“Hope is sometimes one of the most difficult terms to translate in the entire Bible. It is not because people do not hope for things, but so often they speak of hoping as simply ‘waiting.’ In fact, even in Spanish, the word esperar means both ‘to wait’ and ‘to hope.’ However, in many instances the purely neutral term meaning ‘to wait’ may be modified in such a way that people will understand something more of its significance. For example, in Tepeuxila Cuicatec hope is called ‘wait-desire.’ Hope is thus a blend of two activities: waiting and desiring. This is substantially the type of expectancy of which hope consists.

In Yucateco the dependence of hope is described by the phrase ‘on what it hangs.’ ‘Our hope in God’ means that ‘we hang onto God.’ The object of hope is the support of one’s expectant waiting.

In Ngäbere the phrase “resting the mind” is used. This “implies waiting and confidence, and what is a better definition of hope than ‘confident waiting’.” (Source for this and above: Nida 1952, p. 20, 133)

In Mwera “hope” and “faith” are translated with the same word: ngulupai. (Source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext)

Other languages translate as follows:

  • Mairasi: “vision resting place” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • Enlhet: “waitings of (our) innermost” (“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. )
  • Kwang: “one’s future is restored to one’s soul like a fresh, cool breeze on a hot day.” (Source: Mark Vanderkooi right here )
  • Nyongar: koort-kwidiny or “heart waiting” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • Anjam: “looking through the horizon” (source: Albert Hoffmann in his memoirs from 1948, quoted in Holzhausen / Riderer 2010, p. 7)
  • Highland Totonac “wait with expectation” (to offset it from the every-day meaning of hope or wait — source: Hermann Aschmann in The Bible Translator 1950, p. 171ff. ).
  • Alekano: “wait not hearing two ears” (meaning to “wait without being double-minded” — source: Ellis Deibler in Notes on Translation June 1986, p. 36ff.)
  • Marathi aasha (आशा) with a stronger emphasis on desire
  • Tamil: nampikkai (நம்பிக்கை) with a stronger emphasis on expectation (source for this and above: J.S.M. Hooper in The Bible Translator 1954, p. 2ff. )

C.M. Doke looks at a number of Bantu languages and their respective translations of “hope” with slightly varying connotations (in The Bible Translator 1954, p. 9ff. ):

  • Xhosa and Zulu: themba “hope, expect,” also “have faith in, rely upon”
  • Tswana: tsholofelo “hope, expect, look for confidently”
  • Southern Sotho: tshepo “trust, rely on, believe in, have confidence in”
  • Kuanyama: eteelelo “waiting for”
  • Swahili: tumaini “confidence, trust, expectation, hope” (as a verb: “hope, trust, expect, be confident, be truthful, rely on”
  • Luganda: okusuubira “hope, trust, expect” also “look forward to, rely upon, anticipate, reckon”
  • Chichewa: chiyembekezo “wait for, wait, expect”
  • Koongo: vuvu “hope, expectancy, expectation, anticipation”
Syntyche D. Dahou (in Christianity Today, January 2021 or see here the same article in French ) reports on the two different terms that are being used in French (click or tap here to see the details):

“Unlike English, which uses the word hope broadly, the French language uses two words that derive from the word espérer (to hope): espoir and espérance. Both can first refer to something hoped for. In this sense, the word espoir usually refers to an uncertain object; that is, someone who hopes for something in this way does not have the certainty that it will happen (“I hope the weather will be nice tomorrow”). On the other hand, espérance describes what, rightly or wrongly, is hoped for or expected with certainty. It often refers to a philosophical or eschatological object (‘I hope in the goodness of human beings’; ‘I hope for the return of Jesus Christ’).

“When we speak of espoir or espérance, we then have in mind different types of objects hoped for. This difference matters, because both terms also commonly refer to the state of mind that characterizes the hopeful. And this state of mind will be different precisely according to the object hoped for.

“Having espoir for an uncertain yet better future in these difficult times may be a good thing, but it is not enough. Such hope can be disappointed and easily fade away when our wishes and expectations (our hopes) do not materialize.

“The opposite is true with espérance, which is deeper than our desire and wish for an end to a crisis or a future without pain and suffering. To face the trials of life, we need peace and joy in our hearts that come from expecting certain happiness. This is what espérance is: a profound and stable disposition resulting from faith in the coming of what we expect. In this sense, it is similar in meaning to the English word hopefulness.

“If we have believed in the Son of the living God, we have such a hope. It rests on the infallible promises of our God, who knows the plans he has for us, his children—plans of peace and not misfortune, to give us a hope and a future (Jer. 29:11). By using the two meanings of the word, we can say that the espérance that the fulfillment of his promises represents (the object hoped for) fills us with espérance (the state of mind).”

addressing God

Translators of different languages have found different ways with what kind of formality God is addressed. The first example is from a language where God is always addressed distinctly formal whereas the second is one where the opposite choice was made.

Click or tap here to see the rest of this insight

Like many languages (but unlike Greek or Hebrew or English), Tuvan uses a formal vs. informal 2nd person pronoun (a familiar vs. a respectful “you”). Unlike other languages that have this feature, however, the translators of the Tuvan Bible have attempted to be very consistent in using the different forms of address in every case a 2nd person pronoun has to be used in the translation of the biblical text.

As Voinov shows in Pronominal Theology in Translating the Gospels (in: The Bible Translator 2002, p. 210ff.), the choice to use either of the pronouns many times involved theological judgment. While the formal pronoun can signal personal distance or a social/power distance between the speaker and addressee, the informal pronoun can indicate familiarity or social/power equality between speaker and addressee.

In these verses, in which humans address God, the informal, familiar pronoun is used that communicates closeness.

Voinov notes that “in the Tuvan Bible, God is only addressed with the informal pronoun. No exceptions. An interesting thing about this is that I’ve heard new Tuvan believers praying with the formal form to God until they are corrected by other Christians who tell them that God is close to us so we should address him with the informal pronoun. As a result, the informal pronoun is the only one that is used in praying to God among the Tuvan church.”

In Gbaya, “a superior, whether father, uncle, or older brother, mother, aunt, or older sister, president, governor, or chief, is never addressed in the singular unless the speaker intends a deliberate insult. When addressing the superior face to face, the second person plural pronoun ɛ́nɛ́ or ‘you (pl.)’ is used, similar to the French usage of vous.

Accordingly, the translators of the current version of the Gbaya Bible chose to use the plural ɛ́nɛ́ to address God. There are a few exceptions. In Psalms 86:8, 97:9, and 138:1, God is addressed alongside other “gods,” and here the third person pronoun o is used to avoid confusion about who is being addressed. In several New Testament passages (Matthew 21:23, 26:68, 27:40, Mark 11:28, Luke 20:2, 23:37, as well as in Jesus’ interaction with Pilate and Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well) the less courteous form for Jesus is used to indicate ignorance of his position or mocking (source Philip Noss).

In Dutch and Western Frisian translations, however, God is always addressed with the formal pronoun.

Translation commentary on Psalm 71:14 - 71:16

The psalmist’s hope rests on God (verse 14a), for which he will praise him more and more (literally “I will add to all your praise”). I will hope continually may be rendered “I will always look forward with confidence,” or figuratively, “I will always place my heart on you.”

Thy righteous acts and thy deeds of salvation in verse 15a-b translate the plural of “your righteousness” and “your salvation.” This agrees well with the plural “numbers” in line c, but the initial conjunction of that line is used in a concessive sense, “although, even though” (see Good News Translation), and not as Revised Standard Version has it, for (which makes for a contradiction). It seems better, however, to use the plural forms as Revised Standard Version does, and make the two lines quite synonymous: “your saving actions … the things you did to save us.”

In some languages tell of thy righteous acts requires shifting so that there is a listener; for example, “I will tell the people about the good things you have done.” In some languages the noun phrase deeds of salvation must be shifted to a clause; for example, “I will tell the people how you have saved us” or “I will tell them how you saved your people.” In some languages all the day, if translated literally, will mean that the psalmist speaks of God’s acts only during daylight hours, whereas the intention is “all the time,” and in such languages it will have to be translated by an equivalent expression.

The third line of verse 15 is somewhat strange in Hebrew; the word translated their number is understood in different ways. Some take it to be the plural of a word occurring nowhere else in the Old Testament, “numbers”; others take it to be the plural of the word for “list, book.” Good News Translation understands the Hebrew to say “for I don’t know the number (of them),” in the sense “it is more than I can understand” (similarly New American Bible “though I know not their extent”; also Biblia Dios Habla Hoy); see a similar expression in 40.5.14-16 Hebrew Old Testament Text Project calls this a difficult passage and states that the proposed interpretation, “I cannot count them,” is the most probable one. Bible de Jérusalem and New Jerusalem Bible take it to be a marginal note by a copyist: “I have not known how to read the letters” (see the Septuagint). New Jerusalem Bible has “though I know not how to tell it”; New English Bible “although I have not the skill of a poet”; and Bible en français courant “even though your good deeds are innumerable.” Good News Translation‘s interpretation seems to be the best one to follow.

In verse 16a I will come may imply that the psalmist is talking about going to the Temple to praise God (so Bible en français courant “I will enter your house”; also Anderson). Good News Translation has taken it as an affirmation of the psalmist’s determination to praise God (see also Biblia Dios Habla Hoy, Traduction œcuménique de la Bible). It is difficult to make sense of Revised Standard Version With the mighty deeds … I will come. Good News Translation “strength” translates the singular form “in power” found in many Hebrew manuscripts; Revised Standard Version follows the Masoretic text plural form mighty deeds. Both Revised Standard Version and Good News Translation take this to refer to God; New Jerusalem Bible has “I will come in the power of Yahweh,” and Bible en français courant “because of your intervention (on my behalf).” If the translator follows Good News Translation “I will go in the strength of the LORD God,” it may be necessary in some languages to shift to a reason-result clause structure; for example, “because you are powerful, LORD, I will praise you,” or “I will say you are great, LORD, because you are powerful,” or “… because you do powerful deeds.”

Lord GOD (Good News Translation “LORD God”) translates “Lord Yahweh.”

I will praise in verse 16b translates the causative of the Hebrew verb for “to remember”; the causative means “cause to be remembered; to profess, praise.” Righteousness translates tsedaqah (see comments at 5.8); Bible en français courant has “your faithfulness,” and New Jerusalem Bible “your saving powers.” Praise thy righteousness must often be shifted into two clauses; for example, “I will say that you are great because you are faithful,” or as two coordinate clauses, “you are loyal to your people and I will praise you.”

The final words, thine alone, express the psalmist’s complete dedication to God, which he has expressed so eloquently in verses 14-16. There is no other source, human or divine, from which comes salvation. Thine alone may be translated as an exclusive restriction on the psalmist’s praise: “I will praise you, and no one else” or “I will praise you only–no one else.”

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Reyburn, William D. A Handbook on the Book of Psalms. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1991. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .