preach

The Greek terms that are translated into English as “preach” are regularly rendered into Aari as “speaking the word of salvation.” (Source: Loren Bliese)

Other languages (back-) translate it in the following manner:

  • Chinese: “chuandao 傳道” (“to hand down the Way (or: the Logos)”)
  • Kekchí: “declare the word”
  • Kpelle “speak God’s word”
  • Tzeltal: “he explains, they hear” (“the goal of all preachers”)
  • Copainalá Zoque: “a preacher is ‘one who speaks-scatters'” (a figure based on the scattering of seed in the process of sowing) (source for this and above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Shilluk: “declare the word of of God.” (source: Nida 1964, p. 237)

In Luang it is translated with different shades of meaning:

  • For Acts 9:20, 10:42: “nakotnohora”: “talk about” (“The generic term for preaching.”)
  • For Acts 8:4, 8:5, 8:25: “rodkiota-ralde’etnohora” — “bring words, give news about.” (“This term is used when the preacher is moving from place to place to preach.”)

Source: Kathy Taber in Notes on Translation 1/1999, p. 9-16.

Sabbath

The Greek that is translated as “Sabbath” in English is rendered as “day we rest” in Tzotzil whereas in Mairasi it is the “Jew’s Rest Day.”

Shilluk translates it as “day of God” and Obolo as Usen Mbuban: “Holy Day.”

(Sources: Tzotzil: Marion Cowan in Notes on Translation with Drill, p. 169ff; Mairasi: Enggavoter 2004; Shilluk: Nida 1964, p. 237; Obolo: Enene Enene)

In the old Khmer version as well as in the first new translation this term was rendered as “day of rest” (Thngai Chhup Somrak). Considered inadequate to convey its religious meaning (not only about cessation of work, but also in honour of Yahweh as the Creator), the committee has decided to keep the Hebrew word and use its transliterated form Thgnai Sabath. The Buddhist word Thngai Seil “day of merits” used by some Catholics was once under consideration but was rejected because it did not receive unanimous support.” (Source: Joseph Hong in The Bible Translator 1996, p. 233ff.)

In Spanish, the translation is either día de reposo (“day of rest”) or sábado (usually: “Saturday,” derived from the Greek and Hebrew original. Nida (1947, p. 239f.) explains that problem for Spanish and other languages in its sphere of influence: “In translation “Sabbath” into various aboriginal languages of Latin America, a considerable number of translators have used the Spanish sábado, ‘Saturday,’ because it is derived from the Hebrew sabbath and seems to correspond to English usage as well. The difficulty is that sábado means only ‘Saturday’ for most people. There is no religious significance about this word as the is with ‘Sabbath’ in English. Accordingly the [readers] cannot understand the significance of the persecution of Jesus because he worked on ‘Saturday.’ It has been found quite advantageous to use the translation ‘day of rest,’ for this accurately translated the Hebrew meaning of the term and resolves the problem in connection with the prohibitions placed upon some types of activities.”

synagogue, temple (inner), temple (outer)

In many English translations the Greek terms “hieron” (the whole “temple” in Jerusalem or specifically the outer courts open to worshippers) and “naos” (the inner “shrine” or “sanctuary”) are translated with only one word: “temple” (see also for instance “Tempel” in German and “tempel” in Dutch, Danish, or Afrikaans).

Other languages make a distinction: (Click or tap here to see more)

  • Navajo: “house in which worship is carried out” (for naos)
  • Balinese: “inner part of the Great Temple” (“the term ‘inner part’ denoting the hindmost and holiest of the two or three courts that temples on Bali usually possess”) vs. “Great Temple”
  • Telugu: “womb (i.e. interior)-of-the-abode” vs. “abode”
  • Thai: a term denoting the main audience hall of a Buddhist temple compound vs. “environs-of-the-main-audience-hall”
  • Kituba: “place of holiness of house-God Lord” vs. “house-God Lord”
  • Shipibo-Conibo: “deep in God’s house” vs. “God’s house” (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)

Languages that, like English, German, Dutch, Danish, or Afrikaans don’t make that distinction include:

  • Chinese: “聖殿 Shèng diàn” (“holy palace”)
  • Loma: “the holy place”
  • Pular: “the sacred house” (source for this and the one above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Zarma: “God’s compound”
  • Eastern Highland Otomi: “big church of the Jews”
  • Yatzachi Zapotec: “big house on top (i.e. most important)”
  • Toraja-Sa’dan: “house that is looked upon as holy, that is sacred, that is taboo and where one may not set foot” (lit. “house where-the-belly-gets-swollen” — because taboo is violated — using a term that is also applied to a Muslim mosque) (source for this and the three above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • Mairasi: Janav Enggwarjer Weso: “Great Above One’s (God’s) House” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • Huehuetla Tepehua: “the big church of the Israelites”
  • Aguaruna: “the house for talking to God” (source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
  • Guhu-Samane: “festival longhouse of God” (“The biiri, ‘festival longhouse’, being the religious and social center of the community, is a possible term for ‘temple’. It is not the ‘poro house’ as such. That would be too closely identified with the cult of poro. The physical features of the building, huge and sub-divided, lend it further favor for this consideration. By qualifying it as ‘God’s biiri’ the term has become meaningful and appropriate in the context of the Scriptures.”) (Source: Ernest Richert in The Bible Translator, 1965, p. 81ff.)
  • Enga: “God’s restricted access house” (source: Adam Boyd on his blog)

Another distinction that tends to be overlooked in translations is that between hieron (“temple” in English) and sunagógé (“synagogue” in English). Euan Fry (in The Bible Translator 1987, p. 213ff.) reports on this:

“Many older translations have simply used transliterations of ‘temple’ and ‘synagogue’ rather than trying to find equivalent terms or meaningful expressions in their own languages. This approach does keep the two terms separate; but it makes the readers depend on explanations given by pastors or teachers for their understanding of the text.

“Translators who have tried to find meaningful equivalents, for the two terms ‘temple’ and ‘synagogue’ have usually made a distinction between them in one of two ways (which focus on the contrasting components of meaning). One way takes the size and importance of the Temple to make a contrast, so that expressions such as ‘sacred meeting/ worship house of the Jews’ and ‘big sacred meeting/worship house of the Jews’ are used. The other way focuses on the different nature of the religious activity at each of the places, so that expressions such as ‘meeting/worship house of the Jews’ and ‘sacrifice/ceremony place of the Jews’ are used.

“It is not my purpose in this article to discuss how to arrive at the most precise equivalent to cover all the components of meaning of ‘temple’. That is something that each translator really has to work through for himself in the light of the present usage and possibilities in his own language. My chief concern here is that the basic term or terms chosen for ‘temple’ should give the reader of a translation a clear and correct picture of the location referred to in each passage. And I am afraid that in many cases where an equivalent like ‘house of God’ or ‘worship house’ has been chosen, the readers have quite the wrong picture of what going to the Temple or being in the Temple means. (This may be the case for the word ‘temple’ in English too, for many readers.)”

Here are some examples:

  • Bambara: “house of God” (or: “big house of worship”) vs. “worship house” (or: “small houses of worship”)
  • Toraja-Sa’dan: “house where-the-belly-gets-swollen” (see above) vs. “meeting house for discussing matters concerning religious customs” (and “church” is “house where one meets on Sunday”)
  • Navajo: “house in which worship is carried out” vs. “house of gathering” (source for all above: Bratcher / Nida)

complete verse (Acts 15:21)

Following are a number of back-translations of Acts 15:21:

  • Uma: “We will request that they follow these commands, so that they will get-along with the Yahudi people. Because from long ago, the Yahudi people in every place read the Book of the Law of Musa every Sabat Day in the houses of prayer. And those laws they announce in every town where they dwell.'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “These laws of Musa have really been for a long time (lit. since before) preached in all lands and read every Saturday in the prayer-houses of our (incl.) tribe.'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “These are the only rules that Moses left behind that we should have them carry out. Now the reason that we should have them carry these out is so that the Jews won’t be disgusted with them because we know that beginning with a long time ago, each Saturday, the Jews read in their churches the written law which Moses left behind. And they teach these things also in every town.'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Because all Jews know these laws, because starting-from long ago, they have read-aloud every-Saturday the law of Moses in all our synagogues. Therefore let them (lit. even if they) obey these lest the feelings (lit. mind/thoughts) of the Jews be hurt,’ Santiago said.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “It is good if they will follow/obey these things which we are saying so that the mind/thinking won’t be agitated of their brethren, the Jews, who have believed. For as for these things, they won’t quickly/easily be removed from their minds. For from long ago until our time now, each Day of Rest, in all of their towns, the laws of Moises are read and taught in the worship-places.'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)

Moses

The name that is transliterated as “Moses” in English is signed in Spanish Sign Language in accordance with the depiction of Moses in the famous statue by Michelangelo (see here). (Source: John Elwode in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 78ff.)


“Moses” in Spanish Sign Language (source)

Another depiction in Spanish Sign Language (source: Carlos Moreno Sastre):

The horns that are visible in Michelangelo’s statue are based on a passage in the Latin Vulgate translation (and many Catholic Bible translations that were translated through the 1950ies with that version as the source text). Jerome, the translator, had worked from a Hebrew text without the niqquds, the diacritical marks that signify the vowels in Hebrew and had interpreted the term קרו (k-r-n) in Exodus 34:29 as קֶ֫רֶן — keren “horned,” rather than קָרַו — karan “radiance” (describing the radiance of Moses’ head as he descends from Mount Sinai).

Even at the time of his translation, Jerome likely was not the only one making that decision as this recent article alludes to.