lamb

The term that is translated as “lamb” in English is typically translated as “offspring of a sheep” in Ixcatlán Mazatec since there is no specific word for “lamb.” Since this could distract readers with thoughts of God being the sheep when the “lamb” refers to Jesus the translation into Ixcatlán Mazatec chose “little (individual) sheep” for those cases. (Source: Robert Bascom)

In Dëne Súline the native term for “lamb” directly translated as “the young one of an evil little caribou.” To avoid the negative connotation, a loan word from the neighboring South Slavey was used. (Source: NCAM, p. 70)

For the Kasua translation, it took a long process to find the right term. Rachel Greco (in The PNG Experience ) tells this story:

“To the Kasua people of Western Province, every four-legged animal is a pig. They call a horse a pig-horse, a cow, a pig-cow, and a sheep, a pig-sheep, because all of these animals have four legs, which is kopolo, or pig, in their language.

“When the translation team would translate the word, ‘sheep’ in the New Testament, they would translate it as ‘pig-sheep’. So when Jesus is referred to as the ‘Lamb,’ (John 1:29; Rev. 12:11; Rev. 17:14), they translated as ‘pig-sheep’ so that in John 1:29 it would read: ‘Behold, the pig-sheep of God.’

“When some members of the translation team attended the Translators Training Course, they had the opportunity to observe and study sheep for the first time. As they watched and learned more about the animals’ behavior, their understanding of these creatures—and God’s Word—rotated on its axis.

“Once during the course, Logan and Konni — the translation team’s helpers — were driving with the team to a Bible dedication when Amos, one of the team members, said passionately, ‘We can’t use the word kopolo in front of the word, ‘sheep’! Pigs know when they’re about to die and squeal and scream.’ The team had often watched villagers tie up pigs so they wouldn’t escape.

“’But,’ Amos said, ‘Jesus didn’t do that.’ The team had learned that sheep are quiet and still when death walks toward them. They had observed, as they translated the New Testament, the words of Isaiah 53 fulfilled: ‘Like a lamb led to the slaughter, he did not open his mouth.’ And now they understood what it meant. For this reason, the team decided not to put pig-sheep in the New Testament for the word ‘sheep,’ but used sheep-animal or, in their language, a:pele sipi.

“The Kasua translation team also chose to discard the word ‘pig’ before sheep because pigs are unclean animals to the Jews. The team knew that Jesus was called the ‘Lamb of God’ in the New Testament to show that he is unblemished and clean. Hopefully the Lord will open up the Kasua villagers’ eyes to these same truths about Jesus as they read of Him in their own language.”

See also sheep.

Passover

The Hebrew and Greek pesach/pascha that is typically translated in English as “Passover” (see below) is translated in a variety of descriptive ways of various aspects of the Jewish festival. (Click or tap here to see the rest of this insight):

  • Ojitlán Chinantec: “the feast of the passing by of God’s angel”
  • Lalana Chinantec: “the day would come which is called Passover, when the Israel people remember how they went out of the land of Egypt”
  • Huehuetla Tepehua: “the celebration when they ate their sheep”
  • Umiray Dumaget Agta: “the celebration of the day of their being brought out of bondage”
    (source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
  • Obolo: ijọk Iraraka — “Festival of Passing” (source: Enene Enene)
  • Guhu-Samane: “special day of sparing” (source: Ernest Richert in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 198ff. )
  • Yakan: “The festival of the Isra’il tribe which they call For-Remembering” (source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Wolof: “Festival of the day of Salvation” (“the term ‘pass over’ brings up the image of a person’s crossing over a chasm after death”) (source: Marilyn Escher)
  • Bura-Pabir: vir kucelir fəlɓəla kəi — “time-of happiness-of jumping-over house”
  • Berom: Nzem Gyilsit Nelɔ — “Festival-of jumping-of houses”
  • Nigerian Fulfulde: Humto Ƴaɓɓitaaki / Humto Sakkinki — “Festival-of passing-over”
  • Hausa: Bikin Ƙetarewa — “Festival-of going-over” (source for this and three above: Andy Warren-Rothlin)
  • Jula: “Feast of end of slavery” (source: Fritz Goerling)
  • Bafanji: laiŋzieʼ — “pass-jump over” (source: Cameron Hamm)
  • Tiéyaxo Bozo / Jenaama Bozo: “Salvation/Rescue (religious) feast” (source: Marko Hakkola)
  • Sabaot: Saakweetaab Keeytaayeet — “Festival of Passing-by” (source: Iver Larsen)
  • Language spoken in India and Bangladesh: “Festival of avoidance”
  • Vlax Romani: o ghes o baro le Nakhimasko — “the Day of the Passing”
  • Saint Lucian Creole: Fèt Délivwans — “Feast of Deliverance” (source: David Frank)
  • Finnish: pääsiäinen (“The term is very probably coined during the NT translation process around 1520-1530. It is connected to a multivalent verb päästä and as such refers either to the Exodus (päästä meaning “to get away [from Egypt]”) or to the end of the Lent [päästä referring to get relieved from the limitations in diet]. The later explanation being far more probable than the first.”)
  • Northern Sami: beas’sážat (“Coined following the model in Finnish. The Sami verb is beassat and behaves partly like the Finnish one. Many Christian key terms are either borrowed from Finnish or coined following the Finnish example.”)
  • Estonian: ülestõusmispüha — “holiday/Sunday of the resurrection” — or lihavõttepüha — “holiday/Sunday of returning of meat”
  • Karelian: äijüpäivü — “the great day” (“Here one can hear the influence of the Eastern Christianity, but not directly Russian as language, because the Russian term is Пасха/Pasha or Воскресение Христово/Voskresenie Hristovo, ‘[the day of] the resurrection of Christ,’ but the week before Easter is called as the great week.”) (Source for this and three above: Seppo Sipilä)
  • Russian (for Russian speaking Muslims): праздник Освобождения/prazdnik Osvobozhdeniya — “Festival of-liberation” (source: Andy Warren-Rothlin)
  • Spanish Sign Language: pass through + miracle (source: John Elwode in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 78ff.)


    “Passover” in Spanish Sign Language, source: Sociedad Bíblica de España

  • English: Passover (term coined by William Tyndale that both replicates the sound of the Hebrew original pesah — פסח as well as part of the meaning: “passing over” the houses of the Israelites in Egypt) — oddly, the English Authorized Version (King James Version) translates the occurrence in Acts 12:4 as Easter
  • Low German: Osterfest “Easter” (translation by Johannes Jessen, publ. 1933, republ. 2006)

Many Romance languages follow the tradition from Latin that has one term for both “Easter” and “Passover” (pascha). Portuguese uses Páscoa for both, Italian uses Pascha, and French has Pâque for “Passover” and the identically pronounced Pâques for “Easter.”

In languages in francophone and lusophone (Portuguese speaking) Africa, indigenous languages typically use the Romance word for “Easter” as a loanword and often transliterate pesach/pascha. In Kinyarwanda and Rundi Pasika is used, in Swahili and Congo Swahili Pasaka, and in Lingala Pasika. In some cases, the transliteration of “Passover” is derived from the European language, such as Umbundu’s Pascoa (from Portuguese) and Bulu’s Pak (from French).

As John Ellingworth (in The Bible Translator 1980, p 445f. ) points out “in most contexts only the presence or absence of the definite article distinguishes them [in French la pâque for Passover and Pâques for Easter]. Since most African languages do not have definite articles, there remains no way to distinguish between the two terms where the general population has borrowed the word for Easter and the Bible translators have borrowed the word for Passover to use in their translation. Some even consider the references to [Passover] before the death of Christ as prophetic!”

See also this devotion on YouVersion .

Learn more on Bible Odyssey: Passover .

priest

The Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek that are typically translated as “priest” in English (itself deriving from Latin “presbyter” — “elder”) is often translated with a consideration of existing religious traditions. (Click or tap for details)

Bratcher / Nida (1961) say this:

“However, rather than borrow local names for priests, some of which have unwanted connotations, a number of translations have employed descriptive phrases based on certain functions: (1) those describing a ceremonial activity: Pamona uses tadu, the priestess who recites the litanies in which she describes her journey to the upper or under-world to fetch life-spirit for sick people, animals or plants; Batak Toba uses the Arabic malim, ‘Muslim religious teacher;’ ‘one who presents man’s sacrifice to God’ (Bambara, Eastern Maninkakan), ‘one who presents sacrifices’ (Baoulé, Navajo), ‘one who takes the name of the sacrifice’ (Kpelle, and ‘to make a sacrifice go out’ (Hausa); (2) those describing an intermediary function: ‘one who speaks to God’ (Shipibo-Conibo) and ‘spokesman of the people before God’ (Tabasco Chontal).”

In Obolo it is translated as ogwu ngwugwa or “the one who offers sacrifice” (source: Enene Enene), in Mairasi as agam aevar nevwerai: “religious leader” (source: Enggavoter 2004), in Ignaciano as “blesser, one who does ritual as a practice” (using a generic term rather than the otherwise common Spanish loan word sacerdote) (source: Willis Ott in Notes on Translation 88/1982, p. 18ff.), and in Noongar as yakin-kooranyi or “holy worker” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang).

For Guhu-Samane, Ernest Richert (in The Bible Translator, 1965, p. 81ff. ) reports this:

“The [local] cult of Poro used to be an all-encompassing religious system that essentially governed all areas of life. (…) For ‘priest’ the term ‘poro father’ would at first seem to be a natural choice. However, several priests of the old cult are still living. Although they no longer function primarily as priests of the old system they still have a substantial influence on the community, and there would be more than a chance that the unqualified term would (in some contexts particularly) be equated with the priest of the poro cult. We learned, then, that the poro fathers would sometimes be called ‘knife men’ in relation to their sacrificial work. The panel was pleased to apply this term to the Jewish priest, and the Christian community has adopted it fully. [Mark 1:44, for instance, now] reads: ‘You must definitely not tell any man of this. But you go show your body to the knife man and do what Moses said about a sacrifice concerning your being healed, and the cause (base of this) will be apparent.'”

For a revision of the 1968 version of the Bible in Khmer Joseph Hong (in: The Bible Translator 1996, 233ff. ) talks about a change in wording for this term:

​​Bau cha r (បូជា‌ចារ្យ) — The use of this new construction meaning “priest” is maintained to translate the Greek word hiereus. The term “mean sang (មាន សង្ឃ)” used in the old version actually means a “Buddhist monk,” and is felt to be theologically misleading. The Khmer considers the Buddhist monk as a “paddy field of merits,” a reserve of merits to be shared with other people. So a Khmer reader would find unthinkable that the mean sang in the Bible killed animals, the gravest sin for a Buddhist; and what a scandal it would be to say that a mean sang was married, had children, and drank wine.

Levite

The Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and Latin that is transliterated “Levites” in English (only the Contemporary English Version translates it as “temple helpers”) is translated in Ojitlán Chinantec as “temple caretakers,” Yatzachi Zapotec as “people born in the family line of Levi, people whose responsibility it was to do the work in the important church of the Israelites,” in Alekano as “servants in the sacrifice house from Jerusalem place,” and in Tenango Otomi as “helpers of priests.” (Source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)

In American Sign Language with a sign that combines “temple” + “servant.” (Source: RuthAnna Spooner, Ron Lawer)


“Levite” in American Sign Language, source: Deaf Harbor

For the sign in Spanish Sign Language, see Levi.

More information about Levites .

Translation commentary on Ezra 6:20

Originally the Passover rite had been a family occasion at which the lay head of the family presided. By the time of Hezekiah (2 Chr 30) and Josiah (2 Chr 35), it had become a communal celebration presided over by the priests and the Levites. Here, as in the time of Hezekiah, the people were impure and could not preside over the Passover meal (2 Chr 30.17).

For the priests and the Levites had purified themselves; all of them were clean: The conjunction For indicates that the people could celebrate the Passover “because” the priests and the Levites had been purified. Purified renders a reflexive verb in Hebrew with the meaning “to cause oneself to be pure” or “to cause oneself to be ritually clean.” This was a ritual act, as Good News Translation makes explicit. It was a ritual washing of themselves and their clothes (Num 8.7, 21) in order to cleanse themselves from the pollution of sin. It was not merely a physical act of washing and making themselves clean. Clean is therefore not to be understood in a literal sense that they were not physically dirty, but that they “were ritually clean” (Good News Translation). Many cultures have similar rituals. They are often spoken of with technical terms. In some receptor cultures there may be an expression from traditional religious rites for purification that may be appropriate. Different verbs may be used for purifying oneself and for purifying others, or for purifying people and for purifying animals and non-living objects. Translators should be careful to use terms from their own languages that may be applied to similar practices of other people, but that are not so culture-specific that they are inappropriate or anachronistic in the context of the Temple and the God of the Old Testament. Some languages will speak of “ritual cleansing” while others may use expressions such as “to fix the way of one’s person” and “fixing the way of something.” “Ritually clean” may be stated as “to be clean in God’s eyes” or “… before God.”

They killed the passover lamb for all the returned exiles, for their fellow priests, and for themselves: The end of the verse makes it clear that they in this clause refers to the Levites as the ones who killed the passover lamb. They killed it for their fellow priests, and for themselves. See also 2 Chr 30.17 and 35.10-11. Williamson (1985, page 69) translates the whole verse as follows to clarify the participants: “for the priests had purified themselves, and the Levites were all pure to a man, and they slaughtered the Passover for all the exiles, and for their brothers the priests, and for themselves.”

Some versions like New Jerusalem Bible and Osty-Trinquet omit the reference to priests in the first part of the verse, saying only that the Levites purified themselves. However, it is preferable to follow the Hebrew text as both Revised Standard Version and Good News Translation have done. Then “Levites” may be put in place of they to make explicit that it was the Levites who killed the animals for the Passover sacrifice (so Good News Translation, New International Version).

They killed the passover lamb is literally “they killed the Passover,” which is to say that they performed the Passover sacrifices and this was done by sacrificing lambs. Good News Translation restructures this to make the meaning explicit and the translator may need to do so likewise: “The Levites killed the animals for the Passover sacrifices.” It should be made explicit that many lambs were killed. Revised Standard Version is misleading when it uses the singular lamb collectively to represent many lambs.

The sacrifices were performed for, that is, on behalf of or for the benefit of all the returned exiles, for their fellow priests, and for themselves.

Quoted with permission from Noss, Philip A. and Thomas, Kenneth J. A Handbook on Ezra. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 2005. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .