The Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek terms that are often translated as “worship” (also, “kneel down” or “bow down”) are likewise translated in other languages in certain categories, including those based on physical activity, those which incorporate some element of “speaking” or “declaring,” and those which specify some type of mental activity.

Following is a list of (back-) translations (click or tap for details):

  • Javanese: “prostrate oneself before”
  • Malay: “kneel and bow the head”
  • Kaqchikel: “kneel before”
  • Loma (Liberia): “drop oneself beneath God’s foot”
  • Tepeuxila Cuicatec: “wag the tail before God” (using a verb which with an animal subject means “to wag the tail,” but with a human subject)
  • Tzotzil: “join to”
  • Kpelle: “raise up a blessing to God”
  • Kekchí: “praise as your God”
  • Cashibo-Cacataibo: “say one is important”
  • San Blas Kuna: “think of God with the heart”
  • Rincón Zapotec: “have one’s heart go out to God”
  • Tabasco Chontal: “holy-remember” (source of this and all above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Q’anjob’al: “humble oneself before” (source: Newberry and Kittie Cox in The Bible Translator 1950, p. 91ff. )
  • Alur: rwo: “complete submission, adoration, consecration” (source: F. G. Lasse in The Bible Translator 1956, p. 22ff. )
  • Obolo: itọtọbọ ebum: “express reverence and devotion” (source: Enene Enene)
  • Ngäbere: “cut oneself down before” (“This figure of speech comes from the picture of towering mahoganies in the forest which, under the woodman’s ax, quiver, waver, and then in solemn, thunderous crashing bury their lofty heads in the upstretched arms of the surrounding forest. This is the experience of every true worshiper who sees ‘the Lord, high and lifted up.’ Our own unworthiness brings us low. As the Valientes say, ‘we cut ourselves down before’ His presence. Our heads, which have been carried high in self-confidence, sink lower and lower in worship.)
  • Tzeltal: “end oneself before God.” (“Only by coming to the end of oneself can one truly worship. The animist worships his deities in the hope of receiving corresponding benefits, and some pagans in Christendom think that church attendance is a guarantee of success in this life and good luck in the future. But God has never set a price on worship except the price that we must pay, namely, ‘coming to the end of ourselves.'”) (Source of this and the one above: Nida 1952, p. 163)
  • Folopa: “die under God” (“an idiom that roughly back-translates “dying under God” which means lifting up his name and praising him and to acknowledge by everything one does and thanks that God is superior.”) (Source: Anderson / Moore, p. 202)
  • Chokwe: kuivayila — “rub something on” (“When anyone goes into the presence of a king or other superior, according to native law and custom the inferior gets down on the ground, takes a little earth in the fingers of his right hand, rubs it on his own body, and then claps his hands in homage and the greeting of friendship. It is a token of veneration, of homage, of extreme gratitude for some favor received. It is also a recognition of kingship, lordship, and a prostrating of oneself in its presence. Yet it simply is the applicative form of ‘to rub something on oneself’, this form of the verb giving the value of ‘because of.’ Thus in God’s presence as king and Lord we metaphorically rub dirt on ourselves, thus acknowledging Him for what He really is and what He has done for us.”) (Source: D. B. Long in The Bible Translator 1952, p. 87ff. )

In Luang it is translated with different shades of meaning:

  • For Mark 15:19 and Matt. 2:8 and 2:11: “uh’idma-rrama llia’ara” — “to kiss the fingernail and lick the heel”
  • For Acts 16:14: ra’uli-rawedi — “to praise-talk about”
  • For Acts 14:15, 15:20, 17:16, 17:25: hoi-tani — “serve right hand – serve left”
  • For Acts 13:16 and 13:26: una-umta’ata — “respect-fear”
  • For 2 Thess. 2:4: kola tieru awur nehla — “hold waist – hug neck”

Source: Kathy Taber in Notes on Translation 1/1999, p. 9-16.

formal pronoun: Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well

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, Jesus is addressing the woman with an informal pronoun whereas she addresses him with a formal pronoun, showing respect.

In Gbaya, where God is always addressed with the second person plural pronoun ɛ́nɛ́, the common way to address superiors, the woman addresses him with the less courteous nɛ́ in verse 4:9 but then switches to the courteous plural form ɛ́nɛ́. (Source Philip Noss)

In most Dutch translations, both Jesus and the woman use the formal pronoun, whereas in Afrikaans and Western Frisian Jesus addresses the woman informally and she addresses him with the formal pronoun.

complete verse (John 4:20)

Following are a number of back-translations of John 4:20:

  • Uma: “We(excl.) Samaria people, we (excl.) worship on this mountain, on the worship mountain of our (excl.) ancestors. But you (pl.) Yahudi people say, true worship can only be in Yerusalem.'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “Our (excl.) forefathers of the Samariya tribe,’ she said, ‘had their place for worshiping God here on this mountain. But you the Yahudi, you say that we (incl.) should worship God there in Awrusalam.'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “My Samaritan ancestors, they worshipped God here on this mountain, but as for you Jews, you teach that it is necessary that we (incl.) worship God there in Jerusalem.'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “This mountain, that’s where-our (excl.) ancestors -worshipped God long ago. But you Jews, you say that at Jerusalem only is the correct place-for-people -to-worship God.'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Here on this hill is where our (incl.) ancestors worshipped God, but you (pl.) Judio say only there now in Jerusalem is it acceptable/possible to worship God.'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “Our ancestors, the natives of Samaria worshipped God here on the hill. But you who are Jews say that Jerusalem is the place where it is necessary to worship God.'” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (John 4:20)

Many languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns (“we”). (Click or tap here to see more details)

The inclusive “we” specifically includes the addressee (“you and I and possibly others”), while the exclusive “we” specifically excludes the addressee (“he/she/they and I, but not you”). This grammatical distinction is called “clusivity.” While Semitic languages such as Hebrew or most Indo-European languages such as Greek or English do not make that distinction, translators of languages with that distinction have to make a choice every time they encounter “we” or a form thereof (in English: “we,” “our,” or “us”).

For this verse (“our fathers ” in English translations), translators often select the exclusive form.

Source: Velma Pickett and Florence Cowan in Notes on Translation January 1962, p. 1ff.

The Yagua translators justify this by saying “Our choice here is exclusive assuming that the Samaritan woman to maintain the independent and factious spirit which this account shows existed between Jews and Samaritans.”

Source: Paul Powlison in Notes on Translation with Drills, p. 165ff.

In the Mezquital Otomi translation the inclusive form was chosen because “according to the Samaritans, Mt. Gerizim had been the scene of the sacrifice of Isaac and Abraham’s meeting with Melchizedek; and in their version of the Pentateuch it, and not Mt. Ebal, was the site of the first Hebrew sacrifice after the people had passed over Jordan into the Holy Land.”

Source: Nacy Lanier in Notes on Translation with Drills, p. 167ff.

Another opinion on using the inclusive pronoun for this verse and the remainder of the story:

“The Samaritan woman, in my view, is trying to get the better of Jesus; she appeals to Jacob (v. 12) and to ‘our fathers’ (v. 20) as to authorities higher than Jesus. If this is true, then it was important for her to show that those authorities were acknowledged by Jesus also. Therefore, we can imagine her to have thought or said ‘Your and my ancestor’ (v. 12) or ‘ancestors’ (v. 20) — inclusive pronoun in both verses.

“As for the phrase ‘who gave us the well’, there is certainly much truth in the consideration: “Since the well was in Samaritan territory, presumably she would use the exclusive form.” Yet, the inclusive can be defended here also, I think. With the remark that Jacob and his sons drank from the well, she is pointing back to a time anterior to the present antithesis between Jew and Samaritan; the well was given to ancestors of both peoples. Moreover, she comes to fetch water from the well and Jesus hopes to quench his thirst with its water. “The well is of common interest for both you and me,” she may have meant. It seems possible to find a third appeal to higher authority in v. 25. The woman has acknowledged Jesus as a prophet, but to the Messiah even a prophet has to bow; he, the prophet, as well as she, will have to be shown all things by the Messiah. Accepting this interpretation, we again have to use the inclusive ‘we’, Yet there is a difference with the verses first mentioned. In v. 12 and v. 20 the pronominal first person plural was used in phrases connected with the past; v. 25 points to the future, to the time when the Messiah will come and teach. A consciousness among the Samaritans of a Messianic belief common to both Jews and themselves is a necessary presupposition of the interpretation of v. 25 given above. So we are led to the preliminary question whether such a consciousness existed in Jesus’ times.”

Source: J. L. Swellengrebel in The Bible Translator 1959, p. 37.