gospel

In choosing a word for the Greek that is typically translated as “gospel” in English, a number of languages construct a phrase meaning “good news,” “joyful report” or “happiness-bringing words.” In some instances such a phrase may be slightly expanded in order to convey the proper meaning, e.g. “new good word” (Tzotzil), or it may involve some special local usage, e.g. “good story” (Navajo), “joyful telling” (Tausug), “joyful message” (Toraja-Sa’dan) (source for this and all above: Bratcher / Nida), or “message of God” (Shilluk) (source: Nida 1964, p. 237)

Vitaly Voinov tells this story about the translation into Rutul:

“In Rutul, it was only during the most recent consultant checking session that I realized that the Rutul word for Gospel – Incir (from Arabic إنجيل — Injil) — sounds and looks exactly like the word that means ‘fig’ in Rutul. This is a case of homonymy, in which two completely non-related words from differing historical sources have come to sound exactly alike. Most Rutul speakers know that incir means ‘fig’ because they grow this fruit in their yard or buy it at the market every week. However, because the religious sphere of discourse was heavily disparaged during the Soviet era, most people simply never encountered Incir with the meaning of ‘Gospel.’ This meaning of the word, which Rutuls of the pre-Soviet era knew from the Koran, simply fell into disuse and never had much reason for returning into contemporary Rutul since there is no Christian church established among the people. So if the translator continues to use the term Incir as the rendering for ‘Gospel,’ he runs the risk that most readers will, at best, read the word with a smile because they know that it also means ‘fig,’ and, at worst, will completely misunderstand the word. The seemingly ‘easy’ solution in this case is for the translator to use a Rutul neologism meaning ‘Joyful Message’ or ‘Good News,’ [see above] instead of Incir; but in fact it is not all that easy to make this change if the translator himself insists on using the historical word because at least some Rutuls still understand it as meaning ‘Gospel.’ This is a situation in which the translation team has to gradually grow into the understanding that a fully intelligible translation of Scripture is preferable to one that maintains old words at the cost of alienating much of the readership.”

gentiles

The Greek that is often translated as “gentiles” in English is often translated as a “local equivalent of ‘foreigners,'” such “the people of other lands” (Guerrero Amuzgo), “people of other towns” (Tzeltal), “people of other languages” (San Miguel El Grande Mixtec), “strange peoples” (Navajo) (this and above, see Bratcher / Nida), “outsiders” (Ekari), “people of foreign lands” (Kannada), “non-Jews” (Inupiaq), “people being-in-darkness” (a figurative expression for people lacking cultural or religious insight) (Toraja-Sa’dan) (source for this and three above Reiling / Swellengrebel), “from different places all people” (Martu Wangka) (source: Carl Gross).

complete verse (Ephesians 3:6)

Following are a number of back-translations of Ephesians 3:6:

  • Uma: “Long ago, there was an intention of God that was not yet known by mankind. His intention was this: that people who are not Yahudi people also get blessings from God together with the Yahudi people. His intention also was that those who are not Yahudi people become one-body with the Yahudi, and that they as well receive what God promised to all his children. They receive it because of their connection with Kristus Yesus, since they have believed in the Good News. Long ago, that intention of God’s for the Yahudi people and those who are not Yahudi people was not yet known by mankind. But God himself told me that intention of his in a vision, like what I have already written earlier. What I wrote, although it is short, it makes clear God’s intention that Kristus brought to pass. And when you read it, you will understand the intention of God that was not yet known by mankind from long ago, as I also understand it. Previously, his intention was not announced to men. But at this time, God’s intention has become clear to us (excl.) his holy apostles and prophets, because the Holy Spirit made it clear to us (excl.).” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “This is what God had planned (which) he made known to us (excl.), that you the non Yahudi are now included with us (excl.) the Yahudi in God’s blessings and you are now included in Almasi’s body, that means with the ones trusting in him. And all that God has promised belongs to you also because you have believed-obeyed the good news.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “I’ll explain to you this which was hidden long ago, that as for you who are not Jews, by means of your believing the Good News, you are also blessed by God with all of the good things that He will bless the Jews with. You are included also in the body of Christ and you will receive the promises of God because of your being made one with Jesus Christ.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “And this is what he made-known. Because of your believing in the good news, you who are Gentiles join-in-experiencing the many blessings of God that we (excl.) Jews benefit-from and you are counted-in-with all believers who can-be-compared to Cristo’s body. You will also have-a-share in what God promised he would give to all who are joined to Cristo Jesus.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Well now, this then is the determined-plan I mean, that the people who are not Jews, by their accepting this Good News, they can be the same as the Jews in that they now have a share in this unsurpassable grace/mercy coming from God. They are also joined to the single-body-entity which is the body of Cristo Jesus, and because of their being united/tied-together with him, they also will receive all the good that God has promised.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “This word which was not known is this word here: Now, not only the Jews have part in the blessing of God. Rather also the people who are not Jews have part in the blessing of God when they believe the good news. Now all became the people of God. Because they have part in the good which God promised to give to those people who believed in Jesus Christ.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

Jesus

The Greek Iēsous is “only” a proper name but one with great importance. The following quote by John Ellington (in The Bible Translator 1993, p. 401ff.) illustrates this:

“In Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus Christ, Joseph is told that when Mary gives birth to a son ‘you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins’ (1:21). This name is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name [Yeshua (יֵשׁוּעַ) which is a short form of a name meaning] ‘the Lord [Yahweh] saves.’ The name is very significant and is in itself especially dear to Christians around the world. (…) Unquestionably great importance is attached to the name of Jesus by Christians of all persuasions and backgrounds.”

While Iēsous (pronounced: /i.ɛː.suːs/) is transliterated as “Jesus” (pronounced /ˈdʒiːzəs/) in English it is transliterated and pronounced in a large variety of other ways as well, following the different rules of different languages’ orthographies, writing systems and rules of pronunciation. The following is a (very partial) list of forms of Jesus in Latin characters: Chesús, Ciisusu, Gesù, Gesû, Gesü, Ġesù, Giêsu, Hesu, Hesús, Iesu, Ihu, Íosa, Ìosa, Isus, Isus, Isus, Isuthi, Îtu, Jasus, Jeesus, Jeesus, Jehu, Jeso, Jesús, Jésus, Jezi, Jézi, Ježiš, Jezus, Jézus, Jėzus, Jēzus, Jezusi, Jėzus, Jezuz, Jisos, Jisọs, Jisas, Jisu, Sisa, uJesu, ŵaYesu, Xesosi, ´Xesús, Ya:su, Yēēsu, Yeso, Yésʉs, Yexus, Yezo, Yezu, Yiisu, Yiitju, Yisufa, Yusu, Zîsɛ, Zjezus, and this (equally incomplete) list with other writings systems: ᔩᓱᓯ, Յիսուս, ᏥᏌ, ኢየሱስ, ܝܫܘܥ, Ісус, 耶稣, იესო, ईसा, イエス, 예수, येशू, യേശു, ජේසුස්, যীশু, ‘ঈছা, இயேசு, ఏసు, เยซู, យេស៊ូ, يَسُوعَ (note that some of these might not display correctly if your computer does not have the correct fonts installed).

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In some languages the different confessions have selected different transliterations, such as in Belarusian with Isus (Ісус) by the Orthodox and Protestant churches and Yezus (Езус) by the Catholic church, Japanese with Iesu (イエス) (Protestant and Catholic) and Iisusu (イイスス) (Orthodox), or Lingala with Yesu (Protestant) or Yezu (Catholic). These differences have come to the forefront especially during the work on interconfessional translations such as one in Lingala where “many hours were spent on a single letter difference” (source: Ellington, p. 401).

In Chinese where transliterations of proper names between the Catholic and Protestant versions typically differ vastly, the Chinese name of Jesus (Yēsū 耶稣) remarkably was never brought into question between and by those two confessions, likely due to its ingenious choice. (Click or tap here to see more).

The proper name of God in the Old Testament, Yahweh (YHWH), is rendered in most Chinese Bible translations as Yēhéhuá 耶和華 — Jehovah. According to Chinese naming conventions, Yēhéhuá could be interpreted as Yē Héhuá, in which would be the family name and Héhuá — “harmonic and radiant” — the given name. In the same manner, 耶 would be the family name of Jesus and 稣 would be his given name. Because in China the children inherit the family name from the father, the sonship of Jesus to God the Father, Jehovah, would be illustrated through this. Though this line of argumentation sounds theologically unsound, it is indeed used effectively in the Chinese church (see Wright 1953, p. 298).

Moreover, the “given name” of 稣 carries the meaning ‘to revive, to rise again’ and seems to point to the resurrected Jesus. (Source: J. Zetzsche in Malek 2002, p. 141ff., see also tetragrammaton (YHWH))

There are different ways that Bible translators have chosen historically and today in how to translate the name of Jesus in predominantly Muslim areas: with a form of the Arabic Isa (عيسى) (which is used for “Jesus” in the Qur’an), the Greek Iēsous, or, like major 20th century Bible translations into Standard Arabic, the Aramaic Yēšūaʿ: Yasua (يَسُوعَ). (Click or tap here to see more.)

Following are languages and language groups that use a form of Isa include the following (note that this list is not complete):

In German the name Jesus (pronounced: /ˈjeːzʊs/) is distinguished by its grammatical forms. Into the 20th century the grammatical rules prescribed a unique Greek-Latin declination: Jesus (nominative), Jesu (genitive, dative, vocative), Jesum (accusative), from which today only the genitive case “Jesu” is still in active use.

In Lamba the name ŵaYesu consists of a transliteration Yesu and the prefix ŵa, a plural form for “proper names when addressing and referring to persons in any position of seniority or honor.” While this was avoided in early translations to avoid possible misunderstandings of more than one Jesus, once the church was established it was felt that it was both “safe” and respectful to use the honorific (plural) prefix. (Source C. M. Doke in The Bible Translator 1958, p. 57ff.)

Translation: German

Auf Deutsch wird der Name Jesus (ausgesprochen: /ˈjeːzʊs/) durch dessen grammatikalische Formen hervorgehoben. Bis ins 20. Jahrhundert schrieben die grammatikalischen Regeln eine nur hier verwendete Griechisch/Lateinsche Misch-Deklination vor: Jesus (Nominativ), Jesu (Genitiv, Dativ, Vokativ) und Jesum (Akkusativ), von welchen heute nur noch der Genitiv-Kasus „Jesu“ aktiv verwendet wird.

Translator: Jost Zetzsche