Are there any Universal Rules for transliterating instead of translating used by translation committees? Or is this practice left up to individual committees, and their traditions, seminary emphasis, denomination make-up, etc.?

We are not referring to Modern Paraphrases or Children's Bibles. This question is interested in serious translations of a literal or near literal nature, while recognizing phrase-by-phrase translating is oftentimes necessary.

Some Greek words such as deacon, baptism, demon, evangelist, paradise, synagogue are obvious transliterations. Should there be other words included? It is recognized that place names and personal names ought to be transliterated. What rules would determine this?

  • 2
    The short answer is "No". This varies from version to version and depends upon the translation philosophy of each committee.
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 21:09
  • 3
    There is a definite need to transliterate certain crucial doctrinal words, for example aphesis which have no English equivalent and are sometimes broad concepts. But transliterating demands that English lexicons correctly convey the complexity (or breadth) of the transliterated word, otherwise the word just corrupts and an inappropriate meaning adheres to it by misuse and misunderstanding.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 22:13
  • 1
    Names & concepts that are difficult to bring into the target language are often transliterated (or put into latin and then the latin is dragged into the English). But there's no dependable rule for it. "mammon" is (thankfully) translated. But the Aramaic of "Talitha Koumi" of Mark 5:41 is left transliterated. The best place to look is in the preface ("skopos") of each printed version to see what their specific translation philosophy is. But the topic of transliterated words doesn't seem to be addressed anymore.
    – Epimanes
    Commented Aug 7, 2023 at 12:18

1 Answer 1


Most Bibles have an Introduction which detail such points, particularly Study Bibles. Here is one example of some information given for the reasons governing whether to literally translate, or to transliterate words.

"Translation Philosophy and Methodology English Bible translations tend to be governed by one of two general translation theories. The first theory has been called ‘formal equivalence,’ 'literal,' or 'word-for-word' translation. According to this theory, the translator attempts to render each word of the original language into English, and seeks to preserve the original syntax and sentence structure as much as possible in translation.

The second theory has been called ‘dynamic equivalence,’ or thought-for-thought' translation. In reality, ALL translations contain a mixture of these two approaches. The goal of this translation theory is to produce in English the closest natural equivalence of the message expressed by the original-language text, both in meaning and in style.

...The pure application of either of these translation philosophies would create translations at opposite ends of the translation spectrum. But in reality, all translations contain a mixture of these two philosophies. A purely formal-equivalence translation would be unintelligible in English, and a purely dynamic-equivalence translation would risk being unfaithful to the original." New Living Translation - Introduction to the; p. A33, Tyndale House, second edition 2008

There are five pages to this Introduction to the NLT, which says it is literal when the text is quite clear, but when there is an element of obscurity, it goes for the gist – the intended meaning – in words we can grasp today (which is a transliteration). There is one section on page A34 that gives examples of translation issues, but 'rules' are not spelled out. One transliteration example is putting Hebrew months of the year (from its lunar calendar) into equivalent English (solar) calendar months. Textual footnotes explain details and give the Hebrew names. On page A35 an explanation is given as to why they have sought to move away from the language of the male-oriented society of Bible times. In the New Testament, believers are called 'brothers' (adelphoi) but the claim is made in the Introduction that usually both male and female believers was meant, so they have translated that one word with three words: 'brothers and sisters'. Another example given is changing the literal 'breaking of bread' to 'the Lord's Supper'. But none of the words mentioned in the question are detailed.

Place and personal name-transliterations are explained in some detail in the NLT 'Introduction' but the best idea would be to read that up for one's self. The details and examples take up an entire column of small print on page A34.

There would be written 'rules' and general principles detailed for all the translators of each translation, but that is not something the public would be privy to. The NLT does publish a list of its Translation Team, but no 'rules'.

With all Bible Translations, only the translators would be given any rules that they would be expected to follow. Each translation committee would draw up their own regulations, according to their translation and theology philosophy.

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