The Greek that is translated in English as “when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone” or similar is translated in Duna as “When I left your Macedonia ground no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving except you only.” Glenda Giles (in The Bible Translator 1974, p. 238ff. ) explains: “The Philippian people lived in Macedonia province. If, however, this verse is translated into Duna with no possessive pronoun modifying Macedonia, the possibility of Macedonia being where the Philippians lived is excluded from the minds of Duna readers. To avoid this exclusion of right meaning it is necessary to [add a pronoun to ‘Macedonia.’]”
In choosing a word for the Greek that is typically translated as “gospel” in English, a number of languages construct a phrase meaning “good news,” “joyful report” or “happiness-bringing words.” In some instances such a phrase may be slightly expanded in order to convey the proper meaning, e.g. “new good word” (Tzotzil), or it may involve some special local usage:
- “good story” (Navajo)
- “joyful telling” (Tausug)
- “joyful message” (Toraja-Sa’dan) (source for this and all above: Bratcher / Nida)
- cohuen ñoñets or “message of God” (Shilluk) (source: Nida 1964, p. 237)
- “good news” (Yanesha’) (source: Martha Duff in Holzhausen 1991, p. 11)
- “voice of good spirit” (San Blas Kuna)(source: Claudio Iglesias [Mr. and Mrs.] in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 85ff. )
- suviśēṣattinṟe (0സുവിശേഷം) or “good narrative” (Malayalam)
- susmachar (ସୁସମାଚାର) or “good matter” (Odia)
- suvārteya (ಸುವಾರ್ತೆಯ) or “good word” (Kannada) (source for this and two above: Y.D. Tiwari in The Bible Translator 1962, p. 132ff. )
- the German das Buch translation by Roland Werner (publ. 2009-2022) translates as “all-transformative good news” (alles verändernde gute Botschaft), also “good news”
Vitaly Voinov tells this story about the translation into Rutul (click or tap here to see the rest of this insight):
“In Rutul, it was only during the most recent consultant checking session that I realized that the Rutul word for Gospel – Incir (from Arabic إنجيل — Injil) — sounds and looks exactly like the word that means ‘fig’ in Rutul. This is a case of homonymy, in which two completely non-related words from differing historical sources have come to sound exactly alike. Most Rutul speakers know that incir means ‘fig’ because they grow this fruit in their yard or buy it at the market every week. However, because the religious sphere of discourse was heavily disparaged during the Soviet era, most people simply never encountered Incir with the meaning of ‘Gospel.’ This meaning of the word, which Rutuls of the pre-Soviet era knew from the Koran, simply fell into disuse and never had much reason for returning into contemporary Rutul since there is no Christian church established among the people. So if the translator continues to use the term Incir as the rendering for ‘Gospel,’ he runs the risk that most readers will, at best, read the word with a smile because they know that it also means ‘fig,’ and, at worst, will completely misunderstand the word. The seemingly ‘easy’ solution in this case is for the translator to use a Rutul neologism meaning ‘Joyful Message’ or ‘Good News,’ [see above] instead of Incir; but in fact it is not all that easy to make this change if the translator himself insists on using the historical word because at least some Rutuls still understand it as meaning ‘Gospel.’ This is a situation in which the translation team has to gradually grow into the understanding that a fully intelligible translation of Scripture is preferable to one that maintains old words at the cost of alienating much of the readership.”
For “good news,” see also Isaiah 52:7.
Following are a number of back-translations of Philippians 4:15:
- Uma: “Filipi relatives! When I first spread the Good News in your village, and I left from the province of Makedonia, there were no Kristen people in other villages who sent me money. No one else but you, relatives, supported me [lit., held-me-up-with-the-hands] at that time, as you know relatives.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
- Yakan: “You the ones in Pilipi, you know that I first proclaimed the good news there at your’s (your place), then when I left from the place Makedoniya it was only you one group of trusters in Isa there who helped my need.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “As for you from Philippi, you know that when I left you there in the province of Macedonia when I first preached there the Good News, you were the only believers who helped me. There was no other group of believers who became my partners, for you were the only ones who gave me money.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
- Kankanaey: “You from-Filipos, you decidedly know that the first-time I preached the good news to you that time-when-I-left Macedonia, there was no other congregation of believers who helped me if not you alone.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “Probably you haven’t yet forgotten that in the past when you had newly believed the Good News, only you Philippians were giving (financial) help, after I had left from Macedonia there. There was no other group of believers which helped me, but only you.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
- Tenango Otomi: “You, the inhabitants of the city of Philippi, when I first spoke the word there in Macedonia your country, and then I departed from there going to another country, it was only you who helped me in what I needed.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
The Greek that is often translated as “church” in English is translated into Avaric as imanl’urazul ahlu: “the community of believers” or “the believing people.”
