(To view the different translations of this term in a simplified graphical form on a new page, click or tap here.)
The Greek and Hebrew terms that are translated as “hypocrite” in English typically have a counterpart in most languages. According to Bratcher / Nida (1961, p. 225), they can be categorized into the following categories:
- those which employ some concept of “two” or “double”
- those which make use of some expression of “mouth” or “speaking”
- those which are based upon some special cultural feature
- those which employ a non-metaphorical phrase
Following is a list of (back-) translations from some languages:
- Highland Totonac, Huautla Mazatec, Lacandon, Cuicatec, Highland Puebla Nahuatl: “two faced”
- Obolo: ebi isi iba: “double-faced person” (source: Enene Enene)
- Tzeltal, Chol: “two hearts”
- Pame: “two mouths”
- San Miguel El Grande Mixtec: “two heads”
- Kekchí: “two sides”
- Shipibo-Conibo: “double (or “forked”) tongue”
- Eastern Highland Otomi: “double talk”
- Huehuetla Tepehua: “to talk false”
- Copainalá Zoque: “to lie-act”
- Kituba, Amganad Ifugao, Chuukese: “to lie”
- Toraja-Sa’dan: “someone whose lips are fair” (i.e. “gracious”)
- Mossi: “to have a sweet mouth”
- Mazahua: “to have a swollen mouth” (from too much speaking)
- Tai Dam: “to have a straight mouth and a crooked heart”
- Kongo: “the bitterness of white” (an idiom based on the fact that white-wash looks nice but tastes bitter)
- Malagasy: “to spread a clean carpet” (an expression used in Madagascar to describe one who covers up the dirt of an unswept floor just before the arrival of guests)
- Zanaki: “those who make themselves out to be good”
- Tetelcingo Nahuatl: “those who deceive” (this and all examples above acc. to Bratcher / Nida 1961, p. 225)
- Kafa: “one who makes as if his belly is clean” (source: Loren Bliese)
- Agatu: ɔcɛ gigbefu — “disguised person acting a part” (source: Mackay, The Bible Translator 1962, 211f)
- Mairasi: “deceiver person” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
- Bauzi: “good on top person” (source: David Briley in Kroneman (2004), p. 502)
The English version of Sarah Ruden (2021) uses “play-actor.” She explains (p. li): “A hupokrites is fundamentally an actor. The word has deep negativity in the Gospels on two counts: professional actors were not respectable people in the ancient world, and traditional Judaism did not countenance any kind of playacting. I write ‘play-actor’ throughout.”
See also hypocrisy.
The Greek that is translated as “Sabbath” in English is rendered as “day we rest” in Tzotzil whereas in Mairasi it is the “Jew’s Rest Day.”
Shilluk translates it as “day of God” and Obolo as Usen Mbuban: “Holy Day.”
(Sources: Tzotzil: Marion Cowan in Notes on Translation with Drill, p. 169ff; Mairasi: Enggavoter 2004; Shilluk: Nida 1964, p. 237; Obolo: Enene Enene)
In the old Khmer version as well as in the first new translation this term was rendered as “day of rest” (Thngai Chhup Somrak). Considered inadequate to convey its religious meaning (not only about cessation of work, but also in honour of Yahweh as the Creator), the committee has decided to keep the Hebrew word and use its transliterated form Thgnai Sabath. The Buddhist word Thngai Seil “day of merits” used by some Catholics was once under consideration but was rejected because it did not receive unanimous support.” (Source: Joseph Hong in The Bible Translator 1996, p. 233ff.)
In Spanish, the translation is either día de reposo (“day of rest”) or sábado (usually: “Saturday,” derived from the Greek and Hebrew original. Nida (1947, p. 239f.) explains that problem for Spanish and other languages in its sphere of influence: “In translation “Sabbath” into various aboriginal languages of Latin America, a considerable number of translators have used the Spanish sábado, ‘Saturday,’ because it is derived from the Hebrew sabbath and seems to correspond to English usage as well. The difficulty is that sábado means only ‘Saturday’ for most people. There is no religious significance about this word as the is with ‘Sabbath’ in English. Accordingly the [readers] cannot understand the significance of the persecution of Jesus because he worked on ‘Saturday.’ It has been found quite advantageous to use the translation ‘day of rest,’ for this accurately translated the Hebrew meaning of the term and resolves the problem in connection with the prohibitions placed upon some types of activities.”
Following are a number of back-translations of Luke 13:15:
- Uma: “The Lord Yesus said: ‘Hey, you who good only on the outside! On Sabat Day, who of us do not free our cows and horses, taking them outside the corral and watering them [lit, causing to drink]?” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
- Yakan: “Isa answered him, he said, ‘You (plural) there are just pretending. Is it that not every one of you loosens your cows or horses from where you tied him and take him to drink even on a day of-no-work?” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And Jesus answered him, ‘Your custom is a lie! If there is a cow or a horse of any one of you, it’s not possible that you will not untie it on the day of rest and lead it to the water to drink.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
- Kankanaey: “Jesus answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites, there is probably not even one of you who doesn’t untie his animal to go have-him-drink on the day that is for-resting.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “The Lord Jesus replied, saying, ‘You (plural) who pretend to believe-in/obey God! Isn’t it so that each one of you, you untie your cow or asno horse which is tethered in the little-house which is a shelter and cause it to go out to drink, even if it’s the Day of Rest?” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
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 religious leaders with the formal pronoun, showing respect. Compare that with the typical address with the informal pronoun of the religious leaders.
The only two exceptions to this are Luke 7:40/43 and 10:26 where Jesus uses the informal pronoun as a response to the sycophantic use of the formal pronoun by the religious leaders (see formal pronoun: religious leaders addressing Jesus).
In most Dutch translations, the same distinctions are made, with the exception of Luke 10:26 where Jesus is using the formal pronoun.
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) 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).
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’: “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)
- 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)
See also Father / Lord.