For the phrases “seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal,” see Romans 11:4.
Many languages use a “body part tally system” where body parts function as numerals (see body part tally systems with a description). One such language is Angguruk Yali which uses a system that ends at the number 27. To circumvent this limitation, the Angguruk Yali translators adopted a strategy where a large number is first indicated with an approximation via the traditional system, followed by the exact number according to Arabic numerals. For example, where in 2 Samuel 6:1 it says “thirty thousand” in the English translation, the Angguruk Yali says teng-teng angge 30.000 or “so many rounds [following the body part tally system] 30,000,” likewise, in Acts 27:37 where the number “two hundred seventy-six” is used, the Angguruk Yali translation says teng-teng angge 276 or “so many rounds 276,” or in John 6:10 teng-teng angge 5.000 for “five thousand.”
This strategy is used in all the verses referenced here.
Source: Lourens de Vries in The Bible Translator 1998, p. 409ff.
God’s words to Elijah here are quoted by Paul in Rom 11.4.
Yet translates the common Hebrew conjunction because there is a clearly implied contrast between those who would be put to death in the previous verse and the seven thousand that would be left unharmed in this verse. Others will translate it “But,” as in New Jerusalem Bible and Contemporary English Version.
I will leave seven thousand in Israel: The verb leave may be better translated “spare” (New Jerusalem Bible) in certain languages. The idea is that these seven thousand people would not be killed. The number seven thousand is probably symbolic. Seven symbolizes perfection and completion, and one thousand symbolizes a large amount.
All the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him: A literary device is used here in which the body parts knees and mouth represent the whole person. The meaning is clearly that those persons have refused to bow their knees or use their mouths to show allegiance to Baal. Unless a corresponding literary device is common in the receptor language, it will be better to restructure this part of the verse as in Good News Translation or to say “all those who have not knelt to Baal or kissed him” (New American Bible). Contemporary English Version simply says “have refused to worship Baal.” But there seems to be no good reason not to maintain in the receptor language the form in which this worship was expressed.
Quoted with permission from Omanson, Roger L. and Ellington, John E. A Handbook on 1-2 Kings, Volume 1. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 2008. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .