The Greek and Hebrew that is translated in English as “anoint” is translated in Lakota with azilyA: “to smudge.”

Steve Berneking (in Beerle-Moor / Voinov, p. 121) tells the story of that translation:

“During one visit with the Lakota team, we were reading texts and discussing key biblical terms and how they are best rendered into Lakota. Reference was made to the ritual we label ‘anointing.’ When the Lakota word that had been glossed as ‘anoint’ was read aloud, I heard giggling among the reviewers. Knowing that this reaction called for some explanation, I asked.

“The people there told me that the Lakota verb that was used to translate ‘anoint’ was funny in that context. It is not that the verb is an uncommon one; quite the contrary. Lakota uses that verb frequently, but almost exclusively as a verb of food preparation; the verb belongs to the culinary domain. In other words, the Lakota verb used for ‘anoint’ actually referred to rubbing oil on something that was to be cooked or grilled, in this case, the apostles. The Lakota verb ipáṫaŋṫtaŋ ‘to apply oil on something’ was used quite innocently by the missionaries. The linguistic transfer was understandable: the missionaries needed a verb to translate ‘putting oil on something’; Lakota has a verb; they used that verb. The result was comical. So, during that conversation with the Lakota community, I encouraged the translators to come up with a Lakota verb that is used not simply in ‘the application of oil,’ but more pointedly in the consecration of something or somebody for a special task, or in the appointment of someone for a special purpose. Their response was almost immediate: azilyA or wazílyA ‘to smudge.’ That is how, they told me, warriors and messengers and tribal leaders have always been consecrated (or blessed) before being sent out on a special mission. Sage grass was burned, and the smoke was waved over the person or object. The trans-cultural process of using the traditional Lakota verb azilyA for the biblical notion of ‘anoint’ became, at that moment, part of the Lakota Bible.”

In Bashkir, it is translated as masekhlay (мәсехләү), when used in a ritual context. Masekhlay has the same root than masikh (мәсих), which is used both for “anointed one” in the Old Testament and in its capitalized form (Мәсих) for Μεσσίας (engl. “Messiah”) and Χριστός (engl. “Christ”) in the New Testament. For more information about this, see anointed one.

In Vidunda it is translated as “smear oil.” (Source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext)

Click or tap here to see a short video clip showing how anointing was done in biblical times (source: Bible Lands 2012)

See also anoint (chrió) and anointing of David (image).

fat, oil

The different Hebrew and Greek terms that are translated as “(olive) oil” and “(animal) fat” in English are translated in Kwere with only one term: mavuta. (Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext)

complete verse (Mark 14:8)

Following are a number of back-translations of Mark 14:8:

  • Uma: “This woman has done what she was able to do. She anointed [poured-on] with fragrant oil to prepare my body ahead of time for being buried, before the time comes.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “This woman, she has done what she could (tage’es). She has oiled my body beforehand to prepare me for my burial.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “According to what this woman was able to do, she has done for me. She has perfumed so that my body might be prepared for burial.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “She has done what-she-could. She ahead-of-time poured this perfume on me in order to prepare my body for my burial.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “As for her, she did what she was able to. For she has already poured perfume on my body like she is already fixing it before my burial.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)

Translation commentary on Mark 14:8


ho eschen epoiēsen ‘what she had she did’: it is generally agreed that the meaning of the verb echō ‘have’ being equivalent to dunamai ‘be able.’ Arndt & Gingrich echō a call attention to the fact that the full phrase would include the infinitive, ho eschen poiēsai epoiēsen ‘what she was able to do she did.’ Cf. Lagrange, Ce qui était en son pouvoir; O Novo Testamento de Nosso Senhor Jesus Cristo. Revisdo Autorizada, Ela fêz o que pôde.

proelaben (only here in Mark) ‘she did beforehand,’ ‘she anticipated’: the verb prolambanō means to do something before the usual time (so Moulton & Milligan, quoting examples from the papyri).

murisai (only here in the N.T.) ‘to anoint.’

entaphiasmon (only here in Mark) ‘preparation for burial’: this is the meaning assigned the word by Field and Moulton & Milligan; Arndt & Gingrich, however, state the word can also signify the burial itself. In the context the meaning ‘preparation for burial’ is to be preferred.


Where there is no contrast in genders between pronouns, it may be necessary to render she by ‘this woman’ (South Bolivian Quechua).

The concept of beforehand is not always easy to translate, since the time sequence is never absolute, but merely relative to more normal activities. This meaning has been quite neatly expressed in Highland Puebla Nahuatl, e.g. ‘she has already come to anoint my body to prepare to bury it.’ By the use of ‘already’ and ‘to prepare to bury,’ the idea of beforehand is quite adequately conveyed. The meaning is more directly expressed in Tabasco Chontal, e.g. ‘she made me smell good ahead of time for my burial.’ In Tzeltal this concept must be stated even more explicitly, e.g. ‘I have not yet been buried, but she came to anoint my body for death.’

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on the Gospel of Mark. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1961. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .