swear, vow

The Hebrew and Greek that is translated as “swear (an oath)” or “vow” is translated as “God sees me, I tell the truth to you” (Tzeltal), “loading yourself down” (Huichol), “to speak-stay” (implying permanence of the utterance) (Sayula Popoluca), “to say what he could not take away” (San Blas Kuna), “because of the tight (i.e. “binding”) word which he had said to her face” (Guerrero Amuzgo), “strong promise” (North Alaskan Inupiatun) (source for all above: Bratcher / Nida), or “eat an oath” (Nyamwezi (source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext).

In Bauzi “swear” can be translated in various ways. In Hebrews 6:13, for instance, it is translated with “bones break apart and decisively speak.” (“No bones are literally broken but by saying ‘break bones’ it is like people swear by someone else in this case it is in relation to a rotting corpse’ bones falling apart. If you ‘break bones’ so to speak when you make an utterance, it is a true utterance.”) In other passages, such as in Matthew 26:72, it’s translated with an expression that implies taking ashes (“if a person wants everyone to know that he is telling the truth about a matter, he reaches down into the fireplace, scoops up some ashes and throws them while saying ‘I was not the one who did that.'”). So in Matthew 26:72 the Bauzi text is: “. . . Peter took ashes and defended himself saying, ‘I don’t know that Nazareth person.'” (Source: David Briley)

See also swear (promise) and Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’, or ‘No, No’.


The Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin terms that are typically translated as “mercy” (or “compassion” or “kindness”) in English are translated in various ways. Bratcher / Nida classify them in (1) those based on the quality of heart, or other psychological center, (2) those which introduce the concept of weeping or extreme sorrow, (3) those which involve willingness to look upon and recognize the condition of others, or (4) those which involve a variety of intense feelings.

While the English mercy originates from the Latin merces, originally “price paid,” Romance languages (Italian, Spanish, Corsican, Catalan) and other Germanic languages (German, Swedish, DanishBarmherzigkeit, barmhärtighet and barmhjertighed, respectively) tend to follow the Latin misericordia, lit. “misery-heart.”

Here are some other (back-) translations:

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.

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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 89:49 - 89:51

The psalmist’s prayer concludes with one final plea for Yahweh’s love and mercy. And the psalmist reproaches Yahweh for having gone back on his promises to King David.

It should be noted that Lord in verses 49 and 50 translates the Hebrew title adonai; in verses 46, 51, and 52 “LORD” translates the Hebrew Yahweh.

Verse 49 is a long, rather complex rhetorical question, and it is advisable to divide it into two separate questions, as in Good News Translation. Or else “Where are your former acts of steadfast love … your faithful promises which you made to David?” (similarly Bible en français courant, New English Bible, New Jerusalem Bible). Biblia Dios Habla Hoy and New International Version are like Revised Standard Version, with the one subject (thy steadfast love) for the two lines. In verse 49a the plural of chesed (see 5.7) is translated by Good News Translation “proofs of (your) love,” and in verse 49b ʾemunah (see 36.5) is represented by “the promises,” as in verse 33b. In some languages it is not possible to ask where abstracts such as love and promises are. If the translator follows the lead of Good News Translation, it may be necessary to render this as, for example, “What can you do to show us that you love us as you used to do, and that you have kept the promises you made to David?”

In verse 50 the first person singular is the subject of the verb in line b; Good News Translation, for clarity, has also included it in line a, “I, your servant.” The Masoretic text is plural “your servants” (so New Jerusalem Bible, Traduction œcuménique de la Bible, New American Bible, Biblia Dios Habla Hoy), which probably means the people of Israel; many Hebrew manuscripts have the singular “your servant” (Good News Translation, Revised Standard Version, An American Translation, Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch, Bible en français courant, New English Bible, Bible de Jérusalem, New Jerusalem Bible). Dahood understands the plural as “plural of majesty,” a reference to the king. It seems better to follow the Hebrew manuscripts that have the singular.

In verse 50b the Masoretic text seems deficient; literally it is “I bear in my bosom all the many peoples.” Traduction œcuménique de la Bible understands the Masoretic text to mean “all these people of whom I am in charge.” Most translations emend the text to get “all the curses” or “all the insults” (An American Translation, Revised Standard Version, Good News Translation, New English Bible, New Jerusalem Bible, New International Version, New American Bible, Weiser). New Jerusalem Bible translates line b as a relative clause, “that I have borne in my bosom [from] many people.”49-51 Hebrew Old Testament Text Project gives two possible interpretations of this verse, without indicating which one is preferable: (1) “remember, O LORD, the shame of your servants, what I bear in my bosom, (from) all the numerous peoples”; (2) “remember, O LORD, the shame of your servants, all the numerous peoples (which) I bear (with love) in my bosom.” It seems best to go with the majority here. If “the heathen” are taken as the ones who insult and curse the king, then in many languages which do not use the passive, verse 50a may be rendered “Do not forget how the tribes who do not worship you insult and curse me, your servant.” In this way the two lines may have to be reduced to one.

In verse 51a thy enemies refers to the peoples (that is, the pagan Gentiles) of verse 50b. In verse 51a there is no object for the verb mock; Good News Translation takes it to be thy anointed of line b, and so transfers it to line a, “your chosen king” (see verse 38a) and uses “him” in line b. The same Hebrew verb is used in both lines; Revised Standard Version varies with taunt and mock.

Good News Translation takes the footsteps to mean “wherever he goes” (see Anderson); so Biblia Dios Habla Hoy “at every step.” Traduction œcuménique de la Bible understands the verbal clause in line b to mean “by spitting on the footsteps of your anointed one.” It is not clear how this meaning was arrived at.

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 .