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.

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (2Cor. 4:3)

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 exclusive form (excluding the addressee).

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

complete verse (2 Corinthians 4:3)

Following are a number of back-translations of 2 Corinthians 4:3:

  • Uma: “There are some people who don’t believe the Good News that we (excl.) carry. People who are heading for hell, they are the ones who don’t believe. We can say, there is something that covers-up their hearts with the result that they don’t want to believe the Good News.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “If there are people who cannot understand the good news that we (excl.) preach, they are the people who are going towards hell.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And as for the Good News that we preach, if this is hidden, the only ones it is hidden from are people who will not receive life forever.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “It is admittedly true that the minds of some are clouded-over in order that they can’t understand the good news that we (excl.) are preaching, but they are the ones who will be punished forever” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “If supposing the meaning of the Good News that we (excl.) are teaching is still hidden, I am sure that it is only like this to the people who will end-up-at/reach death which is punishment without end.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “But concerning the people whose hearts do not understand about this good news I tell, these are the people who are on the road going to punishment.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

Translation commentary on 2 Corinthians 4:3

And even if: despite Paul’s intentions to proclaim the gospel openly (4.2), he concedes that it may be hidden from some people.

Our gospel is the good news about Jesus Christ that Paul and his companions preach. Although Paul says our gospel, this does not mean that their gospel is different from the gospel of other people. Rather the word our shows their personal involvement and commitment to the gospel. Some possible models for translators are “our message” (Contemporary English Version), “the good news” (Barclay), and “the Good News that we preach” (New Century Version). In those languages that must choose between inclusive and exclusive forms of the first person plural pronoun, the word our here should probably be understood as focusing on Paul and his associates as preachers of the Good News.

Veiled: elsewhere in Revised Standard Version this verb is translated “is hidden” (Matt 10.26) and “cover” (Luke 8.16). The idea is that of something concealed from view. This verb in Greek is related to the noun “veil” in 3.13, 14, 15, 16. But it is used here in a figurative sense. For this reason some translate more dynamically: “our gospel is a mystery” (Knox), or “if the good news which we tell is not clear…” (Good News for the World). Another way of avoiding the passive form may be to say “if some people do not understand the Good News we preach”—although this will almost certainly require a restructuring of the rest of the verse.

Those who are perishing: perishing refers to spiritual death, that is, the destruction of the whole person, body and soul. The participle used here is present and is the same as in 2.15. Contemporary English Version “someone who is lost” is therefore perhaps less satisfactory than “those who are on the way to being lost” (Translator’s New Testament) or “those who are on the road to perdition” (Knox).

Quoted with permission from Omanson, Roger L. and Ellingworth, Paul. A Handbook on Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1993. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .