confess (sin)

The Hebrew and 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: “say openly”
  • San Blas Kuna: “accuse oneself of one’s own evil”
  • Kankanaey: “tell the truth about one’s 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)
  • Tabasco Chontal: “say, It is true, I’ve done evil” (source: Larson 1998, p. 204)
  • Central Pame: “pull out the heart” (“so that it may be clearly seen — not just by men, but by God”) (source: Nida 1952, p. 155)
  • Shipibo-Conibo: “say, It is true I have sinned” (source: Nida 1964, p. 228)
  • Obolo: itutumu ijo isibi: “speak out sin” (source: Enene Enene).
  • Tagbanwa: “testify that one would now drop/give-up sin” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Kutu: “speak sin” (source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext)

Mark 1:1-8 in Russian Sign Language

Following is the translation of Mark 1:1-8 into Russian Sign Language with a back-translation underneath:


Source: Russian Bible Society / Российское Библейское Общество

Now I am going to tell you the good news about Jesus, the Son of God. God chose Him to come from Heaven to us.

A long time ago there was a man called Isaiah. He was a prophet and had a relationship with God. Everything that God spoke to him, Isaiah wrote down. Isaiah said that in the future in a wilderness land God would choose a man and that man would be a messenger. That man will call all people to be ready to meet God. He would call all people to prepare their heart. That’s the way it was written down.

Many, many years have passed and it has definitely come true.

In Israel, in the wilderness, near the Jordan River, there walked a man, a messenger, named John. He dressed in a camel skin garment covered with fur and wore a leather belt. He would take locusts and honey and eat them. He went all over Judea. People came to him from different places, and many people from the city of Jerusalem came to him. John called to them and said to them many times:

— You are sinners! You are doing evil deeds! Change yourselves! Stop committing sins and evil deeds! Become one with God! Repent of your sins and evil deeds, dip yourself in this water, and then God will forgive your sins and bad deeds.

People listened, thinking:

— We are sinful, but God will forgive our sins.

And many people came to him, dipped in the water and repented.

John said to everyone:

— There is a man, he is coming very soon. He is much greater than I am and much more powerful. I am insignificant compared to him, I am lower than him. I am dipping you in water, but He is different. Only He will cleanse your hearts forever with the Holy Spirit.

Original Russian back-translation (click or tap here):

Сейчас я расскажу хорошую новость об Иисусе, сыне Божьем. Бог избрал Его, чтобы Он пришел с небес к нам.

Давно-давно был один человек по имени Исайя. Он был пророк и имел связь с Богом. Все, что Бог говорил ему, Исайя записывал. Исайя говорил, что в будущем на земле пустынной Бог изберет человека и тот человек будет вестником. Этот человек будет призывать всех людей, чтобы они были готовы к встрече с Богом. Он будет призывать всех людей, чтобы они приготовили свое сердце. Так было записано.

Прошло много-много лет, и все точно сбылось.

В Израиле, в пустыне, рядом с рекой Иордан, ходил человек, вестник, по имени Иоанн. Он одевался в одежду из кожи верблюда, покрытой шерстью, и надевал кожаный пояс. Он брал саранчу и мед и ел их. Он ходил по всей Иудее. Из разных мест приходили к нему люди, и множество людей из города Иерусалима приходили к нему. Иоанн призывал их и много раз говорил им:

— Вы грешники! Вы совершаете злые дела! Изменитесь! Перестаньте совершать грехи и злые дела! Соединитесь с Богом! Покайтесь в грехах и злых делах, погрузитесь в эту воду, и тогда Бог простит вам ваши грехи и плохие дела.

Люди слушали, думали:

— Мы грешные, но Бог простит наши грехи.

И многие люди приходили к нему, окунались в воду и каялись.