Magomed-Kamil Gimbatov and Yakov Testelets (in The Bible Translator 1996, p. 434ff. ) talk about the genesis of this term (click or tap here to read more):
“The word ‘Church’ presents particular difficulties, as we might expect when we think that even many Christians do not understand it correctly. When people today say ‘church,’ they often mean a particular building, or an organization consisting chiefly of clergy (priests and monks). It is even harder to find a word or combination of words which adequately translates the meaning for people unfamiliar with Christianity. Surprisingly, the Greek word ekklesia, indicating in the classical language ‘an assembly of the people,’ ‘a gathering of citizens,’ has come into Avar and other Dagestani languages in the form kilisa. This, like the word qanch (‘cross’), is an ancient borrowing, presumably from the time before the arrival of Islam, when Dagestan came under the influence of neighboring Christian states. In modern usage, however, this word indicates a place of Christian worship. Thus it is completely inappropriate as a translation of its New Testament ancestor ekklesia.
“We were obliged to look at various words which are closer to the meaning of the Greek. Some of these words are dandel’i (‘meeting’), danderussin (‘assembly’), the Arabic-derived mazhlis (‘meeting, conference’), zhama’at (‘society, community’), ahlu (‘race, people, family, group of people united by a common goal or interest’, as in the Arabic phrase ahlu-l-kitab ‘people of the Book’ or ‘people of the Scriptures’), which describes both Jews and Christians, and ummat (‘people, tribe’). In Islamic theology the phrase ‘Mohammed’s ummat’ means the universal community of Muslims, the Muslim world, in the same way as the Christian world is known as ‘Isa’s ummat.’ None of these descriptions on their own, without explanation, can be used to translate the word ‘Church’ in the New Testament. Thus, after long consideration, we adopted the phrase imanl’urazul ahlu, meaning ‘the community of believers,’ ‘the believing people,’ This translation corresponds closely to New Testament teaching about the Church.
“It is interesting that the same word ahlu with the meaning ‘tribe, community’ has been used by translators for different reasons in the introduction to the Gospel of Luke in order to translate the expression in the original Greek pepleroforemenon en hemin pragmaton (πεπληροφορημένων ἐν ἡμῖν πραγμάτων), which the Russian Synodal translation renders ‘about the events well-known amongst us’ (Luke 1:1). The expression ‘amongst us’ cannot be translated literally into Avar, but has to be rendered ‘among our people’; and here the same term was used as for the word ‘church’, literally ‘among our tribe, community (ahlu).'”
In Kamo “church” is fang-balla (“owners of writing-people”) when referring to the church community and “house of writing-people” when referring to a church building. David Frank explains: “In Kamo culture, Christianity was associated with writing, so Christianity is called balla, which they say means ‘people who write.’ Christianity is balla, and Christians are called fang-balla, which means ‘owners of Christianity.’ That is the term that is used for the church, in the sense of people, rather than a building. In Philemon 1:1b-2a, Paul says he is writing ‘To our friend and fellow worker Philemon, and to the church (fang-balla ‘owners of Christianity) that meet in your house.’ The word fang “owner’ is very productive in the Kamo language. A disciple is an ‘owner of learning,’ an apostle is an ‘owner of sending,’ a believer is an ‘owner of truth,’ a hypocrite is an ‘owner of seeing eyes.’ The expression ‘house of writing-people’ is used in Matthew 16:18, which reads in Kamo, ‘And so I tell you Peter, you are a rock, and on top of this rock foundation I will build my house of writing-people, and never even death will not be able to overcome it.” (See also Peter – rock)
In 16th-century Classical Nahuatl, a transliteration from Spanish (Santa Yglesia or Santa Iglesia) is typically used rather than a translation, making the concept take on a personified meaning. Ottman (p. 169) explains: “The church building, or more precisely the church complex with its associated patio, has a Nahuatl name in common usage — generally teopan, something like ‘god-place,’ in contradistinction to teocalli, ‘god-house,’ applied to a prehispanic temple — but the abstract sense is always Santa Iglesia, a Spanish proper name like ‘Dios’ or ‘Santa María’, and like ‘Santa María’ often called ‘our mother.’ As a personified ‘mother,’ in the European tradition as well as in Nahuatl, She instructs Her children or chastises them; as Bride of Christ, She both longs for Her heavenly rest and bears witness to it, in the ‘always-already’ of eschatological time; as successor to the Synagogue, the blindfolded, broken-sceptred elder sister who accompanies Her in painting and sculpture, She represents the triumphant rule of truth. ‘The Church’ can mean the clerical hierarchy; it can also, or simultaneously, mean the assembly of the faithful. It dispenses grace to its members, living and dead, yet it is also enriched by them, living and dead, existing not only on earth but in purgatory and in heaven.”
In Lisu the building (“church”) is called “house of prayer” (source: Arrington 2020, p. 196) whereas in Highland Totonac the community is referred as “those who gather together” (source: Hermann Aschmann in The Bible Translator 1950, p. 171ff. ), in Huehuetla Tepehua as “those who gather together who have confidence in Christ” (source: Waterhouse / Parrott in Notes on Translation October 1967, p. 1ff.), in Uma as “Christian people” (source: Uma Back Translation), in Kankanaey as “the congregation of God’s people” (source: Kankanaey Back Translation), and in Tagbanwa as “you whom God separated-out as his people because of your being-united/tied-together with Jesus Christ” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation).
In American Sign Language, “church” (as in the community of believers) is made up of the combination of the signs for “Jesus-into-heart” (signifying a believer), followed by the sign for “group.” (Source: RuthAnna Spooner, Ron Lawer)
“Church” in American Sign Language, source: Deaf Harbor