Bethlehem

The town name that is transliterated as “Bethlehem” in English is translated in Finnish Sign Language with the signs signifying “manger + town” (referring to Luke 2:7). (Source: Tarja Sandholm)


“Bethlehem” in Finnish Sign Language (source )

See also manger.

In American Sign Language it is translated with the signs for “bread” and “house,” referring to the original meaning of “Bethlehem” as “house of bread.” (Source: RuthAnna Spooner, Ron Lawer)


“Bethlehem” in American Sign Language, source: Deaf Harbor

complete verse (Ruth 2:2 - 2:5)

Following are a number of back-translations of Ruth 2:2-2:5:

  • Noongar: “Ruth of Moab said to Naomi, ‘Let me go to the wheat-field and gather seed. I can go behind people who are kind to me.’ Naomi said to her, ‘Go, my daughter.’ So Ruth went to the wheat-fields and gathered wheat behind the wheat workers. Now, Boaz owned this wheat-field. He was Elimelech’s relative. Just then, Boaz arrived from Bethlehem. He said to the wheat workers, ‘God stays with you!’. They replied, ‘God bless you!’ Then Boaz asked the boss of the wheat workers, ‘This woman, who are her people?’” (Source: Bardip Ruth-Ang 2020)
  • Eastern Bru: “Ruth, the Moabite, said to Naomi: ‘Let me go glean in the fields. If the owner of the field is pleased with me, then I will glean in that field..’ And Naomi answered: ‘All right, child. Go, go.’ So Ruth went to glean in the fields following those who were harvesting. She did not know she had come to the field of Boaz. Boaz was from the clan of Elimelech. So Boaz came from Bethlehem, and he said to his harvesters: ‘God be with you.’ They answered: ‘Yes. And God give to you blessings also.’ Then Boaz asked the person who oversaw the people who harvested for him: ‘That young woman is whose child?’ (Source: Bru Back Translation)
  • Hiligaynon: (verses 4-5) “Now, Boaz arrived from Betlehem and he greeted the harvesters, ‘May the LORD help you(pl)!’ The harvesters replied, ‘May the LORD bless you(sg)!’ Then Boaz asked the servant whom he entrusted to supervise the harvesters, ‘Who is that young lady/woman?’” (Source: Hiligaynon Back Translation)
  • English: “One day Ruth said to Naomi, ‘Let me go to the fields and pick up the grain left behind by the workers.’ Naomi replied, ‘Go ahead, my daughter.’ So Ruth went to the fields and began to pick up some of the left-over grain. And it happened that she was working in a field that belonged to Boaz, the man from the clan of her dead father-in-law, Elimelech! Just then, Boaz arrived from Bethlehem. He greeted the men who were harvesting the grain, saying, ‘I want Yahweh to bless you!’ They replied, ‘We want Yahweh to bless you, too!’ Then Boaz saw Ruth, and asked the foreman/man in charge of the other workmen, ‘Whose daughter is that young woman?’” (Source: Translation for Translators)

bless(ed)

The Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and Aramaic that is translated into English as “(to) bless” or “blessed” is translated into a wide variety of possibilities.

The Hebrew term barak (and the Aramaic term berak) also (and originally) means “kneel” (a meaning which the word has retained — see Gen. 24:11) and can be used for God blessing people (or things), people blessing each other, or people blessing God. While English Bible translators have not seen a stumbling block in always using the same term (“bless” in its various forms), other languages need to make distinctions (see below).

In Bari, spoken in South Sudan, the connection between blessing and knees/legs is still apparent. For Genesis 30:30 (in English: “the Lord has blessed you wherever I turned”), Bari uses a common expression that says (much like the Hebrew), ‘… blessed you to my feet.'” (Source: P. Guillebaud in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 189ff. .)

Other examples for the translation of “bless” when God is the one who blesses include (click or tap here to see the rest of this insight):

  • “think well of” (San Blas Kuna)
  • “speak good to” (Amganad Ifugao)
  • “make happy” (Pohnpeian)
  • “cause-to-live-as-a-chief” (Zulu)
  • “sprinkle with a propitious (lit. cool) face” (a poetic expression occurring in the priests’ language) (Toraja Sa’dan) (source for this and above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • “give good things” (Mairasi) (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • “ask good” (Yakan) (source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • “praise, say good things” (Central Yupik) (source: Robert Bascom)
  • “greatly love” (Candoshi-Shapra) (source: John C. Tuggy)
  • “showing a good heart” (Kutu) (source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext)
  • “good luck — have — good fortune — have” (verbatim) ꓶꓼ ꓙꓳ ꓫꓱꓹ ꓙꓳ — ɯa dzho shes zho (Lisu). This construction follows a traditional four-couplet construct in oral Lisu poetry that is usually in the form ABAC or ABCB. (Source: Arrington 2020, p. 58)

In Tagbanwa a phrase is used for both the blessing done by people and God that back-translates to “caused to be pierced by words causing grace/favor” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation).

Ixcatlán Mazatec had to select a separate term when relating “to people ‘blessing’ God” (or things of God): “praise(d)” or “give thanks for” (in 1 Cor. 10:16) (“as it is humans doing the ‘blessing’ and people do not bless the things of God or God himself the way God blesses people” — source: Robert Bascom). Eastern Bru and Kui also use “praise” for this a God-directed blessing (source: Bru back translation and Helen Evans in The Bible Translator 1954, p. 40ff. ) and Uma uses “appropriate/worthy to be worshipped” (source: Uma back translation).

When related to someone who is blessing someone else, it is translated into Tsou as “speak good hopes for.” In Waiwai it is translated as “may God be good and kind to you now.” (Sources: Peng Kuo-Wei for Tsou and Robert Hawkins in The Bible Translator 1962, pp. 164ff. for Waiwai.)

Some languages associate an expression that originally means “spitting” or “saliva” with blessing. The Bantu language Koonzime, for instance, uses that expression for “blessing” in their translation coming from either God or man. Traditionally, the term was used in an application of blessing by an aged superior upon a younger inferior, often in relation to a desire for fertility, or in a ritualistic, but not actually performed spitting past the back of the hand. The spitting of saliva has the effect of giving that person “tenderness of face,” which can be translated as “blessedness.” (Source: Keith Beavon)

Martin Ehrensvärd, one of the translators for the Danish Bibelen 2020, comments on the translation of this term: “As for ‘blessing’, in the end we in most instances actually kept the word, after initially preferring the expression ‘giving life strength’. The backlash against dropping the word blessing was too hard. But we would often add a few words to help the reader understand what the word means in a given context — people often understand it to refer more to a spiritual connection with God, but in the Hebrew texts, it usually has to do with material things or good health or many children. So when e.g. in Isaiah 19:25 the Hebrew text says ‘God bless them’, we say ‘God bless them’ and we add: ‘and give them strength’. ‘And give them strength’ is not found in the overt Hebrew text, but we are again making explicit what we believe is the meaning so as to avoid misunderstanding.” (Source: Ehrensvärd in HIPHIL Novum 8/2023, p. 81ff. )

See also bless (food and drink), blessed (Christ in Mark 11:9), and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.

See also “Blessed by ‘The Blessing’ in the World’s Indigenous Languages” and Multilingual version of “The Blessing” based on Numbers 6:24-26 .

formal 2nd person pronoun (Spanish)

Like many languages (but unlike Greek or Hebrew or English), Spanish uses a formal vs. informal second-person pronoun (a familiar vs. a respectful “you”). Spanish Bibles all use only the informal second-person pronoun (), with the exception of Dios Habla Hoy (third edition: 1996) which also uses the formal pronoun (usted). In the referenced verses, the formal form is used.

Sources and for more information: P. Ellingworth in The Bible Translator 2002, p. 143ff. and R. Ross in The Bible Translator 1993, p. 217ff.

See also the use of the formal vs. the informal pronoun in the Gospels in Tuvan.

tetragrammaton, YHWH

The translation of the tetragrammaton (YHWH or יהוה‎) is easily the most often discussed issue in Bible translation. This is exemplified by the fact that there is virtually no translation of the Bible — regardless of language — where the position of the respective translator or translation team on how to translate the name of God into the respective language is not clearly stated in the preface or introduction.

Click or tap here to read about the different ways the tetragrammaton is and has been translated

The literature on this topic is overwhelming, both as far as the meaning of YHWH and the translation of it by itself and in combination with other terms (including Elohim and Adonai). There is no reason or room to rehash those discussions. Aside from various insightful translations of YHWH into various languages (see below), what’s of interest in the context of this tool are official and semi-official statements regarding the translation by Bible translation agencies and churches. These include the 1992 statement by United Bible Societies’ “Names of God” Study Group (see The Bible Translator 1992, p. 403-407 ) or the “Letter to the Bishops’ Conference on ‘The Name of God'” by the Congregatio de Cultu Divino et Discriplina Sacramentorum of 2008 (see here et al.).

In summary, the UBS study group gives six different options on how to translate YHWH: 1) transliterate (some form of “Yahweh” or “Jehovah” if this is an already established term); 2) translate (along the lines of kurios — κύριος in the Septuagint); 3) translate the meaning of YHWH; 4) use a culture-specific name; 5) translate Elohim and YHWH in the same way; or 6) use a combination of any of these options.

The official Catholic directive states that for liturgical purposes YHWH is to be translated as an equivalent of Kurios (“Lord”) unless when appearing in combination with Elohim (“God”) or Adonai (“lord”), in which case it’s to be translated with “God.”

In the following collection of examples, any of the above-mentioned strategies are used.

Use of Typographical Means to Offset the Name of God

A large number of Bible translations in many Western European languages have used a similar strategy to translate YHWH as an equivalent of Kurios or Adonai (“lord” in Greek in Hebrew) but have used either small caps or all caps to denote these occurrences as an equivalent to a proper name. Here are some examples:

  • English: Lord
  • Danish: Herren (In recent editions: Herren and Gud (“God”))
  • Swedish: Herren (traditionally: YHWH Herren and Elohim Herren)
  • French: SEIGNEUR (in the Traduction œcuménique de la Bible)
  • German: Herr or Herr (see also the translation by Buber/Rosenzweig below)
  • Dutch: HERE
  • Portuguese: Senhor
  • Welsh: ARGLWYDD
  • Spanish: Señor

None of the European languages have found a “cultural-linguistic equivalent” with the possible exception of Eternal or l’Éternel (see below).

The rendering of the translation of YHWH in bold (and uppercase) characters is for instance used in Guhu-Samane: QOBEROBA (a term of address for a respected person and also connotes “forever”) (for “forever”, see below under Translations of the Name of God) and the upper-casing in Bible translations in several other languages in Papua New Guinea:

  • Bola: BAKOVI DAGI (“BIG MAN”)
  • Sinaugoro: VEREGAUKA (“BIG ONE”)
  • Kamano: RA ANUMAZA (“BIG STRONG”)
  • Dedua: KEBU (“LORD”)
  • Nukna: TÁWI (“BIG ONE”)
  • Gizrra: LOD (“LORD”)
  • Ubir: BADA (“BIG MAN/CHIEF”)
  • Mailu: GUBINA (“MASTER”) (Source: Phil King in The Bible Translator 2014, p. 194ff.)

In Cebuano (Ang Pulong sa Dios edition, 2010) and Hiligaynon (all versions), Ginoo, a typographical variant of Ginoo (“Lord”) is used. Bible translation consultant Kermit Titrud (SIL): “‘Yahweh’ is too close to Yahwa, their word for ‘Satan.’ We were afraid that in the pulpits readers might misread ‘Yahweh’ and say ‘Yahwa.’ So we went with the tradition found in most English translations. Ginoo for ‘Yahweh’ and Ginoo for ‘adonai.'”

In languages where capitalization is not a typographical option, other options are available and used, such as in Japanese, where the generic term shu for “Lord” is bolded in some translations to offset its meaning (Source: Omanson, p. 17).

In Pattani Malay, the word for “Lord” is underlined: ربي. (Source: Andy Warren-Rothlin)

A graphical way of representation beyond typography was used by André Chouraqui in his French La Bible hebraique et le Nouveau Testament (publ. 1974-1977) for which he superimposed adonai and Elohim over (the French rendition) of the tetragrammaton:

(Source: Andy Warren-Rothlin in Noss / Houser, p. 618ff.; see also tempt God / put God to the test)

Translations of the Name of God

A translation of YHWH with a rendering of the meaning of “Eternal” was done in English by James Moffatt (between 1926 and 1935) with Eternal, The Voice translation with Eternal One (2012), in French versions as L’ÉTERNEL by J. F. Ostervald in 1904 or l’Éternel by L. Segond (1910-1938, not in more recent revisions) and Zadoc Kahn (1964) (for the French translation, see also LORD of hosts), or in Obolo as Okumugwem: “The Ever-Living” (source: Enene Enene). In francophone Africa, translations of l’Éternel are widely used, due to the wide use of Segond’s early editions (see above). Examples include Nancere (Nandjéré) with Kumuekerteri, Ngambay (Ngambaï) with Njesigənea̰, Sar with Kɔ́ɔ̄ɓē, Mbay (Mbaï) with Bïraþe, Kim with Bage ɗiŋnedin, or Lélé uses Gojɛnɛkirɛkindiy (verbatim: “who remains for his eyes”). (Source: Andy Warren-Rothlin)

Similarly and at the same time expanding its meaning, the Nzima translation of 1998 translated YHWH as Ɛdεnkεma, the “Eternal All-Powerful Creator and Sustainer” (Source: David Ekem, The Bible Translator 2005, p. 72).

“Creator” is also used in Kazakh (Zharatkhan [Жаратқан]), Karakalpak (Zharatkhan [Жаратқан], sometimes in combination with Iyeg [Ийег] — “Master”), and Kirghiz (Zharatkhan [Жаратқан], likewise in combination with “Master” or Ege [Эге]). (Source: David Gray).

Nepali, Bengali, and Hindi are all derived from Sanskrit and have (eventually) all found similar translations of YHWH. In Bengali “God” is translated as Ishwar (ঈশ্বর) (widely used in Hindu scriptures, where it’s used as a title, usually associated with “Siva”) and YHWH as Shodaphrobhu (সদাপ্রভু) — “Eternal Lord”; in Nepali YHWH is translated as Paramaprabhu (परमप्रभु)– “Supreme Lord”; and Hindi translates YHWH as Phrabu (प्रभु) — “Lord.” In earlier translations all three languages used transliterations of Jehovah or Yahweh. (Source: B. Rai in The Bible Translator 1992, p. 443ff. and Barrick, p. 124).

  • The influential German Jewish translation of Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig (between 1925 and 1961) translates YHWH in Exodus 3:15 with “Ich bin da” (“I exist” or “I am”) and in all other instances with pronouns in small caps (Er, Ihm, Ihn, Ich — “he,” “him,” “his,” “I”).
  • The Jewish orthodox English ArtScroll Tanakh translation (publ. 2011) uses Hashem or “The Name”
  • In the Bavarian translation by Sturmibund (publ. 1998), it is translated as Trechtein or “Sovereign, Lord.” “Trechtein” is related to the obsolete English “drighten.” (Source: Zetzsche)
  • In Ge’ez, Tigrinya, and Amharic it is translated with Igziabeher (እግዚአብሔር) or “Ruler/Lord of the Nations/Peoples.” In Ge’ez Igziabeher is used for “God” as well, whereas in Tigrinya and Amharic it is often, but not always used for “God.” In a recent revision by Biblica (see here ), an attempt was made to use Igziabeher exclusively for occurrences of the tetragrammaton in the Hebrew Bible, but after strong responses by the Christian community, a compromise was found by using Igziabeher in the first chapter of Genesis and changing it according to the Hebrew text elsewhere. (Source: Zetseat Fekadu)
  • Akan uses “Forever-Owner” (Source: Jacob Loewen, The Bible Translator 1985, p. 401ff. ).
  • Warlpiri uses Kaatu Jukurrarnu (Kaatu is a transcription of “God” and Jukurrarnu means “timelessness” and shares a root with jukurrpa — dreamings) (Source: Stephen Swartz, The Bible Translator 1985, p. 415ff. ).
  • The translation of YHWH into Weri with Aniak Tupup or “man of the holy house” intends “to maintain the Jewish practice of not uttering God’s name [with] the use of another vernacular phrase that signals that a ‘taboo’ name is being referred [which] could give a cue that would be recognizable in written or oral communication” (Source: P. King, The Bible Translator 2014, p. 195ff.).
  • Aruamu translates it as Ikiavɨra Itir God or “Ever Present God” (source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext)
  • Idakho-Isukha-Tiriki: Nyasaye Wuvunyali Muno or “God powerful great” (source: Andy Warren-Rothlin)
  • Ruund uses Chinawej, a term that is otherwise used as a response of approval. Anna Lerbak (in The Bible Translator 1954, p. 84ff. ) tells the genesis of this term (click or tap to see an explanation):

    “The name ‘Jehovah’ had been used in some contexts, but I had the feeling that it did not mean much to the people, and when I asked the pastors they all said it didn’t, and worse, it very often confused people, especially in the villages. During the conversation it was suggested that the name Chinawej be used in the place of ‘Jehovah’, and this met with immediate approval. A few days later I was working on a Psalm in which ‘Jehovah’ was used frequently, so I wrote Chinawej in its place and then read the Psalm to them. The response was about like this: “That is it, now people will understand, that is how Chinawej is. The Jews call God ‘Jehovah’, we call Him Chinawej, it is the same God. but we know Him as Chinawej as the Jews know Him as ‘Jehovah’ “. They often call God Chinawej in prayer, it seems to indicate warmth and intimacy.

    The same word is used in two other ways. It is the name of a snake which never attacks human beings. And it is used as a response of approval. When told of something they are pleased to hear, something they find good, just, helpful, generous, they often respond by saying, Chinawej. When they call God Chinawej, it indicates that they think of Him as One Who is good and just and generous towards them. When it was suggested at the committee that we use Chinawej in place of ‘Jehovah’ it was accepted immediately and unanimously.

  • Ebira has Eneyimavara. Eneyimavara was created by merging a praise phrase that was only used for the traditional deity Ohomorihi (see here), that had become the word for the Christian God: ene e yi ma vara or “the one that never changes.” “The translators came to the agreement that this praise name that describes the unchangeableness of God is very close in meaning to the probable meaning of YHWH.” (Source: David O Moomo in Scriptura 88 (2005), p. 151ff. )
  • The Uzbek Bible uses the term Ega (Эга) — “master, owner” in various forms (including Egam / Эгам for “my Owner” or Egamiz / Эгамиз for “our Owner.” (Click or tap to see an explanation):

    Jim Zvara (2019, p. 6) explains: “The Uzbek term ega means owner or master (‘master,’ in the historical context of an owner-slave relationship). By extension, it is natural for an Uzbek to speak to or refer to God as Egam (‘my owner’/’master’). In the Uzbek context to be God’s slave is a positive way of understanding one’s relation to him. It suggests that one is in a dependent and obedient relationship to God. The team felt that this relational connection and what it implies fits well with the concept of YHWH as the God who is in a covenant relationship with his people. In the Uzbek context, the choice of Ega was deemed to be the best balance of natural language with meaningful translation.”

  • The Seediq Bible translation team chose Utux Tmninun (“the weaving god”) for their translation of YHWH. (Click or tap to see a retelling of the process of how that decision was reached):

    “(…) The Seediq team requested that we spend time with them on key terms. They had compiled a list of key terms that they wanted input on, and we went through the list item by item. The most important item was how to deal with the divine name. They had tentatively translated it as Yehoba, transliterated from Jehovah, but they were also aware that this transliteration may not be accurate, and they were keen to explore other options.

    “We explored various alternatives. Were they interested in following the ancient Jewish practice of substituting ‘Lord’ for the divine name? Would capitalising the letters help? Would they be bold enough to use ‘Yahweh,’ following the opinion of most Old Testament scholars who regard this as the correct pronunciation? Was it feasible to adopt a mixed approach in dealing with the divine name (…)? Each option had its advantages as well as disadvantages.

    “In the midst of the discussion, a participant said, ‘Our ancestors, as well as we today, always call God by the term Utux Tmninun. I suggest we use this term.’ The term Utux Tmninun in the Seediq culture means ‘the weaving God.’ In their culture, God is the weaver, the one who weaves life together. All the participants were excited about this proposal. They tried this term with all the composite terms that involve the divine name, and it seemed to work well, so they decided tentatively to adopt this term. After the workshop, the participants went back to their villages and sought feedback from the wider community, and eventually they confirmed the use of the term Utux Tmninun as the rendering of the divine name.

    Translating the divine name as Utux Tmninun, the weaving God, is a creative solution. This term is viewed very positively in the Seediq community. It also correlates well with the concept of God as the creator (Gen. 1-2) and as the weaver who formed our inward parts and knit us together in our mothers’ wombs (Ps. 139:13). It also has the advantage of portraying God beyond the traditional masculine form.

    “Some may argue that since names are usually transliterated, we should do the same with YHWH, most likely pronounced ‘Yahweh.’ Unfortunately, due to the influence of Chinese Union Version for almost one hundred years now, Chinese Christians only know God as Yehehua. Attempts to change the term Yehehua to Yahweh have not been successful. This is a reality that the Seediq Christians have to live with.

    “Others may argue on theological grounds that YHWH is not only the creator, but also the God of the covenant, hence any attempt to substitute another term for YHWH will not do justice to the Hebrew text. In the case of the Seediq translation, there are significant similarities between Utux Tmninun and YHWH, though the terms are not identical. This is a reality translators often have to struggle with. Exact correspondence is hard to come by. Often it is a matter of approximation, give and take. Besides theological considerations, one has to deal with the constraints of past traditions (‘Jehovah,’ in this instance), the biblical cultures and one’s own culture, and audience acceptance. Hopefully, by using Utux Tmninun for YHWH, the Seediq term will be transformed and take on the aspect of the covenant God as well.” (Source: Yu Suee Yan, The Bible Translator 2015, p. 316ff.)

  • In Tok Pisin it is translated as Bikpela: “the Big One” or “the Great One.” (See: Norm Mundhenk in The Bible Translator 1985, p. 442ff. See also under LORD God / Lord God)
  • For a major new translation into Chichewa, we have a detailed retelling of why the term Chauta (“Great-One-of-the-Bow”) was chosen for YHWH (Click or tap to see the detailed story):

    “The name Chauta, literally ‘Great-One-of-the-Bow’, i.e. [is] either the rainbow (descriptively termed uta-wa-Leza ‘the-bow-of-God’) or, less likely, the hunter’s bow. And yet Chauta was also distinct from Mulungu [“God”] in that it has reference to the specific tribal deity of the Chewa people — the God who ‘owns’ yet also ‘belongs to’ them — and hence it carries additional positive emotive overtones. Although research indicated that in an ancient traditional setting, Chauta too was probably associated with the indigenous ancestral rain cult, in the Christian era it has been progressively generalized to encompass virtually all religious contexts in which God may be either appealed to, proclaimed, or praised. After prolonged deliberation, therefore, the translation committee determined Chauta to be the closest functional equivalent to YHWH of the Hebrew Scriptures. The choice of this name is not without its difficulties, however, and these were carefully considered by the Chewa committee. For example, the use of a more specific local term, as opposed to the generic Mulungu, carries a greater likelihood of bringing along with it certain senses, connotations, and situations that were (and no doubt still are) associated with the indigenous, pre-Christian system of worship. If these happened to remain strong in any contemporary sacred setting, then of course the dangers connected with conceptual syncretism might well arise. In the case of Chauta, however, it appeared that the process of positive Christian contextualization had already reached an advanced stage, that is, judging from the widespread use of this name in all aspects of religious life and practice. A more scholarly argument against Chauta takes the position that there is too great a female component associated with this term because it was traditionally applied (by figurative metonymy) to refer also to the ritual ‘wife of God’, i.e. the chief officiant at a traditional rain shrine and worship sanctuary. However, this usage seems to be quite remote, and most people questioned do not even recognize the connection anymore. Besides, in a matrilineal society such as the Chewa, it does not seem inappropriate to have this aspect of meaning lying in the background, particularly since it is not completely foreign to the notion of God in the Bible (cf. Ps. 36:7; 73:15; Isa. 49:14-15; Mt. 23:37). In terms of ‘connotative fit’ or emotive identification and appeal, there can be little doubt that the name Chauta is by far the closest natural equivalent to YHWH in the contemporary Chewa cultural and religious environment. This aspect of meaning was probably also utmost from the ancient Jewish perspective as well; in other words, “for them the associated meaning of this special name [YHWH], in terms of their history and culture, far outweighed any meaning it may have suggested because of its form or derivation”. To be sure, this ‘new’ divine name — that is, new as far as the Scriptures are concerned — may take some getting used to, especially in the formal setting of public worship. But this is not a foreign god whom we are talking about; rather, he is certainly by now regarded as the national deity of the Chewa nation. Chauta is the great God who for one reason or another ‘did not make himself known to them by his holy name, the LORD’ (Exod. 6:3), that is, in the prior translations of his Word into Chewa. He is, however, and always has been “a God who saves … the LORD (Chauta), our Lord, who rescues us from death” (Ps. 68:20, Good News Bible)!” (Source: Wendland 1998, 120f.; see also The Bible Translator 1992, 430ff. )

Transliteration of YHWH

A 12th century reading of the Masoretic vowel points around יהוה‎ (יְהֹוָה) was interpreted to be pronounced as Yehowah from which Iehouah and Jehovah were derived. This was reflected in the English versions of Tyndale (publ. 1530) and the Geneva Bible (significantly based on Tyndale and publ. in 1560) and again the King James Version (Authorized Version) (publ. 1611) which all used Iehouah or Jehovah in 7 different verses in the Old Testament. The translators and editors of the American Standard Version (publ. 1901), a review of the King James Version used Jehovah for all appearances of the tetragrammaton something that the Spanish Reina-Valera (publ. 1602) had already done as well.

In English versions, Yahweh as a transliteration of the tetragrammaton is used by the Catholic Jerusalem Bible (publ. 1966), the Protestant Holman Christian Standard Bible (publ. 2004) and the Legacy Standard Bible (publ. 2021). The Catholic translation by Knox (publ. 1949) occasionally uses Javé, “to make it a Latin name, to match all the other names in the Old Testament.” (Source Knox 1949, p. 80)

Mandinka for instance uses Yawe for YHWH. “The use of Yawe for YHWH is good and may be a trendsetter in this part of Africa.” (Source: Rob Koops)

In a group of related languages in another part of Africa an interesting development from a transliteration to a indigenous translation can be shown: In the Nandi Bible (1938) Jehovah was used as a translation for YHWH. Kamuktaindet (“The Powerful One”) was used as a translation for Elohim (“God”). This was taken over by a translation into the macrolanguage Kalenjin (1969) (intended to include the closely related Keiyo, Kipsigis, Markweeta, Nandi, Okiek, Sabaot, Terik, and Tugen). Sabaot, Markweeta, Tugen and Okiek later wanted there own translations. Both Sabaot and Markweeta use the indigenous word for “Creator” (Yēyiin in Sabaot and Iriin in Markweeta) to translate Elohim and YHWH of the Old Testament and Theos of the New Testament. The Kalenjin Bible has recently been revised to cater to Keiyo, Kipsigis, Nandi and Terik, and this revision has completely dropped Jehovah in favour of Kamuktaindet. (Source: Iver Larsen)

Early translations into Gilbertese faced a problem when transliterating “Jehovah” (a form of “Jehovah” was first used in Spanish Bible translations in 1569 and 1602): “There are only thirteen letters in the Kiribati alphabet: A, E, I, O, U, M, N, NG, B, K, R, T (pronounced [s] when followed by ‘i’), W For instance, ‘Jehovah’ is rendered Iehova, but Kiribati speakers can only pronounce it as ‘Iowa,’ since the phonemes [h] and [v] do not exist in Kiribati.” (source: Joseph Hong, The Bible Translator 1994, p. 329ff. .)

Other transliterations include Yoba (Kovai), Iaue (Mussau-Emira), Jawe (Waskia), Iave (Maiadomu), Iawe (Waboda) (source: P. King, The Bible Translator 2014, p. 194ff.), Yawi (Western Tawbuid, Eastern Tawbuid), or Yihowah (Kapingamarangi).

In a recent edition of a Thai translation (Thai Standard Version, publ. 2011) a combination of translation and transliteration is used: phra’ ya(h)we (h) (พระยาห์เวห์) (“Divine Yawe”). (Source: Stephen Pattemore)

In Nyarafolo Senoufo the transliteration is Yewe which also means “the being one” or “he that is.” David DeGraaf (in: Notes on Translation 3/1999, p. 34ff.) explains: “Since it is widely recognized that the vowels of the name are uncertain, another possible transliteration is Yewe. This proposal is in accord with the Nyarafolo rules of vowel harmony and is thus open to being understood as a normal nominalization in the language. Second, Yewe is exactly the word that would be formed by nominalizing the verb ‘to be’ in the class that includes sentient beings. Thus, Yewe can be understood as ‘the being one’ or ‘he that is’. This solution accords well with YHWH’s self-revelation to Moses in Exodus 3:14, ‘I am who I am.'”

In the Chinese (Protestant) tradition the transliteration of “Jehovah” is historically deeply rooted, even though there are also some historical burdens (Click or tap to see more details):

“YHWH” is rendered in the Chinese Union Version—the most widely used Bible translation in China—as well as most other Chinese Bible translations as yehehua 耶和華. According to Chinese naming conventions, yehehua could be interpreted as Ye Hehua, in which Ye would be the family name and Hehua — “harmonic and radiant” — the given name. In the same manner, Ye would be the family name of Jesus (transliterated as yesu 耶穌) and Su would be the given name. Because in China the children inherit the family name from the father, the sonship of Jesus to God the Father, yehehua, would be illustrated through this. Though this line of argumentation sounds theologically unsound, it is indeed used effectively in the Chinese church.” (see Wright 1953, p. 298, see also Jesus).

Ye 耶, an interrogative particle in classical Chinese, is part of the same phonetic series as ye 爺, which gives it a certain exchangeability. Ye 爺 carries the meaning “father” or is used as an honorable form of address. The choice of the first Bible translators to use the transliteration yehehua 爺火華 for Jehovah had a remarkable and sobering influence on the history of the 19th century in China by possibly helping to shape the fatal Taiping ideology, a rebellion that ended up costing an estimated 20 million lives.

“The founder of the Taiping rebellion, Hong Xiuquan, was given a tract (…) [that he used to] interpret a nervous breakdown he had had in 1837 as his “call” to be the “Messiah.” This “vision” that Hong experienced is likely to have had a direct correlation with the name of “God” in that tract. Shen yehuohua 神爺火華 (directly translated: ‘God (or: spirit); old man (or: father); fire; bright)” was the term that was used in that tract for ‘God Jehovah,’ but this was not indicated as a (in its second part) transliteration of a proper name. In his vision, Hong saw ‘a man venerable in years (corresponding with ye), with golden (corresponding with huo and hua) beard and dressed in a black robe,’ an image likely to have been inspired by a direct translation from that name for ‘God,’ especially as it appeared at the beginning of the tract. That this term was considered to be a term of some relevance to the Taiping ideology is demonstrated by the fact that both yehuohua 爺火華 as the personal name of God and ye 爺 as “God the Father” later appeared in Taiping writings.” (Source: Zetzsche in Malek 2002, p. 141ff.)

In American Sign Language it is translated with a sign that combines the letter Y and a sign that points up and is similar to the sign for “God.” (Source: RuthAnna Spooner, Ron Lawer)


“YHWH” in American Sign Language, source: Deaf Harbor

In British Sign Language is is translated with a sign that combines the signs for “God” and “name” and the finger-spelling of Y-H-W-H. (Source: Anna Smith)


“YHWH” in British Sign Language (source: Christian BSL, used with permission)

For further reading on the translation of YHWH, see Rosin 1956, p. 89-125 and Andy Warren-Rothlin in Noss / Houser, p. 618ff.

See also Lord, God, and Exod. 3:14-15.

Translation commentary on Ruth 2:4: A Cultural Commentary for Central Africa

Boaz’ words of greeting to his workers (“The Lord be with you!”) and their reply to him (“The Lord bless you!”) have a distinctly liturgical ring about them. They make Boaz sound like the local parish pastor or priest. These were conventional formulas of welcome in Hebrew, but their formal correspondents fit into an entirely different speech register in many receptor languages. By replacing them with local equivalents in the receptor language, however, such as “You are seen, clansmen” . . . “Yes, we are seen” (Chitonga), would eliminate an essential religious component that probably ought to be retained in this story. The wish that God would “be with” a person is conceptually difficult for two reasons. As has been noted, according to traditional belief, God is regarded as living far away from man, personally and psychologically, with no real desire to come any closer (although in times of calamity he may be cajoled into helping by means of prayers and offerings). Secondly, the reason for inviting his immediate presence is not readily apparent. The meaning must there-fore be clarified with an expression such as “May God be good-hearted (i.e., favorable) to you” (Chichewa).

Source: Wendland 1987, p. 172f.

Translation commentary on Ruth 2:4

In Hebrew verse 4 begins with an adverbial expression often translated “behold.” This is primarily a device to call special attention to the following expression, which in this case is the name of Boaz. However, in other languages a term denoting “behold” or “note” or “look” is often not appropriate. In English an equivalent expression might be “and there was Boaz coming” (New English Bible).

The verb arrived translates a perfect tense form in Hebrew, which suggests that the arrival of Boaz took place several hours after the events described in verse 3. This suggestion is confirmed by the statement in verse 7, which indicates that Ruth had already worked for some time in the field. Because of the lapse of time between verses 3 and 4, Good News Translation introduces a temporal transition at the beginning of verse 4, Some time later. This could also be expressed as “Then after several hours Boaz himself came.”

The expressions The LORD be with and The LORD bless you are conventional formulas of greetings still current in some related Semitic languages. There is no reason to see in these greetings an expression of a pious attitude (so Bertholet, op. cit., ad loc.) or to evaluate them as typical “harvest greetings” (so H. Gunkel, Ruth, Reden und Aufsätze, 1913, pages 65-92). Compare Arabic allah ma‘akum (“Allah be with you”) and the answer allah yachphadak (“may Allah protect you”). In the nominal phrase in Hebrew a verbal form with optative mood is implicit. See Joüon, par. 163. The Hebrew verb translated “bless” sometimes has the meaning of “greet,” as in 1 Samuel 13.10 and 2 Samuel 13.25 (a parting salutation). The expressions The LORD be with you and The LORD bless you have a strictly liturgical value in present-day language, and they may seem quite strange in receptor languages as expressions of greeting. Some translators feel that it may be useful to introduce at this point typical indigenous greetings and responses—Boaz might say, for example, to the harvesters, “Did you work well?” or even “How are you today?”—but this type of cultural adaptation fails to provide the religious setting to the greetings which is so important to this context. The fact that these expressions are greetings can, of course, be identified by the verb chosen to introduce them; for example, “Boaz greeted the workers by saying, ‘The LORD be with you,’ and the workers responded by greeting him in turn, ‘The LORD bless you.’ ” It is interesting to note that the Syriac translator in reading “peace with you” makes a type of cultural adaptation.

It seems perfectly appropriate to us to say in English The LORD be with you, but in some languages this is quite impossible, both semantically and grammatically; one cannot make this kind of command in the third person. It is possible, however, in some languages to employ an expression of direct discourse; for example, “I ask the LORD to be with you” or “I pray to the LORD that he will be with you.” Simply having the LORD “with a person” may not imply any special relationship, and therefore in some languages one must say “I pray that the LORD will help you” or “I ask that the LORD be good to you.”

Similarly, in the translation of The LORD bless you, it may be necessary for the workers to respond: “We pray that the LORD will be good to you” or “We ask that the LORD will show you favor.” The choice of an appropriate term for bless is particularly difficult in some languages, since there may be at least three different terms which render the English expression “bless”: (1) the blessing of a superior to an inferior (for example, “do good to” or “show favor to”); (2) the blessing of an inferior to a superior (for example, “praise”); and (3) a request for God to bless some object or person.

The position of expressions introducing direct discourse (in this case, the blessing formulas) must be determined by what is natural in the receptor language. More often than not, expressions introducing direct discourse (even such formulas as blessing and greetings) must occur before the direct discourse, rather than after it as in Good News Translation.

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 .