The Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek that are typically translated as “priest” in English (itself deriving from Latin “presbyter” — “elder”) is often translated with a consideration of existing religious traditions. (Click or tap for details)
Bratcher / Nida (1961) say this:
“However, rather than borrow local names for priests, some of which have unwanted connotations, a number of translations have employed descriptive phrases based on certain functions: (1) those describing a ceremonial activity: Pamona uses tadu, the priestess who recites the litanies in which she describes her journey to the upper or under-world to fetch life-spirit for sick people, animals or plants; Batak Toba uses the Arabic malim, ‘Muslim religious teacher;’ ‘one who presents man’s sacrifice to God’ (Bambara, Eastern Maninkakan), ‘one who presents sacrifices’ (Baoulé, Navajo), ‘one who takes the name of the sacrifice’ (Kpelle, and ‘to make a sacrifice go out’ (Hausa); (2) those describing an intermediary function: ‘one who speaks to God’ (Shipibo-Conibo) and ‘spokesman of the people before God’ (Tabasco Chontal).”
In Obolo it is translated as ogwu ngwugwa or “the one who offers sacrifice” (source: Enene Enene), in Mairasi as agam aevar nevwerai: “religious leader” (source: Enggavoter 2004), in Ignaciano as “blesser, one who does ritual as a practice” (using a generic term rather than the otherwise common Spanish loan word sacerdote) (source: Willis Ott in Notes on Translation 88/1982, p. 18ff.), and in Nyongar as yakin-kooranyi or “holy worker” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang).
“The [local] cult of Poro used to be an all-encompassing religious system that essentially governed all areas of life. (…) For ‘priest’ the term ‘poro father’ would at first seem to be a natural choice. However, several priests of the old cult are still living. Although they no longer function primarily as priests of the old system they still have a substantial influence on the community, and there would be more than a chance that the unqualified term would (in some contexts particularly) be equated with the priest of the poro cult. We learned, then, that the poro fathers would sometimes be called ‘knife men’ in relation to their sacrificial work. The panel was pleased to apply this term to the Jewish priest, and the Christian community has adopted it fully. [Mark 1:44, for instance, now] reads: ‘You must definitely not tell any man of this. But you go show your body to the knife man and do what Moses said about a sacrifice concerning your being healed, and the cause (base of this) will be apparent.'”
Bau cha r (បូជាចារ្យ) — The use of this new construction meaning “priest” is maintained to translate the Greek word hiereus. The term “mean sang (មាន សង្ឃ)” used in the old version actually means a “Buddhist monk,” and is felt to be theologically misleading. The Khmer considers the Buddhist monk as a “paddy field of merits,” a reserve of merits to be shared with other people. So a Khmer reader would find unthinkable that the mean sang in the Bible killed animals, the gravest sin for a Buddhist; and what a scandal it would be to say that a mean sang was married, had children, and drank wine.
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:
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)
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)
Click or tap here to see a short video clip about Herod’s temple (source: Bible Lands 2012)Click or tap here to see a short video clip showing synagogues in New Testament times (source: Bible Lands 2012)
Following are a number of back-translations of Acts 4:1:
Uma: “While Petrus and Yohanes were still talking, speaking to the people at the House of God, several priests and Saduki people with the head of the police of the House of God came to meet them.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
Yakan: “While Petros and Yahiya were still speaking to the people, some priests and the captain of the guards of the large prayer-house/temple and Sadduseo went toward them.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And while Peter and John were still speaking to the people, the sacrificers and the captains of the guard there in the church and also the Sadducees came to them.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
Kankanaey: “While Pedro and Juan were still talking to the many-people, there arrived priests, Saducees (loan Sadduceo) and the captain of the Temple police.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
Tagbanwa: “What Pedro and Juan were saying to those people wasn’t yet ended when the priests arrived, together with the leaders of the guards of the Templo and the Saduceo (pl.).” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)