Managing Multiple Senses in the Biblical Terms Tool

The Problem of Multiple Senses

A Greek or Hebrew word may have multiple senses (polysemy), and the Biblical Terms lists do not have all that you may need for your language. Paratext allows you to put glosses or other comments next to renderings in the Biblical Terms tool. This extra material is ignored by the tool if it is within parentheses. Anything within parenthesis is for the translators and consultants and is not considered part of the approved rendering by the Biblical Terms tool. This feature can be used to distinguish between senses in the Biblical languages, and it can be used to explain (in brief) why a Greek or Hebrew term needs several approved renderings.

Example: brother / adelphos

I will work through giving all the necessary renderings for adelphos in the sample project MTT2. When we look at the Semantic Dictionary of Biblical Greek (SDBG) in an Enhanced Resource we can see that adelphos has five senses.

It is very unlikely that the language in MTT2 can use the word for biological brother for all five senses. I will work through the five senses to show how to distinguish them in the Biblical Terms tool. You do not have to work from the Enhance Resource to use the Biblical Terms tool, but I am starting from the Enhanced Resource to make it clear that adelphos has several senses. You may not agree with the senses that the SDBG has listed for adelphos, but I am going to assume that it is correct in this article. If you do not want to mark all of the senses that the SDBG has, it is up to you to decide which are appropriate for your language.

Biblical Terms List only has one sense

If we open the Biblical terms tool, we see that the Biblical terms list only has one sense for adelphos. Based on the gloss given “brother (in Christ)”, the Biblical terms list only accounts for two of the five senses given in the SDBG. I will have to use comments within parenthesis to distinguish the five senses in my sample project.

Approved Renderings in Sample Project (MTT2) for adelphos

I have already approved renderings for all instances of adelphos in the sample project MTT2. As you can see below there are several approved renderings. In fact, there are eight approved renderings, while the SDBG in the Enhance resource told us there are only five senses. In a situation like this, it can be difficult for the translators and the consultant to have confidence that each sense is accounted for correctly.

I will go through and see if these renderings account for the five senses listed in the SDBG.  My next step will be to copy the five senses from the Enhanced resource to the Description field of the Edit Renderings dialogue. You do not need to do this; you can simply keep an Enhanced resource open for reference. I am copying them here to make this explanation easier to follow if you are reading this article on a smartphone.

Sense 1

Next, I will begin assigning senses to the approved renderings, by adding information to the right of renderings. The information must be in parentheses in order for Paratext to know that it is not part of the approved rendering. I will start with sense number 1.

We can see that the first three approved renderings correspond to SDBG sense one. In this language there is no word for “brother” like English. Instead, there is a word for a sibling of the same sex as the referent, and a word for a sibling of the opposite sex of the referent. Consequently, both words were needed as approved renderings. In MTT2 The wildcard (*) could not be used in the front of “ddib” because it would accept other words whose roots are the same. The root “rogor” does not have this problem so one entry will work for both singular and plural.

Note: If you would like to learn more about using wildcards, search for wildcards in the Paratext Help. There are multiple articles available:

Sense 2

Next, I will mark sense number 2 in the approved renderings.

This sense is referring to fellow believers in Christ. They could be ethnically Jews or non-Jews, but they share belief in Jesus Christ and that is the focus of the verses where this term is used. There is another sense to refer to fellow followers of Judaism. It is sense 3 as we will see below.

Sense 3

Next, I will mark sense number 3 in the approved renderings.

As you can see, in this language referring to a fellow Christian brother and a fellow Jewish brother required different words in order to be clear. (Not all people called brother in the New Testament are Christians). Again, singular and plural forms needed to be listed explicitly to differentiate them from similarly spelled words such as the other approved rendering “emudhi”.

Sense 4

Next, I will mark sense number 4 in the approved renderings.

Sense 4 focuses on Jewish national identity. This sense appears in verses where the Jewish nation is in focus, and not the Jewish religion. The SDBG states that this sense only occurs six times in the New Testament.

Sense 5

Next, I will mark sense number 5 in the approve renderings.

Sense number 5 is the most generic sense of brother/adelphos. The SDBG states that this sense occurs 16 times in the New Testament. It includes such verses as Matthew 5:22 “But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.” (RSV)


It is a common issue in translation to manage the difference in the range of meanings in the source and target languages. Annotating each sense not only helps the team know if they have covered all the senses of a word but helps any new translators who may join the team later to understand how things have been translated. Likewise, this kind of documentation makes the translation consultant’s job much easier, because in most cases he or she does not speak the language. Finally, this kind of documentation of the translation will be of tremendous help when years later the translation is revised.