The Greek that is typically translated as “spirit” in English is translated in Warao as “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. )
Following are a number of back-translations of Romans 11:8:
Uma: “As it was written long ago in the Holy Book: ‘God gave them a stubborn [lit., stiff] heart. He closed their eyes so they won’t see the true road. He stopped their ears so they won’t hear the true message. up to the present time.'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
Yakan: “There is something the holy-book says about these people whose heads are hard. The holy-book says, ‘God has made their thoughts/minds dull. Until now it is as if they do not see even though they have eyes, it is as if they do not hear even though they have ears.'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
Western Bukidnon Manobo: “For there is a written word of God which says, ‘God made their minds to become numb so that they might not understand. And up till now they don’t know what is right and they don’t understand what is proper.'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
Kankanaey: “This very-thing is what God caused-to-be-written is talking-about saying, ‘God made their minds like the mind of a sleeping person. So until today, even though they have eyes, they are not able-to-see and even though they have ears, they are not able-to-hear.'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
Tenango Otomi: “It says in the Holy Book: God caused that the people do not understand the word they hear. They do not understand about what they see. They will hear the words but will not understand about the words they will hear. This happened in past days and this again is happening now.'” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
Huehuetla Tepehua: “And since that is the way they were done to, it was fulfilled like it is written where it says this: God made their hearts stupid. In this way, even though they read the truth, they don’t understand. And even though they hear the truth, they don’t believe. And that is the way it is even until now.” (Source: Waterhouse / Parrott in Notes on Translation October 1967, p. 1ff.)
Verses 8-10 are intended to give scriptural support to what Paul has said in the last part of verse 7. The passage to which he has reference in verse 8 seems to be Deuteronomy 29.4, but it has been somewhat modified on the basis of Isaiah 29.10. Paul’s genitive expression (literally “a spirit of numbness”) means “a spirit which causes people to be numb.” Moreover, “to give a spirit of numbness” means “to make numb.” Since the numbness referred to is of a spiritual nature, the Good News Translation renders the entire clause as God made them dull of heart and mind (An American Translation* “God has thrown them into a state of spiritual insensibility”). Dull of heart and mind may be rendered as “not able to feel or think,” “not able to sense or understand,” or simply “not able to comprehend.”
To this very day is an expression found quite often in Deuteronomy; it is apparently intended to be emphatic in the present verse, and for that reason the Good News Translation places it at the beginning of the clause.
Expressions such as see with their eyes or hear with their ears seem utterly redundant and repetitious in many languages. What else could one employ for seeing except the eyes or for hearing except the ears? In some languages one can only translate “and up to this very day they cannot see or hear.” However, the statement must be taken in a somewhat figurative sense, and so one may want to use terms which imply mental activity—for example, “they cannot perceive or comprehend.”
Quoted with permission from Newman, Barclay M. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Romans. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1973. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .