mercy

The Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin terms that are typically translated as “mercy” (or “compassion” or “kindness”) in English are translated in various ways. Bratcher / Nida classify them in (1) those based on the quality of heart, or other psychological center, (2) those which introduce the concept of weeping or extreme sorrow, (3) those which involve willingness to look upon and recognize the condition of others, or (4) those which involve a variety of intense feelings.

While the English mercy originates from the Latin merces, originally “price paid,” Romance languages (Italian, Spanish, Corsican, Catalan) and other Germanic languages (German, Swedish, DanishBarmherzigkeit, barmhärtighet and barmhjertighed, respectively) tend to follow the Latin misericordia, lit. “misery-heart.”

Here are some other (back-) translations:

See also steadfast love.

love (for God)

Nida (1952, p. 125ff.) reports on different translation of the Greek and Hebrew terms that are translated as “love” when referring to loving God:

“The Toro So Dogon people on the edge of the Sahara in French West Africa speak of ‘love for God’ as ‘to put God in our hearts.’ This does not mean that God can be contained wholly within the heart of a man, but the Eternal does live within the hearts of men by His Holy Spirit, and it is only love which prompts the soul to ‘put God in the heart.’

“The Mitla Zapotec Indians, nestled in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, describe ‘love’ in almost opposite words. Instead of putting God into one’s own heart, they say, ‘my heart goes away with God.’ Both the Toro So Dogon and the Zapotecs are right. There is a sense in which God dwells within us, and there is also a sense in which our hearts are no longer our own. They belong to Him, and the object of affection is not here on earth, but as pilgrims with no certain abiding place we long for that fuller fellowship of heaven itself.

“The Uduks seem to take a rather superficial view of love, for they speak of it as ‘good to the eye.’ But we must not judge spiritual insight or capacity purely on the basis of idioms. Furthermore, there is a sense in which this idiom is quite correct. In fact the Greek term agapé, which is used primarily with the meaning of love of God and of the Christian community, means essentially ‘to appreciate the worth and value of something.’ It is not primarily the love which arises from association and comradeship (this is philé), but it defines that aspect of love which prompted God to love us when there was no essential worth or value in us, except as we could be remade in the image of His Son. Furthermore, it is the love which must prompt us to see in men and women, still unclaimed for Jesus Christ, that which God can do by the working of His Spirit. This is the love which rises higher than personal interests and goes deeper than sentimental attachment. This is the basis of the communion of the saints.

“Love may sometimes be described in strong, powerful terms. The Miskitos of the swampy coasts of eastern Nicaragua and Honduras say that ‘love’ is ‘pain of the heart.’ There are joys which become so intense that they seem to hurt, and there is love which so dominates the soul that its closest emotion seems to be pain. The Tzotzils, living in the cloud-swept mountains of Chiapas in southern Mexico, describe love in almost the same way as the Miskitos. They say it is ‘to hurt in the heart.’ (…)

“The Q’anjob’al Indians of northern Guatemala have gone even a step further. They describe love as ‘my soul dies.’ Love is such that, without experiencing the joy of union with the object of our love, there is a real sense in which ‘the soul dies.’ A man who loves God according to the Conob idiom would say ‘my soul dies for God.’ This not only describes the powerful emotion felt by the one who loves, but it should imply a related truth—namely, that in true love there is no room for self. The man who loves God must die to self. True love is of all emotions the most unselfish, for it does not look out for self but for others. False love seeks to possess; true love seeks to be possessed. False love leads to cancerous jealousy; true love leads to a life-giving ministry.” (Source: Nida 1952)

In Mairasi, the term that is used for love for God, by God and for people is the same: “desire one’s face.” (source: Enggavoter 2004)

In Ogea the word for “love” is “die for someone.” (Source: Sandi Colburn in Holzhausen 1991, p. 22)

steadfast love

The Hebrew that is translated as “steadfast love,” “lovingkindness” or similar in English is translated in Vidunda as “love of enduring.” (Source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext)

In Bura-Pabir it is translated as hyirkur na a palidzi wa or “love which not [can] be-changed not.” (Source: Andy Warren-Rothlin)

In Pijin tinghevi long or “think heavy about” is used. “The Pijin expression ‘think heavy about’ is very much within the domain of committed relationships. The relationship between father and child, husband and wife, God and His people. There is a very strong element of ‘loyalty’ in this expression.” (Source: Bob Carter)

See also mercy.

Translation commentary on Deuteronomy 5:10

Showing steadfast love: the Hebrew verb translated showing is literally “doing,” better translated “acting with….” This is the first occurrence in this book of the noun chesed, which appears frequently in the Hebrew Scriptures. When used of God it refers to God’s covenant love, God’s faithfulness in keeping his promise to the people of Israel, to be their God and to bless them. It is variously translated: New Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh has “kindness,” which does not seem adequate; something like “love” (Good News Translation, New International Version, Biblia Dios Habla Hoy), “faithful [or, loyal] love,” or “unchanging love” is better. Revised English Bible has “I keep faith with.” See 7.9, 12. For a comment on love see 4.37.

To thousands: it is better to follow Good News Translation “to thousands of generations,” or New Revised Standard Version and New Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh “to the thousandth generation” (also Bible en français courant, Nova Tradução na Linguagem de Hoje, Biblia Dios Habla Hoy). See 7.9.

Who love me and keep my commandments: see 4.2.

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on Deuteronomy. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 2000. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .