The Greek that is translated as “anyone who has committed sin will be forgiven” or similar in English is translated as “if there is his sin the one who is healed his sin will be lost also” in Tzotzil, “that sick one has been healed, his sins the Father has pardoned” in Mezquital Otomi), and “and if sins are the cause of our sickness, it will be forgiven us” in Eastern Highland Otomi) (source: Ellis Deibler in Notes on Translation July, 1967, p. 5ff.).
Following are a number of back-translations of James 5:15:
- Uma: “If they pray with believing hearts, the sick person will get well. The Lord will make-him-well, and if he has sins, they will be forgiven-to-him.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
- Yakan: “So-then, when they pray to God and they trust that he will make the sick one well, the sick one will really get well. The Lord will certainly cause him to be well. And if he has sin, he will be forgiven.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Their prayer if their trust in God is right will be the thing which cures the sick person, for God will be the one to medicine him, and his sins will be forgiven.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
- Kankanaey: “And that prayer of theirs which is based on their faith in the Lord Jesus, that’s what will remove his sickness so that he will get well, because the Lord will heal him. If moreover he has sinned, God will meanwhile forgive him.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “God really will respond to prayer which includes true believing/obeying and trust-in/relying-on him. As long as it is in harmony with his determined-plan, he will make well this one who is ill. And he will forgive him too if he has sinned.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
- Tenango Otomi: “If the people believe that Jesus Christ will heal the sick person when they ask his help, the sick person will get well. If the sick person is suffering because of the sins he has committed, God will forgive him.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
The concept of “forgiveness” is expressed in varied ways through translations. Following is a list of (back-) translations from some languages:
- Tswa, North Alaskan Inupiatun, Panao Huánuco Quechua: “forget about”
- Navajo: “give back” (based on the idea that sin produces an indebtedness, which only the one who has been sinned against can restore)
- Huichol, Shipibo-Conibo, Eastern Highland Otomi, Uduk, Tepo Krumen: “erase,” “wipe out,” “blot out”
- Highland Totonac, Huautla Mazatec: “lose,” “make lacking”
- Tzeltal: “lose another’s sin out of one’s heart”
- Lahu, Burmese: “be released,” “be freed”
- Ayacucho Quechua: “level off”
- Yatzachi Zapotec: “cast away”
- Chol: “pass by”
- Wayuu: “make pass”
- Kpelle: “turn one’s back on”
- Chicahuaxtla Triqui: “cover over” (a figure of speech which is also employed in Hebrew, but which in many languages is not acceptable, because it implies “hiding” or “concealment”)
- Tabasco Chontal, Huichol: “take away sins”
- Toraja-Sa’dan, Javanese: “do away with sins”
- San Blas Kuna: “erase the evil heart” (this and all above: Bratcher / Nida, except Tepo Krumen: Peter Thalmann in Holzhausen / Riderer 2010, p. 25f.)
- Eggon: “withdraw the hand”
- Mískito: “take a man’s fault out of your heart” (source of this and the one above: Kilgour, p. 80)
- Western Parbate Kham: “unstring someone” (“hold a grudge” — “have someone strung up in your heart”) (source: Watters, p. 171)
- Cebuano: “go beyond” (based on saylo)
- Iloko: “none” or “no more” (based on awan) (source for this and above: G. Henry Waterman in The Bible Translator 1960, p. 24ff. )
- Tzotzil: ch’aybilxa: “it has been lost” (source: Aeilts, p. 118)
- Suki: biaek eisaemauwa: “make heart soft” (Source L. and E. Twyman in The Bible Translator 1953, p. 91ff. )
- Warao: “not being concerned with him clean your obonja.” Obonja is a term that “includes the concepts of consciousness, will, attitude, attention and a few other miscellaneous notions” (source: Henry Osborn in The Bible Translator 1969, p. 74ff. See other occurrences of Obojona in the Warao New Testament.)
- Martu Wangka: “throw out badness” (source: Carl Gross)
- Mairasi: “dismantle wrongs” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
- Koonzime: “remove the bad deed-counters” (“The Koonzime lay out the deeds symbolically — usually strips of banana leaf — and rehearse their grievances with the person addressed.”) (Source: Keith and Mary Beavon in Notes on Translation 3/1996, p. 16)
- Ngbaka: ele: “forgive and forget” (Margaret Hill [in Holzhausen & Ridere 2010, p. 8f.] recalls that originally there were two different words used in Ngbaka, one for God (ɛlɛ) and one for people (mbɔkɔ — excuse something) since it was felt that people might well forgive but, unlike God, can’t forget. See also this lectionary in The Christian Century .
- Amahuaca: “erase” / “smooth over” (“It was an expression the people used for smoothing over dirt when marks or drawings had been made in it. It meant wiping off dust in which marks had been made, or wiping off writing on the blackboard. To wipe off the slate, to erase, to take completely away — it has a very wide meaning and applies very well to God’s wiping away sins, removing them from the record, taking them away.”) (Source: Robert Russel, quoted in Walls / Bennett 1959, p. 193)
See also this devotion on YouVersion .
The Hebrew and Greek that is typically translated as “sin” in English has a wide variety of translations.
The Greek ἁμαρτάνω (hamartanō) carries the original verbatim meaning of “miss the mark.” Likewise, many translations contain the “connotation of moral responsibility.” Loma has (for certain types of sin) “leaving the road” (which “implies a definite standard, the transgression of which is sin”) or Navajo uses “that which is off to the side.” (Source: Bratcher / Nida). In Toraja-Sa’dan the translation is kasalan, which originally meant “transgression of a religious or moral rule” and has shifted its meaning in the context of the Bible to “transgression of God’s commandments.” (Source: H. van der Veen in The Bible Translator 1950, p. 21ff. ).
In Shipibo-Conibo the term is hocha. Nida (1952, p. 149) tells the story of its choosing: “In some instances a native expression for sin includes many connotations, and its full meaning must be completely understood before one ever attempts to use it. This was true, for example, of the term hocha first proposed by Shipibo-Conibo natives as an equivalent for ‘sin.’ The term seemed quite all right until one day the translator heard a girl say after having broken a little pottery jar that she was guilty of ‘hocha.’ Breaking such a little jar scarcely seemed to be sin. However, the Shipibos insisted that hocha was really sin, and they explained more fully the meaning of the word. It could be used of breaking a jar, but only if the jar belonged to someone else. Hocha was nothing more nor less than destroying the possessions of another, but the meaning did not stop with purely material possessions. In their belief God owns the world and all that is in it. Anyone who destroys the work and plan of God is guilty of hocha. Hence the murderer is of all men most guilty of hocha, for he has destroyed God’s most important possession in the world, namely, man. Any destructive and malevolent spirit is hocha, for it is antagonistic and harmful to God’s creation. Rather than being a feeble word for some accidental event, this word for sin turned out to be exceedingly rich in meaning and laid a foundation for the full presentation of the redemptive act of God.”
In Kaingang, the translation is “break God’s word” and in Sandawe the original meaning of the Greek term (see above) is perfectly reflected with “miss the mark.” (Source: Ursula Wiesemann in Holzhausen / Riderer 2010, p. 36ff., 43)
In Warao it is translated as “bad obojona.” Obojona is a term that “includes the concepts of consciousness, will, attitude, attention and a few other miscellaneous notions.” (Source: Henry Osborn in The Bible Translator 1969, p. 74ff. ). See other occurrences of Obojona in the Warao New Testament.
Martin Ehrensvärd, one of the translators for the Danish Bibelen 2020, comments on the translation of this term: “We would explain terms, such that e.g. sin often became ‘doing what God does not want’ or ‘breaking God’s law’, ‘letting God down’, ‘disrespecting God’, ‘doing evil’, ‘acting stupidly’, ‘becoming guilty’. Now why couldn’t we just use the word sin? Well, sin in contemporary Danish, outside of the church, is mostly used about things such as delicious but unhealthy foods. Exquisite cakes and chocolates are what a sin is today.” (Source: Ehrensvärd in HIPHIL Novum 8/2023, p. 81ff. )
See also sinner.
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).
Click or tap here to see the rest of this insight
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 pɔ — 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.
Translations of the Greek pistis and its various forms that are typically translated as “faith” in English (itself deriving from Latin “fides,” meaning “trust, faith, confidence, reliance, credence”) and “believe” (from Old English belyfan: “to have faith or confidence in a person”) cover a wide range of approaches.
Bratcher and Nida say this (1961, p. 38) (click or tap here to read more):
“Since belief or faith is so essentially an intimate psychological experience, it is not strange that so many terms denoting faith should be highly figurative and represent an almost unlimited range of emotional ‘centers’ and descriptions of relationships, e.g. ‘steadfast his heart’ (Chol), ‘to arrive on the inside’ (Chicahuaxtla Triqui), ‘to conform with the heart’ (Uab Meto), ‘to join the word to the body’ (Uduk), ‘to hear in the insides’ (or ‘to hear within one’s self and not let go’ – Nida 1952) (Laka), ‘to make the mind big for something’ (Sapo), ‘to make the heart straight about’ (Mitla Zapotec), ‘to cause a word to enter the insides’ (Lacandon), ‘to leave one’s heart with’ (Baniwa), ‘to catch in the mind’ (Ngäbere), ‘that which one leans on’ (Vai), ‘to be strong on’ (Shipibo-Conibo), ‘to have no doubts’ (San Blas Kuna), ‘to hear and take into the insides’ (Kare), ‘to accept’ (Pamona).”
Following is a list of (back-) translations from other languages (click or tap here to read more):
- Western Kanjobal: “truth entering into one’s soul”
- Highland Puebla Nahuatl: “following close after”
- Huichol: “conform to the truth”
- Loma: “lay one’s hand on it”
- Mashco Piro: “obey-believe”
- Mossi: “leaning on God” (this and all the above acc. to Nida 1952, p. 119ff.)
- Tzeltal: “heart believe / heart obedience” (source: Marianna C. Slocum in The Bible Translator 1958, p. 49f. — see also wisdom (Proverbs))
- Thai: “place one’s heart in” (source: Bratcher / Hatton 2000, p. 37)
- Cameroon Pidgin: “to put one’s heart in God” (source: Jan Sterk)
- Kafa: “decide for God only” (source Loren Bliese)
- Martu Wangka: “sit true to God’s talk” (source: Carl Gross)
- Muna: kataino lalo or “stickiness of heart” (for “faithfulness”) (source: René van den Berg)
- Huehuetla Tepehua: “confidence” (source: Larson 1998, p. 279)
- Limos Kalinga: manuttuwa. Wiens (2013) explains: “It goes back to the word for ‘truth’ which is ‘tuttuwa.’ When used as a verb this term is commonly used to mean ‘believe’ as well as ‘obey.'”
- Ngiemboon: “turn one’s back on someone” (and trusting one won’t be taken advantage of) (source: Stephen Anderson in Holzhausen 1991, p. 42)
- Mwera uses the same word for “hope” and “faith”: ngulupai (source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext)
- Kwang: “put one’s chest” (Source: Mark Vanderkooi right here )
- Yala: ɔtū che or “place heart” (in John 5:24; 5:45; 6:35; 6:47; 12:36; 14:1); other translations include chɛ̄ or “to agree/accept” and chɛ̄ku or “to agree with/accept with/take side with” (source: Linus Otronyi)
Awabakal: ngurruliko: “to know, to perceive by the ear” (as distinct from knowing by sight or by touch — source: Lake, p. 70) (click or tap here to read more)
“[The missionary translator] Lancelot Threlkeld learned that Awabakal, like many Australian languages, made no distinction between knowing and believing. Of course the distinction only needs to be made where there are rival systems of knowing. The Awabakal language expressed a seamless world. But as the stress on ‘belief’ itself suggests, Christianity has always existed in pluralist settings. Conversion involves deep conviction, not just intellectual assent or understanding. (…) Translating such texts posed a great challenge in Australia. Threlkeld and [his indigenous colleague] Biraban debated the possibilities at length. In the end they opted not to introduce a new term for belief, but to use the Awabakal ngurruliko, meaning ‘to know, to perceive by the ear,’ as distinct from knowing by sight or by touch.”
Language in southern Nigeria: a word based on the idiom “lose feathers.” Randy Groff in Wycliffe Bible Translators 2016, p. 65 explains (click or tap here to read more):
What does losing feathers have to do with faith? [The translator] explained that there is a species of bird in his area that, upon hatching its eggs, loses its feathers. During this molting phase, the mother bird is no longer able to fly away from the nest and look for food for her hungry hatchlings. She has to remain in the nest where she and her babies are completely dependent upon the male bird to bring them food. Without the diligent, dependable work of the male bird, the mother and babies would all die. This scenario was the basis for the word for faith in his language.
- Teribe: mär: “pick one thing and one thing only” (source: Andy Keener)
Luba-Katanga: Twi tabilo: “echo” (click or tap here to read more)
“Luba-Katanga word for ‘Faith’ in its New Testament connotation is Twi tabilo. This word means ‘echo,’ and the way in which it came to be adapted to the New Testament meaning gives a very good idea of the way in which the translator goes to work. One day a missionary was on a journey through wild and mountainous country. At midday he called his African porters to halt, and as they lay resting in the shade from the merciless heat of the sun. an African picked up a stone and sent it ricocheting down the mountain-side into the ravine below. After some seconds the hollow silence was broken by a plunging, splashing sound from the depths of the dark river-bed. As the echo died away the African said in a wondering whisper ‘Twi tabilo, listen to it.’ So was a precious word captured for the service of the Gospel in its Luba Christian form. Twi tabilo — ‘faith which is the echo of God’s voice in the depths of human sinful hearts, awakened by God Himself, the answer to his own importunate call.’ The faith that is called into being by the divine initiative, God’s own gift to the responsive heart! (Source: Wilfred Bradnock in The Bible Translator 1953, p. 49ff. )
J.A. van Roy (in The Bible Translator 1972, p. 418ff. ) discusses how a translation of “faith” in a an earlier translation into Venda created difficult perceptions of the concept of faith (click or tap here):
The Venda term u tenda, lutendo. This term corresponds to the terms ho dumela (Southern Sotho), and ku pfumela (Tsonga) that have been used in these translations of the Bible, and means “to assent,” “to agree to a suggestion.” It is important to understand this term in the context of the character of the people who use it.
The way in which the Venda use this term reveals much about the priority of interpersonal relationships among them. They place a much higher priority on responding in the way they think they are expected to respond than on telling the truth. Smooth interpersonal relationships, especially with a dominant individual or group, take precedence over everything else.
It is therefore regarded as bad form to refuse directly when asked for something one does not in fact intend to give. The correct way is to agree, u tenda, and then forget about it or find some excuse for not keeping to the agreement. Thus u tenda does not necessarily convey the information that one means what one says. One can tenda verbally while heartily disagreeing with the statement made or having no intention whatsoever to carry out what one has just promised to do. This is not regarded as dishonesty, but is a matter of politeness.
The term u sokou tenda, “to consent reluctantly,” is often used for expressing the fatalistic attitude of the Venda in the face of misfortune or force which he is unable to resist.
The form lutendo was introduced by missionaries to express “faith.”
According to the rules of derivations and their meanings in the lu-class, it should mean “the habit of readily consenting to everything.” But since it is a coined word which does not have a clearly defined set of meanings in everyday speech, it has acquired in church language a meaning of “steadfastness in the Christian life.” Una lutendo means something like “he is steadfast in the face of persecution.” It is quite clear that the term u tenda has no element of “trust” in it. (…)
In “The Christian Minister” of July 1969 we find the following statement about faith by Albert N. Martin: “We must never forget that one of the great issues which the Reformers brought into focus was that faith was something more than an ‘assensus,’ a mere nodding of the head to the body of truth presented by the church as ‘the faith.’ The Reformers set forth the biblical concept that faith was ‘fiducia.’ They made plain that saving faith involved trust, commitment, a trust and commitment involving the whole man with the truth which was believed and with the Christ who was the focus of that truth. The time has come when we need to spell this out clearly in categorical statements so that people will realize that a mere nodding of assent to the doctrines that they are exposed to is not the essence of saving faith. They need to be brought to the understanding that saving faith involves the commitment of the whole man to the whole Christ, as Prophet, Priest and King as he is set forth in the gospel.”
We quote at length from this article because what Martin says of the current concept of faith in the Church is even to a greater extent true of the Venda Church, and because the terms used for communicating that concept in the Venda Bible cannot be expected to communicate anything more than “a mere nodding of assent”. I have during many years of evangelistic work hardly ever come across a Venda who, when confronted with the gospel, would not say, Ndi khou tenda, “I admit the truth of what you say.” What they really mean when saying this amounts to, “I believe that God exists, and I have no objection to the fact that he exists. I suppose that the rest of what you are talking about is also true.” They would often add, Ndi sa tendi hani-hani? “Just imagine my not believing such an obvious fact!” To the experienced evangelist this is a clear indication that his message is rejected in so far as it has been understood at all! To get a negative answer, one would have to press on for a promise that the “convert” will attend the baptism class and come to church on Sundays, and even then he will most probably just tenda in order to get rid of the evangelist, whether he intends to come or not. Isn’t that what u tenda means? So when an inexperienced and gullible white man ventures out on an evangelistic campaign with great enthusiasm, and with great rejoicing returns with a list of hundreds of names of persons who “believed”, he should not afterwards blame the Venda when only one tenth of those who were supposed to be converts actually turn up for baptismal instruction.
Moreover, it is not surprising at all that one often comes across church members of many years’ standing who do not have any assurance of their salvation or even realise that it is possible to have that assurance. They are vhatendi, “consenters.” They have consented to a new way of life, to abandoning (some of) the old customs. Lutendo means to them at most some steadfastness in that new way of life.
The concept of faith in religion is strange to Africa. It is an essential part of a religion of revelation such as Christianity or Islam, but not of a naturalistic religion such as Venda religion, in which not faith and belief are important, but ritual, and not so much the content of the word as the power of it.
The terms employed in the Venda Bible for this vital Christian concept have done nothing to effect a change in the approach of the Venda to religion.
It is a pity that not only in the Venda translation has this been the case, but in all the other Southern Bantu languages. In the Nguni languages the term ukukholwa, “to believe a fact,” has been used for pisteuo, and ukholo, the deverbative of ukukholwa, for pistis. In some of the older Protestant translations in Zulu, but not in the new translation, the term ithemba, “trust”, has been used.
Some languages, including Santali, have two terms — like English (see above) — to differentiate a noun from a verb form. Biswạs is used for faith, whereas pạtiạu for “believe.” R.M. Macphail (in The Bible Translator 1961, p. 36ff. ) explains this choice: “While there is little difference between the meaning and use of the two in everyday Santali, in which any word may be used as a verb, we felt that in this way we enriched the translation while making a useful distinction, roughly corresponding to that between ‘faith’ and ‘to believe’ in English.”
Likewise, in Nyongar, koort-karni or “heart truth” is used for the noun (“faith”) and djinang-karni or “see true” for the verb (“believe”) (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang).
See also this devotion on YouVersion .
We note that James’ main concern here is “prayer.” This is seen in his statement that healing comes in response to the prayer of faith. The word prayer is not the usual word for “prayer” used in the New Testament. This prayer represents a fervent wish or strong petition. The genitive construction the prayer of faith here means “the prayer offered in faith” (New International Version, Revised English Bible) or “This prayer made in faith” (Good News Translation). See the discussion in 1.3 and 6. Faith here means the faith of the elders, not of the person who is sick. Perhaps it is for this reason that the definite article the has been rendered as “this” (Good News Translation) or “such” (Barclay), referring back to the elders’ prayer. Other ways to express this are “When the elders pray like this, believing in the power of God” or “If the church leaders believe strongly in the power of God when they pray.” For the meaning of faith see the discussion in 1.6.
Will save the sick man: this is one of the results of the fervent prayer made in faith. The word save, as used elsewhere in the New Testament, often refers to deliverance from sin and spiritual death. For this reason some scholars feel that it is to be understood in the same sense even in this context. However, the word is sometimes used in the sense of the restoration of physical health (translated “made well” in Mark 6.56; Matt 9.21-22). In the present context it obviously refers to the physical healing. The phrase will save the sick man is therefore best rendered as “will heal the sick” (Good News Translation), “will make the sick person well” (New International Version), or “the sickness will leave his body” (Contemporary English Version).
The Lord will raise him up is another result of the fervent prayer in faith. Here again we have a problem with the meaning of the verb raise up. It is sometimes used in connection with the resurrection of the dead; but this can not be the meaning intended here, for the elders are called to pray for someone who is in bed sick, still alive. Most likely, therefore, it is referring to raising the sick person up from the bed, that is, restoring that person to health. The Lord here obviously refers to God. It will be observed that the prayer for healing is made in the authority of the Lord Jesus, but the one who does the healing is the Lord God.
And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven: James appears to accept that sometimes sin is a cause of sickness. This is a reflection of a concept found elsewhere in the New Testament (Mark 2.5; John 5.14; 1 Cor 11.30). What James is saying here, then, is that if the sickness is related to sin, asking for forgiveness will lead to healing. From the way this statement is phrased, using a particle combining “and if,” it can be seen that James is simply saying that there is a possible, but not inevitable, connection between sin and sickness. For this reason the conditional clause may be rendered as “if he should have committed sins” or “any sins he may have committed” (New English Bible). The clause he will be forgiven means that the healing the sick person can expect is total, including physical and spiritual. The subject of forgiving is God, and this may be brought out, thus “God will forgive him.”
An alternative translation model for this verse is:
• If the elders believe strongly in God as they pray, the sickness will leave the person’s body. The Lord God will make the person completely well, and if he has sinned God will forgive him.
Quoted with permission from Loh, I-Jin and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on The Letter from James. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1997. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .