“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).”

Ruth 1 in oral adaptation in Fang

Following is a back-translation of Ruth 1 from a song presented in the traditional Fang troubadour style (mvét oyeng) as part of a project by Bethany and Andrew Case. (For more information about this, see Case / Case 2019)

Verse 1 – It happened that, in the time of the chiefs, they were governing Israel, and hunger came there to the regions of those lands.

2 – It came about that a man of the town that they call Bethlehem, the clans of the lands of Ephrata, they called him Elimelek.

Then he moved from there, he moved, saying, “I will try to go and live in the regions of the lands of Moab.”

When he went there, he went with [his] wife, [his] wife Naomi, and his two sons, his grown sons.

One was named Mahlon, and the other was Kilion.

All those were people of Ephrata.

After they arrived in Moab there, then they lived there, living.

3 – It came about that Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and Naomi was left a widow. (Click or tap here to see the rest.

4/5 – Left like that, [with] only just one thing her two sons, when they were left, then these two sons also married two girls, young Moabite women.

One of them was named Orpah, and the other was named Ruth.

And it came about that after ten years passed, ten years, then these two sons of hers also died there, beginning with Malon and Kilion.

Then Naomi was left only all alone [lit. point and point: a bird’s beak from which its worm has fallen] with nothing.

6 – Then it came about that Naomi, living in Moab [unclear].

There she found out that Yahweh had had compassion on her town’s/people’s pain, the famine had ended, ending.

7 – Then Naomi said there that, “right now, I’m going back to Judah.”

When she was returning, then she went together with her two daughter-in-laws.

They left the place where they were and at that time they went.

8 – When they were walking on the road, then she said to them, “Oh my daughters-in-law, go back to your houses, to the houses of your mothers, please go back.”

9 – “I ask Yahweh that he treat you well at all times just like you also treated me and my sons.”

“I continually repeatedly again and again ask that Yahweh give you a place that is just and solid/secure, that he give you homes and also give you new husbands.”

Then Naomi kissed them on the cheeks, a goodbye kiss.

10 – Then the girls wept and they said “We will not go back, oh Naomi, we will go with you to your land.”

11 – Then Naomi insisted again, and said to them, “O my daughters, please go back.”

“Do you really wish to return with me, to go and do what?”

I can no longer again have other children for them to again marry you, please go back to your homes.

12 – I am too old, I cannot again go into marriage.

Even if I did also go into it, and bear two sons this night, oh my daughters, would you begin to wait again for these sons, for them to be your husbands?

13 – In this time you are without husbands, and for how long?

No no, oh my daughters, my evil is too great, and surpasses yours [lit. my evil it exaggerates with bigness to pass this with yours].

The hand of Yahweh has struck me, striking.”

14 – Then they opened their mouths (wept), they were crying.

After they finished crying, then Orpha afterward went to kiss [her] mother-in-law, kissing goodbye.

Then Ruth, she insisted to her that she would not go.

15 – Then Naomi said to her, “Look, the other has gone to her people.

Go youuuu too with her to the place where your gods are, go with her.”


16 – Then Ruth answered her, “Don’t you ask me that I separate from you.

Don’t you ask me that I separate from you.”

Because the place where you go, to it also I will go.

The place where you’re going to live, there also I am going to live.

Your people this also will be my people.

Your god this too will be my god.

17 – The place where you will die, in this also I will die, I tell you truly (lit. truth and truth).

I say that may Yahweh strike me, may he punish me severely (lit. [punish me with real punishment]) if I separate from you except only that death do it.”

18 – Then it happened that, when Naomi saw that Ruth insisted [with] real insistence [firmness], she didn’t insist anymore, then she said, “Let’s go”.

They began to walk, they’re going, they’re going.

19 – When it happened that they have already entered Bethlehem, that they have already arrived.

Then there in the town people began going and looking, [saying], “wow, but who is this?

Who is this?

Is it not Naomi who’s coming over there?

Yes, wow, it is Naomi.



20 – After Naomi knew that she was the one they were talking about, then she said, “Don’t call me again Naomi.

Naomi means I have a glad heart, I am well.

And now that I’m here, please call me Mara because God Almighty has given me bitter and bitter, bitter and bitter, this has filled my body.

21 – When I left here to go, I left here [with] my hands full.

When I was returning now, I was coming [with] my hands now emptied, because thus Yahweh has wanted it, so why do you again call me Naomi?

When Yahweh, he who is all-powerful has lowered me to the ground, this kind of punishment that I have here.”

22 – In that way, Naomi returned to Moab with her daughter-in-law Ruth, she who is a young Moabite woman.

In that way, they arrived in Bethlehem, finding that the time of harvesting food had arrived.

Ruth in Central Africa: A Cultural Commentary (Ruth 1:12)

Here again Naomi’s words are far too blunt, when translated literally, to have been spoken to her daughters-in-law, unless she intended to insult them! The overt reference to her bearing children (which they had not) and the implicit mention of sexual intercourse (despite the euphemism: to “have a husband this night”) are particularly troublesome from the point of view of Chewa/Tonga verbal etiquette. Naomi sounds as if she is despising her daughters-in-law.

Source: Wendland 1987, p. 169.

Translation commentary on Ruth 1:12 - 1:13

The expression Go back home represents the combination of two Hebrew verbs often translated “turn back … go your way.” These verbs do not represent two different movements, See Brockelmann, Grundriß II, par. 294. but simply emphasize the meaning of returning. Tamisier translates correctly “retournez.”

In the Hebrew text of verse 12 there is no indication of a goal of hope (cf. New American Bible “and even if I could offer any hopes”). There are, of course, two different possibilities for a goal of hope, either the hope of marrying (Moffatt) or the hope of having a child (New English Bible). The more immediate element in the context would seem to be marrying or having a husband, but since the focus is not on the husband but on having sons, it is also possible to speak of “hope of having sons.”

In the Hebrew text the expression rendered got married tonight is a more or less direct reference to the act of sexual intercourse, but it is euphemistically stated. Some ancient translators, however, felt that it was not euphemistic enough, and so they omitted tonight. So Septuagint and Syriac version. Others, however, translated quite realistically. So in some Greek manuscripts: kai egenomēn lelakkōmenē andri. This is even true when their translation was based on a misreading chalilah for hallaylah. In some languages the closest and most appropriate equivalent would be “even if I should sleep with a husband tonight” The euphemism used in NEB, “if I were to marry this night,” has the disadvantage of not focusing on sexual intercourse. or “even if a husband should cause me to conceive tonight.”

The Hebrew term involved in the expression keep you from marrying occurs only here in the Old Testament, though it is frequent in later rabbinic literature. See M. Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature, I, II, New York, 1950, s.v. ʾagan. In this context one might render the verb as “shut yourselves off from marrying” or “deprive yourselves of marrying.”

Since the questions posed by Naomi in verse 13 are regarded not as real questions but as rhetorical exclamations of something which is quite impossible, it is frequently preferable to render them as strong negative statements; for example, “If I should have a husband tonight and then give birth to sons, you surely would not wait until they had grown up. You would not refrain from marrying someone else.”

The clause you know that’s impossible renders a negative particle in Hebrew which presupposes a verbal form which is not made explicit. See Joüon, par. 160 and 161. The negation may refer either to the impossibility of Naomi’s having sons for her daughters-in-law to marry, or it may be a negative command advising the daughters not to accompany her.

The clause The LORD has turned against me occurs in the Hebrew text at the end of verse 13, following a clause which may have either of two meanings: (1) “I am terribly sorry for you” or (2) “my lot is worse than yours.” Both interpretations are already present in the Septuagint tradition. For the elliptic comparison in the first, see Joüon, par. 141. Revised Standard Version, New American Bible, and Good News Translation follow the first interpretation, while Moffatt and New English Bible favor the second. One can argue that because of the clause The LORD has turned against me the second interpretation is to be preferred, but that does not necessarily follow. If the order of clauses is reversed, as in Good News Translation, the meaning is quite clear and the relation between the events is logical, since it was evidently adversity brought on by the LORD which caused Naomi to feel so sorry for her daughters-in-law. This is, of course, a reference to the death of the two sons.

In the Hebrew text the phrase “the hand of the LORD” is a figurative expression to identify the power of the LORD. In most instances it is better to drop this figure of speech and say simply The LORD has turned against me rather than “the hand of the LORD has gone against me.”

Quoted with permission from de Waard, Jan and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Ruth. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1992. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .