“The word ‘Church’ presents particular difficulties, as we might expect when we think that even many Christians do not understand it correctly. When people today say ‘church,’ they often mean a particular building, or an organization consisting chiefly of clergy (priests and monks). It is even harder to find a word or combination of words which adequately translates the meaning for people unfamiliar with Christianity. Surprisingly, the Greek word ekklesia, indicating in the classical language ‘an assembly of the people,’ ‘a gathering of citizens,’ has come into Avar and other Dagestani languages in the form kilisa. This, like the word qanch (‘cross’), is an ancient borrowing, presumably from the time before the arrival of Islam, when Dagestan came under the influence of neighboring Christian states. In modern usage, however, this word indicates a place of Christian worship. Thus it is completely inappropriate as a translation of its New Testament ancestor ekklesia.
“We were obliged to look at various words which are closer to the meaning of the Greek. Some of these words are dandel’i (‘meeting’), danderussin (‘assembly’), the Arabic-derived mazhlis (‘meeting, conference’), zhama’at (‘society, community’), ahlu (‘race, people, family, group of people united by a common goal or interest’, as in the Arabic phrase ahlu-l-kitab ‘people of the Book’ or ‘people of the Scriptures’), which describes both Jews and Christians, and ummat (‘people, tribe’). In Islamic theology the phrase ‘Mohammed’s ummat’ means the universal community of Muslims, the Muslim world, in the same way as the Christian world is known as ‘Isa’s ummat.’ None of these descriptions on their own, without explanation, can be used to translate the word ‘Church’ in the New Testament. Thus, after long consideration, we adopted the phrase imanl’urazul ahlu, meaning ‘the community of believers,’ ‘the believing people,’ This translation corresponds closely to New Testament teaching about the Church.
“It is interesting that the same word ahlu with the meaning ‘tribe, community’ has been used by translators for different reasons in the introduction to the Gospel of Luke in order to translate the expression in the original Greek pepleroforemenon en hemin pragmaton (πεπληροφορημένων ἐν ἡμῖν πραγμάτων), which the Russian Synodal translation renders ‘about the events well-known amongst us’ (Luke 1:1). The expression ‘amongst us’ cannot be translated literally into Avar, but has to be rendered ‘among our people’; and here the same term was used as for the word ‘church’, literally ‘among our tribe, community (ahlu).'”
In Kamo “church” is fang-balla (“owners of writing-people”) when referring to the church community and “house of writing-people” when referring to a church building. David Frank explains: “In Kamo culture, Christianity was associated with writing, so Christianity is called balla, which they say means ‘people who write.’ Christianity is balla, and Christians are called fang-balla, which means ‘owners of Christianity.’ That is the term that is used for the church, in the sense of people, rather than a building. In Philemon 1:1b-2a, Paul says he is writing ‘To our friend and fellow worker Philemon, and to the church (fang-balla ‘owners of Christianity) that meet in your house.’ The word fang “owner’ is very productive in the Kamo language. A disciple is an ‘owner of learning,’ an apostle is an ‘owner of sending,’ a believer is an ‘owner of truth,’ a hypocrite is an ‘owner of seeing eyes.’ The expression ‘house of writing-people’ is used in Matthew 16:18, which reads in Kamo, ‘And so I tell you Peter, you are a rock, and on top of this rock foundation I will build my house of writing-people, and never even death will not be able to overcome it.” (See also Peter – rock)
In Bacama there also is a differentiation between the building (vɨnə hiutə: “house of prayer”) and the community (ji-kottə: “followers”) (source: David Frank in this blog post ).
In 16th-century Classical Nahuatl, a transliteration from Spanish (Santa Yglesia or Santa Iglesia) is typically used rather than a translation, making the concept take on a personified meaning. Ottman (p. 169) explains: “The church building, or more precisely the church complex with its associated patio, has a Nahuatl name in common usage — generally teopan, something like ‘god-place,’ in contradistinction to teocalli, ‘god-house,’ applied to a prehispanic temple — but the abstract sense is always Santa Iglesia, a Spanish proper name like ‘Dios’ or ‘Santa María’, and like ‘Santa María’ often called ‘our mother.’ As a personified ‘mother,’ in the European tradition as well as in Nahuatl, She instructs Her children or chastises them; as Bride of Christ, She both longs for Her heavenly rest and bears witness to it, in the ‘always-already’ of eschatological time; as successor to the Synagogue, the blindfolded, broken-sceptred elder sister who accompanies Her in painting and sculpture, She represents the triumphant rule of truth. ‘The Church’ can mean the clerical hierarchy; it can also, or simultaneously, mean the assembly of the faithful. It dispenses grace to its members, living and dead, yet it is also enriched by them, living and dead, existing not only on earth but in purgatory and in heaven.”
In Lisu the building (“church”) is called “house of prayer” (source: Arrington 2020, p. 196) whereas in Highland Totonac the community is referred as “those who gather together” (source: Hermann Aschmann in The Bible Translator 1950, p. 171ff. ), in Huehuetla Tepehua as “those who gather together who have confidence in Christ” (source: Waterhouse / Parrott in Notes on Translation October 1967, p. 1ff.), in Uma as “Christian people” (source: Uma Back Translation), in Kankanaey as “the congregation of God’s people” (source: Kankanaey Back Translation), and in Tagbanwa as “you whom God separated-out as his people because of your being-united/tied-together with Jesus Christ” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation).
Following are a number of back-translations of Acts 8:1:
Uma: “Saulus also was glad-about Stefanus being killed. On that day, the believers in the Lord Yesus in Yerusalem began to be persecuted greatly, with the result that they were scattered all over the land of Yudea and Samaria. Only the apostles of Lord Yesus did not flee from Yerusalem.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
Yakan: “Estepan was buried by religious men/persons. They wailed and wept over/because-of him. Just after the death of Estepan, the persecution of the ones trusting in Isa at Awrusalam began. Because of that, all the disciples/adherents of Isa scattered to all the places there in Yahudiya and in the land of Samariya. Only the twelve commissioned ones did not move away from Awrusalam.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Saul was very pleased with the killing of Stephen. Stephen was buried by believers in God. They were grieved very much, and they wept for him. And starting from that day when Stephen died, the believers were ill treated by the Jews in Jerusalem. And the believers ran away and scattered out there in the whole province of Judea and Samaria. The only ones who didn’t run away were the apostles.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
Kankanaey: “That day when-Esteban-died, that was the beginning of an extreme persecution of the congregations of believers in Jerusalem. There were those who consistently-obeyed God’s law who went and buried him (Esteban) while crying-for-him wailing. But Saulo, he approved-of Esteban’s death and was-excessive-in causing-to-be-pitiful those-aforementioned believers so that none should (desired effect) be left. [Plural] Saulo were-entering-and-entering the many-houses while (concurrent action) he-was-causing-the occupants-to-be-dragged to take them to jail. Therefore all who believed, excepting the apostles, they separated-from-each-other to run-away to the many-towns in the provinces Judea and Samaria.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
Tagbanwa: “As for that Saulo, that killing of Esteban pleased him very much. And from that day, he really caused-suffering/persecuted all the believers there in Jerusalem. That’s why, except for the apostles, the believers were then scattered through the whole land of Judea and Samaria.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
The name that is transliterated as “Judah” or “Judea” in English (referring to the son of Jacob, the tribe, and the territory) is translated in Spanish Sign Language as “lion” (referring to Genesis 49:9 and Revelation 5:5) (Source: John Elwode in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 78ff.)