John as a first-person evangelist (John 13:11)

In the Yatzachi Zapotec translation of the Gospel of John, any reference to the evangelist and presumed narrator is done in the first person.

The translator Inez Butler explains (in: Notes on Translation, September 1967, pp. 10ff.):

“In revising the Gospel of John in Yatzachi Zapotec we realized from the start that the third person references of Jesus to himself as Son of Man had to be converted into first person references, but only more recently have we decided that similar change is necessary in John’s references to himself as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved.’ As I worked on those changes and questioned the informant about his understanding of other passages in the Gospel, I discovered that the reader misses the whole focus of the book as an eyewitness account unless every reference to the disciples indicates the writer’s membership in the group. In view of that we went back through the entire book looking for ways to cue in the reader to the fact that John was an eyewitness and a participant in a many of the events, as well as the historian.

“When the disciples were participants in events along with Jesus, it was necessary to make explicit the fact that they accompanied him, although in the source language that is left implicit, since otherwise our rendering would imply that they were not present.”

In this verse, the Yatzachi Zapotec says: “. . . and therefore he said, “Not all of you are clean”, and it meant that not all of us were clean hearted people.”

complete verse (John 13:11)

Following are a number of back-translations of John 13:11:

  • Huehuetla Tepehua: “Jesus knew who was going to give him up. That’s why he said that they weren’t all washed in their hearts.”
  • Tenango Otomi: “He said that not all had their hearts washed from evil because he knew who was to betray him.” (Source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
  • Uma: “Yesus spoke like that, because he knew ahead-of-time who it would be who would sell him to his enemies. That is why he said: ‘You are washed, but not all of you.'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “Isa knew hep beforehand as to who would soon betray him that is why he said, ‘All of you are clean/holy in their livers, only one does not have a clean/holy liver.'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “(The reason he said that one of them had not been cleaned is because he knew who was going to betray him so that he might die.)” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “That’s what he said that they had not all become-clean/good, because he already-knew who it was who would betray him.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Because Jesus knew who would lead those wanting to kill him, that’s why he spoke like that, that ‘you (pl.) are clean now but not all are clean.'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)

the washing of the disciples' feet (image)

Click here to see the image in higher resolution.

Image taken from the Wiedmann Bible. For more information about the images and ways to adopt them, see here .

For other images of Willy Wiedmann paintings in TIPs, see here.

Following is a contemporary tempera/gouache on leather painting by an unknown Ethiopian artist:

Source: Sacred Art Pilgrim website .

Following is a painting by Chen Yuandu 陳緣督 (1902–1967):

Image is housed in the Société des Auxiliaires des Missions Collection – Whitworth University and taken from Chinese Christian Posters . For more information on the “Ars Sacra Pekinensis” school of art, see this article , for other artworks of that school in TIPs, see here.

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 <em>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.

Learn more on Bible Odyssey: Gender of God .

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

Honorary are / rare constructs denoting God (“knowing”)

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 usage of an honorific construction where the morphemes rare (られ) or are (され) are affixed on the verb as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017. This is particularly done with verbs that have God as the agent to show a deep sense of reverence. Here, shitteo-rare-ru (知っておられる) or “knowing” is used.

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

Honorary are / rare constructs denoting God (“say”)

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 usage of an honorific construction where the morphemes rare (られ) or are (され) are affixed on the verb as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017. This is particularly done with verbs that have God as the agent to show a deep sense of reverence. Here, iw-are-ru (言われる) or “say” is used.

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

Translation commentary on John 13:11

This verse functions as a parenthetical statement, and so Good News Translation has placed it in parentheses. In the Greek text Jesus is literally “he.” Who was going to betray him (so most translations) is rendered by New American Bible “his betrayer.” However this translation opens the possibility for a misunderstanding (note New American Bible “he knew his betrayer”). That is, to translate as a noun (“betrayer”), rather than as a phrase (who was going to betray him), may imply more acquaintance with the person, rather than knowledge about the person’s intentions.

As mentioned in other contexts, there is usually no difficulty in finding an appropriate term for betray, since this kind of behavior is universal. If no specific term is adequate to render betray, it is always possible to describe the action as “hand him over to enemies” or “cause him to be arrested by enemies.”

All of you, except one, are clean is rendered by Revised Standard Version “You are not all clean.” The same observation can be made about the statement here as was made in the discussion of verse 10.

Quoted with permission from Newman, Barclay M. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on the Gospel of John. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1980. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

oneself (go-jibun) (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. When the referent is God or a person or persons to be honored, the honorific prefix go- (御 or ご) can be used, as in go-jibun (ご自分), a combination of “onseself” (jibun) and the honorific prefix go-. This can also be used for other reflexive pronouns (myself, himself, yourself etc.)

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