appoint (Japanese honorifics)

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 to do this is through the usage (or a lack) of an honorific prefix as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017.

The Aramaic and Greek that is translated as “appoint” or “set over” in English is translated in the Shinkaiyaku Bible as o-tate (お立て), combining “appoint” (tate) with the respectful prefix o-.

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

See also appoint.


The term that is rendered in English translation as “pastors” is translated into Mono as “those who look after the souls of people” to avoid a translation favoring any denomination.

apostle, apostles

The Greek term that is usually translated as “apostle(s)” in English is (back-) translated in the following ways:

Scot McKnight (in The Second Testament, publ. 2023) translates it into English as commissioner.

In American Sign Language it is translated with a combination of the signs for “following” plus the sign for “authority” to differentiate it from disciple. (Source: RuthAnna Spooner, Ron Lawer)

“apostles” in American Sign Language, source: Deaf Harbor


The Greek that is transliterated in English as “evangelist” is translated as “[a person who is] accustomed to speak the good news about God” in Eastern Highland Otomi, as “takes God’s word around” in Isthmus Mixe, and as “spoke the good word” Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac. (Source: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August 1966, p. 86ff.)

complete verse (Ephesians 4:11)

Following are a number of back-translations of Ephesians 4:11:

  • Uma: “That Kristus is the one who distributes blessing to his followers: to some of them he gives the ability to become his apostles, to some he gives the ability to become prophets who speak God’s words, to some he gives the ability to spread the Good News to those who have not yet heard it, and to some also he gives the ability to become leaders who care for and teach all his followers” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “He also ‘is the one who gives good to his people.’ Some have been/are commissioned by him to proclaim his word/message. Some also have been/are given expertise to pass on/spread his word/speech. Others he has given/gives expertise to convince people to follow Almasi. Some also he gave/gives expertise to preach/teach and to put-right/straighten/serve (pastor) the ones trusting in Almasi.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “These are the skills that were given to us (incl.). Some He made them apostles, and others, He made them to be prophets of God. And to others, He gave them the skill so that they might be able to spread the good news. And as for others, He gave them the skill so that they might lead and teach believers.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “And he also is the one who gave-as-gifts the various-kinds of abilities of his people. He appointed some to be-apostles and some as his spokesmen. Others he appointed to go preach the good news in the collective-towns, and still others to be pastors to take-care-of and teach the believers.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Well one of (the things) he graciously-gave was apostles. Another was prophets. Others also were travelling teachers of the Good News to people who have not yet believed/obeyed. And others also were overseers and teachers of those who have now believed/obeyed.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “Christ has determined what each person will work at. He appointed people to be his representatives. Others he appointed to speak the word which God puts into their minds to speak. Others he appointed to go about speaking the good news. Others he appointed to be leaders, speaking the word where the believers are. Others he appointed to teach the word.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)


Eugene Nida wrote the following about the translation of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek terms that are typically translated with “prophet” in English:

“The tendency in many translations is to use ‘to foretell the future’ for ‘prophesy,’ and ‘one who foretells the future’ for ‘prophet.’ This is not always a recommended usage, particularly if such expressions denote certain special native practices of spirit contact and control. It is true, of course, that prophets of the Bible did foretell the future, but this was not always their principal function. One essential significance of the Greek word prophētēs is ‘one who speaks forth,’ principally, of course, as a forth-teller of the Divine will. A translation such as ‘spokesman for God’ may often be employed profitably.” (1947, p. 234f.)

Following is a list of (back-) translations from other languages (click or tap for details):

  • San Blas Kuna: “one who speaks the voice of God”
  • Central Pame and Vai: “interpreter for God”
  • Kaqchikel, Navajo, Yaka: “one who speaks for God”
  • Northern Grebo: “God’s town crier” (see more about this below)
  • Sapo: “God’s sent-word person”
  • Shipibo-Conibo, Ngäbere: “one who speaks God’s word”
  • Copainalá Zoque: “one who speaks-opens” (a compound meaning “one who discloses or reveals”)
  • Sierra Totonac: “one who causes them to know” (in the sense of “revealer”)
  • Batak Toba: “foreteller” (this and all the above acc. to Nida 1961, p. 7)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “one who is inspired of God” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Alekano: “the true man who descended from heaven” (source: Ellis Deibler in Notes on Translation June 1986, p. 36ff.)
  • Aguaruna: “teller of God’s word” (source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125)
  • Ekari: “person who speaks under divine impulse”
  • Mandarin Chinese: 先知 xiānzhī — “one who foreknows” (or the 1946/1970 translation by Lü Zhenzhong: 神言人 shényánrén — “divine-word-man”)
  • Uab Meto: “holy spokesman” (source for this and two above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • Kouya: Lagɔɔ gbʋgbanyɔ — “the one who seeks God’s affairs” (source: Saunders, p. 269)
  • Kafa: “decide for God only” (source: Loren Bliese)
  • Martu Wangka: “sit true to God’s talk” (source: Carl Gross)
  • Eastern Highland Otomi: “word passer” (source: John Beekman in Notes on Translation November 1964, p. 1-22)
  • Obolo: ebi nriran: “one with power of divine revelation” (source: Enene Enene)
  • Mairasi: nonondoai nyan: “message proclaimer” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • Highland Totonac: “speaker on God’s behalf”
  • Central Tarahumara: “God’s preacher” (source for this and above: Waterhouse / Parrott in Notes on Translation October 1967, p. 1ff.)
  • Coatlán Mixe: “God’s word-thrower”
  • Ayutla Mixtec: “one who talks as God’s representative”
  • Isthmus Mixe: “speaker for God” (source for this and two above: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August 1966, p. 86ff.)
  • Mezquital Otomi / Paasaal: “God’s messenger” (source: Waterhouse / Parrott in Notes on Translation October 1967, p. 1ff. and Fabian N. Dapila in The Bible Translator 2024, p. 415ff.)
  • Noongar: Warda Marridjiny or “News Traveling” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • Kutu: mtula ndagu or “one who gives the prediction of the past and the future” (Source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext)
  • French 1985 translation by Chouraqui: inspiré or “inspired one” (“someone in whom God has breathed [Latin: in + spiro]) (source: Watson 2023, p. 45)

In Ixcatlán Mazatec a term is used that specifically includes women. (Source: Robert Bascom)

About the translation into Northern Grebo:

“In some instances these spiritual terms result from adaptations reflecting the native life and culture. Among the Northern Grebo people of Liberia, a missionary wanted some adequate term for ‘prophet,’ and she was fully aware that the native word for ‘soothsayer’ or ‘diviner’ was no equivalent for the Biblical prophet who spoke forth for God. Of course, much of what the prophets said referred to the future, and though this was an essential part of much of their ministry, it was by no means all. The right word for the Gbeapo people would have to include something which would not only mean the foretelling of important events but the proclamation of truth as God’s representative among the people. At last the right word came; it was ‘God’s town-crier.’ Every morning and evening the official representative of the chief goes through the village crying out the news, delivering the orders of the chief, and announcing important coming events. ‘God’s town-crier’ would be the official representative of God, announcing to the people God’s doings, His commands, and His pronouncements for their salvation and well-being. For the Northern Grebo people the prophet is no weird person from forgotten times; he is as real as the human, moving message of the plowman Amos, who became God’s town-crier to a calloused people.” (source: Nida 1952, p. 20)

In American Sign Language it is a person who sees into the future:

“Prophet” in American Sign Language (source )

In British Sign Language it is is translated with a sign that depicts a message coming from God to a person (the upright finger) and then being passed on to others. (Source: Anna Smith)

“Prophet” in British Sign Language (source: Christian BSL, used with permission)

See also prophesy and prophesy / prophetic frenzy.

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 Ephesians 4:11

This verse in Greek begins a sentence which ends with verse 16. It will be useful to show how the thought progresses in the Greek text: see Handbook translation|fig:Table_EPH4-11.jpg.

Verse 11 begins with the third personal pronoun (as in 2.14), which is emphatic; so Good News Translation It was he who. The Greek says only “he himself gave,” which Good News Translation has translated by “gave gifts to mankind”, since it is clear that the verb refers back to the scripture quoted in verse 8. Translator’s New Testament achieves the same effect by a more extensive paraphrase: “And what does ‘he gave gifts’ mean? It means that he gave….” Another way of making the meaning clear would be to say “He is the one referred to in the passage that says ‘He gave gifts.’ ”

The phrase “gave gifts to mankind” refers specifically to different kinds of endowments or abilities. But it is probably best to translate this quotation in a relatively literal fashion, since the explanation of its meaning comes in the following statements.

The Greek “he himself gave some as apostles,” etc., could be understood to mean “he himself gave (to the church) some as apostles,” etc. Good News Translation has he appointed some to be since the gifts are properly the offices or responsibilities in the church and not the persons as such (so New English Bible “some to be,” etc.). The statement he appointed some to be may be rendered as “he chose some to be.” But often a more appropriate rendering is equivalent to “to some he gave the task of being…” or “… assigned the task of being….”

Apostles and prophets: see 2.20; 3.5.

Evangelists: the word occurs also in Acts 21.8 (Philip), and 2 Timothy 4.5 (Timothy). It means one who proclaims the Good News, presumably as an itinerant going from place to place where there was no established work (so Robinson, Beare, Barth). The word does not mean the writers of the Gospels. The term may be translated by “those who told others about the Good News” or “those who went about from place to place telling the Good News.” In some languages it may be appropriate to use “missionaries” (see Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch).

The fact that the phrase pastors and teachers is governed by one definite article implies that the same persons would exercise both functions. So Beare: “twofold task of the settled ministry, with its duties of pastoral care and instruction”; Barth translates “teaching shepherds.” Pastors translates the Greek word for “shepherd,” which Christ uses to speak of himself in John 10. The related verb “to shepherd” is used of the pastoral functions of the elders in the Ephesian church, Acts 20.28, and also in 1 Peter 5.2. Pastors had charge of a given church, but it is not at all certain that at this time any one man had the sole responsibility over a given church. Both in Acts 20.28 and in 1 Peter 5.2 the role of pastor is defined as that of “overseer,” and in 1 Peter 2.25 Christ is called “pastor and overseer of your souls.”

As teachers these people presumably instructed a given congregation in the facts and the faith of the Christian religion.

In a number of languages pastors and teachers may be rendered as “those who help the believers and teach them” or “those who guide the believers and teach them.”

In 1 Corinthians 12.28-29, in Paul’s lists of church offices, apostles, prophets, and teachers head the list, in that order.

It seems clear that here the first three offices listed were functions in the churches at large, while the last two were functions in a local congregation.

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert C. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1982. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .