Is the word Hallelujah the same in all languages?

Dear Friends,

We celebrate this weekend together with Christians from around the world. On Friday, Jesus paid the ultimate price for our freedom, and on Sunday, he conquered death and the grave once and for all. How can we respond to this but to say:

Hallelujah!  For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns (Rev. 19:6).

I (Doug) have heard it said that Hallelujah is the one word that doesn’t need translation into any language.  It comes from the Hebrew which literally means Praise God:

So I decided to check it out.  Do all languages say Hallelujah?  Here is Rev. 19:6 in a few of the languages I have on my computer from teams I’ve worked with.  See any word you recognize?

Uchoi: kaomo chaiti, salaimi: “Halleluiya!” Chini phâ gnangtheha
Fulfulde: nii, ana wiya :« Halleluya ! Sabi Laamɗo Joomiraaɗo meeɗen
Lobala: ɓingyinzi ɓikusi kyiwɔ oɓokye: «Aleluya, phɔ Nkolo Ŋwaphongo

Seems to be all there, although in Lobala and a number of other languages, words can never start with an H.  (We would know—all our years in French West Africa our last name was pronounced "EEG-bee”). But not all Bibles use the transliterated Hebrew word. Transliteration is when the sounds of one language are represented by the closest approximate letters in another.  The Handbooks for Bible translators recommends the following for translating Hallelujah:

This expression, in its transliterated form, has entered several European languages. If it is not known as an expression of praise or thanksgiving, the translation can be “Praise God,” “Praise the Lord” or “Let us praise God.”

So I looked in a few more languages (there are over 1,579  texts to choose from) and came up with two examples that don’t use the Hebrew word:

Algonquin: Icpenimadan Kije Manido!
Baeggu: Tangoa God, suli God na Aofia

While we don't speak these languages, it is clear that they have chosen to use local words to express giving praise to God, since we don't find Hallelujah where we expect it. The Biblical text came to its inspired authors not in a heavenly language, but in the language in use in their day. We are fortunate that Hallelujah was passed down from Hebrew to Greek to English where it still maintains much of its original meaning today. But where this meaning bridge does not exist, we must remember that it is the message that is important, not the words. Bible translators use the language of the people to clearly communicate the idea of praising God. Our God understands and is glorified through all these languages. Thank you for caring about the Message, and for working with us to enable all people, nations, and languages to praise God in response to the Good News of Salvation!

Both P.J. and I continue to serve from our home office, and it will be some time before global travel starts up again. In normal times, I would have been teaching in Kenya last week.  Instead, the training was held online, and it meant starting at 3:30am here to match their time zone there, seven hours ahead. I’ve never been one to complain about jet-lag, but this is a new level of time adjustment, living in two different time zones at the same time!  In the end, though, the important thing is that the training can go on to equip Bible translators with the tools and skills they need to excel at their work.

There are advantages to working from home, and one of them is named
Theodore James Higby
our third grandchild, born to Henry and Kaitlyn on November 5, 2020.


We wish you a blessed Easter celebration in the shadow of the cross and in the hope of the resurrection in Christ. May you join with us and people of all languages as we say, Hallelujah! The Lord our God the Almighty reigns!

Partners in the Gospel,    (Phil 1:5)

Doug & P.J. Higby

Your gifts enable the Higbys' continued ministry with Wycliffe.
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Doug & Priscilla Higby are missionaries with Wycliffe Bible Translators. Both are serving SIL International: Doug is the International Coordinator for Language Technology Use, and Priscilla is supervising academic publications.

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