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The concept of “forgiveness” is expressed in varied ways through translations. Following is a list of (back-) translations from some languages:
- Tswa, North Alaskan Inupiatun, Panao Huánuco Quechua: “forget about”
- Navajo: “give back” (based on the idea that sin produces an indebtedness, which only the one who has been sinned against can restore)
- Huichol, Shipibo-Conibo, Eastern Highland Otomi, Uduk, Tepo Krumen: “erase,” “wipe out,” “blot out”
- Highland Totonac, Huautla Mazatec: “lose,” “make lacking”
- Tzeltal: “lose another’s sin out of one’s heart”
- Lahu, Burmese: “be released,” “be freed”
- Ayacucho Quechua: “level off”
- Yatzachi Zapotec: “cast away”
- Chol: “pass by”
- Wayuu: “make pass”
- Kpelle: “turn one’s back on”
- Chicahuaxtla Triqui: “cover over” (a figure of speech which is also employed in Hebrew, but which in many languages is not acceptable, because it implies “hiding” or “concealment”)
- Tabasco Chontal, Huichol: “take away sins”
- Toraja-Sa’dan, Javanese: “do away with sins”
- San Blas Kuna: “erase the evil heart” (this and all above: Bratcher / Nida, except Tepo Krumen: Peter Thalmann in Holzhausen / Riderer 2010, p. 25f.)
- Eggon: “withdraw the hand”
- Mískito: “take a man’s fault out of your heart” (source of this and the one above: Kilgour, p. 80)
- Western Parbate Kham: “unstring someone” (“hold a grudge” — “have someone strung up in your heart”) (source: Watters, p. 171)
- Cebuano: “go beyond” (based on saylo)
- Iloko: “none” or “no more” (based on awan) (source for this and above: G. Henry Waterman in The Bible Translator 1960, p. 24ff.)
- Tzotzil: ch’aybilxa: “it has been lost” (source: Aeilts, p. 118)
- Suki: biaek eisaemauwa: “make heart soft” (Source L. and E. Twyman in The Bible Translator 1953, p. 91ff.)
- Warao: “not being concerned with him clean your obonja.” Obonja 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.)
- Martu Wangka: “throw out badness” (source: Carl Gross)
- Mairasi: “dismantle wrongs” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
- Koonzime: “remove the bad deed-counters” (“The Koonzime lay out the deeds symbolically — usually strips of banana leaf — and rehearse their grievances with the person addressed.”) (Source: Keith and Mary Beavon in Notes on Translation 3/1996, p. 16)
- Ngbaka: ele: “forgive and forget” (Margaret Hill [in Holzhausen & Ridere 2010, p. 8f.] recalls that originally there were two different words used in Ngbaka, one for God (ele) and one for people (mboko — excuse something) since it was felt that people might well forgive but, unlike God, can’t forget.
- Amahuaca: “erase” / “smooth over” (“It was an expression the people used for smoothing over dirt when marks or drawings had been made in it. It meant wiping off dust in which marks had been made, or wiping off writing on the blackboard. To wipe off the slate, to erase, to take completely away — it has a very wide meaning and applies very well to God’s wiping away sins, removing them from the record, taking them away.”) (Source: Robert Russel, quoted in Walls / Bennett 1959, p. 193)
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. 21 ff.).
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.
See also sinner.
Translators of different languages have found different ways with what kind of formality God is addressed. The first example is from a language where God is always addressed distinctly formal whereas the second is one where the opposite choice was made.
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Like many languages (but unlike Greek or Hebrew or English), Tuvan uses a formal vs. informal 2nd person pronoun (a familiar vs. a respectful “you”). Unlike other languages that have this feature, however, the translators of the Tuvan Bible have attempted to be very consistent in using the different forms of address in every case a 2nd person pronoun has to be used in the translation of the biblical text.
As Voinov shows in Pronominal Theology in Translating the Gospels (in: The Bible Translator 2002, p. 210ff.), the choice to use either of the pronouns many times involved theological judgment. While the formal pronoun can signal personal distance or a social/power distance between the speaker and addressee, the informal pronoun can indicate familiarity or social/power equality between speaker and addressee.
In these verses, in which humans address God, the informal, familiar pronoun is used that communicates closeness.
Voinov notes that “in the Tuvan Bible, God is only addressed with the informal pronoun. No exceptions. An interesting thing about this is that I’ve heard new Tuvan believers praying with the formal form to God until they are corrected by other Christians who tell them that God is close to us so we should address him with the informal pronoun. As a result, the informal pronoun is the only one that is used in praying to God among the Tuvan church.”
In Gbaya, “a superior, whether father, uncle, or older brother, mother, aunt, or older sister, president, governor, or chief, is never addressed in the singular unless the speaker intends a deliberate insult. When addressing the superior face to face, the second person plural pronoun ɛ́nɛ́ or ‘you (pl.)’ is used, similar to the French usage of vous.
Accordingly, the translators of the current version of the Gbaya Bible chose to use the plural ɛ́nɛ́ to address God. There are a few exceptions. In Psalms 86:8, 97:9, and 138:1, God is addressed alongside other “gods,” and here the third person pronoun o is used to avoid confusion about who is being addressed. In several New Testament passages (Matthew 21:23, 26:68, 27:40, Mark 11:28, Luke 20:2, 23:37, as well as in Jesus’ interaction with Pilate and Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well) the less courteous form for Jesus is used to indicate ignorance of his position or mocking (source Philip Noss).
In Dutch translations, however, God is always addressed with the formal pronoun.