In the instances where the Greek New Testament says Christos Iēsous (Χριστὸς Ἰησοῦς) rather than the more common Iēsous Christos and English translations typically translate as “Christ Jesus,” the Bokyi translation says Jisos Karâs or “Jesus Christ.”
“Bokyi is a rather small language in the Cross River State of Nigeria. In one Bokyi village named Bansan the oldest man’s name is Otu Obyi. There is another man in another Bokyi village named Obyi Otu. Even though these two men share the same names every Bokyi person knows that they are two different people because of the order in which their names are used.
“If you are a translator and your language uses this same method of naming people, you can not sometimes write Jesus Christ in your translation and sometimes write Christ Jesus, and still refer to the same person. It will refer to two different people. You should always write Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus, but not both. You will have to decide which order is the most natural in your language.”
The Greek that is translated as “all generations” in English is rendered “all people in all time” (Sranan Tongo), “all descendants of man” (Apache), “all those-who-will-be-being-born as-time-goes-on” (Navajo).
The Greek that is typically translated as “eternity,” “forever,” or “forever and ever” in English are translated in Mairasi as “mashed out infinitely.” Lloyd Peckham explains: “Bark cloth required pounding. It got longer and wider as it got pounded. Similarly, life gets pounded or mashed to lengthen it into infinity. Tubers also get mashed into the standard way of serving the staple food, like the fufu of Uganda, or like poi of Hawaii. It spreads out into infinity.” (Source: Lloyd Peckham)
In Lisu the phrase “forever and ever” is translated as ꓕꓲꓽ ꓞꓲꓼ ꓕꓲ ꓑ — thi tsi thi pa, verbatim translated as “one – lifetime – one – world.” This construction follows a traditional four-couplet construct in oral Lisu poetry that is usually in the form ABAC or ABCB. (Source: Arrington 2020, p. 57f.)
Following are a number of back-translations of Ephesians 3:21:
Uma: “That is why it is fitting that we make his name big because of his love to us who believe him. Praise him with the name of Kristus Yesus, from now until forever. Amin.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
Yakan: “Let us (incl.) praise God, all of us (incl.) who trust in Isa Almasi. Let us (incl.) praise God because of Isa Almasi forever without end. Amin.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
Western Bukidnon Manobo: “May He be praised by means of all of us, His believers, and by means of Jesus Christ, today and without end.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
Kankanaey: “May it be that all we who believe praise him and that he also be praised because of Cristo Jesus. May it be that God be praised forever. Amen.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
Tagbanwa: “Yes indeed, (let us) praise him without end for ever because of his praiseworthiness which can be observed in all who are his people and can also be observed in Cristo Jesus. This is the truth.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
Tenango Otomi: “All those who believe in Jesus Christ, let us praise God forever. Amen.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
If the Hebrew or (the transliterated) Greek “Amen” (as part of a prayer) is not transliterated it can also be translated into expressions such as “that is just the way it is” (Huichol), “that’s it” (Shilluk), “may it be thus” (Tzeltal) (source: Bratcher / Nida), or “Let those things thus be” (Kituba) (source: Donald Deer in The Bible Translator 1973, p. 207ff. ).
In Mairasi the translation is aniaut aug or “it’s a tuberful dig.” The preface to Enggavoter 2004 explains: “Truth is like a tuber [sweet potatoes, taro, cassava, yams]. We Mairasi have tubers as our standard food. The leaves are visible above ground. But we planted the plant so that it would produce tubers, but those are beneath the ground. So the vocabulary about ‘truth’ and ‘produce’ or ‘fruit’ is based on words for ‘tubers.’ For example: the word for ‘Amen’ ‘it’s a tuberful dig’ [also used for ‘verily’ or ‘definitely’] has its story like this: We see the leaves of the sweet potato but we do not know: the question is ‘Are there tubers or not?.’ So we dig then we see tubers. Therefore we say that ani ‘dig’ was aut ‘with tubers,’ which is ‘Aniaut!‘ ‘Definitely true!'”
In Huba it is translated as Aɗǝmja or “let it be so.” David Frank (in this blog post ) explains: “Whenever there were persistent problems such as a drought, or a rash of sickness or death, the king (or his religious advisor) would set aside a day and call on everyone to prepare food, such as the traditional mash made from sorghum, or perhaps even goat. The food had to be put together outside. The king or his religious advisor would give an address stating what the problem was and what they were doing about it. Then an elder representing the people would take a handful of that food and throw it, probably repeating that action several times, until it was considered to be enough to atone for all the misfortune they had been having. With this action he was ‘shooting (or casting off) misfortune’ to restore well-being to his people. As he threw the food, he would say that this is to remove the misfortune that had fallen on his people, and everybody would respond by saying aɗǝmja, ‘let it be so.’ People could eat some of this food, but they could not bring the food into their houses, because that would mean that they were bringing misfortune into their house. There is still a minority of people in this linguistic and cultural group that practices the traditional religion, but the shooting of misfortune is no longer practiced, and the term ‘shoot misfortune’ is used now in Bible translation to refer to offering a sacrifice. Aɗǝmja is how they translate ‘amen.'”
“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).
In American Sign Language, “church” (as in the community of believers) is made up of the combination of the signs for “Jesus-into-heart” (signifying a believer), followed by the sign for “group.” (Source: RuthAnna Spooner, Ron Lawer)
While British Sign Language also uses a sign that focuses on a group of people believing in Jesus (see here ), another sign that it uses combines the signs for “ringing the (church) bells” and a “group of people.” (Source: Anna Smith)
“Church” in British Sign Language (source: Christian BSL, used with permission)
The Greek Christos (Χρηστός) is typically transliterated when it appears together with Iésous (Ἰησοῦς) (Jesus). In English the transliteration is the Anglicized “Christ,” whereas in many other languages it is based on the Greek or Latin as “Kristus,” “Cristo,” or similar.
When used as a descriptive term in the New Testament — as it’s typically done in the gospels (with the possible exceptions of for instance John 1:17 and 17:3) — Christos is seen as the Greek translation of the Hebrew mashiaḥ (המשיח) (“anointed”). Accordingly, a transliteration of mashiaḥ is used, either as “Messiah” or based on the Greek or Latin as a form of “Messias.”
This transliteration is also used in the two instances where the Greek term Μεσσίας (Messias) is used in John 1:41 and 4:25.
In some languages and some translations, the term “Messiah” is supplemented with an explanation. Such as in the GermanGute Nachricht with “the Messiah, the promised savior” (Wir haben den Messias gefunden, den versprochenen Retter) or in Muna with “Messiah, the Saving King” (Mesias, Omputo Fosalamatino) (source: René van den Berg).
In predominantly Muslim areas or for Bible translations for a Muslim target group, Christos is usually transliterated from the Arabic al-Masih (ٱلْمَسِيحِ) — “Messiah.” In most cases, this practice corresponds with languages that also use a form of the Arabic Isa (عيسى) for Jesus (see Jesus). There are some exceptions, though, including modern translations in Arabic which use Yasua (يَسُوعَ) (coming from the Aramaic Yēšūa’) alongside a transliteration of al-Masih, Hausa which uses Yesu but Almahisu, and some Fula languages (Adamawa Fulfulde, Nigerian Fulfulde, and Central-Eastern Niger Fulfulde) which also use a form of Iésous (Yeesu) but Almasiihu (or Almasiifu) for Christos.
Binumarien: Anutuna: originally a term that was used for a man that was blessed by elders for a task by the laying on of hands (source: Desmond Oatridges, Holzhausen 1991, p. 49f.)
Nyongar: Keny Boolanga-Yira Waangki-Koorliny: “One God is Sending” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
Uab Meto: Neno Anan: “Son of heaven” P. Middelkoop explains: “The idea of heavenly power bestowed on a Timorese king is rendered in the title Neno Anan. It is based on the historical fact that chiefs in general came from overseas and they who come thence are believed to have come down from heaven, from the land beyond the sea, that means the sphere of God and the ghosts of the dead. The symbolical act of anointing has been made subservient to the revelation of an eternal truth and when the term Neno Anan is used as a translation thereof, it also is made subservient to a new revelation of God in Jesus Christ. The very fact that Jesus came from heaven makes this translation hit the mark.” (Source: P. Middelkoop in The Bible Translator 1953, p. 183ff. )
In Finnish Sign Language both “Christ” and “Messiah” are translated with sign signifying “king.” (Source: Tarja Sandholm)
“Christ / Messiah” in Finnish Sign Language (source )
Law (2013, p. 97) writes about how the Ancient GreekSeptuagint‘s translation of the Hebrew mashiah was used by the New Testament writers as a bridge between the Old and New Testaments (click or tap here to read more):
“Another important word in the New Testament that comes from the Septuagint is christos, ‘Christ.’ Christ is not part of the name of the man from Nazareth, as if ‘the Christs’ were written above the door of his family home. Rather, ‘Christ’ is an explicitly messianic title used by the writers of the New Testament who have learned this word from the Septuagint’s translation of the Hebrew mashiach, ‘anointed,’ which itself is often rendered in English as ‘Messiah.’ To be sure, one detects a messianic intent on the part of the Septuagint translator in some places. Amos 4:13 may have been one of these. In the Hebrew Bible, God ‘reveals his thoughts to mortals,’ but the Septuagint has ‘announcing his anointed to humans.’ A fine distinction must be made, however, between theology that was intended by the Septuagint translators and that developed by later Christian writers. In Amos 4:13 it is merely possible we have a messianic reading, but it is unquestionably the case that the New Testament writers exploit the Septuagint’s use of christos, in Amos and elsewhere, to messianic ends.”
God transcends gender, but most languages are limited to grammatical gender expressed in pronouns. In the case of English, this is traditionally confined to “he” (or in the forms “his,” “him,” and “himself”), “she” (and “her,” “hers,” and “herself”), and “it” (and “its” and “itself”).
Modern Mandarin Chinese, however, offers another possibility. Here, the third-person singular pronoun is always pronounced the same (tā), but it is written differently according to its gender (他 is “he,” 她 is “she,” and 它/牠 is “it” and their respective derivative forms). In each of these characters, the first (or upper) part defines the gender (man, woman, or thing/animal), while the second element gives the clue to its pronunciation.
In 1930, after a full century with dozens of Chinese translations, Bible translator Wang Yuande (王元德) coined a new “godly” pronoun: 祂. Chinese readers immediately knew how to pronounce it: tā. But they also recognized that the first part of that character, signifying something spiritual, clarified that each person of the Trinity has no gender aside from being God.
While the most important Protestant and Catholic Chinese versions respectively have opted not to use 祂, some Bible translations do and it is widely used in hymnals and other Christian materials. Among the translations that use 祂 to refer to “God” were early versions of Lü Zhenzhong’s (呂振中) version (New Testament: 1946, complete Bible: 1970). R.P. Kramers (in The Bible Translator 1956, p. 152ff.) explains why later versions of Lü’s translation did not continue with this practice: “This new way of writing ‘He,’ however, has created a minor problem of its own: must this polite form be used whenever Jesus is referred to? Lü follows the rule that, wherever Jesus is referred to as a human being, the normal ta (他) is written; where he is referred to as divine, especially after the ascension, the reverential ta (祂) is used.”
In that system one kind of pronoun is used for humans (male and female alike) and one for natural elements, non-liquid masses, and some spiritual entities (one other is used for large animals and another one for miscellaneous items). While in these languages the pronoun for spiritual entities used to be employed when referring to God, this has changed into the use of the human pronoun.
Lynell Zogbo (in The Bible Translator 1989, p. 401ff) explains in the following way: “From informal discussions with young Christians especially, it would appear that, at least for some people, the experience and/or concepts of Christianity are affecting the choice of pronoun for God. Some people explain that God is no longer ‘far away,’ but is somehow tangible and personal. For these speakers God has shifted over into the human category.”
In Kouya, God (the Father) and Jesus are referred to with the human pronoun ɔ, whereas the Holy Spirit is referred to with a non-human pronoun. (Northern Grebo and Western Krahn make a similar distinction.)
Eddie Arthur, a former Kouya Bible translation consultant, says the following: “We tried to insist that this shouldn’t happen, but the Kouya team members were insistent that the human pronoun for the Spirit would not work.”
In Burmese, the pronoun ko taw (ကိုယ်တော်) is used either as 2nd person (you) or 3rd person (he, him, his) reference. “This term clearly has its root in the religious language in Burmese. No ordinary persons are addressed or known by this pronoun because it is reserved for Buddhist monks, famous religious teachers, and in the case of Christianity, the Trinity.” (Source: Gam Seng Shae in The Bible Translator 2002, p. 202ff.)
In Thai, the pronoun phra`ong (พระองค์) is used, a gender-neutral pronoun which must refer to a previously introduced royal or divine being. Similarly, in Northern Khmer, which is spoken in Thailand, “an honorific divine pronoun” is used for the pronoun referring to the persons of the Trinity (source: David Thomas in The Bible Translator 1993, p. 445). In Urak Lawoi’, another language spoken in Thailand, the translation often uses tuhat (ตูฮัด) — “God” — ”as a divine pronoun where Thai has phra’ong even though it’s actually a noun.” (Source for Thai and Urak Lawoi’: Stephen Pattemore)
The English “Contemporary Torah” addresses the question of God and gendered pronouns by mostly avoiding pronouns in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (unless God is referred to as “lord,” “father,” “king,” or “warrior”). It does that by either using passive constructs (“He gave us” vs. “we were given”), by using the adjective “divine” or by using “God” rather than a pronoun.
Some Protestant English Bibles use a referential capitalized spelling when referring to the persons of the Trinity with “He,” “His,” “Him,” or “Himself.” This includes for instance the New American Standard Bible, but most translations, especially those published in the 21st century, do not. Two other languages where this is also done (in most Bible translations) are the closely related Indonesian and Malay. In both languages this follows the language usage according to the Qur’an, which in turn predicts that usage (see Soesilo in The Bible Translator 1991, p. 442ff. and The Bible Translator 1997, p. 433ff. ).
See also this chapter in the World Atlas of Language Structures on different approaches to personal pronouns.