Ein Ruf aus der Wüste: translating the name of the church in 1842

The translator thought about it and…just gave up.

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Orson Hyde, Ein Ruf aus der Wüste, pp. 11-12:


Since a literal translation of the title of our church into German would convey a loftier conception of holiness than we claim, I have found it more appropriate to leave it in its original in the English language since I am not authorized to change it even to the slightest degree.

By the title “The church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,” we understand an association bound together by religious relationships that is characterized by zeal and devotion. And these people together are then called “the saints of our Lord Jesus Christ in these latter days.”

I find that in Germany and in some other countries, the designation “the saints” is only attached to very few persons, to be precise only after their deaths, when, after they have attained this status, prayers are dedicated to them and appeals are made to them as patrons and mediators. Since the scriptures are completely silent about this practice and we have also received no credible instruction in relation to it, we do not wish to be understood in this way.

The people of God are called “the saints” in both the Old and New Testaments. This is a name given by the Lord himself, a name by which we wish to be called, and for whose honor alone we desire to live; for those who are so called will have part in the first resurrection. Those saints, or the people of God spoken of in the Bible, lived in an earlier period; and we who live in a later period are therefore called “the saints of the latter days” or “Latter Day Saints.”

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The bolded phrases appear in English in the original text. What’s interesting here is that Orson Hyde and/or his translator are as concerned about the name of the church as we are today, and for some of the same reasons. On the one hand, it’s liable to be misunderstood, and Hyde wants to avoid associations with the veneration of saints. On the other, the name is divinely appointed and Hyde experiences holy dread at the thought of tinkering with it. Hyde does explain “Latter-day Saints” with reference to the opposition former-latter rather than explicit mention of the Last Days or Second Coming, an issue Wilfried has touched on in a number of posts (although Hyde’s apocalyptic expectations are certainly clear elsewhere in Ein Ruf aus der Wüste).

The church’s later translators have fortunately not adopted the same approach of “just give up now,” but as a translation problem, it hasn’t gotten any easier.

2 comments for “Ein Ruf aus der Wüste: translating the name of the church in 1842

  1. Thanks, Jonathan, for this interesting reference to Orson Hyde’s understanding of translation quandary. Indeed, the semantic problem remains as even literally translated words often have other connotations in other languages and cultures. And some compound English words used as adjectives, such as “latter-day”, often have no equivalent at all. The obligation to use only the official church name hasn’t made things easier in our communication with outsiders.

  2. Some used to play with possible translations of the official English name trying to avoid the “last days” reading in favor of emphasizing “latter days”. The best I’ve yet seen are: “Kirche Jesu Christi der derzeitigen Heiligen” and “Kirche Jesu Christi der gegenwärtigen Heiligen”. But some objection has been raised because they lose the millennial inference some find in “latter-day” or “latter days.” Of course the “last days” issue arises in many more languages than German. By now the translated names are probably so enmeshed in legal and Church cultural issues that a search of a newly translated name is merely a though exercise without practical significance.

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