The Greek that is typically translated as “confess” in English in the context of these verses is translated in a variety of ways. Here are some (back-) translations:
- Highland Puebla Nahuatl, Tzeltal: “to say openly”
- San Blas Kuna: “to accuse oneself of his own evil”
- Kankanaey: “telling the truth about their sins”
- Huastec: “to take aim at one’s sin” (“an idiom which is derived from the action of a hunter taking aim at a bird or animal”) (source for this and all above: Bratcher / Nida)
- Central Pame: “pulling out the heart” (“so that it may be clearly seen — not just by men, but by God”) (source: Nida 1952, p. 155)
- Shipibo-Conibo: “to say, It is true we have sinned” (source: Nida 1964, p. 228)
- Obolo: itutumu ijo isibi: “speaking out sin” (source: Enene Enene).
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 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 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 1:5:
- Uma: “Many people went to the wilderness [empty field] wanting to hear Yohaness words. There were those from Yerusalem-town and from all the towns Yudea-land. They went to confess their sins, and he baptized them in the Jordan river, a sign of their having repented from their sins.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
- Yakan: “So-then many people from the many-places there in Yahudiya and from Awrusalam went to him. They confessed their sins and were baptized by Yahiya in the river/water Jordan.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “The many people went after John. They came from the towns in all the province of Judea, and there were even people who came from the city of Jerusalem. And those people confessed their sins and were baptized by John in the river Jordan.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
- Kankanaey: “The inhabitants of Jerusalem and those-who-resided in all the towns in Judea were going to him. They were confessing their sins and then Juan would baptize them in the Jordan river.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “The people really-all went to him from the towns in the district of Judea, including the taga Jerusalem. They were repenting of their sins and having themselves baptized by Juan in the river Jordan, testifying that they would now drop/give-up sin.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
(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)
Other examples of translation include:
- Javanese, Indonesian: transliterated forms of the Greek “baptizo”
- Pamona, Wejewa: “to bathe, wash with water”
- Sundanese: “to apply water to”
- Padoe: “to make one wet with water”
- Batak Simalungun: “to wash with a little bit of water” (“used in speaking of a ceremony in which very small children are ceremonially cleansed”)
- Kambera: “to dip into”
- Balinese: ngelukat (a Balinese initiation ceremony in which persons were sprinkled with consecrated water) (source for this and above: Biblical Terms in The Bible Translator 1952, p. 225ff.
- Mairasi: fat jaenggom; “water washing” (“baptize with the Holy Spirit”: “wash with the Holy Spirit) (source: Enggavoter 2004)
- Kwara’ae: “holy wash” (traditional church term for baptism) (source: Carl Gross)
- Shipibo-Conibo: “to wash” (Catholic: “to name;” Seventh Day Adventists: “to bathe”) (source: James Lauriault in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 56ff.)
- Northern Emberá: “head-poured” (source: Loewen 1980, p. 107)
- 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.)
- Many Germanic languages use a term that originally means “dip” or “make deep”: German: Taufe, Danish: dåb Swedish: dop, Norwegian: dåp, Dutch: doop, Faroese: dópur; and so do Creole languages with a strong Dutch influence, such as Saramaccan, Sranan Tongo, or Eastern Maroon Creole: dopu
- Yatzachi Zapotec: (Spanish loan word and transliteration of the Greek term) bautizar (Source: Otis M. Leal in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 164ff.
For more about this see here.
“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.”
- Uab Meto: antam oe (“to enter into the water”) (Source: P. Middelkoop in The Bible Translator 1952 p. 165ff.)
For more about this see here.
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)