The Greek that is often translated as “poet(s)” in English is translated as “wise men” in Mayo, as “writers” in Isthmus Mixe, as “intelligent men” in San Mateo del Mar Huave, and as “word-matchers” in Coatlán Mixe. (Source: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August 1966, p. 86ff.)

complete verse (Acts 17:28)

Following are a number of back-translations of Acts 17:28:

  • Uma: “Like the old people say: ‘It is just from / because of Him that we are alive and move and are in the world.’ The same also what was written by one of your ancestors long ago who was clever making songs, he said: ‘All of us, we are the children of God.'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “Because the reason we (incl.) are alive, the reason we (incl.) are able to move, the reason we (incl.) have souls, is because of God. Just like what the story-tellers also say, ‘We (incl.) are the children of God.'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “because ‘By means of his power we are able to move, and there is also our life and personness of each one of us.’ Because just like one of your people said who knows how to make illustrations, he said, ‘As for us (incl.) also, we are his children.'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Because there is someone who said, ‘He is the one who gives us life, and it is he who is-taking-care (of us) in our walking and living.’ There are also other learned companions of yours who said, ‘We are definitely his children.'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “This is like the saying of the past which says, ‘He really is the source of our life and breath. Yes indeed, we are alive just because of his determining.’ Isn’t it so, of course, that it’s like what was said by other wise-people/thinkers here among you, saying, ‘We people, it’s like he gave birth to us’ ?” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Acts 17:28)

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, translators typically select the inclusive form (including the listeners on Mars Hill).

Source: Velma Pickett and Florence Cowan in Notes on Translation January 1962, p. 1ff.

pronoun for "God"

God transcends gender, but most languages are limited to grammatical gender expressed in pronouns. In the case of English, this is traditionally confined to “he” (or in the forms “his,” “him,” and “himself”), “she” (and “her,” “hers,” and “herself”), and “it” (and “its” and “itself”).

Modern Mandarin Chinese, however, offers another possibility. Here, the third-person singular pronoun is always pronounced the same (tā), but it is written differently according to its gender (他 is “he,” 她 is “she,” and 它/牠 is “it” and their respective derivative forms). In each of these characters, the first (or upper) part defines the gender (man, woman, or thing/animal), while the second element gives the clue to its pronunciation.

In 1930, after a full century with dozens of Chinese translations, Bible translator Wang Yuande (王元德) coined a new “godly” pronoun: 祂. Chinese readers immediately knew how to pronounce it: tā. But they also recognized that the first part of that character, signifying something spiritual, clarified that each person of the Trinity has no gender aside from being God.

While the most important Protestant and Catholic Chinese versions respectively have opted not to use 祂, some Bible translations do and it is widely used in hymnals and other Christian materials. Among the translations that use 祂 to refer to “God” were early versions of Lü Zhenzhong’s (呂振中) version (New Testament: 1946, complete Bible: 1970). R.P. Kramers (in The Bible Translator 1956, p. 152ff.) explains why later versions of Lü’s translation did not continue with this practice: “This new way of writing ‘He,’ however, has created a minor problem of its own: must this polite form be used whenever Jesus is referred to? Lü follows the rule that, wherever Jesus is referred to as a human being, the normal ta (他) is written; where he is referred to as divine, especially after the ascension, the reverential ta (祂) is used.”

In Kouya, Godié, Northern Grebo, Eastern Krahn, Western Krahn, and Guiberoua Béte, all languages of the Kru family in Western Africa, a different kind of systems of pronouns is used (click or tap here to read more):

In that system one kind of pronoun is used for humans (male and female alike) and one for natural elements, non-liquid masses, and some spiritual entities (one other is used for large animals and another one for miscellaneous items). While in these languages the pronoun for spiritual entities used to be employed when referring to God, this has changed into the use of the human pronoun.

Lynell Zogbo (in The Bible Translator 1989, p. 401ff) explains in the following way: “From informal discussions with young Christians especially, it would appear that, at least for some people, the experience and/or concepts of Christianity are affecting the choice of pronoun for God. Some people explain that God is no longer ‘far away,’ but is somehow tangible and personal. For these speakers God has shifted over into the human category.”

In Kouya, God (the Father) and Jesus are referred to with the human pronoun ɔ, whereas the Holy Spirit is referred to with a non-human pronoun. (Northern Grebo and Western Krahn make a similar distinction.)

Eddie Arthur, a former Kouya Bible translation consultant, says the following: “We tried to insist that this shouldn’t happen, but the Kouya team members were insistent that the human pronoun for the Spirit would not work.”

In Burmese, the pronoun ko taw (ကိုယ်တော်) is used either as 2nd person (you) or 3rd person (he, him, his) reference. “This term clearly has its root in the religious language in Burmese. No ordinary persons are addressed or known by this pronoun because it is reserved for Buddhist monks, famous religious teachers, and in the case of Christianity, the Trinity.” (Source: Gam Seng Shae in The Bible Translator 2002, p. 202ff.)

In Thai, the pronoun phra`ong (พระองค์) is used, a gender-neutral pronoun which must refer to a previously introduced royal or divine being. Similarly, in Northern Khmer, which is spoken in Thailand, “an honorific divine pronoun” is used for the pronoun referring to the persons of the Trinity (source: David Thomas in The Bible Translator 1993, p. 445). In Urak Lawoi’, another language spoken in Thailand, the translation often uses tuhat (ตูฮัด) — “God” — ”as a divine pronoun where Thai has phra’ong even though it’s actually a noun.” (Source for Thai and Urak Lawoi’: Stephen Pattemore)

The English “Contemporary Torah” addresses the question of God and gendered pronouns by mostly avoiding pronouns in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (unless God is referred to as “lord,” “father,” “king,” or “warrior”). It does that by either using passive constructs (“He gave us” vs. “we were given”), by using the adjective “divine” or by using “God” rather than a pronoun.

Some Protestant English Bibles use a referential capitalized spelling when referring to the persons of the Trinity with “He,” “His,” “Him,” or “Himself.” This includes for instance the New American Standard Bible, but most translations, especially those published in the 21st century, do not. Two other languages where this is also done (in most Bible translations) are the closely related Indonesian and Malay. In both languages this follows the language usage according to the Qur’an, which in turn predicts that usage (see Soesilo in The Bible Translator 1991, p. 442ff. and The Bible Translator 1997, p. 433ff. ).

See also first person pronoun referring to God.

Translation: Chinese





Translator: Simon Wong

Translation commentary on Acts 17:28

The words alluded to by Paul in this verse are thought to have originated with Epimenides, a poet living in Crete in the sixth century B.C. In him is rendered literally by most translators (though An American Translation* “through union with him”) and suggests either a mystical union with God or a spatial nearness to him. It is quite possible, however, that in him is to be taken in the sense of “by (the power of) him,” and this is supported by the observation that Paul’s next quotation, “We too are his children,” refers not to a spatial nearness to God but rather to God as Creator, the one “by whom” all people were created.

In most languages it is relatively meaningless to use an expression such as in him. One can readily speak of God being “in a person,” because it is understandable that a spirit can dwell inside of a person. However, it is almost impossible to conceive of a person dwelling inside of a spirit, which would be implied in an expression such as in him, referring to God. Accordingly, most translators find it necessary to employ some such expression as “in close union with him” or even “because of him.” In fact, in some languages it is necessary to make him the subject—for example, “he is the one who causes us to live and move and to be what we are” or “… to exist.”

It is as some of your poets have said may be taken as referring either to the quotation which precedes or to the one which follows, though it is more natural to take it with the one that follows, “We too are his children.” The clause it is as some of your poets have said may be rendered as “some of your poets have also said something like this” (in which “this” must refer to what follows). We too are his children is equivalent to “even we are his children” or “all of us are his children.”

Quoted with permission from Newman, Barclay M. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on The Acts of the Apostles. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1972. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

formal second person plural pronoun

Like a number of other East Asian languages, Japanese uses a complex system of honorifics, i.e. a system where a number of different levels of politeness are expressed in language via words, word forms or grammatical constructs. These can range from addressing someone or referring to someone with contempt (very informal) to expressing the highest level of reference (as used in addressing or referring to God) or any number of levels in-between.

One way Japanese show different degree of politeness is through the choice of a formal plural suffix to the second person pronoun (“you” and its various forms) as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017.

In these verses, anata-gata (あなたがた) is used, combining the second person pronoun anata and the plural suffix -gata to create a formal plural pronoun (“you” [plural] in English).

(Source: S. E. Doi, see also S. E. Doi in Journal of Translation, 18/2022, p. 37ff. )