Logos, Word

Newman / Nida describe some of the difficulties surrounding the translation of the Greek “Logos” which is typically translated as “Word” in English (click or tap here to read more):

“The term ‘the Word’ has a rich heritage, by way of both its Greek and Jewish backgrounds. For the Greeks who held to a theistic view of the universe, it could be understood as the means by which God reveals himself to the world, while among those who were pantheistic in outlook, the Word was the principle that held the world together and at the same time endowed men with the wisdom for living. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint), the Word could be used both of the means by which God had created the world (Ps 33:6) and through which he had revealed himself to the world (Jer 1:4; Ezek 1:3; Amos 3:1). Among certain of the Greek-speaking Jews of New Testament times, there was much speculation about the ‘wisdom’ of God, which God ‘made in the very beginning, at the first, before the world began’ (Prov 8:22-23). (…) By the time that John writes his Gospel, the Word is close to being recognized as a personal being, and it has roles relating to the manner in which God created the world and to the way in which God reveals himself to the world that he brought into being. Moffatt [whose English translation of the New Testament was published in 1913], realizing the difficulty in finding a term equivalent in meaning to the one used by John, transliterates the Greek term: ‘the Logos existed in the very beginning’ [see also Hart’s translation below]; while Phillips [New Testament translation published in 1958] at least makes an effort to give his translation meaning: ‘at the beginning God expressed himself.’

“Though the Greek term logos may be rendered ‘word,’ it would be wrong to think it indicates primarily a grammatical or lexical unit in a sentence. Greek has two other terms which primarily identify individual words, whether they occur in a list (as in a dictionary) or in a sentence. The term logos, though applicable to an individual word, is more accurately understood as an expression with meaning; that is, it is ‘a message,’ ‘a communication,’ and, as indicated, a type of ‘revelation.’ A literal translation, therefore, more or less equivalent to English ‘word,’ is frequently misleading.

“In some languages there are additional complications. For example, in some languages the term ‘word’ is feminine in gender, and therefore any reference to it must also be feminine [or neuter — see German below]. As a result, the possible use of pronouns in reference to Jesus Christ can be confusing. Furthermore, in many languages a term such as ‘word’ must be possessed. One cannot speak about ‘the word’ without indicating who spoke the word, since words do not exist apart from the persons who utter them.

“Because of these and other difficulties, many translators treat the term ‘Word’ or Logos as a title, and that is precisely what it is. The very fact that it is normally capitalized in English translations marks it as a title; but in many languages the fact of its being a title must be more clearly indicated by some explicit expression, for example, ‘the one who was called the Word’ [see Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac below] or ‘the one known as the Word’ [see German below] In this way the reader can understand from the beginning that ‘Word’ is to be understood as a designation for a person.

“Therefore, this first sentence in John 1:1 may be rendered ‘Before the world was created, the one who was known as the Word existed’ or ‘… the person called the Word existed.’ In languages which employ honorific forms it is particularly appropriate to use such an indication with the title ‘Word.’ Such a form immediately marks the designation as the title of deity or of a very important personage, depending, of course, upon the usage in the language in question.”

Translation for “Logos” include:

  • Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac: “the one who is called the Word”
  • Sayula Popoluca: “the Word by which God is known”
  • Miahuatlán Zapotec: “one who revealed God’s thoughts”
  • Alekano: “God’s wise Speech”
  • Tojolabal: “he who told us about God” (Source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February, 1970, p. 1-125.)
  • Yatzachi Zapotec: “Jesus Christ the person who is the Word, he who gives eternal life”
  • Eastern Highland Otomi: “the Word that gives new life to our hearts”
  • Garifuna: “the one named Word, the one who gives life” (Source for this and two above: John Beekman in Notes on Translation 12, November 1964, p. 1ff.)
  • Tzeltal de Oxchuc y Tenejapa (Highland Tzeltal): te C’opile: “the Word” (in a new, 2001 version of the New Testament to avoid the previous translation “the Word of God,” a term also used for “Bible.” — Source: Robert Bascom)
  • Mairasi: “The Message” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • German: Er, der ‘das Wort’ ist: “He who is ‘the Word'” — this solution circumvents the different gender of Jesus (masculine) and “das Wort” (neuter) (in: Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch, 3rd edition: 1997)
  • Anindilyakwa: Originally translated as N-ayakwa-murra or “he having the properties of a word/message/language.” Since this was not understandable, it is now “Jesus Christ, the one who revealed God who was hidden from us” (Source: Julie Waddy in The Bible Translator 2004, p. 452ff.)
  • Kwang: “He who is called ‘The reality (lit: the body) of the Word of God himself’” (source: Mark Vanderkooi)
  • Tonga: Folofola: “Originally, the term is used in the kingly language and is related to the meaning of unrolling the mat, an indispensable item in Tongan traditions. The mats, especially those with beautiful and elaborate designs, are usually rolled up and kept carefully until the visit of a guest to the house. The term thus evokes to the Tongans the idea of God’s Word being unrolled to reveal his love and salvation for mankind.” (Source: Joseph Hong in The Bible Translator 1994, p. 329ff.)
  • Ajië: (click or tap here to read an explanation by Maurice Leenhardt — in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 154ff.):

    “There are other words that the learned translators of the West have in vain tried to render into rich tongues as French or Latin. They found obscure expressions for the common ‘word’ or ‘speech’ (…) It would seem that these words would present insurmountable difficulties for the translator in primitive languages. Missionaries of the Loyalty Islands could not find the word to translate ‘Word,’ nor have they imagined that there could be a corresponding term in the native language. They simply introduced the Greek word into the vocabulary, pronouncing it in the native fashion, ‘In the beginning the Logos’. These people are intelligent; and do not appreciate pronouncing words which make no sense whatsoever. However, when a Caledonian speaks French, he translates his thoughts as they seem to him the most adequate. He can easily express himself relative to the man who has conceived good things, has said them, or done them. He simply describes such a person as, ‘The word of this man is good’. Thought, speech, and action are all included in the New Caledonian term no. In speaking of an adulterous man one may say, ‘He has done an evil word’. One may speak of a chief who does not think, order, or act correctly as, ‘His word is not good’. The expression ‘the Word of God’ is limited in our speech to meaning of the divine Scriptures, but in New Caledonian it includes the thoughts and acts of God, ‘God said and it was done’. The New Caledonian has no difficulty in seeing the Word becoming action, becoming flesh, the word becoming a physical reality. Our deceased colleague Laffay once said: ‘I prefer to read John in the Ajië rather than in French’.

The recent English New Testament translation by David Bentley Hart (2017), that uses the transliteration Logos for the Greek Λόγος, says this about its translation (p. 549ff.): “In certain special instances it is quite impossible for a translator to reduce [Λόγος] to a single word in English, or in any other tongue (though one standard Chinese version of the Bible renders logos in the prologue of John’s Gospel as 道 (tao), which is about as near as any translation could come to capturing the scope and depth of the word’s religious, philosophical, and metaphoric associations in those verses, while also carrying the additional meaning of “speech” or “discourse”).”

Below you can find some background of this remarkable Chinese translation (click or tap here to read more):

Dao 道, which developed into a central concept of classical Chinese philosophy, originally carried the meaning of “path” and “(main) road.” From there it developed into “leading” and “teaching” as well as “say” and “speak.”

As early as the 7th century BC, however, dao appears with the meaning “method.” With this and the derived meaning of “the (right) way” and “moral principle,” dao became one of the central concepts of the Confucian writings.

In Daoist writings (especially in the Daodejing), dao goes far beyond the Confucian meaning to take on creative qualities.

With this new compendium of meaning, the term became suitable for numerous foreign religions to represent central points of their doctrine, including Buddhism (as a translation for bodhi — “enlightenment”), Judaism (similar to the Confucians as the “right [Jewish] way”), and Islam (likewise the “right [Muslim] way”).

The Jesuits, who had intensively dealt with Confucianism from the 16th century on, also took over dao as the “correct (Catholic) way,” and the so-called Figurists, a group of Jesuits in the 18th century who saw the Messianic figure of Jesus Christ outlined in Chinese history, went so far as to point to the existence of John’s Logos in the dao of Daodejing.

In later Catholic Bible translations, dao was rarely used as a translation for Logos; instead, the Latin Verbum (from the Latin Vulgate) was transliterated, or yan 言 — “language”, “meaning” — was used, usually with the prefix sheng 圣 — “holy” (also used by the Russian Orthodox Church).

Protestant translations, however, began to use dao as a translation for Logos in the 1830s and have largely retained this practice to this day.

Some voices went so far as to describe Logos and dao as a point of contact between Christianity and the Chinese religions. By its gradual shaping in Greek and Jewish philosophy, Logos had become an appropriate “word vessel.” Similarly, dao’s final formation in Daodejing had also assumed the necessary capacity to serve as a translation for Logos.

The origins of dao and Logos have some clear differences, not the least being the personal relationship of Logos as the Son of God with God the Father. But it is remarkable that using dao as the translation of Logos emulates John’s likely intention with the use of Logos: the central concept of the philosophical and religious ideas of the target culture was used to translate the central concept of Christian theology.

This was not possible in the case of European cultures, which for the most part have offered only translations such as Word or Verbum, terms without any prior philosophical or religious meaning. Only advanced civilizations like China — or ancient Greece — were able to accomplish that. (Summarized version of: Zetzsche, Jost. Aspekte der chinesischen Bibelübersetzung. R. Malek (ed.) Fallbeispiel China. Beiträge zur Religion, Theologie und Kirche im chinesischen Kontext. Nettetal: Steyler Verlag, 1996.)

Peng Kuo-Wei adds this perspective (in Noss / Houser, p. 885): “The Chinese term chosen for logos is not hua (‘word’ or ‘utterance’) but dao from which the term ‘Taoism’ is derived and which can denote a general principle, a way (concrete or abstract), or reason. Thus, Chinese readers can understand that the dao of God is not just words spoken by God, but it constitutes the guiding salvific principle underlying the whole biblical account, including his action in history and teaching and action of Jesus whom he sent. Jesus is the dao of God because his ministry, death and resurrection comprises the fulfillment and realization of God’s theological and ethical principles for humanity.”

The English translation by Sarah Ruden (2021) uses “true account in John 1. She explains (p. lxiii): “Logos can mean merely ‘statement’ or ‘speech,’ but it also has lofty philosophical uses, especially in the opening of the Book of John, where it is probably connected to the Stoic conception of the divine reasoning posited to pervade the universe. The essential connotation here is not language but the lasting, indisputable, and morally cogent truth of numbers, as displayed in correct financial accounting: this is the most basic sense of logos.”

dwell, tabernacle

The term that is translated as “tabernacle” or “dwell” in English versions is translated in Hakha Chin as “made his village among us,” an expression that shows he was not just a casual visitor. (Source: David Clark)

Huehuetla Tepehua translates it as “came and lived with us here a little while.” (Source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)

glory (of God)

For the translation of the Greek that is translated into English as “glory” or “glorify” into Waama, five categories were found that were all translated differently. (See also raised to glory, glorify (God’s name), glorify (reveal God’s or Jesus’ glory to people), glory (honor, raise, approval).)

“For the first group, the ‘glory, greatness, uniqueness of God or Jesus,’ we used a term meaning ‘greatness, bigness.’ In some contexts it seemed better to replace the simple noun by ‘the fact that God is great.’ So, ‘we saw his glory’ in John 1:14 is rendered as ‘we saw what his greatness is like.’

(Source: Kathrin Brückner in Notes on Translation 2/1988, p. 41-46).

flesh (John 1:14)

The Greek that is translated in English as “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” is translated into Arop-Sissano as “God’s Talk became a person lamat and lived among us.”

Nystrom explains: “In Arop, if you want to talk about the real essence of something -– its most important part -– you talk about the lamat of it. Arops say, ‘I don’t want to tell you everything they said at the meeting, but the talk lamat is like this,’ and they proceeded to tell you the main point of what was said.” (p. 198f.)

See also true son in the faith and spirit / flesh.

one and only son, only begotten son, only son

A particularly interesting development in the history of Christianity [related to translation] took place with respect to the Greek term monogenés, literally, ‘only, unique, one of kind.’ It was used of Isaac as the son of Abraham [see Gen. 22:2], though Isaac was not the only son of Abraham, for he had a son Ishmael, and with a later wife Keturah, several sons. But Isaac was the only son of a particular kind, that is to say, the unique son of the promise. The term monogenés was translated into Latin as unigenitus, meaning literally ‘only begotten’ [in English — or likewise traditionally in Chinese: “dúshēng 獨 生,” Italian: “unigenito,” Spanish “unigénito,” or German: “eingeboren”] but in Greek the equivalent of ‘only begotten’ would have two n’s and not just one. Nevertheless, the Latin misinterpretation of monogenés has constituted such a long tradition that any attempt to speak of Jesus as the ‘unique son of God’ rather than the ‘only begotten son’ is often announced as a case of blatant heresy. (Source: Nida 1984, p. 114.)

In Waiwai, the Greek that is translated as “only begotten Son” in English in John 3:16 is translated as cewnan tumumururosa okwe, where the “particle okwe indicates dearness, and it must be included in Waiwai for the expression ‘only begotten Son’ to mean anything like what it means to God or to us as Christians.” (Source: Robert Hawkins (in The Bible Translator 1962, pp. 164ff.)

See also complete verse (John 3:16), firstborn and begotten you / become your father.

grace and truth

The Greek that is translated as “grace and truth” in English is translated in Fasu as “He gave free big help and true talk.” Like many languages, Fasu does not allow for verbal nominalization where a verb can be turned into a noun.

Shipibo-Conibo translates it as “only having good thought, only having true words.” (Source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)

See also grace.

truth

The Greek and Hebrew that is usually translated in English as “truth” is translated in Luchazi with vusunga: “the quality of being straight.” (Source: E. Pearson in The Bible Translator 1954, p. 160ff.)

In Obolo is is translated as atikọ or “good/correct talk” (source: Enene Enene).

The translation committee of the Malay “Good News Bible” (Alkitab Berita Baik, see here) wrestled with the translation of “truth” in the Gospel of John (source: Barclay Newman in The Bible Translator 1974, p. 432ff.):

“Our Malay Committee also concluded that ‘truth’ as used in the Gospel of John was used either of God himself, or of God’s revelation of himself, or in an extended sense as a reference to those who had responded to God’s self-disclosure. In John 8:32 the New Malay translation reads ‘You will know the truth about God, and the truth about God will make you free.’ In John 8:44 this meaning is brought out by translating, ‘He has never been on the side of God, because there is no truth in him.’ Accordingly Jesus ‘tells the truth about God’ in 8:45, 46 (see also 16:7 and 8:37a). Then, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’ becomes ‘I am the one who leads men to God, the one who reveals who and what God is, and the one who gives men life.” At 3:21 the translation reads ” … whoever obeys the truth, that is God himself, comes to the light …’; 16:13a appears as ‘he will lead you into the full truth about God’; and in 18:37 Jesus affirms ‘I came into the world to reveal the truth about God, and whoever obeys God listens to me.’ On this basis also 1:14 was translated ‘we saw his glory, the glory which he had as the Father’s only Son. Through him God has completely revealed himself (truth) and his love for us (grace)’; and 1:17 appears as ‘God gave the law through Moses; but through Jesus Christ he has completely revealed himself (truth) and his love for us (grace).'”

Helen Evans (in The Bible Translator 1954, p. 40ff.) tells of the translation into Kui which usually is “true-thing.” In some instances however, such as in the second part of John 17:17 (“your word is truth” in English), the use of “true-thing” indicated that there might be other occasions when it’s not true, so here the translation was a a form of “pure, holy.”

grace

(To view the different translations of this term in a simplified graphical form on a new page, click or tap here.)

“The Greek word charis, usually translated by English ‘grace,’ is one of the desperations of translators. The area of meaning is exceptionally extensive. Note the following possible meanings for this word in various contexts of the New Testament: ‘sweetness,’ ‘charm,’ ‘loveliness,’ ‘good-will,’ ‘loving-kindness,’ ‘favor,’ ‘merciful kindness,’ ‘benefit,’ ‘gift,’ ‘benefaction,’ ‘bounty,’ and ‘thanks.’ The theological definition of ‘unmerited favor’ (some translators have attempted to employ this throughout) is applicable to only certain contexts. Moreover, it is quite a task to find some native expression which will represent the meaning of ‘unmerited favor.’ In some languages it is impossible to differentiate between ‘grace’ and ‘kindness.’ In fact, the translation ‘kindness’ is in some cases quite applicable. In other languages, a translation of ‘grace’ is inseparable from ‘goodness.’ In San Miguel El Grande Mixtec a very remarkable word has been used for ‘grace.’ It is made up of three elements. The first of these is a prefixial abstractor. The second is the stem for ‘beauty.’ The third is a suffix which indicates that the preceding elements are psychologically significant. The resultant word may be approximately defined as ‘the abstract quality of beauty of personality.’” (Source: Nida 1947, p. 223)

Other translations include:

  • Inuktitut: “God’s kindness that enables us” (source: Andrew Atagotaaluk)
  • Kwara’ae: kwae ofe’ana (“kindness to one who deserves the opposite”) (source: Norman Deck in The Bible Translator 1963, 34 ff.)
  • Nyanja: “being favored in the heart by God.” (Source: Ernst Wendland)
  • Caribbean Javanese: kabetyikané (“goodness”)
  • Saramaccan: bunhati (“good heart”)
  • Sranan Tongo: bun ati (“good heart”) or gadobun (“God’s goodness”)
  • Eastern Maroon Creole: (gaan) bun ati (“(big) good heart”) (source for this and 3 above: Jabini 2015)
  • Fasu: “free big help”
  • Wahgi: “save without reward” (source for this and the one above: Deibler / Taylor 1977)
  • Nukna: “God gave his insides to one.” (“The ‘insides’ are the seat of emotion in Nukna, like the heart in the English language. To give your insides to someone is to feel love toward them, to want what is best for them, and to do good things for them.” (Source: Matt Taylor in The PNG Experience)
  • Hindi, Bengali: anugraha (Hindi: अनुग्रह, Bengali: অনুগ্রহ) from graha: “grasp, a reaching out after, with gracious intent” (source: R.M. Clark in The Bible Translator 1962, p. 81ff.)

In Latvian the term žēlastība is used both for “grace” and “mercy.” (Source: Katie Roth)

For Muna, René van den Berg explains the process how the translation team arrived at a satisfactory solution: “Initial translation drafts in Muna tended to (…) use the single word kadawu ‘part, (given) share, gift,’ but this word is really too generic. It lacks the meaning component of mercy and kindness and also seems to imply that the gift is part of a larger whole. Consequently we now follow [translate] according to context. In wishes and prayers such as ‘Grace to you and peace from God’ we translate ‘grace’ as kabarakati ‘blessing’ (e.g. Gal 1:3). In many places we use kataano lalo ‘goodness of heart’ (e.g. Gal 1:15 ‘because of the goodness of his heart God chose me’) as well as the loan rahamati ‘mercy’ (e.g. ‘you have-turned-your-backs-on the mercy of God’ for ‘you have fallen away from grace’; Gal 5:4). In one case where the unmerited nature of ‘grace’ is in focus, we have also employed katohai ‘a free gift’ (typically food offered to one’s neighbours) in the same verse. ‘The reason-you-have-been-saved is because of the goodness of God’s heart (Greek charis, Muna kataano lalo), going-through your belief in Kristus. That salvation is not the result of your own work, but really a free-gift (Greek dooron ‘gift’; Muna katohai) of God.’ (Eph 2:8).

See also grace to you.

Translation: Inuktitut

ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ ᒍᕇᑭᒃᑯᑦ ᐅᖃᐅᓯᖅᑕᖓᑦ ᑐᑭᓕᐅᔾᔭᐅᓯᒪᔪᖅ ᐃᒫᒃ “ᓴᐃᒪᓂᖅ” ᖃᓪᓗᓈᑎᑐᓪᓕ ᑐᑭᓕᐅᔾᔭᐅᓯᒪᒻᒪᑦ ᐃᒫᒃ “ᒎᑎᐅᑉ ᑐᙵᓇᕐᓂᖓᓂ ᐅᕙᑦᑎᓐᓂᒃ ᐱᔪᓐᓇᑎᑦᑎᕙᑦᑐᖅ.”

(Translator: Julia Demcheson)

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (John 1:14)

Many languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns (“we”). 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 the first part of this verse (“among us” in English translations), translators typically select the inclusive form (including the reader of the gospel) (source: Velma Pickett and Florence Cowan in Notes on Translation January 1962, p. 1ff.). SIL International Translation Department (1999) notes, however that the exclusive pronoun is also a possibility: “Though the pronoun us… refers essentially to mankind in general, it is also a specific historical reference to the incarnation and the fact that Jesus lived on earth at a particular time. In this particular context the pronoun must be in the exclusive first person plural….This usage makes the pronominal reference agree with the following.”

Two translations that reflect that divergence are the Uma translation that uses the inclusive form (source: Uma Back Translation) and the Kankanaey that uses the exclusive pronoun (source: Kankanaey Back Translation).

The second occurrence of the pronoun in this verse (“we have seen his glory” in English) is always exclusive (excluding anyone but Jesus’s eyewitnesses). (Source: SIL International Translation Department (1999))

complete verse (John 1:14)

Following are a number of back-translations of John 1:14:

  • Aguaruna: “That word, when he arrived here, was born a human being, and in this way he lived with us. That completely good person was a speaker of the truth. And also we came to know his greatness because his Father, God, had said to his only Son, ‘You are great.'”
  • Yatzachi Zapotec: “The Person who is the Word was born human and he was with us. He loved mankind very much and he taught mankind all the true words of God. We saw him and we realized that he is the Person of greatest worth because he is the only Son of our Father God.”
  • Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac: “And the One who is called Word, he became a Person, and he lived in our midst. And we saw how he had power. That power is that of the only Son of Father God. He is very kind and merciful and all which he says it is true.” (Source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
  • Uma: “That Word, he became man[kind], and he lived among us (incl.). We(excl.) saw his power. That power of his he received from his Father, for He is the Only Child. [It is] from him that we know God and his grace [lit., white insides] to us.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “So-then, the Word appeared/was-born here in the world having a human body and living among mankind. All love and truth was there with him. We (excl.) were-able to see his power and his brightness, and this his power and brightness were fitting for him for he is the only Son of God.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And the one called the Word of God became human and joined himself to us. He is very gracious and his words are very true. We saw his great high rank which is the high rank of the only child of God. And as for that high rank of his, it was given to him by his Father God.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “The Word, he became a person and stayed-with us (excl.). He was consistently-compassionate and what he said was all true. We (excl.) saw his godhood which was the godhood of the only Child of God who came-from his Father.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “This Jesus who is called Word, he became a human and then lived here in the world together-with us. His praiseworthiness/glory was experienced by our (excl.) eyes, this glory of his being the glory of the one-and-only Son/child of God the Father. We (excl.) also comprehended the big-size of his grace/mercy and that everything which he revealed/came-out-with is indeed truth.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “He who makes known how God is became a person. He lived here where we live. We saw that he is the greatest. He is the greatest because he is God’s only son. He spoke only what is true and he loves the people without limit.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

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” in many English Bible translations when referring to the persons of the Trinity with the capitalized “He,” “His,” “Him,” or “Himself”), “she” (and “her,” “hers,” and “herself”), and “it” (and “its” and “itself”).

Modern Chinese, however, offers another possibility (click or tap here to read more):

In modern Chinese, 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, many other Bible translations do and it is widely used in hymnals and other Christian materials. (Source: Zetzsche)

Early versions of Lü Zhenzhong’s (呂振中) version (New Testament: 1946, complete Bible: 1970) also used 祂 to refer to “God.” Kramers points out: “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.”

Source: R. P. Kramers in The Bible Translator 1956, p. 152ff.

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.)

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,” “kind,” 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.

Translation: Chinese

在现代汉语中,第三人称单数代词的读音都是一样的(tā),但是写法并不一样,取决于性别以及是否有生命,即男性为“他”,女性为“她”,动物、植物和无生命事物为“它”(在香港和台湾的汉语使用,动物则为“牠”)。这些字的部首偏旁表明了性别(男人、女人、动物、无生命事物),而另一偏旁通常旁提示发音。

到1930年为止,基督教新教《圣经》经过整整一百年的翻译已经拥有了十几个译本,当时的一位圣经翻译者王元德新造了一个“神圣的”代词“祂”,偏旁“礻”表示神明。一般汉语读者会立即知道这字的发音是tā,而这个偏旁表示属灵的事物,因此他们明白这个字指出,三位一体的所有位格都没有性别之分,而单单是上帝。

然而,最重要的新教圣经译本(1919年的《和合本》)和天主教圣经译本(1968年的《思高圣经》)都没有采用“祂”;虽然如此,许多其他的圣经译本采用了这个字,另外还广泛出现在赞美诗和其他基督信仰的书刊中。(资料来源:Zetzsche)

《吕振中译本》的几个早期版本也使用“祂”来指称“上帝”;这个译本的《新约》于1946年译成,整部《圣经》于1970年完成。克拉默斯(Kramers)指出:“‘他’的这种新写法(即‘祂’)产生了一个小问题,就是在指称耶稣的时候,是否一律使用这个敬语代词?《吕振中译本》遵循的原则是,在称呼耶稣这个人的时候,用一般的‘他’,而在称呼耶稣神性的时候,特别是升天之后的耶稣,则用尊称‘祂’。”

Translator: Simon Wong