Иоанн всем говорил:

— Есть человек, он очень скоро придет. Он гораздо выше меня и гораздо могущественнее. Я незначителен по сравнению с ним, я ниже Его. Я окунаю вас в воду, но Он совсем другой. Только Он Святым Духом навсегда очистит ваши сердца.

Back-translation by Luka Manevich

Mark 1:9-13 in Russian Sign Language >>

See also Mark 1:1 in Mexican Sign Language, Mark 1:2-3 in Mexican Sign Language, and Mark 1:4-8 in Mexican Sign Language.

Mark 1:4-8 in Mexican Sign Language

Following is the translation of Mark 1:4-8 into Mexican Sign Language with back-translations into Spanish and English underneath:


© La Biblia en LSM / La Palabra de Dios

Retrotraducciones en español (haga clic o pulse aquí)

Después exactamente llegó a ser, un hombre caminaba en el desierto, este era Juan el Bautista, era su costumbre poner ropa de piel de camello y también su cinturón, comía langostas y miel que tomaba de las colmenas que buscaba.

En el lugar del río Jordán Juan el Bautista siempre predicaba que las personas debían arrepentirse y bautizarse y que Dios perdonaría sus pecados y los borraría.

Del estado de Judea y de la ciudad de Jerusalén la gente oyó y más y más iban a verlo. Una persona iría diciendo: yo confeso mis pecados y Juan el Bautista lo miraría y lo bautizaría, luego otra persona, uno por uno eran bautizados.

(Diciendo): Yo los advierto yo no soy superior, otro hombre que viene después él es muy superior, yo no puedo quitar sus sandalias, yo soy menos.

Uds se acercan a mi y yo los bautizo con agua nada mas, pero en el futuro uds se acercarán a este hombre y él los dará el Espíritu Santo, en la misma manera como el bautismo en agua.


Afterwards this happened exactly, a man walked in the desert, this was John the Baptist, it was his habit to wear clothes made of camel skin and also his belt, and to eat locusts and honey that he searched and took out of beehives.

At the river Jordan John the Baptist always preached that the people needed to repent and be baptized and that God would forgive their sins and wipe them off.

From the state of Judea, from the city of Jerusalén people heard about it and more and more came to see. Someone would go up and say: I confess my sins and John the Baptist would look at him and baptize him, then another person, and one by one they would be baptized.

(Saying): I am telling you, I am not exalted, another man who comes after, he is highly exalted, I cannot even take off his sandals, I am so much less.

You come to me and I baptize you with water, that’s all, but in the future you will go to this man and he will give you the Holy Spirit, in the same way as the baptism in water.

Source: La Biblia en LSM / La Palabra de Dios

<< Mark 1:2-3 in Mexican Sign Language
Mark 1:9-8 in Mexican Sign Language >>

See also Mark 1:1-8 in Russian Sign Language.

sin

The Hebrew and Greek that is typically translated as “sin” in English has a wide variety of translations.

The Greek ἁμαρτάνω (hamartanō) carries the original verbatim meaning of “miss the mark.” Likewise, many translations contain 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. 21ff. ).

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)

In Warao it is translated as “bad obojona.” Obojona is a term that “includes the concepts of consciousness, will, attitude, attention and a few other miscellaneous notions.” (Source: Henry Osborn in The Bible Translator 1969, p. 74ff. ). See other occurrences of Obojona in the Warao New Testament.

Martin Ehrensvärd, one of the translators for the Danish Bibelen 2020, comments on the translation of this term: “We would explain terms, such that e.g. sin often became ‘doing what God does not want’ or ‘breaking God’s law’, ‘letting God down’, ‘disrespecting God’, ‘doing evil’, ‘acting stupidly’, ‘becoming guilty’. Now why couldn’t we just use the word sin? Well, sin in contemporary Danish, outside of the church, is mostly used about things such as delicious but unhealthy foods. Exquisite cakes and chocolates are what a sin is today.” (Source: Ehrensvärd in HIPHIL Novum 8/2023, p. 81ff. )

See also sinner.

complete verse (Mark 1:5)

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)
  • Shipibo-Conibo: “Then all those of Judea land, all the Jerusalem people, they used to go to John. Then he washed them [‘wash’ does not eliminate immersion], at the Jordan stream, when they said: It is true. We have sinned.” (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. )

Jerusalem

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: La Bible en langue des signes française )

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)

Learn more on Bible Odyssey: Jerusalem .

baptism, baptize

About the translation of the Greek term that is usually transliterated with the terms “baptism” or “baptize” 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 out 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. )
  • Maan: “put in water” (source: Don Slager)
  • 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. ) (Note: In more recent Mongolian translations a transliteration of baptizo is used instead)
  • Yatzachi Zapotec: (Spanish loan word and transliteration of the Greek term) bautizar (click or tap for details):

    “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.” (Source: Otis M. Leal in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 164ff.

  • Uab Meto: antam oe (“to enter into the water”) (click or tap for details):

    “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.” (Source: P. Middelkoop in The Bible Translator 1952 p. 165ff. )

  • Chinese: Catholic: 洗 (“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)
  • 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
    • The German das Buch translation by Roland Werner (publ. 2009-2022) uses a variety of translations, including “immersed (in water)” (eintauchen or untertauchen) but also the traditional German term for “baptism (Taufe)” or in the combination “immersed in baptism”

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)

Learn more on Bible Odyssey: Baptism in Early Christianity .

Translation commentary on Mark 1:5

Text:

pantes ‘all’ in Textus Receptus is placed after ebaptizonto ‘all were baptized’: this reading, based on later mss., is rejected by modern editions of the Greek text.

Exegesis:

exeporeueto (6.11; 7.15, 19, 20, 21, 23; 10.17, 46; 11.19; 13.1) ‘was going out’: the imperfect stresses the continuous procession of people as they kept going out to hear John’s preaching and receive his baptism. The force of the preposition ek is, naturally, to go out of the Judean countryside and the city of Jerusalem to the Jordan where John was preaching and baptizing.

pasa hē Ioudaia chōra kai hoi Ierosolumitai pantes ‘all the region (of) Judea and all the citizens of Jerusalem.’

chōra (5.1, 10; 6.55) ‘country,’ ‘region,’ ‘land.’ The words pasaall (the region of Judea)’ and pantesall (the citizens of Jerusalem)’ are not intended literally (cf. similar expressions in 1.32, 33, 37; see also Mt. 2.3, 21.10; Lk. 7.29; Acts 21.30). The language describes forcefully and vividly the effect of John’s ministry upon many people from both the countryside and the city. Although possible in some contexts, pasa and pantesall’ in this passage should not be taken in a qualitative sense (as is done by The Modern Speech New Testament: “people of all classes”).

ebaptizonto hup’ autou ‘were being baptized by him.’ The preposition hupo ‘by’ clearly shows that the verb is passive: the rite was not self-administered, as in the case in Jewish proselyte baptism, but was administered by John ‘the Baptizer.’ Again the imperfect of the verb stresses the continuity of the action: the people came, one by one, and were baptized by John.

baptizō (1.8, 9; 7.4; 10.38, 39; 16.16) ‘dip,’ ‘bathe,’ ‘immerse,’ ‘baptize’: used only in ritual sense in the N.T.: (1) of Jewish ritual ablution, Lk. 11.38 (and Mk. 7.4, if the true reading); (2) of John’s baptism and Christian baptism (all other occurrences of the verb not listed here); (3) figuratively, as a metaphor of suffering and martyrdom, Mk. 10.38-39, Lk. 12.50, and of Israel’s passage through the Red Sea, 1 Co. 10.2.

en tō Iordanē potamō ‘in the Jordan river’: the construction is parallel to hē Ioudaia chōra in which the proper name has the force of an adjective modifying the noun, i.e. ‘the Judean region,’ ‘the Jordanian river.’ The sense, however, is accurately represented by ‘Jordan river’ or ‘river Jordan.’

exomologoumenoi (only here in Mark) ‘as they were confessing.’ In the active form the verb means ‘promise,’ ‘consent,’ ‘agree’ (cf. Lk. 22.6); in the middle, ‘confess,’ ‘admit,’ ‘acknowledge’ (Moulton & Milligan give examples from the papyri for ‘acknowledge,’ ‘avow openly’ – see also Acts 19.18, Phil. 2.11). In the Septuagint the verb stands chiefly for yadah ‘confess,’ ‘praise.’ The present tense of the participle in the present passage, in its relation to the principal verb baptizō ‘baptize,’ shows clearly what is meant by John’s preaching: ‘a baptism of repentance for remission of sins.’ Those who repented and responded to his proclamation came to receive baptism at the hands of John: included in the performance of the rite was their confession of sins, in audible demonstration of their repentance, baptism being its visible representation, the purpose of all of which was the forgiveness granted by God to repentant sinners. Confession here is open confession: if an indirect object is to be supplied, it would naturally be God to whom confession of sins was made, presumably in a loud voice, and so heard by John.

Translation:

The use of the English expletive there in the construction there went out to him … is an attempt to reproduce the effect of the initial verb in the Greek text. However, in most languages it is necessary to use the more direct form, ‘all the country of Judea went out to him….’

On the other hand, it is frequently impossible to say ‘all the country (i.e. region) went out…’ for in many languages ‘regions’ cannot ‘go,’ only people can go. Hence one must introduce some more acceptable immediate subject, e.g. ‘people from all over Judea went’ (if ‘all’ is to be related to Judea) or ‘all the people from Judea went’ (if ‘all’ is to be taken with ‘people’). The resultant meanings are essentially similar, though the first may reflect more accurately the relative use of ‘all’ (the Greek pasa and pantes are certainly not to be taken in their literal sense, any more than the corresponding words thus construed in English or most other languages).

A further syntactic rearrangement may be required in some languages in order that both parts of the subject may be preposed to the verb, e.g. ‘people all over Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him.’

Baptize 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 prestigeful 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 Kekchi, 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’ 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 out 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 if 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.’

One would assume that an equivalent of confess would not be difficult to find, but such is not always the case. In general the principal problem is to avoid some technical, ritualistic term which will carry over too many non-Christian associations. One of the best translations is simply ‘to say openly’ (Highland Puebla Nahuatl, Tzeltal), since this was certainly public confession. There are, however, a number of idiomatic equivalents of confession, e.g. ‘to accuse oneself of his own evil’ (San Blas Kuna), ‘telling the truth about their sins’ (Kankanae), and ‘to take aim at one’s sin’ (Huastec, an idiom which is derived from the action of a hunter taking aim at a bird or animal).

The principal syntactic difficulty in the second clause involves relating the confession of sins to the process of being baptized. The Greek text implies that confession was an essential element of the process of being baptized, and though the participle meaning ‘confessing’ follows the main verb and can be rendered with a degree of ambiguity in English, this is usually not possible in other languages. More often than not, one must select the temporal order of the processes, and if this is required by the syntactic structure of the language in question, it is valid to follow the same implied temporal order of verse 4, in which the repentance, if it is to characterize the baptism, is likely to have preceded it. Therefore in this verse, ‘confessing’ may be described as preceding, e.g. ‘after confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the river Jordan’ (Amganad Ifugao). In Shipibo-Conibo, the necessity of using direct discourse after the verb of speaking results in a modification of order, but temporal sequence is the same: ‘Then he washed them, at the Jordan stream, when they said: It is true. We have sinned.’ (In Shipibo-Conibo, a language spoken in the Amazon river basin, one must use a special word designating a mountain stream, so as not to give the impression that the Jordan was in any sense like the vast major tributaries of the Amazon.)

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 .