love (for God)

Nida (1952, p. 125ff.) reports on different translation of the Greek and Hebrew terms that are translated as “love” when referring to loving God:

“The Toro So Dogon people on the edge of the Sahara in French West Africa speak of ‘love for God’ as ‘to put God in our hearts.’ This does not mean that God can be contained wholly within the heart of a man, but the Eternal does live within the hearts of men by His Holy Spirit, and it is only love which prompts the soul to ‘put God in the heart.’

“The Mitla Zapotec Indians, nestled in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, describe ‘love’ in almost opposite words. Instead of putting God into one’s own heart, they say, ‘my heart goes away with God.’ Both the Toro So Dogon and the Zapotecs are right. There is a sense in which God dwells within us, and there is also a sense in which our hearts are no longer our own. They belong to Him, and the object of affection is not here on earth, but as pilgrims with no certain abiding place we long for that fuller fellowship of heaven itself.

“The Uduks seem to take a rather superficial view of love, for they speak of it as ‘good to the eye.’ But we must not judge spiritual insight or capacity purely on the basis of idioms. Furthermore, there is a sense in which this idiom is quite correct. In fact the Greek term agapé, which is used primarily with the meaning of love of God and of the Christian community, means essentially ‘to appreciate the worth and value of something.’ It is not primarily the love which arises from association and comradeship (this is philé), but it defines that aspect of love which prompted God to love us when there was no essential worth or value in us, except as we could be remade in the image of His Son. Furthermore, it is the love which must prompt us to see in men and women, still unclaimed for Jesus Christ, that which God can do by the working of His Spirit. This is the love which rises higher than personal interests and goes deeper than sentimental attachment. This is the basis of the communion of the saints.

“Love may sometimes be described in strong, powerful terms. The Miskitos of the swampy coasts of eastern Nicaragua and Honduras say that ‘love’ is ‘pain of the heart.’ There are joys which become so intense that they seem to hurt, and there is love which so dominates the soul that its closest emotion seems to be pain. The Tzotzils, living in the cloud-swept mountains of Chiapas in southern Mexico, describe love in almost the same way as the Miskitos. They say it is ‘to hurt in the heart.’ (…)

“The Q’anjob’al Indians of northern Guatemala have gone even a step further. They describe love as ‘my soul dies.’ Love is such that, without experiencing the joy of union with the object of our love, there is a real sense in which ‘the soul dies.’ A man who loves God according to the Conob idiom would say ‘my soul dies for God.’ This not only describes the powerful emotion felt by the one who loves, but it should imply a related truth—namely, that in true love there is no room for self. The man who loves God must die to self. True love is of all emotions the most unselfish, for it does not look out for self but for others. False love seeks to possess; true love seeks to be possessed. False love leads to cancerous jealousy; true love leads to a life-giving ministry.” (Source: Nida 1952)

In Mairasi, the term that is used for love for God, by God and for people is the same: “desire one’s face.” (source: Enggavoter 2004)

In Ogea the word for “love” is “die for someone.” (Source: Sandi Colburn in Holzhausen 1991, p. 22)

feed my lambs

The Greek that is translated as “feed my lambs” in English is translated as “teach my people my words, as if to say you will feed my little sheep” in Ojitlán Chinantec, “teach my word to the men who are like lambs” in Huehuetla Tepehua, “help those who believe in me” in Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac, “teach the people who have just begun to trust in me” in Yatzachi Zapotec and “now do like a shepherd does. Take care of the people who believe in me” in Tenango Otomi.

(Source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)

See alsotend my sheep.

love (John 21:15-17)

The different Greek words (agapaō and phileō) that are used in the conversation between Jesus and Peter and that are typically all translated “love” in English are differentiated in some translations of the 2000s and 2010s. A number of German translations (Luther 2017, Neue Genfer Übersetzung 2011, Menge 2010, BasisBible 2021) use lieben (for agapaō) vs. lieb haben for phileō (“love” vs. “be very fond of”). Likewise, the French Bible Segond 21 (publ. 2007) uses aimer vs. avoir l’amour with a similar difference and the Burmese Myanmar Standard Bible (2017) has hkyit (ချစ်) vs. hkyithkain (ချစ်ခင်), also “love” vs. “love / be fond of.” Kayaw makes a distinction as well. (Source: Anonymous).

See also Translation commentary on John 21:15 with a view from 1980.


Following is a Armenian Orthodox icon of Peter (found in the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in Shusha, Azerbaijan).

Orthodox Icons are not drawings or creations of imagination. They are in fact writings of things not of this world. Icons can represent our Lord Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the Saints. They can also represent the Holy Trinity, Angels, the Heavenly hosts, and even events. Orthodox icons, unlike Western pictures, change the perspective and form of the image so that it is not naturalistic. This is done so that we can look beyond appearances of the world, and instead look to the spiritual truth of the holy person or event. (Source )

Following is a hand colored stencil print on momigami of Peter by Sadao Watanabe (1970):

Image taken with permission from the SadaoHanga Catalogue where you can find many more images and information about Sadao Watanabe. For other images of Sadao Watanabe art works in TIPs, see here.

In Finnish Sign Language it is translated with the sign signifying “key” (referring to Matthew 16:19). (Source: Tarja Sandholm)

“Peter” or “Cephas” in Finnish Sign Language (source )

In Swiss-German Sign Language it is translated with the sign for “rock,” referring to the meaning of the Greek word for “Peter.”

“Peter” in Swiss-German Sign Language, source: DSGS-Lexikon biblischer Begriffe , © CGG Schweiz

See also Peter – rock.

Learn more on Bible Odyssey: Peter .

formal pronoun: disciples addressing Jesus

Like many languages (but unlike Greek or Hebrew or English), Tuvan uses a formal vs. informal 2nd person pronoun (a familiar vs. a respectful “you”). Unlike other languages that have this feature, however, the translators of the Tuvan Bible have attempted to be very consistent in using the different forms of address in every case a 2nd person pronoun has to be used in the translation of the biblical text.

As Voinov shows in Pronominal Theology in Translating the Gospels (in: The Bible Translator 2002, p. 210ff.), the choice to use either of the pronouns many times involved theological judgment. While the formal pronoun can signal personal distance or a social/power distance between the speaker and addressee, the informal pronoun can indicate familiarity or social/power equality between speaker and addressee.

Here, individual or several disciples address Jesus with the formal pronoun, expressing respect. Compare this to how that address changes after the resurrection.

In most Dutch as well as in Western Frisian and Afrikaans translations, the disciples address Jesus before and after the resurrection with the formal pronoun.

See also this devotion on YouVersion .

complete verse (John 21:15)

Following are a number of back-translations of John 21:15:

  • Uma: “After they ate, Yesus said saying to Simon Petrus: ‘Simon son of Yohanes, do you love me more than your (sing.) companions over there love me?’ Petrus said: ‘Yes, you (sing.) know Lord, that I love you (sing.)’ Yesus said: ‘If thus, care for my lambs.'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “After they had eaten, Isa said to Simon Petros, ‘Simon, son of Yahiya, is your love for me greater than the love of these your companions?’ ‘Yes, Sir,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’ Isa said, ‘Na, care for the people belonging to me like a shepherd cares for his lambs (lit. offspring of his sheep).'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And after they had eaten breakfast Jesus said to Peter, he said, ‘You Simon, son of John, am I bigger in your breath, bigger than I am in the breath of your companions?’ And Peter answered, ‘Yes, you know that my breath is big for you.'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “When they had finished-eating, Jesus said to Simon Pedro, ‘Simon child of Juan, is your (sing.) love for me larger than the love of these?’ ‘Yes indeed, Lord, you (sing.) know that I love you (sing.),’ he said. Whereupon Jesus said, ‘If that is so, care-for my people who are compared-to my sheep.'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “After they had eaten, Jesus questioned Simon Pedro. He said, ‘Simon, son of Juan, is your commitment/maintained-devotion to me more than their commitment to me?’ ‘Yes, Lord/Chief. You know that I feel affection for you,’ said the reply of Pedro. ‘Well if it’s like that,’ said Jesus, ‘take good care of my young sheep.'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “After they ate, Jesus asked Peter, ‘Peter, you are the son of Jonas. Do you love me more than these others here love me?’ Peter said, ‘Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Now do like a shepherd does. Take care of the people who believe in me.'” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

know (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 greatly honored, the honorific prefix go- (御 or ご) can be used, as in go-zonji (ご存じ), a combination of “know” (zonji) and the honorific prefix go-.

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