The Hebrew and Greek that is translated as “widow” in English is translated in West Kewa as ona wasa or “woman shadow.” (Source: Karl J. Franklin in Notes on Translation 70/1978, pp. 13ff.)

The etymological meaning of the Hebrew almanah (אַלְמָנָה) is likely “pain, ache,” the Greek chéra (χήρα) is likely “to leave behind,” “abandon,” and the English widow (as well as related terms in languages such as Dutch, German, Sanskrit, Welsh, or Persian) is “to separate,” “divide” (source: Wiktionary).

See also widows.

presentation in the temple (image)

This is a contemporary tempera/gouache on leather painting by an unknown Ethiopian artist. Source: Sacred Art Pilgrim website .

Following is a painting by Chen Yuandu 陳緣督 (1902–1967):

Housed in the Société des Auxiliaires des Missions Collection – Whitworth University.

Image taken from Chinese Christian Posters . For more information on the “Ars Sacra Pekinensis” school of art, see this article , for other artworks of that school in TIPs, see here.

years (age)

In Aekyom, years are counted as “turtles” (ambum).

Norm Mundhenk tells this story:

“Recently I was checking some New Testament material in the Aekyom language of western Papua New Guinea. It seemed relatively clear until suddenly we came to a passage that started, ‘When Jesus had 12 turtles, …’ Surely I had misunderstood what they said.
“‘Did you say that Jesus had 12 turtles?’
“‘Let us explain! Around here there is a certain time every year when river turtles come up on the banks and lay their eggs. Because this is so regular, it can be used as a way of counting years. Someone’s age is said to be how many turtles that person has. So when we say that Jesus had 12 turtles, we mean that Jesus was 12 years old.’
“It was of course the familiar story of Jesus’ trip with his parents to Jerusalem. And certainly, as we all know, Jesus did indeed have 12 turtles at that time!”

In Tok Pisin, krismas (derived from “christmas”) is taken as the fixed annual marker, so Jesus had 12 “christmases” (Jisas i gat 12-pela krismas pinis) or Abram (in Gen. 12:4) had 75 (Abram i gat 75 krismas) (source: Norm Mundhenk). In Nyongar it is biroka kadak or “summers had” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang).

See also advanced in years.


The Greek that is translated as “serve” in English is translated in Quetzaltepec Mixe as “obey.”

complete verse (Luke 2:37)

Following are a number of back-translations of Luke 2:37:

  • Uma: “At the time of the arrival of Yusuf and Maria in the House of God, there was also there a female prophet who was very old. Her name was Hana, the child of Fanuel, from the family of Asyer. At that time, her age was eighty-four years. She had been married only seven years. From there, she was a widow, and she did not marry again. She stayed continually in the House of God, day and night continually praying and she fasted worshipping the Lord God.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “then she had been a widow until now she was eighty four years old. She was always in the temple including fasting, praying and worshiping not only at daytime but also at night.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And she had been a widow now for eighty-four years. She always was in the church because day and night she worshipped God, and there was a time that she did not eat so that her prayer to God might be drawn tight.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “then was widowed until now at the age of eighty-four years. Daily and even at night she was in the Temple praising God and praying while at the same time she fasted (lit. endured her hunger).” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Well, at that time, the age of that widow was now eighty four years. She was always/often at the Templo, for day and night she worshipped, fasted and prayed to God.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)


The name that is transliterated as “Jerusalem” in English is signed in French Sign Language with a sign that depicts worshiping at the Western Wall in Jerusalem:

“Jerusalem” in French Sign Language (source )

While a similar sign is also used in British Sign Language, another, more neutral sign that combines the sign “J” and the signs for “place” is used as well. (Source: Anna Smith)

“Jerusalem” in British Sign Language (source: Christian BSL, used with permission)

synagogue, temple (inner), temple (outer)

In many English translations the Greek terms “hieron” (the whole “temple” in Jerusalem or specifically the outer courts open to worshippers) and “naos” (the inner “shrine” or “sanctuary”) are translated with only one word: “temple” (see also for instance “Tempel” in German [for exception see below] and “tempel” in Dutch, Danish, or Afrikaans).

Other languages make a distinction: (Click or tap here to see more)

  • Navajo: “house in which worship is carried out” (for naos)
  • Balinese: “inner part of the Great Temple” (“the term ‘inner part’ denoting the hindmost and holiest of the two or three courts that temples on Bali usually possess”) vs. “Great Temple”
  • Telugu: “womb (i.e. interior)-of-the-abode” vs. “abode”
  • Thai: a term denoting the main audience hall of a Buddhist temple compound vs. “environs-of-the-main-audience-hall”
  • Kituba: “place of holiness of house-God Lord” vs. “house-God Lord”
  • Shipibo-Conibo: “deep in God’s house” vs. “God’s house” (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • German das Buch translation by Roland Werner (publ. 2009-2022): “inner court of the temple” (Tempelinnenhof) vs. “temple”

Languages that, like English, German, Dutch, Danish, or Afrikaans don’t make that distinction include:

  • Mandarin Chinese: “聖殿 Shèng diàn” (“holy palace”)
  • Loma: “the holy place”
  • Pular: “the sacred house” (source for this and the one above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Zarma: “God’s compound”
  • Eastern Highland Otomi: “big church of the Jews”
  • Yatzachi Zapotec: “big house on top (i.e. most important)”
  • Toraja-Sa’dan: “house that is looked upon as holy, that is sacred, that is taboo and where one may not set foot” (lit. “house where-the-belly-gets-swollen” — because taboo is violated — using a term that is also applied to a Muslim mosque) (source for this and the three above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • Mairasi: Janav Enggwarjer Weso: “Great Above One’s (God’s) House” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • Nyongar: Maya-maya-Kooranyi: “Sacred House” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • Huehuetla Tepehua: “the big church of the Israelites”
  • Aguaruna: “the house for talking to God” (source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
  • Guhu-Samane: “festival longhouse of God” (“The biiri, ‘festival longhouse’, being the religious and social center of the community, is a possible term for ‘temple’. It is not the ‘poro house’ as such. That would be too closely identified with the cult of poro. The physical features of the building, huge and sub-divided, lend it further favor for this consideration. By qualifying it as ‘God’s biiri’ the term has become meaningful and appropriate in the context of the Scriptures.”) (Source: Ernest Richert in The Bible Translator, 1965, p. 81ff. )
  • Enga: “God’s restricted access house” (source: Adam Boyd on his blog)

Another distinction that tends to be overlooked in translations is that between hieron (“temple” in English) and sunagógé (“synagogue” in English). Euan Fry (in The Bible Translator 1987, p. 213ff. ) reports on this:

“Many older translations have simply used transliterations of ‘temple’ and ‘synagogue’ rather than trying to find equivalent terms or meaningful expressions in their own languages. This approach does keep the two terms separate; but it makes the readers depend on explanations given by pastors or teachers for their understanding of the text.

“Translators who have tried to find meaningful equivalents, for the two terms ‘temple’ and ‘synagogue’ have usually made a distinction between them in one of two ways (which focus on the contrasting components of meaning). One way takes the size and importance of the Temple to make a contrast, so that expressions such as ‘sacred meeting/ worship house of the Jews’ and ‘big sacred meeting/worship house of the Jews’ are used. The other way focuses on the different nature of the religious activity at each of the places, so that expressions such as ‘meeting/worship house of the Jews’ and ‘sacrifice/ceremony place of the Jews’ are used.

“It is not my purpose in this article to discuss how to arrive at the most precise equivalent to cover all the components of meaning of ‘temple’. That is something that each translator really has to work through for himself in the light of the present usage and possibilities in his own language. My chief concern here is that the basic term or terms chosen for ‘temple’ should give the reader of a translation a clear and correct picture of the location referred to in each passage. And I am afraid that in many cases where an equivalent like ‘house of God’ or ‘worship house’ has been chosen, the readers have quite the wrong picture of what going to the Temple or being in the Temple means. (This may be the case for the word ‘temple’ in English too, for many readers.)”

Here are some examples:

  • Bambara: “house of God” (or: “big house of worship”) vs. “worship house” (or: “small houses of worship”)
  • Toraja-Sa’dan: “house where-the-belly-gets-swollen” (see above) vs. “meeting house for discussing matters concerning religious customs” (and “church” is “house where one meets on Sunday”)
  • Navajo: “house in which worship is carried out” vs. “house of gathering” (source for all above: Bratcher / Nida)
Click or tap here to see a short video clip about Herod’s temple (source: Bible Lands 2012)

Click or tap here to see a short video clip showing synagogues in New Testament times (source: Bible Lands 2012)

See also this devotion on YouVersion .

Translation commentary on Luke 2:36 – 2:37


kai ēn ‘and there was’ or, establishing a closer connexion with v. 25, “There was also” (New English Bible), preferably the latter.

Hanna prophētis ‘Anna, a prophetess,’ the apposition denotes the function or quality in which Anna acts. As such it is different from the two subsequent appositions which serve to identify Anna as to her lineage. prophētis.

In the clause which runs from hautē ‘she’ till tessarōn ‘four’ the main verb is probebēkuia ‘advanced,’ scil. ēn ‘was’ and the phrase hautē … pollais gives the central information, i.e. that Anna was very old, and the subsequent participial clause zēsasa … tessarōn is to be understood as a consistent whole which serves (1) to explain the preceding phrase ‘well advanced in years’ and (2) to inform the reader also in what status Anna had spent her long life.

hautē probebēkuia en hēmerais pollais scil. ēn, lit. ‘she was advanced in many days,’ cf. 1.7 and 18 ‘advanced in their (or, her) days.’ The addition here of pollais ‘many,’ which is idiomatically a pleonasm, conveys the idea that Anna is very old, cf. Translator’s New Testament.

zēsasa meta andros etē hepta apo tēs parthenias autēs ‘having lived with a husband seven years from the time of her virginity.’

zaō ‘to live’ here ‘to pass life,’ specified first as ‘married life’ by meta andros and subsequently as ‘widowed life’ by autē chēra ‘on her own as widow’ (v. 37a).

meta andros lit. ‘with a man,’ here ‘with a husband.’

parthenia ‘virginity,’ here to be understood as ‘time of her virginity’ and apo as temporal ‘from the end of’ or even ‘after.’ Hence the phrase indicates that this marriage had been her first.

(V. 37) heōs etōn ogdoēkonta tessarōn ‘until eighty-four years’ i.e. ‘until the age of eighty-four.’
hē ouk aphistato tou hierou ‘who did not depart from the temple,’ a relative clause which continues the introductory description of Anna and draws a picture of her religious life. The imperfect tense is durative and the clause suggests, with exaggeration, frequent attendance in the temple, not actual residence within the temple precincts, especially since autē tē hōra ‘at that very hour’ (v. 38) would be pointless if Anna was always in the temple.

aphistamai ‘to go away from,’ with genitive.

nēsteiais kai deēsesin latreuousa nukta kai hēmeran ‘with fasting and praying serving (God) night and day’; this participial phrase serves to describe how Anna spent her time in the temple.

nēsteia ‘fasting,’ here in the plural ‘times, or acts, of fasting.’

deēsis ‘prayer,’ cf. on 1.13.

latreuō ‘to serve,’ cf. on 1.74; the object, God, is here omitted.


Daughter of Phanuel. Probably Phanuel was Anna’s father, not her forefather of (or, belonging to/a member of/having-as-tribe) the tribe of Asher may syntactically go either with Anna or with Phanuel. This is immaterial where a daughter belongs to the tribe or clan of her father, as in Israel; in cultures where the genealogical system is different it is better to make clear that the phrase qualifies Anna, e.g. .’.., a woman of the tribe…,’ and/or to indicate that Phanuel is a man’s name. — Tribe, referring here to one of the twelve patrilineal tribes into which Israel was traditionally divided. The noun may have to be rendered by a descriptive phrase, e.g. ‘those who descended from the former Asher’ (Tboli), ‘those who have Asher as their ancestor.’

Of a great age, cf. on “advanced in years” in 1.7.

The participial phrase, having lived etc., is usually better rendered as a new sentence, e.g. .’..; (for) she had lived….’

Having lived with her husband refers to the period of Anna’s married life. The phrase has been rendered, ‘who had-a-husband’ (Batak Toba, where ‘husband’ is rendered ‘he for-whom-one-serves food’), ‘she was-together-with her-husband (lit. male)’ (Toraja-Sa’dan), ‘she had been married (lit. went with a male spouse)’ (Ekari).

From her virginity, i.e. since the end of her life as unmarried girl, or stated reversely, since the beginning of her life as married woman; hence such renderings as, “after her girlhood” (An American Translation), ‘as a girl she married’ (cf. Toraja-Sa’dan, Sranan Tongo), “after she was first married” (New English Bible), ‘since she entered married life (or, became a married woman/a wife)’; or, shifting to a relative clause going with ‘husband,’ ‘whom she had married in her girlhood’ (cf. Bible en français courant). — The rendering ‘since she became a virgin (i.e. reached the age of puberty)’ rests on an erroneous interpretation.

(V. 37) And, or, ‘after that time,’ ‘afterwards’ (Tagalog), ‘from then onward.’

As a widow, preferably, ‘on her own (or, by herself) as a widow.’ The translation must indicate that the phrase is dependent on ‘having lived’ (e.g. by repeating the verb here, or by other devices), and that it syntactically parallels ‘with a husband’; therefore, adaptations that were necessary in the lexical and/or syntactic form of the preceding phrase will usually lead to corresponding adaptations in this one. Tae’ distinguishes between a widow who still is under obligation of mourning, and one who is not and, therefore, may remarry, the latter term being, of course, required here. If a specific term does not exist in the receptor language, or if it can also mean ‘a divorced woman’ (as e.g. in Bahasa Indonesia), or has the connotation of promiscuity (as in a Chuj dialect) or grief verging on madness (Tboli), a descriptive phrase will have to be used, e.g. ‘a woman whose husband has died.’ Adjustments of this phrase to the present context may result in something like, ‘after her husband’s death she lived unmarried’ (Kituba), ‘but he died and she lived on’ (Vai).

Till she was eighty-four, or, “to the age of eighty-four” (New English Bible), ‘till her years (or, winters, or, seasons) were eighty-four.’ In some receptor languages a numeral like eighty-four has to be rendered by approximation, and/or by multiplication, e.g. ‘seven times twelve,’ ‘four scores,’ or addition, e.g. ‘sixty and twenty four’ (Ekari).

She did not depart from, or, with an equivalent English hyperbole “she spent her whole life” (Phillips); or less hyperbolically “never far from” (The Four Gospels – a New Translation). Sranan Tongo has a positive rendering, qualifying the following verb, ‘on and on she served God in God’s house.’

Worshipping … night and day. Several versions co-ordinate this clause with what precedes, ‘and she worshipped (there) …’; some reverse the pattern of subordination, see the above Sranan Tongo quotation. For to worship cf. on 4.7.

With fasting and prayer, or, ‘by means of/accompanied by (Balinese) / in the way of (Tae’) fasting and prayer,’ indicating the forms in which she expressed her worship. When the nouns have to be rendered as verbal clauses the three verbs often are best co-ordinated; in some cases ‘to worship’ has to be subordinated to the other two, e.g. ‘worshipping/when she worshipped she fasted and prayed’ (cf. Ekari, Kituba), ‘she fasted and prayed in order to (or, as a form of) worship.’ The context here is clearly referring to religious ritual; hence some of the proposed descriptive phrases may be shortened or expressed more generically.

Night and day, or, ‘day and night,’ where that is the normal sequence, or ‘continually.’

Quoted with permission from Reiling, J. and Swellengrebel, J.L. A Handbook on the Gospel of Luke. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1971. For this and other handbooks for translators see here . Make sure to also consult the Handbook on the Gospel of Mark for parallel or similar verses.