The Greek that is translated as “desert” or “wilderness” in English is translated as “a place where noisiness is cut off (or: stops)” in Mairasi, “big barren-field” (pandaso bhalano) in Muna, “uninhabited place” in Wantoat, “where no people dwell” in Umiray Dumaget Agta, “where no house is” (Shipibo-Conibo), and “barren field” (Balinese).
Embu: “changing heart” (“2 Cor. 7:10 says ‘For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death.’ In ordinary speech the terms ‘repent’ and ‘regret’ are used interchangeably in Embu, so that this verse comes out as: ‘godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no repentance,’ which is contradictory. The problem was solved by using ‘changing heart’ in the first, and ‘sadness’ in the second.”) (source: Jan Sterk)
Muna: dofetompa’ao dhosa bhe dodoli ne Lahata’ala: “to radically-end sin and to turn to God” (source: René van den Berg)
Bacama: por-njiya: “fetch sand” (“Before the coming of Christianity 100 years ago, when the elders went to pray to the gods, they would take sand and throw it over each shoulder and down their backs while confessing their sins. Covering themselves with sand was a ritual to show that they were sorry for what they had done wrong, sort of like covering oneself with sackcloth and ashes. Now idol worship for the most part is abandoned in Bacama culture, but the Christian church has retained the phrase por-njiya to mean ‘repent, doing something to show sorrow for one’s sins’” — source: David Frank in this blog post.)
“In Tzotzil two reflexive verbs to communicate the biblical concept of repentance are used. Xca’i jba means to know or to reflect inwardly on one’s self. This self inquiry or self examination is similar to the attitude of the prodigal son where Luke 15:17 records that ‘he came to his senses.’ Broke, starving, and slopping hogs, the prodigal admitted to himself that he was in the wrong place. The second reflexive verb ‘jsutes jba’ means turning away from what one is and turning to something else. In a sense, it is deciding against one’s self and toward someone else. It is similar to the attitude of the prodigal son when he said, ‘I will get up and go to my father’ (v. 18).” (source: Aeilts, p. 118)
Enlhet “exchange innermosts.” “Innermost” or valhoc is a term that is frequently used in Enlhet to describe a large variety of emotions or states of mind (for other examples see here). (Source: Jacob Loewen in The Bible Translator 1969, p. 24ff.)
Koonzime: “removing the bad deed-counters” (“The Koonzime lay out the deeds symbolically — usually strips of banana leaf — and rehearse their grievances with the person addressed.”) (Source: Keith and Mary Beavon in Notes on Translation 3/1996, p. 16)
Ngbaka: ele: “forgive and forget” (Margaret Hill [in Holzhausen & Ridere 2010, p. 8f.] recalls that originally there were two different words used in Ngbaka, one for God (ele) and one for people (mboko — excuse something) since it was felt that people might well forgive but, unlike God, can’t forget.
Amahuaca: “erasing” / “smoothing over” (“It was an expression the people used for smoothing over dirt when marks or drawings had been made in it. It meant wiping off dust in which marks had been made, or wiping off writing on the blackboard. To wipe off the slate, to erase, to take completely away — it has a very wide meaning and applies very well to God’s wiping away sins, removing them from the record, taking them away.”) (Source: Robert Russel, quoted in Walls / Bennett 1959, p. 193)
The Greek with the original verbatim meaning of “miss the mark” and that is typically translated as “sin” in English is often translated by terms that have the “connotation of moral responsibility.” Loma has (for certain types of sin) “leaving the road” (which “implies a definite standard, the transgression of which is sin”) or Navajo uses “that which is off to the side.” (Source: Bratcher / Nida). In Toraja-Sa’dan the translation is kasalan, which originally meant “transgression of a religious or moral rule” and has shifted its meaning in the context of the Bible to “transgression of God’s commandments.” (Source: H. van der Veen in The Bible Translator 1950, p. 21 ff.).
In Shipibo-Conibo the term is hocha. Nida (1952, p. 149) tells the story of its choosing:
“In some instances a native expression for sin includes many connotations, and its full meaning must be completely understood before one ever attempts to use it. This was true, for example, of the term hocha first proposed by Shipibo-Conibo natives as an equivalent for ‘sin.’ The term seemed quite all right until one day the translator heard a girl say after having broken a little pottery jar that she was guilty of ‘hocha.’ Breaking such a little jar scarcely seemed to be sin. However, the Shipibos insisted that hocha was really sin, and they explained more fully the meaning of the word. It could be used of breaking a jar, but only if the jar belonged to someone else. Hocha was nothing more nor less than destroying the possessions of another, but the meaning did not stop with purely material possessions. In their belief God owns the world and all that is in it. Anyone who destroys the work and plan of God is guilty of hocha. Hence the murderer is of all men most guilty of hocha, for he has destroyed God’s most important possession in the world, namely, man. Any destructive and malevolent spirit is hocha, for it is antagonistic and harmful to God’s creation. Rather than being a feeble word for some accidental event, this word for sin turned out to be exceedingly rich in meaning and laid a foundation for the full presentation of the redemptive act of God.”
