The Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin terms that are typically translated as “mercy” (or “compassion” or “kindness”) in English are translated in various ways. Bratcher / Nida classify them in (1) those based on the quality of heart, or other psychological center, (2) those which introduce the concept of weeping or extreme sorrow, (3) those which involve willingness to look upon and recognize the condition of others, or (4) those which involve a variety of intense feelings.

While the English mercy originates from the Latin merces, originally “price paid,” Romance languages (Italian, Spanish, Corsican, Catalan) and other Germanic languages (German, Swedish, DanishBarmherzigkeit, barmhärtighet and barmhjertighed, respectively) tend to follow the Latin misericordia, lit. “misery-heart.”

Here are some other (back-) translations:

See also steadfast love.

steadfast love

The Hebrew that is translated as “steadfast love,” “lovingkindness” or similar in English is translated in Vidunda as “love of enduring.” (Source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext)

In Bura-Pabir it is translated as hyirkur na a palidzi wa or “love which cannot be-changed” and in the Hausa Common Language Bible as kaunarsa marar canjawa or “his love without changing.” (Source: Andy Warren-Rothlin)

In Pijin tinghevi long or “think heavy about” is used. “The Pijin expression ‘think heavy about’ is very much within the domain of committed relationships. The relationship between father and child, husband and wife, God and His people. There is a very strong element of ‘loyalty’ in this expression.” (Source: Bob Carter)

See also mercy and pain-love.

drink (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 Hebrew that is translated as “drink” in English is translated in the Shinkaiyaku Bible as o-nomi (お飲み), combining the verb “drink” (nomi) with the respectful prefix o-.

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

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.

complete verse (Genesis 24:14)

Following are a number of back-translations as well as a sample translation for translators of Genesis 24:14:

  • Kankanaey: “May it be that when I say to a young-lady, ‘Please lower that jar of yours (sing.) (rice-wine-jar but formerly also used for water) so-that I will drink,’ and she says, ‘Yes indeed, I will then also fetch-water-for your (sing.) camels,’ may it be that the one who says that, that will be the one you (sing.) have chosen whom Isaac will-marry. If that happens, that’s how-I-will-know that you (sing.) are doing what you (sing.) promised to Abraham my master,’ he said praying.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Newari: “I will say to one of them, ‘Let your pitcher down a bit to let me drink water.’ If she says to me, ‘Have a drink, I will also give water to your camels to drink’ I will recognize that that is the woman whom you have chosen for your servant Isaac. And I will also know that you have fulfilled the promise that I made to my master.'” (Source: Newari Back Translation)
  • Hiligaynon: “If in-fact/indeed I ask-for water from the jar of a young-single(unmarried)-lady, and she will-agree to cause- me -to-drink including my camels, may she (be) the woman whom you have-chosen to become the wife of your servant Isaac. In this (way) I will-know that you have-shown your goodness to my master Abraham.'” (Source: Hiligaynon Back Translation)
  • English: “I am asking you this: ‘I will say to some girl, ‘Please lower your jar so that I may drink some water.’ If she says, ‘Drink some, and I will draw some water from the well for your camels, too,’ I will know that she is the woman whom you chose to be a wife for your servant, Isaac, and I will know that you have been kind to my master.”” (Source: Translation for Translators)

addressing God

Translators of different languages have found different ways with what kind of formality God is addressed. The first example is from a language where God is always addressed distinctly formal whereas the second is one where the opposite choice was made.

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Like many languages (but unlike Greek or Hebrew or English), Tuvan uses a formal vs. informal 2nd person pronoun (a familiar vs. a respectful “you”). Unlike other languages that have this feature, however, the translators of the Tuvan Bible have attempted to be very consistent in using the different forms of address in every case a 2nd person pronoun has to be used in the translation of the biblical text.

As Voinov shows in Pronominal Theology in Translating the Gospels (in: The Bible Translator 2002, p. 210ff.), the choice to use either of the pronouns many times involved theological judgment. While the formal pronoun can signal personal distance or a social/power distance between the speaker and addressee, the informal pronoun can indicate familiarity or social/power equality between speaker and addressee.

In these verses, in which humans address God, the informal, familiar pronoun is used that communicates closeness.

Voinov notes that “in the Tuvan Bible, God is only addressed with the informal pronoun. No exceptions. An interesting thing about this is that I’ve heard new Tuvan believers praying with the formal form to God until they are corrected by other Christians who tell them that God is close to us so we should address him with the informal pronoun. As a result, the informal pronoun is the only one that is used in praying to God among the Tuvan church.”

In Gbaya, “a superior, whether father, uncle, or older brother, mother, aunt, or older sister, president, governor, or chief, is never addressed in the singular unless the speaker intends a deliberate insult. When addressing the superior face to face, the second person plural pronoun ɛ́nɛ́ or ‘you (pl.)’ is used, similar to the French usage of vous.

Accordingly, the translators of the current version of the Gbaya Bible chose to use the plural ɛ́nɛ́ to address God. There are a few exceptions. In Psalms 86:8, 97:9, and 138:1, God is addressed alongside other “gods,” and here the third person pronoun o is used to avoid confusion about who is being addressed. In several New Testament passages (Matthew 21:23, 26:68, 27:40, Mark 11:28, Luke 20:2, 23:37, as well as in Jesus’ interaction with Pilate and Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well) the less courteous form for Jesus is used to indicate ignorance of his position or mocking (source Philip Noss).

In Dutch and Western Frisian translations, however, God is always addressed with the formal pronoun.

See also female second person singular pronoun in Psalms.

Translation commentary on Genesis 24:14

Maiden refers to a young woman of marriageable age. In verse 16 the word is repeated and the young woman is further described as a “virgin,” with an additional remark about her lack of sexual experience.

Pray let down your jar refers to lowering the water jar from the woman’s shoulder.

In the Revised Standard Version rendering of this verse, the request Let the maiden … let her be the one … is repeated as a frame around the imagined conversation. The Hebrew text does not actually use a request form; it is literally “and it will be [that] the girl, the one who I say to her … and she says…, you have chosen her….” Here is one way that may serve as a model:

• “… I will say to one of the young women, ‘Please let me have a drink.’ If she is the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac, she will then say to me ‘Yes, sir, have a drink.’ Then she will add, ‘I will also get water for your camels to drink.’ In this way I will know you have done a great kindness to my master.”

Another way of adjusting the structure of this difficult sentence is for the servant to give the whole of the imagined conversation before coming to the “if” element; in one translation this is developed as follows:

• “… I will say to one girl, ‘Give me some water.’ And she will say, ‘All right old man. I will give you some water. And I will get water for all your camels too.’ When that girl talks like that, well I will know that she is the right girl, the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac.”

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 .