swear, vow

The Hebrew and Greek that is translated as “swear (an oath)” or “vow” is translated as “God sees me, I tell the truth to you” (Tzeltal), “loading yourself down” (Huichol), “to speak-stay” (implying permanence of the utterance) (Sayula Popoluca), “to say what he could not take away” (San Blas Kuna), “because of the tight (i.e. “binding”) word which he had said to her face” (Guerrero Amuzgo), “strong promise” (North Alaskan Inupiatun) (source for all above: Bratcher / Nida), “eat an oath” (Nyamwezi — source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext), or sswa nak/”drink an oath” (Jju — source: McKinney 2018, p. 31).

In Bauzi “swear” can be translated in various ways. In Hebrews 6:13, for instance, it is translated with “bones break apart and decisively speak.” (“No bones are literally broken but by saying ‘break bones’ it is like people swear by someone else in this case it is in relation to a rotting corpse’ bones falling apart. If you ‘break bones’ so to speak when you make an utterance, it is a true utterance.”) In other passages, such as in Matthew 26:72, it’s translated with an expression that implies taking ashes (“if a person wants everyone to know that he is telling the truth about a matter, he reaches down into the fireplace, scoops up some ashes and throws them while saying ‘I was not the one who did that.'”). So in Matthew 26:72 the Bauzi text is: “. . . Peter took ashes and defended himself saying, ‘I don’t know that Nazareth person.'” (Source: David Briley)

See also swear (promise) and Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’, or ‘No, No’.

eternity, forever, forever and ever

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.)

See also forever, eternal life and salvation.

complete verse (Hebrews 7:21)

Following are a number of back-translations of Hebrews 7:21:

  • Uma: “But when Yesus was appointed [lifted] to be priest, there was [emphatic] an oath of God. God said to him like this: ‘I the Lord God swear, and I do not change my words: You are a priest forever.'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “But Isa was made priest because God swore to him, he said, ‘I am God, I swear that you are priest forever, and I will really not change my thoughts about this.'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “However, as for Jesus by contrast, God made Him a promise for there is a written word of God which says, ‘As for me, who am God, I promised you that you would be made a priest whose priesthood would be without end, and this will certainly come true.'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Another advantage (lit. distinguishing-place) of Jesus’ priesthood is that there is something that God swore to him when he became a priest, because God said, ‘I the Lord God, I swear that you (sing.) are a priest forever. My mind will absolutely never-be-changed.’ But when the descendants of Levi became priests, God didn’t swear anything.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “But in the setting up of Jesus God said to him, ‘I God am now making a vow and my mind/thinking does not constantly change. As for you, you will be a priest without ending.'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “All the rest of the priests have the work passed on to them. But concerning this Jesus Christ, he is the only one to whom God promised all the words which are written in the Holy Book where God said: ‘I am God and it is true what I say. This word which I tell you cannot be changed by anyone. And now, you are priest forever. You take over the work at which the priest Melchizedek worked,’ he said to him.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

Lord

The Hebrew adonai in the Old Testament typically refers to God. The shorter adon (and in two cases in the book of Daniel the Aramaic mare [מָרֵא]) is also used to refer to God but more often for concepts like “master,” “owner,” etc. In English Bible translations all of those are translated with “Lord” if they refer to God.

In English Old Testament translations, as in Old Testament translations in many other languages, the use of Lord (or an equivalent term in other languages) is not to be confused with Lord (or the equivalent term with a different typographical display for other languages). While the former translates adonai, adon and mare, the latter is a translation for the tetragrammaton (YHWH) or the Name of God. See tetragrammaton (YHWH) and the article by Andy Warren-Rothlin in Noss / Houser, p. 618ff. for more information.

In the New Testament, the Greek term kurios has at least four different kinds of use:

  • referring to “God,” especially in Old Testament quotations,
  • meaning “master” or “owner,” especially in parables, etc.,
  • as a form of address (see for instance John 4:11: “Sir, you have no bucket”),
  • or, most often, referring to Jesus

In the first and fourth case, it is also translated as “Lord” in English.

Most languages naturally don’t have one word that covers all these meanings. According to Bratcher / Nida, “the alternatives are usually (1) a term which is an honorific title of respect for a high-ranking person and (2) a word meaning ‘boss’, ‘master’, or ‘chief.’ (…) and on the whole it has generally seemed better to employ a word of the second category, in order to emphasize the immediate personal relationship, and then by context to build into the word the prestigeful character, since its very association with Jesus Christ will tend to accomplish this purpose.”

When looking at the following list of back-translations of the terms that translators in the different languages have used for both kurios and adonai to refer to God and Jesus respectively, it might be helpful for English readers to recall the etymology of the English “Lord.” While this term might have gained an exalted meaning in the understanding of many, it actually comes from hlaford or “loaf-ward,” referring to the lord of the castle who was the keeper of the bread (source: Rosin 1956, p. 121).

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Following are some of the solutions that don’t rely on a different typographical display (see above):

  • Navajo: “the one who has charge”
  • Mossi: “the one who has the head” (the leader)
  • Uduk: “chief”
  • Guerrero Amuzgo: “the one who commands”
  • Kpelle: “person-owner” (a term which may be applied to a chief)
  • Central Pame: “the one who owns us” (or “commands us”)
  • Piro: “the big one” (used commonly of one in authority)
  • San Blas Kuna: “the great one over all” (source for this and above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Guhu-Samane: Soopara (“our Supervisor”) (source: Ellis Deibler in Notes on Translation July, 1967, p. 5ff.)
  • Balinese: “Venerated-one” (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • Yanesha’: “the one who carries us” (source: Nida 1952, p. 159)
  • Northern Emberá: Dadjirã Boro (“our Head”)
  • Rarotongan: Atu (“master or owner of a property”)
  • Gilbertese: Uea (“a person of high status invested with authority to rule the people”)
  • Rotuman: Gagaja (“village chief”)
  • Samoan: Ali’i (“an important word in the native culture, it derives from the Samoan understanding of lordship based on the local traditions”)
  • Tahitian: Fatu (“owner,” “master”)
  • Tuvalu: Te Aliki (“chief”)
  • Fijian: Liuliu (“leader”) (source for this and six above: Joseph Hong in The Bible Translator 1994, p. 329ff. )
  • Bacama: Həmə miye: “owner of people” (source: David Frank in this blog post )
  • Hopi: “Controller” (source: Walls 2000, p. 139)
  • Iyansi: Mwol. Mwol is traditionally used for the “chief of a group of communities and villages” with legal, temporal, and spiritual authority (versus the “mfum [the term used in other Bantu languages] which is used for the chief of one community of people in one village”). Mwol is also used for twins who are “treated as special children, highly honored, and taken care of like kings and queens.” (Source: Kividi Kikama in Greed / Kruger, p. 396ff.)
  • Ghomala’: Cyəpɔ (“he who is above everyone,” consisting of the verb cyə — to surpass or go beyond — and — referring to people. No human can claim this attribute, no matter what his or her social status or prestige.” (Source: Michel Kenmogne in Theologizing in Context: An Example from the Study of a Ghomala’ Christian Hymn )
  • Binumarien: Karaambaia: “fight-leader” (Source: Oates 1995, p. 255)
  • Warlpiri: Warlaljamarri (owner or possessor of something — for more information tap or click here)

    We have come to rely on another term which emphasizes God’s essential nature as YHWH, namely jukurrarnu (see tetragrammaton (YHWH)). This word is built on the same root jukurr– as is jukurrpa, ‘dreaming.’ Its basic meaning is ‘timelessness’ and it is used to describe physical features of the land which are viewed as always being there. Some speakers view jukurrarnu in terms of ‘history.’ In all Genesis references to YHWH we have used Kaatu Jukurrarnu. In all Mark passages where kurios refers to God and not specifically to Christ we have also used Kaatu Jukurrarnu.

    New Testament references to Christ as kurios are handled differently. At one stage we experimented with the term Watirirririrri which refers to a ceremonial boss of highest rank who has the authority to instigate ceremonies. While adequately conveying the sense of Christ’s authority, there remained potential negative connotations relating to Warlpiri ceremonial life of which we might be unaware.

    Here it is that the Holy Spirit led us to make a chance discovery. Transcribing the personal testimony of the local Warlpiri pastor, I noticed that he described how ‘my Warlaljamarri called and embraced me (to the faith)’. Warlaljamarri is based on the root warlalja which means variously ‘family, possessions, belongingness’. A warlaljamarri is the ‘owner’ or ‘possessor’ of something. While previously being aware of the ‘ownership’ aspect of warlaljamarri, this was the first time I had heard it applied spontaneously and naturally in a fashion which did justice to the entire concept of ‘Lordship’. Thus references to Christ as kurios are now being handled by Warlaljamarri.” (Source: Stephen Swartz, The Bible Translator 1985, p. 415ff. )

  • Mairasi: Onggoao Nem (“Throated One” — “Leader,” “Elder”) or Enggavot Nan (“Above-One”) (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • Obolo: Okaan̄-ene (“Owner of person(s)”) (source: Enene Enene)
  • Angami Naga: Niepu (“master,” “owner”)
  • Lotha Naga: Opvui (“owner of house / field / cattle”) — since both “Lord” and YHWH are translated as Opvui there is an understanding that “Opvui Jesus is the same as the Opvui of the Old Testament”
  • Ao Naga: Kibuba (“human master,” “teacher,” “owner of property,” etc.) (source for this and two above: Nitoy Achumi in The Bible Translator 1992 p. 438ff. )
  • Seediq: Tholang, loan word from Min Nan Chinese (the majority language in Taiwan) thâu-lâng (頭儂): “Master” (source: Covell 1998, p. 248)
  • Thai: phra’ phu pen cao (พระผู้เป็นเจ้า) (divine person who is lord) or ong(kh) cao nay (องค์เจ้านาย) (<divine classifier>-lord-boss) (source: Stephen Pattemore)
  • Arabic often uses different terms for adonai or kurios referring to God (al-rabb الرب) and kurios referring to Jesus (al-sayyid الـسـيـد). Al-rabb is also the term traditionally used in Arabic Christian-idiom translations for YHWH, and al-sayyid is an honorary term, similar to English “lord” or “sir” (source: Andy Warren-Rothlin).
  • Tamil also uses different terms for adonai/kurios when referring to God and kurios when referring to Jesus. The former is Karttar கர்த்தர், a Sanskrit-derived term with the original meaning of “creator,” and the latter in Āṇṭavar ஆண்டவர், a Tamil term originally meaning “govern” or “reign” (source: Natarajan Subramani).
  • Burunge: Looimoo: “owner who owns everything” (in the Burunge Bible translation, this term is only used as a reference to Jesus and was originally used to refer to the traditional highest deity — source: Michael Endl in Holzhausen / Riderer 2010, p. 48)
  • Aguacateco: Ajcaw ske’j: “the one to whom we belong and who is above us” (source: Rita Peterson in Holzhausen / Riderer 2010, p. 49)
  • Konkomba: Tidindaan: “He who is the owner of the land and reigns over the people” (source: Lidorio 2007, p. 66)

Law (2013, p. 97) writes about how the Ancient Greek Septuagint‘s translation of the Hebrew adonai was used by the New Testament writers as a bridge between the Old and New Testaments: “Another case is the use of kurios referring to Jesus. For Yahweh (in English Bibles: ‘the Lord‘), the Septuagint uses kurios. Although the term kurios usually has to do with one’s authority over others, when the New Testament authors use this word from the Septuagint to refer to Jesus, they are making an extraordinary claim: Jesus of Nazareth is to be identified with Yahweh.”

See also Father / Lord.

third person pronoun with high register

Like a number of other East Asian languages, Japanese uses a complex system of honorifics, i.e. a system where a number of different levels of politeness are expressed in language via words, word forms or grammatical constructs. These can range from addressing someone or referring to someone with contempt (very informal) to expressing the highest level of reference (as used in addressing or referring to God) or any number of levels in-between.

One way Japanese show different degree of politeness is through the choice of a third person singular and plural pronoun (“he,” “she,” “it” and their various forms) as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017. While it’s not uncommon to avoid pronouns altogether in Japanese, there are is a range of third person pronouns that can be used.

In these verses a number of them are used that pay particularly much respect to the referred person (or, in fact, God, as in Exodus 15:2), including kono kata (この方), sono kata (その方), and ano kata (あの方), meaning “this person,” “that person,” and “that person over there.”

(Source: S. E. Doi, see also S. E. Doi in Journal of Translation, 18/2022, p. 37ff. )

See also third person pronoun with exalted register.

Translation commentary on Hebrews 7:21

By means of: it may be difficult to introduce means when a verb or an event such as taking a vow is involved. Therefore Jesus became a priest by means of a vow may need to be expressed as “God made a vow when Jesus became a priest” or “when Jesus became a priest God vowed.” Vow may sometimes be rendered as “made a strong promise.”

God said: the Greek has “he said,” but Good News Translation avoids confusion by using the noun God instead of the pronoun “he.”

There is a serious problem involved in the reference to The Lord, since in this context The Lord refers to God. It may be necessary to begin the quotation as “I, the Lord God, have made a solemn promise.”

Not take it back may need to be expressed as “will not change my mind” or “will not decide to do something different.”

In the quotation from the first part of Psalm 110.4, the first line is emphasized and Melchizedek is not mentioned. Modern editions of the Greek text omit the words which King James Version translates “after the order of Melchisedec.”

The second line of the quotation partly repeats the meaning of the first. This is common in Hebrew poetry but may not be necessary in translation. In languages where “and” suggests that new information is to follow, it may be better to omit and here and to translate as follows:

“The Lord has made a vow,
he will not change his mind….”

You will be a priest forever may be expressed negatively as “You will never cease to be a priest” or “There will never be a time when you will not be a priest.”

Quoted with permission from Ellingworth, Paul and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on The Letter of the Hebrews. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1983. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

oneself (go-jibun) (Japanese honorifics)

Like a number of other East Asian languages, Japanese uses a complex system of honorifics, i.e. a system where a number of different levels of politeness are expressed in language via words, word forms or grammatical constructs. These can range from addressing someone or referring to someone with contempt (very informal) to expressing the highest level of reference (as used in addressing or referring to God) or any number of levels in-between.

One way to do this is through the usage (or a lack) of an honorific prefix as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017. When the referent is God or a person or persons to be honored, the honorific prefix go- (御 or ご) can be used, as in go-jibun (ご自分), a combination of “onseself” (jibun) and the honorific prefix go-. This can also be used for other reflexive pronouns (myself, himself, yourself etc.)

(Source: S. E. Doi, see also S. E. Doi in Journal of Translation, 18/2022, p. 37ff. )