In Kaingang, the translation is “break God’s word” and in Sandawe the original meaning of the Greek term (see above) is perfectly reflected with “miss the mark.” (Source: Ursula Wiesemann in Holzhausen / Riderer 2010, p. 36ff., 43)
Following are a number of back-translations of Mark 1:4:
Uma: “Like that which was written, Yohanes the Baptizer really did appear in the wilderness [lit., empty field]. He brought the Word of God to the people, he said: ‘Repent from your sins, and you must come here I will baptize so that God forgives your sins.'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
Yakan: “So-then, Yahiya came/arrived there in the lonely place. He was the one hep who bathed/baptized people when they already regretted and let-go of their sins. Yahiya proclaimed there to the people that whoever regrets and leaves/lets-go-of his evil doings, he should be bathed and God will forgive him.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And this was fulfilled through John, the one titled Baptizer. For he was in the land where people do not live and he also preached to people. He said, ‘Give up your bad deeds and have yourselves baptized so that it might be known that you have given them up, and then God will forgive your sins,’ said John.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
Kankanaey: “And that was fulfilled, because Juan the Baptizer appeared in the place that has no inhabitants, and he preached to those who went to listen. He said, ‘Repent of your sins and get-baptized so that God will forgive your sins.'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
Tagbanwa: “This was fulfilled when Juan emerged. He baptized in the wilderness place and taught, saying, ‘Repent/be-sorry-for and drop/give-up your (plural) sins and have yourselves baptized as a testimony that you will now drop them, so that you will indeed be forgiven by God.'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
Shipibo-Conibo: “John appeared. Having appeared, where no house is, he washed them [‘wash’ does not eliminate immersion]. He told them a word regarding being washed, having made the mind another, so that sin(s) be wiped away for them.” (Source: James Lauriault in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 32ff.)
Balinese: “There the whole country of Judea and all the inhabitants of the city of Jerusalem came out to meet Jokanan, and then they were baptized in the river Jarden, while they confessed their sins.” (Source: J.L. Swellengrebel in The Bible Translator 1950 p. 75ff.)
(To view the different translations of this term in a simplified graphical form on a new page, click or tap here.)
About the translation of the Greek term that is usually transliterated with the terms “baptism” or “baptize” (baptise) in English (for other English translations see below), Bratcher / Nida (1961) say this (click or tap for details):
“[It] has given rise not only to an immense amount of discussion in terms of its meaning within the Judaeo-Christian historical context, but also continues to introduce serious problems for translators today. In many instances the recommendation has been to transliterate, i.e. employing some indigenous equivalent of the sounds of the word in some more prestigious language spoken in the region, e.g. English, French, Spanish, or Portuguese. Though this solution tends to remove some theological controversies, it does not completely satisfy everyone, for not only does it avoid the problem of the mode of baptism, but it leaves the Scriptures with a zero word. Unfortunately, many of the controversies over the indigenous equivalent of baptism arise because of a false evaluation of a word’s so-called etymology. For example, in Yucateco the word for baptism means literally ‘to enter the water’, but this term is used freely by both Presbyterians and Roman Catholics, even though it might appear to be strictly ‘Baptist nomenclature.’ Similarly, in Kekchí, an even ‘stronger’ term ‘to put under the water’ is employed by Nazarenes and Roman Catholics. Obviously the meanings of these Yucateco and Kekchí words are not derivable from their literal significance but from the fact that they now designate a particular kind of Christian rite. To insist on changing such a well-established usage (and one to which immersionists could certainly not object) would seem quite unwarranted. The situation may, on the other hand, be reversed. There are instances in which immersionists are quite happy to use a term which though it means literally ‘to put water on the head’ [see below for the translation in Northern Emberá] has actually lost this etymological value and refers simply to the rite itself, regardless of the way in which it is performed. A translator should not, however, employ an already existing expression or construct a new phrase which will in its evident meaning rule wout any major Christian constituency.
