desert, wilderness

The Greek that is translated as “desert” or “wilderness” in English is translated in a number of ways:

Note that in Luke 15:4, usually a term is used that denotes pastoral land, such as “eating/grazing-place” in Tagbanwa (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation).

See also wilderness and desolate wilderness.

living oracles, living words

The Greek that is translated as “living oracles” or “living words” or similar in English is translated in the following ways:

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Acts 7:38)

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 inclusive form (including Stephen and his listeners).

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


The Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic that is translated as “angel” in English versions is translated in many ways:

  • Pintupi-Luritja: ngaṉka ngurrara: “one who belongs in the sky” (source: Ken Hansen quoted in Steven 1984a, p. 116.)
  • Shipibo-Conibo: “word-carrier from heaven”
  • Tetela, Kpelle, Balinese, and Mandarin Chinese: “heavenly messenger”
  • Shilluk / Igede: “spirit messenger”
  • Mashco Piro: “messenger of God”
  • Batak Toba: “envoy, messenger”
  • Navajo: “holy servant” (source for this and above: Bratcher / Nida 1961; Igede: Andy Warren-Rothlin)
  • Central Mazahua: “God’s worker” (source: Ronald D. Olson in Notes on Translation January, 1968, p. 15ff.)
  • Saramaccan: basia u Masa Gaangadu köndë or “messenger from God’s country” (source: Jabini 2015, p. 86)
  • Mairasi: atatnyev nyaa or “sent-one” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • Shipibo-Conibo: “word bringer” (source: James Lauriault in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 32ff. )
  • Apali: “God’s one with talk from the head” (“basically God’s messenger since head refers to any leader’s talk”) (source: Martha Wade)
  • Michoacán Nahuatl: “clean helper of God” (source: B. Moore / G. Turner in Notes on Translation 1967, p. 1ff.)
  • Nyongar: Hdjin-djin-kwabba or “spirit good” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • Wè Northern (Wɛɛ): Kea ‘a “sooa or “the Lord’s soldier” (also: “God’s soldier” or “his soldier”) (source: Drew Maust)
  • Iwaidja: “a man sent with a message” (Sam Freney explains the genesis of this term [in this article): “For example, in Darwin last year, as we were working on a new translation of Luke 2:6–12 in Iwaidja, a Northern Territory language, the translators had written ‘angel’ as ‘a man with eagle wings’. Even before getting to the question of whether this was an accurate term (or one that imported some other information in), the word for ‘eagle’ started getting discussed. One of the translators had her teenage granddaughter with her, and this word didn’t mean anything to her at all. She’d never heard of it, as it was an archaic term that younger people didn’t use anymore. They ended up changing the translation of ‘angel’ to something like ‘a man sent with a message’, which is both more accurate and clear.”)

See also angel (Acts 12:15) and this devotion on YouVersion .

complete verse (Acts 7:38)

Following are a number of back-translations of Acts 7:38:

  • Uma: “Musa was the one who cared-for the people the Israel in the wilderness. He was the one who heard the words of the angel who spoke to him on top of Mount Sinai, and he became the mediator who announced those words to our ancestors long ago. He is the one who received from the Lord God the living words that have been announced to us down to this time.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “It was this Musa,’ Estepan said, ‘who was there together with our (incl.) forefathers in that lonely place. And he was there also with the angel who spoke to him on the mountain Turusina. It was he who received from God the words of God that give life in order that he could give them to us (incl.).” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Now when our ancestors were gathered together there in the land where there is no one living, it was through Moses that our ancestors talked to the angel of God there on the mountain which is called Sinai. And Moses received there the indestructible words of God so that he might also give it to us.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “When moreover our ancestors gathered in the place with no inhabitants at the mountain Sinai, it was Moses to whom an angel talked, and he received the written words of God which give life so that we would in-turn-have-charge-of-them.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “And when our ancestors were standing at Mount Sinai there in the wilderness place, this Moises was indeed the one spoken to by the Angel of God. He was entrusted with (lit. caused to hold) the words of God which can never be removed which he was wanting/intending to be told to us.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)

Translation commentary on Acts 7:38

In order to make it obvious what “assembly” is referred to by the expression “in the assembly in the desert” the Good News Translation has translated the people of Israel assembled in the desert. Phillips is confusing in employing “in that church in the desert…”; and most other translations have not done much by way of improvement.

According to the Hebrew text it was the Lord himself who gave Moses the Law, but later Jewish tradition introduced an angel as a mediator, thus maintaining God’s distinctiveness and separateness from the world. Even though Phillips has evidently tried to capture the flavor of the tense of the participle “the angel who used to talk with him,” it is doubtful if Luke intends for his readers to look upon the conversation between Moses and the angel as an habitual action in past time.

It is important to indicate that the pronoun he of verse 38 refers to Moses. Unless one is careful, the reference may be to the prophet who was to come.

The term assembled is in some languages translated as “came together,” but in other languages it is more equivalent to “who formed a large group.”

God’s living messages is literally “living oracles.” An “oracle” means “a message from God.” This phrase is translated variously: “words of life” (Jerusalem Bible), “living oracles” (Revised Standard Version), “oracles of life” (New American Bible), “living utterances of God” (New English Bible), “living words” (Phillips and Moffatt), and “utterances that still live” (An American Translation*). In this context living seems to mean that these words are enduring or lasting. If one assumes that living refers to the contents of the message, then one may translate as “message concerning how one is to live.” This interpretation is, however, much less satisfactory than living as an expression of an enduring quality, for example, “a message which continues” or “a message which lasts always.”

Quoted with permission from Newman, Barclay M. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on The Acts of the Apostles. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1972. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .