flesh (human nature)

The Greek that is often translated as “flesh” in English (when referring to the lower human nature) can, according to Nidq (1947, p. 153) “very rarely be literally translated into another language. ‘My meat’ or ‘my muscle’ does not make sense in most languages.” He then gives a catalog of almost 30 questions to determine a correct translation for that term.

Accordingly, the translations are very varied:

See also spirit / flesh.

complete verse (Romans 7:5)

Following are a number of back-translations of Romans 7:5:

  • Uma: “Formerly, before we believed in Yesus, there was a desire of our hearts to do evil. What was forbidden to us in the Lord’s Law, that is just what we wanted to do. That’s why in our former lives we used our bodies to do sin, with the result that we were fit to be punished with death and separated from God.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “Formerly at the time when that was what we (incl.) followed/obeyed our (incl.) inborn sinning/old nature (coined phrase in Yakan disalite bi magdusehin), after we (dual) heard the law we (dual) did the (things) that are evil just the same and our (dual) desire to sin increased/became more yet. Therefore we (incl.) did evil and this results in our (incl.) dying and going to hell.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “For long ago when we were still obeying our own desire, there were some activities that the Law forbade; and because these things were forbidden, it turned out that these were the very things that we (incl.) wanted to do. And since we did things like that, the only thing that we could look forward to long ago, was death without end.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Because previously when we were obeying what our human (connotes limited, sinful humanity) minds desired, our evil desires increased more-and-more because of our coming-to-know the law, and we were doing what would have led to our death and our separation from God to be punished.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “In the days gone past, all the evil we walked in. Upon knowing what was said in God’s law, then all the more there arose in our hearts to do sin. But the payment for sin is death.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Rom. 7:5)

Many languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns (“we”). The inclusive “we” specifically includes the addressee (“you and I and possibly others”), while the exclusive “we” specifically excludes the addressee (“he/she/they and I, but not you”). This grammatical distinction is called “clusivity.” While Semitic languages such as Hebrew or most Indo-European languages such as Greek or English do not make that distinction, translators of languages with that distinction have to make a choice every time they encounter “we” or a form thereof (in English: “we,” “our,” or “us”).

For this verse, translators typically select the inclusive form (including the writer of the letter and the readers).

Source: Velma Pickett and Florence Cowan in Notes on Translation January 1962, p. 1ff.

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. 21 ff.).

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)

See also sinner.

law

The Greek that is translated in English as “Law” or “law” is translated in Mairasi as oro nasinggiei or “prohibited things.” (Source: Enggavoter 2004)

In Yucateco the phrase that is used for “law” is “ordered-word” (for “commandment,” it is “spoken-word”) (source: Nida 1947, p. 198) and in Central Tarahumara it is “writing-command.” (wsource: Waterhouse / Parrott in Notes on Translation October 1967, p. 1ff.)
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