“There are, of course, a number of instances in which traditional terms for ‘baptism’ need modification. In some situations the word may mean only ‘to give a new name to’ (one aspect of christening) or ‘to be one who lights’ (referring to a custom in some traditions of lighting a candle at the time of baptism). However, in order to reproduce the core of significant meaning of the original Biblical term, it is important to explore the entire range of indigenous usage in order that whatever term is chosen may have at least some measure of cultural relevance. In Navajo, for example, there were four principal possibilities of choice: (1) borrowing some transliterated form of the English word, (2) constructing a phrase meaning ‘to touch with water’ (an expression which would have been acceptable with some groups in the field, but not with others), (3) using a phrase meaning ‘ceremonial washing’ (but this expression seemed to be too closely related to indigenous practices in healing ceremonies), and (4) devising an expression meaning ‘to dedicate (or consecrate) by water’, without specifying the amount of water employed. This last alternative was chosen as the most meaningful and the best basis for metaphorical extension and teaching.
“On the other hand, it would be wrong to think that the meaning of ‘washing’ must be rejected in all languages. For example, it is quite appropriate in Kpelle culture, since it ties in with male puberty rites, and in the San Blas Kuna society, since washing is a very important aspect of female puberty ceremonies, in some translations ‘water’ is introduced into the expression for baptism, but the quantity and means of administrating it are left quite ambiguous, e.g. ‘to get (take, receive) water’ (Tzeltal). Toraja-Sa’dan, Pamona and Batak Toba render the verb ‘to pour water over, give a bath’.” (Source: Bratcher / Nida)
Muna: kadiu sarani “Christian bathing” (source: René von den Berg)
Halh Mongolian: argon ochial (“holy washing”) (“The people in Mongolia are strictly religious and understand the meaning very well. They are familiar with the idea of water being used as a symbol of a new life and having received ‘holy washing’ means to have entered into a new sphere of life.”) (Source: A. Marthinson in The Bible Translator 1954, p. 74ff.) (Note: In more recent Mongolian translations a transliteration of baptizo is used instead)
“The Yatzachi Zapotec know the practice of baptism and have a word to express it. There would thus seem to be no problem involved. Unfortunately, however, the word for ‘baptize’ is a compound, one part being a word nowhere else used and the other part being the word for ‘water.’ Perhaps ‘water-baptize’ is the closest equivalent in English. For most contexts this presents no problem, but if the word is used in Mark 1:8, it would say, ‘He will water-baptize you with the Holy Ghost.’ In Zapotec the idea is unintelligible. To meet the problem, the Spanish word ‘bautizar’ was introduced at this point though the Zapotec word is ordinarily used. The disadvantages of this substitution are obvious, but no better solution was found.”
Formerly in Uab Meto the word used for ’baptism” was ‘nasrami’ which actually came by way of Arabic from ‘Nazarene.’ Its meaning was ‘to make a Christian’ and the idea was that the one who baptized actually made Christians. Such an expression was obviously inadequate. We have used for ‘baptize’ the phrase in ‘antam oe’ which means ‘to enter into the water.’ This phrase can be used for sprinkling, for water is used as a symbol of the new life, and being baptized means for the Uab Meto to enter into a new sphere of life. Baptism is so frequently spoken of in connection with the giving of the Holy Spirit that the proper associations have arisen in the thinking of the people.”
Chinese: Catholic: 洗 xǐ (“washing”); non-Baptist Protestant 聖洗 shèngxǐ (“holy washing”); Baptist: 浸洗 jìnxǐ (“immerse and wash”) (In the history of Chinese Bible translation the translation of the Greek baptizo was a point of great contention, so much so that in the 19th Century Baptists had a completely different set of Bible translations and even today are using different editions with the different term of the same versions that other Protestants use.) (Source: Zetzsche 2008)
The disagreement about whether the translation of the Greek baptizo needed to include “immersion” not only caused conflict in China, it also led to splits — and different translations — in English-speaking countries: “The influential British and Foreign Bible Society had been a major supporter of the [Baptist] Serampore mission, but it finally severed its support in 1836 because of the Baptist interpretation of the Bible translations produced there. This led to the formation of the separate Baptist Bible Translation Society in Great Britain in 1840. Almost concurrently, in 1837, the American and Foreign Bible Society was founded in the United States as an offspring of the American Bible Society, over a controversy about a Baptist Bengali Bible translation. The American and Foreign Bible Society itself experienced another split in 1850, when a sub-group rejected the transliteration of baptizo in the English Bible and formed the American Bible Union, which published its own English New Testament in 1862/63” that used the term “immerse” instead of baptize see here). (Source: Zetzsche 2008)
Click or tap here to see a short video clip showing how baptisms were done in biblical times (source: Bible Lands 2012)