Gained in Translation

There are probably hundreds of examples of words, phrases, and concepts that don’t translate well from one language to another.  And certainly when you try to talk to someone who doesn’t speak your native tongue, you can lose a lot of unspoken information.

A few years ago, my job required regular travel to Puerto Rico (I really miss that), and I started trying to learn Spanish.  I got a Spanish-English Bible to help me have something to read on a regular basis and keep it fresh.  When I stopped travelling to Puerto Rico, I stopped trying to keep up with the regular study – but I still use the Spanish-English Bible, and still try to read the Spanish side once in a while.  And often when I do, I find some real gems in there.  Sometimes, the Spanish words open a whole new meaning to a passage for me.

For example:

Did you know that when the Old Testament refers to a burnt offering, the Spanish version uses the word “holocausto”?  I’m not sure I can even express how that hits me – but it hits hard.

There is a mountain range in Colorado called the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  Just rolls off the tongue without much thought.  I was told once, however, that the name originates from a Spanish explorer who declared that the mountains were as beautiful as the blood of Christ.  Have you ever thought something was as beautiful as that?

Back to Scripture translations.  Hebrews 13:6 says “The Lord is my Helper.  I will not be afraid of what man can do to me.”  The Spanish version uses the term “simple mortal” in place of man (I’m guessing that is pronounced simplay morTAL).  It’s not just people I am free from.  It’s a bunch of simple mortals who have no power on this earth (apart from God).  (Oh, and I am also nothing but a simple mortal, apart from God.)

This week I noticed that in Hebrews 9:1, where the word “worship” appears, the Spanish version uses the word “el culto.”  I’m not a linguist by any stretch, but that threw me.  I’ve looked up the origin of the words cult and worship. gives some word origins, and I don’t see a connection.  BUT, I do see that cult originates from

Latin cultusworship, from past participle of colereto cultivate

The part I find intriguing is that when we worship, we are cultivating our relationship with the one we worship.  So, the question is – Who are you worshiping today?


About Joe

Writing on the things I'm passionate about: my family, my faith, and my work. View all posts by Joe

One response to “Gained in Translation

  • Aunt Jean

    Well, as usual, an awesome blog. The Spanish translations are very interesting. I may get Robert’s Eng/Span Bible down and take a look at it.

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