inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (2Kings 9:5)

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, the Jarai and the Adamawa Fulfulde translation both use the exclusive pronoun, excluding the young man.

formal 2nd person pronoun (Spanish)

Like many languages (but unlike Greek or Hebrew or English), Spanish uses a formal vs. informal second-person pronoun (a familiar vs. a respectful “you”). Spanish Bibles all use only the informal second-person pronoun (), with the exception of Dios Habla Hoy (third edition: 1996) which also uses the formal pronoun (usted). In the referenced verses, the formal form is used.

Sources and for more information: P. Ellingworth in The Bible Translator 2002, p. 143ff. and R. Ross in The Bible Translator 1993, p. 217ff.

See also the use of the formal vs. the informal pronoun in the Gospels in Tuvan.

Translation commentary on 2 Kings 9:5

Behold: The focusing particle used here in Hebrew is left untranslated by many modern English versions. Its purpose here seems to be to shift the narrative to the perspective of the young prophet and to highlight the fact that the military commanders were in the middle of their meeting precisely at the moment of the young prophet’s arrival.

The commanders of the army: For this expression, compare 2 Sam 24:2, 4; 1 Kgs 1.19; 15.20. The army is apparently “the army of Israel” (so Bible en français courant, Parole de Vie) rather than the combined armies of Israel and Judah.

The Hebrew word translated were in council is actually based on the verb meaning “to sit.” Revised English Bible states that the messenger found the military officers “sitting together” (similarly New Jerusalem Bible). New American Bible says the commanders “were in session.” Many languages may find it much easier and more natural to translate this idea by using a form of a verb meaning to sit or to sit together.

He said: The context requires that the object of the verb said be kept intentionally vague. If the receptor language requires a grammatical object for this verb, it will have to be something like “to one of the leaders.” The young prophet addresses only one person, but it was obviously unclear to the group of military leaders which one of them was intended.

I have an errand to you: New Revised Standard Version changes this to the more modern and natural-sounding expression “I have a message for you.” The text literally reads “A word with me for you [singular]” without a verb. But the meaning is quite clear. The young prophet had a word from God for Jehu. Revised English Bible captures the essential meaning and the brevity of the remark with “I have a word for you.”

In most languages the vocative, O commander, will be more naturally translated as a term of address, for example, “commander” (New Revised Standard Version, New American Bible), “Sir” (Good News Translation, Revised English Bible), or “chief” (Bible en français courant, Nouvelle version Segond révisée). In a number of languages it will be more natural to place it at the beginning of the sentence rather than at the end (so Good News Translation).

The translators of Biblia Dios Habla Hoy have the messenger using the more formal or distant form of address when he first speaks to Jehu and informs him that he has a message for him. But when he begins speaking the actual message from God in verses 6-7, he shifts to the familiar form. This may be a good model to follow in those languages that make a distinction between formal and familiar forms of address.

Quoted with permission from Omanson, Roger L. and Ellington, John E. A Handbook on 1-2 Kings, Volume 2. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 2008. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .