become like one of us, let us go down, let us make

The Hebrew that is translated as “let us make,” “become like one of us,” and “let us go down” or similar in English in Genesis 1:26, Genesis 3:22, and Genesis 11:7 had to be examined closely in Bura-Pabir.

Andy Warren-Rothlin explains: “God appears to refer to himself in the plural, and it seems important to retain this, even though we don’t know whether it is a reference to the Trinity (the Bura translation team’s view) or a hint at a polytheistic background or the ‘council of God’ (e.g. Ps 82:1). Bura has three words for ‘we’ — an exclusive one (referring to speaker and others, excluding the addressee), an inclusive ‘dual’ one (referring to the speaker and one addressee), and an inclusive ‘plural’ one (referring to the speaker and more than one addressee). We agreed to use the latter, which allows for a Trinity, pantheon or divine council; the only interpretation it excludes is one which reads this as referring to just the Father and the Son (which some may think is the case).”

See also clusivity and Three Men visit Abraham / Trinity (icon).

complete verse (Genesis 11:7)

Following are a number of back-translations as well as a sample translation for translators of Genesis 11:7:

  • Kankanaey: “Let us then go there so-that we will-cause-to-be-of-various-kinds their speech/language so-that they will not understand-one-another.'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Newari: “Let us go down and defeat them by causing their languages to conflict. Then they will not understand what they say to one another.” (Source: Newari Back Translation)
  • Hiligaynon: “So hurry, let- us -interfere. Let- us -make- their language -different so they will- not -understand-each-other.'” (Source: Hiligaynon Back Translation)
  • English: “So, okay/now, we will go down there and cause there to be many different languages, so that they will not be able to understand each other.'” (Source: Translation for Translators)

Translation commentary on Genesis 11:7

For some translators at least, there is a problem between verses 6 and 7 regarding where the LORD is when he speaks. In verse 5 the narrator tells us that the LORD went down to where the people were; and if we did not have verse 7, we would think that verse 6 contains what he spoke or thought to himself in that situation. But in verse 7 he is apparently back in his place in heaven, since he speaks about going down to the people. There are two possible sequences of movements and speeches that can describe what happened in verses 5-7:

(1) The LORD went down (verse 5)
The LORD thought about the situation (verse 6)
The LORD went back to his own place
The LORD spoke about what he was going to do (verse 7)

(2) The LORD went down (verse 5)
The LORD went back to his own place
The LORD thought about the situation (verse 6)
The LORD spoke about what he was going to do (verse 7)

To make the text perfectly clear in line with possibility (1), it is necessary to break the speech or thought of the LORD at the end of verse 6, and then to begin verse 7 with words like “After that he [the LORD] returned, and then he said….” In the case of possibility (2), the beginning of verse 6 will have to be something like “When the LORD had seen what was going on and returned to his place, he said….”

Come, let us go down: Come is the same word as spoken by the people in verses 3 and 4. Go down is as in Gen 11.5. Let us go down is the same construction used in 1.26, in which God speaks of himself in the plural. See 1.26 for discussion. Speiser translates “Let me, then, go down,” and translators may wish to follow this. In the light of the statement in verse 5, one translation has “Let us go down again….”

Confuse their language: confuse translates a verb meaning “mix up,” “put in disorder,” “confound” (Hebrew balal; see comments on Gen 11.9). It is not certain whether this means that the single language of the people was made into a number of different languages, whether the vocabulary was scrambled, or whether some other linguistic confusion prevailed. However, the LORD’s intention was that they may not understand one another’s speech. Speech translates the same word rendered “language” by Revised Standard Version in Gen 11.1. Understand translates the usual word for “hear,” which in many languages in this context has the sense of to understand what is spoken.

In some languages one another’s speech may have to be restructured. For example, one translation has “… so that one will no longer understand the talk of another.” Another translation says “… mix up their language so they can’t talk together.”

Quoted with permission from Reyburn, William D. and Fry, Euan McG. A Handbook on Genesis. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1997. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .