The Greek term that is translated as “love” in English is typically translated in Hakka Chinese as thung-siak / 痛惜 or “pain-love” when it refers to God’s love.
The same term is used for a variety of Hebrew terms that cover a range of English translations that refer to God as the agent, including “love,” “compassion,” and “mercy.”
Paul McLean explains: “[Thung-siak / 痛惜] has been used for many years in a popular Hakka-Christian mountain song based on John 3:16. The translation team decided that for this and other reasons it would be a good rendering here. It helps point to the fact that God’s ‘love’ is a compassionate (cum passio, with suffering) love.”
Lloyd Peckham explains the Mairasi translation: “In secret stories, not knowable to women nor children, there was a magical fruit of life. If referred to vaguely, without specifying the specific ‘fruit,’ it can be an expression for eternity.”
The Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin terms that are typically translated as “mercy” (or “compassion” or “kindness”) in English are translated in various ways. Bratcher / Nida classify them in (1) those based on the quality of heart, or other psychological center, (2) those which introduce the concept of weeping or extreme sorrow, (3) those which involve willingness to look upon and recognize the condition of others, or (4) those which involve a variety of intense feelings.
While the Englishmercy originates from the Latinmerces, originally “price paid,” Romance languages (Italian, Spanish, Corsican, Catalan) and other Germanic languages (German, Swedish, Danish — Barmherzigkeit, barmhärtighet and barmhjertighed, respectively) tend to follow the Latin misericordia, lit. “misery-heart.”
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)
Translator Lee Bramlett submitted this on the translation of the Greek word that is translated into English as “love” (referring to God’s love). This letter was then reposted by Wycliffe Bible Translators (see here ):
“Translator Lee Bramlett was confident that God had left His mark on the Hdi culture somewhere, but though he searched, he could not find it. Where was the footprint of God in the history or daily life of these Cameroonian people? What clue had He planted to let the Hdi know who He was and how He wanted to relate to them?
“Then one night in a dream, God prompted Lee to look again at the Hdi word for ‘love.’ Lee and his wife, Tammi, had learned that verbs in Hdi consistently end in one of three vowels. For almost every verb, they could find forms ending in i, a, and u. But when it came to the word for love, they could only find i and a. Why no u?
“Lee asked the Hdi translation committee, which included the most influential leaders in the community, ‘Could you ‘ɗvi’ your wife?’ ‘Yes,’ they said. That would mean that the wife had been loved but the love was gone.
“‘Could you ‘ɗva’ your wife?’ ‘Yes,’ they said. That kind of love depended on the wife’s actions. She would be loved as long as she remained faithful and cared for her husband well.
“‘Could you ‘ɗvu’ your wife?’ Everyone laughed. ‘Of course not! If you said that, you would have to keep loving your wife no matter what she did, even if she never got you water, never made you meals. Even if she committed adultery, you would be compelled to just keep on loving her. No, we would never say ‘ɗvu.’ It just doesn’t exist.’
“Lee sat quietly for a while, thinking about John 3:16, and then he asked, ‘Could God ‘ɗvu’ people?’
“There was complete silence for three or four minutes; then tears started to trickle down the weathered faces of these elderly men. Finally they responded. ‘Do you know what this would mean? This would mean that God kept loving us over and over, millennia after millennia, while all that time we rejected His great love. He is compelled to love us, even though we have sinned more than any people.’
“One simple vowel and the meaning was changed from ‘I love you based on what you do and who you are,’ to ‘I love you, based on Who I am. I love you because of Me and NOT because of you.’
“God had encoded the story of His unconditional love right into their language. For centuries, the little word was there — unused but available, grammatically correct and quite understandable. When the word was finally spoken, it called into question their entire belief system. If God was like that, did they need the spirits of the ancestors to intercede for them? Did they need sorcery to relate to the spirits? Many decided the answer was no, and the number of Christ-followers quickly grew from a few hundred to several thousand.
“The New Testament in Hdi is ready to be printed now, and 29,000 speakers will soon be able to feel the impact of passages like Ephesians 5:25: ‘Husbands, ‘ɗvu’ your wives, just as Christ ‘ɗvu’-d the church…'”
In Hawai’i Creole English the love that God has is often translated as love an aloha. Aloha has a variety of meanings, including “hello,” “goodbye,” “love,” “thank you,” etc.
Following are a number of back-translations of Jude 1:21:
Uma: “But you, my relatives whom I love! God loves you. So, be very careful so that you remain in his love. Do not cease firing-up one another’s hearts so that your faith is strong–because this teaching that we believe is indeed holy. Keep praying with/by the leading of the Holy Spirit. And wait for the blessing that our Lord Yesus Kristus will give to us when he comes. What he will give to us is good life forever.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
Yakan: “Remain in the love of God while you are waiting for our (incl.) Lord Isa Almasi to give you life without end, because he has mercy/pity on you.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Always consider God’s very great kindness to you as you wait for the time in the future when our Lord Jesus Christ will show to us (incl.) his great mercy, for then we (incl.) will never be separated from him forever.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
Kankanaey: “Don’t be-turning-your-backs-on or forgetting God’s love for you, but rather be-patient to wait-for the day on-which-you -will-gain life that has no end in heaven because of the grace/mercy of Jesu Cristo our Lord.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
Tagbanwa: “Be careful of your way of living, so that you don’t get-to-go-far from the valuing by God, while you await life which has no ending, which will be graced to us by our Lord Jesu-Cristo.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
Tenango Otomi: “Do not reject the grace of God. Our Lord Jesus Christ has mercy. Let us wait to be given the life which is forever.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
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, translators typically select the inclusive form (including the writer and readers of the letter).
Source: Velma Pickett and Florence Cowan in Notes on Translation January 1962, p. 1ff.