning of the Greek term (see above) is perfectly reflected with “miss the mark.” (Source: Ursula Wiesemann in Holzhausen / Riderer 2010, p. 36ff., 43)

In Warao it is translated as “bad obojona.” Obojona is a term that “includes the concepts of consciousness, will, attitude, attention and a few other miscellaneous notions.” (Source: Henry Osborn in The Bible Translator 1969, p. 74ff. ). See other occurrences of Obojona in the Warao New Testament.

Martin Ehrensvärd, one of the translators for the Danish Bibelen 2020, comments on the translation of this term: “We would explain terms, such that e.g. sin often became ‘doing what God does not want’ or ‘breaking God’s law’, ‘letting God down’, ‘disrespecting God’, ‘doing evil’, ‘acting stupidly’, ‘becoming guilty’. Now why couldn’t we just use the word sin? Well, sin in contemporary Danish, outside of the church, is mostly used about things such as delicious but unhealthy foods. Exquisite cakes and chocolates are what a sin is today.” (Source: Ehrensvärd in HIPHIL Novum 8/2023, p. 81ff. )

See also sinner.

complete verse (1 John 2:1)

Following are a number of back-translations of 1 John 2:1:

  • Uma: “My children, the reason I write this is so we won’t do sins. But if there is someone who commits sin, there is the one who acts-as-middle-man-for us before God the Father. He is Yesus Kristus the upright one.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “My children-grandchildren, I write this to you so that you don’t sin. But if there-is-someone who-does-sin, there is a go-between putting-us (dual)-right/reconciling us (dual) with our (dual) Father God. This go-between is Isa Almasi the straight/righteous one.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “As for you who are like my children, the reason I am writing to you is: so that your faith might be drawn tight and so that you might not sin. However, if there is anyone of us (incl.) who sins, we (incl.) have a datu who helps us before God our Father. Our datu is Jesus Christ who is very righteous.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “You who are my children, I have written this to you so you don’t sin. But if there is one of us who sins, there is (reassurance particle) Jesu Cristo who has absolutely no sin who speaks-with God the Father for us.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “You who are like my children, I am writing these things to you so that (emphatic) you no longer do sin. However, sometimes we do indeed happen-to-do-sin, but let us bear-in-mind that there is someone standing up for us there with God the Father. Jesu-Cristo, he being really righteous, he is this one who is standing up for us.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “Listen, my children, I write you this word here in order that you will not commit sin. But if there be one who has the misfortune to commit sin, there is our spokesman there where the Father is. This one is Jesus Christ and he has no sin.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
  • Yatzachi Zapotec: “My little children, these things I write you in order that you will not do evil. But if any of us should do evil, there is a person who speaks in favor of us before our father God, he is Jesus Christ the person who walks straight (is righteous).”
  • Eastern Highland Otomi: “My dear children who are believers, I am writing this paper to you. I’m telling you not to do sin. But if a believer does sin, there is our Helper, who is Jesus Christ, the Good-person, he will speak to the Father about us when we sin.”
  • Tzotzil: “My children, I wrote thus to you in order that you not anymore sin. If there are those of you who have sinned, remember that Jesus Christ talks for us (on our behalf) before our Father God. He (Jesus Christ) has a straight heart.” (Source for this and two above: John Beekman in Notes on Translation 12, November 1964, p. 1ff.)

righteous, righteousness

The Greek, Hebrew, and Latin terms that are translated in English mostly as “righteous” as an adjective or personified noun or “righteousness” (also as “justice”) are most commonly expressed with concept of “straightness,” though this may be expressed in a number of ways. (Click or tap here to see the details)

Following is a list of (back-) translations of various languages:

  • Bambara, Southern Bobo Madaré, Chokwe (ululi), Amganad Ifugao, Chol, Eastern Maninkakan, Toraja-Sa’dan, Pamona, Batak Toba, Bilua, Tiv: “be straight”
  • Laka: “follow the straight way” or “to straight-straight” (a reduplicated form for emphasis)
  • Highland Puebla Nahuatl, Kekchí, Muna: “have a straight heart”
  • Kipsigis: “do the truth”
  • Mezquital Otomi: “do according to the truth”
  • Huautla Mazatec: “have truth”
  • Yine: “fulfill what one should do”
  • Indonesian: “be true”
  • Navajo: “do just so”
  • Anuak: “do as it should be”
  • Mossi: “have a white stomach” (see also happiness / joy)
  • Paasaal: “white heart” (source: Fabian N. Dapila in The Bible Translator 2024, p. 415ff.)
  • Nuer: “way of right” (“there is a complex concept of “right” vs. ‘left’ in Nuer where ‘right’ indicates that which is masculine, strong, good, and moral, and ‘left’ denotes what is feminine, weak, and sinful (a strictly masculine viewpoint!) The ‘way of right’ is therefore righteousness, but of course women may also attain this way, for the opposition is more classificatory than descriptive.”) (This and all above from Bratcher / Nida except for Bilua: Carl Gross; Tiv: Rob Koops; Muna: René van den Berg)
  • Central Subanen: “wise-good” (source: Robert Brichoux in OPTAT 1988/2, p. 80ff. )
  • Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac: “live well”
  • Mezquital Otomi: “goodness before the face of God” (source for this and one above: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August 1966, p. 86ff.)
  • Eastern Huasteca Nahuatl: “the result of heart-straightening” (source: Nida 1947, p. 224)
  • Eastern Highland Otomi: “entirely good” (when referred to God), “do good” or “not be a debtor as God sees one” (when referred to people)
  • Carib: “level”
  • Tzotzil: “straight-hearted”
  • Ojitlán Chinantec: “right and straight”
  • Yatzachi Zapotec: “walk straight” (source for this and four previous: John Beekman in Notes on Translation November 1964, p. 1-22)
  • Makonde: “doing what God wants” (in a context of us doing) and “be good in God’s eyes” (in the context of being made righteous by God) (note that justify / justification is translated as “to be made good in the eyes of God.” (source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific notes in Paratext)
  • Aari: The Pauline word for “righteous” is generally rendered by “makes one without sin” in the Aari, sometimes “before God” is added for clarity. (Source: Loren Bliese)
  • North Alaskan Inupiatun: “having sin taken away” (Source: Nida 1952, p. 144)
  • Nyamwezi: wa lole: “just” or “someone who follows the law of God” (source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext)
  • Venda: “nothing wrong, OK” (Source: J.A. van Roy in The Bible Translator 1972, p. 418ff. )
  • Ekari: maakodo bokouto or “enormous truth” (the same word that is also used for “truth“; bokouto — “enormous” — is being used as an attribute for abstract nouns to denote that they are of God [see also here]; source: Marion Doble in The Bible Translator 1963, p. 37ff. ).
  • Guhu-Samane: pobi or “right” (also: “right (side),” “(legal) right,” “straightness,” “correction,” “south,” “possession,” “pertinence,” “kingdom,” “fame,” “information,” or “speech” — “According to [Guhu-Samane] thinking there is a common core of meaning among all these glosses. Even from an English point of view the first five can be seen to be closely related, simply because of their similarity in English. However, from that point the nuances of meaning are not so apparent. They relate in some such a fashion as this: As one faces the morning sun, south lies to the right hand (as north lies to the left); then at one’s right hand are his possessions and whatever pertains to him; thus, a rich man’s many possessions and scope of power and influence is his kingdom; so, the rich and other important people encounter fame; and all of this spreads as information and forms most of the framework of the people’s speech.”) (Source: Ernest Richert in Notes on Translation 1964, p. 11ff.)

See also respectable, righteous, righteous (person), and She is more in the right(eous) than I.

Christ, Messiah

The Greek Christos (Χρηστός) is typically transliterated when it appears together with Iésous (Ἰησοῦς) (Jesus). In English the transliteration is the Anglicized “Christ,” whereas in many other languages it is based on the Greek or Latin as “Kristus,” “Cristo,” or similar.

When used as a descriptive term in the New Testament — as it’s typically done in the gospels (with the possible exceptions of for instance John 1:17 and 17:3) — Christos is seen as the Greek translation of the Hebrew mashiaḥ (המשיח‎) (“anointed”). Accordingly, a transliteration of mashiaḥ is used, either as “Messiah” or based on the Greek or Latin as a form of “Messias.”

This transliteration is also used in the two instances where the Greek term Μεσσίας (Messias) is used in John 1:41 and 4:25.

In some languages and some translations, the term “Messiah” is supplemented with an explanation. Such as in the German Gute Nachricht with “the Messiah, the promised savior” (Wir haben den Messias gefunden, den versprochenen Retter) or in Muna with “Messiah, the Saving King” (Mesias, Omputo Fosalamatino) (source: René van den Berg).

In predominantly Muslim areas or for Bible translations for a Muslim target group, Christos is usually transliterated from the Arabic al-Masih (ٱلْمَسِيحِ) — “Messiah.” In most cases, this practice corresponds with languages that also use a form of the Arabic Isa (عيسى) for Jesus (see Jesus). There are some exceptions, though, including modern translations in Arabic which use Yasua (يَسُوعَ) (coming from the Aramaic Yēšūa’) alongside a transliteration of al-Masih, Hausa which uses Yesu but Almahisu, and some Fula languages (Adamawa Fulfulde, Nigerian Fulfulde, and Central-Eastern Niger Fulfulde) which also use a form of Iésous (Yeesu) but Almasiihu (or Almasiifu) for Christos.

In Indonesian, while most Bible translations had already used Yesus Kristus rather than Isa al Masih, three public holidays used to be described using the term Isa Al Masih. From 2024 on, the government is using Yesus Kristus in those holiday names instead (see this article in Christianity Today ).

Other solutions that are used by a number of languages include these:

  • Dobel: “The important one that God had appointed to come” (source: Jock Hughes)
  • Noongar: Keny Mammarap or “The One Man” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • Mairasi: “King of not dying for life all mashed out infinitely” (for “mashed out,” see salvation; source: Lloyd Peckham)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “One chosen by God to rule mankind” (source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Bacama: Ma Pwa a Ngɨltən: “The one God has chosen” (source: David Frank in this blog post )
  • Binumarien: Anutuna: originally a term that was used for a man that was blessed by elders for a task by the laying on of hands (source: Desmond Oatridges, Holzhausen 1991, p. 49f.)
  • Noongar: Keny Boolanga-Yira Waangki-Koorliny: “One God is Sending” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • Uab Meto: Neno Anan: “Son of heaven” P. Middelkoop explains: “The idea of heavenly power bestowed on a Timorese king is rendered in the title Neno Anan. It is based on the historical fact that chiefs in general came from overseas and they who come thence are believed to have come down from heaven, from the land beyond the sea, that means the sphere of God and the ghosts of the dead. The symbolical act of anointing has been made subservient to the revelation of an eternal truth and when the term Neno Anan is used as a translation thereof, it also is made subservient to a new revelation of God in Jesus Christ. The very fact that Jesus came from heaven makes this translation hit the mark.” (Source: P. Middelkoop in The Bible Translator 1953, p. 183ff. )

In Finnish Sign Language both “Christ” and “Messiah” are translated with sign signifying “king.” (Source: Tarja Sandholm)


“Christ / Messiah” in Finnish Sign Language (source )

Law (2013, p. 97) writes about how the Ancient Greek Septuagint‘s translation of the Hebrew mashiah was used by the New Testament writers as a bridge between the Old and New Testaments (click or tap here to read more):

“Another important word in the New Testament that comes from the Septuagint is christos, ‘Christ.’ Christ is not part of the name of the man from Nazareth, as if ‘the Christs’ were written above the door of his family home. Rather, ‘Christ’ is an explicitly messianic title used by the writers of the New Testament who have learned this word from the Septuagint’s translation of the Hebrew mashiach, ‘anointed,’ which itself is often rendered in English as ‘Messiah.’ To be sure, one detects a messianic intent on the part of the Septuagint translator in some places. Amos 4:13 may have been one of these. In the Hebrew Bible, God ‘reveals his thoughts to mortals,’ but the Septuagint has ‘announcing his anointed to humans.’ A fine distinction must be made, however, between theology that was intended by the Septuagint translators and that developed by later Christian writers. In Amos 4:13 it is merely possible we have a messianic reading, but it is unquestionably the case that the New Testament writers exploit the Septuagint’s use of christos, in Amos and elsewhere, to messianic ends.”

Learn more on Bible Odyssey: Christ .