Father (address for God)

The Greek that is translated with the capitalized “Father” in English when referring to God is translated in Highland Totonac with the regular word for (biological) father to which a suffix is added to indicate respect. The same also is used for “Lord” when referring to Jesus. (Source: Hermann Aschmann in The Bible Translator 1950, p. 171ff. )

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.

In the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017, God the Father is addressed with mi-chichi (御父). This form has the “divine” honorific prefix mi– preceding the archaic honorific form chichi for “father.”

If, however, Jesus addresses his Father, he is using chichi-o (父を) which is also highly respectful but does not have the “divine” honorific.

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

See also Lord.

truly truly - I tell you

The Greek that is often translated in English as “truly, truly, I tell you” or similar is translated in the Russian BTI translation (publ. 2015) as Поверьте Мне (Pover’te Mne) or “trust me.” (Source: Andy Warren-Rothlin)

See also Amen.

complete verse (John 16:23)

Following are a number of back-translations of John 16:23:

  • Uma: “‘At that time, you will not need to ask anyone. These my words are very true: whatever you ask my Father for with my name, he will definitely give you.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “When the day comes when we (incl.) see each other again, you will not ask me anything. Truly I tell you whatever you ask of my Father because you trust in me he will satisfy you.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “On that day there will be no more need for you to ask me questions. It is very true what I say to you, that if there is anything that you request from my Father, he will give it to you because of your faith in me.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “‘At that time, you will not need to inquire anything from me. This that I tell you is true that whatever you request from my Father, he will give it to you on-account-of your being-united-with me.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “It is no longer necessary that you will question me on that day, because you will then have understood. This which I will say to you really is the truth, that whatever you will ask for from the Father on the strength of your being tied-together/united with me, it’s certain he will give it to you.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “On that day you will not need to ask me about anything. Truly I tell you that when you pray to God, you be bold to ask for what you want because you believe in me and my Father will give you what you want.” (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”), “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

formal pronoun: Jesus addressing his disciples and common people

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.

Here, Jesus is addressing his disciples, individuals and/or crowds with the formal pronoun, showing respect.

In most Dutch translations, Jesus addresses his disciples and common people with the informal pronoun, whereas they address him with the formal form.

first person pronoun referring to God

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 choice of a first person singular and plural pronoun (“I” and “we” and its various forms) as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017. The most commonly used watashi/watakushi (私) is typically used when the speaker is humble and asking for help.

In these verses, where God / Jesus is referring to himself, watashi is also used but instead of the kanji writing system (私) the syllabary hiragana (わたし) is used to distinguish God from others.

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

See also pronoun for “God”.

Translation commentary on John 16:23

When that day comes is literally “and in that day.” The same phrase appears again in verse 26 (see also 14.20).

There is a question regarding the interpretation of the verb rendered ask … for in Good News Translation. Revised Standard Version, New English Bible, and Barclay take it with the same meaning that Good News Translation does; but others Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch, New American Bible, Jerusalem Bible, Moffatt, Goodspeed, Phillips, La Sainte Bible: Nouvelle version Segond révisée, Zürcher Bibel, Luther) take it to mean “ask a question.” The problem of interpretation is made more complex by the fact that two different verbs meaning “to ask” are used in this verse. The one under discussion (Greek erōtaō) originally meant “to ask a question,” while the second (Greek aiteō) originally meant “to ask for something.” But the verb erōtaō is also sometimes used in Greek literature with the meaning “to ask for something,” and John himself elsewhere uses it with that meaning (see 4.31,40,47; 14.16; 16.26b; 17.20). The question here is: does John use both verbs with the meaning “to ask for something,” or does he use the first verb with the meaning “to ask a question?” The answer depends upon whether verse 23a goes with what precedes or with what follows. If it goes with what precedes, the meaning of the first verb will be “to ask questions”; but if it goes with what follows (23b-24), the meaning will be “to ask for something.” Although John does use this verb elsewhere in the sense of “to ask for something,” in the context of chapter 16 it is definitely used three times with the meaning “to ask a question” (see 16.5,19,30). Then, too, in the present context the disciples have not asked Jesus for anything, and he is apparently drawing a contrast between “now” (the time of his ministry) and “that day.” On the basis of this observation, the meaning seems to be that after Jesus leaves, the disciples will no longer have to ask him any questions, because the Holy Spirit will be able to guide them into full truth. Moreover, the solemn words I tell you the truth signal a change in subject matter between 23a and 23b, and so support this interpretation. If these conclusions are correct, the verb here means “to ask questions,” and relates to what precedes (16.22). Then verses 23b-24 pick up a new subject, that of asking the Father for something in Jesus’ name.

Good News Translation inverts the last clause in verse 23, which literally reads “whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.” As the Good News Translation alternative rendering in the footnote points out, the placing of the phrase in my name poses a problem. In some Greek manuscripts it goes easily with the verb ask (Good News Translation, New English Bible, Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch, Barclay), while in others it goes only with the verb give (New American Bible, Moffatt, Jerusalem Bible, Phillips, Goodspeed, Revised Standard Version, Zürcher Bibel, Luther). There is stronger textual support for placing the phrase with the verb ask. Also, the context is one of prayer, which the Gospel writer elsewhere connects with the name of Jesus (14.13,14; 16.16,24,26). On the basis of these observations, the UBS Committee on the Greek text favors placing the phrase in connection with the verb ask. However, it rates its choice a “C” decision, indicating considerable doubt whether the text or the apparatus contains the better reading.

In favor of the reading which places in my name with the verb give is the fact that this reading is the more difficult one. It is not likely that a scribe would move this phrase from a position where it goes easily with the verb ask to a position where it might be taken with the verb give, since nowhere else in John or in the New Testament is anything “given” in Jesus’ name.

For a discussion of the phrase in my name, see 14.13. Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch, which connects the phrase with the verb ask, renders “the Father will give you all that you ask if you will call on me.” However, Goodspeed, who connects it with the verb give translates “whatever you ask the Father for, he will give you as my followers.”

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 .