inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Luke 7:5)

Many languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns (“we”). (Click or tap here to see more details)

The inclusive “we” specifically includes the addressee (“you and I and possibly others”), while the exclusive “we” specifically excludes the addressee (“he/she/they and I, but not you”). This grammatical distinction is called “clusivity.” While Semitic languages such as Hebrew or most Indo-European languages such as Greek or English do not make that distinction, translators of languages with that distinction have to make a choice every time they encounter “we” or a form thereof (in English: “we,” “our,” or “us”).

For this verse (“he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue” in English translations), Yagua translators selected the exclusive forms. The translators justify this by saying “Jesus was also of the Jews’ nation and could have been included in this ‘our.’ However, the ‘us’ and ‘our’ of the second clause are doubtless exclusive and we guess since Jesus was not a native of Capernaum that these Jews probably would have used the exclusive in the first clause.”

Source: Paul Powlison in Notes on Translation with Drills, p. 165ff.

Pickett argues that “the first ‘our’ is inclusive, referring to the Jewish nation of which both the speakers and Jesus were a part, But the second ‘our’ is no doubt exclusive, i.e. the synagogue in their town, of which Jesus was not a part.”

Source: Velma B. Pickett in The Bible Translator 1964, p. 88f.

SIL International Translation Department (1999) notes that he second pronoun could be either inclusive or exclusive. The Tok Pisin translation uses the inclusive for the first occurrence and exclusive for the second.

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