The Greek that is translated as “crown of thorns” in English is translated in Navajo as “a hat of a plant that had sharp thorns,” in Inupiaq as “a head-gear of prickly branches,” in Aguaruna as “a thing to crown him with out of thorns,” and in Chol as “woven thorns.”
The Greek that is translated as “purple” in English is translated as “blue-red” in Ojitlán Chinantec.
“The Kasua people of Western Province have no word for the color purple. They have words for many other colors: black, red, white, yellow, green, and blue, but not for the color of royalty.
“About nine New Testament passages mention people placing a purple robe on Jesus. The Kasua translation team always wanted to use the word ‘red,’ or keyalo, to describe the robe. Tommy, one of the translation team helpers, disagreed because this is not historically accurate or signifies the royalty of Jesus.
“One of the main rules of translation is that the team must stick to the historical facts when they translate a passage. If they don’t, then how can the readers trust what they’re reading is true? Other questions about truth could bubble in the reader’s minds about the Scriptures. For this reason, Tommy was not willing to change the word purple. So the team hung up the problem, hoping to revisit it later with more inspiration.
“God did not disappoint.
“Years later, Tommy hiked with some of the men near their village. They saw a tree that possessed bulbous growths growing on the side of it like fruit. These growths were ‘the most beautiful color of purple I’d ever seen,’ explained Tommy.
“’What is the name of this tree?’ Tommy asked the men.
“’This is an Okani tree,’ they replied.
“Tommy suggested, ‘Why don’t you, in those passages where we’ve been struggling to translate the color purple, use ‘they put a robe on Jesus the color of the fruit of the Okani tree’?
“’Yeah. We know exactly what color that is,’ the men said enthusiastically.
“Everyone in their village would also visualize this phrase accurately, as the Okani tree is the only tree in that area that produces this kind of purple growth. So now, among the Kasua people, in his royal purple robe, Jesus is shown to be the king that he is.”
Following are a number of back-translations of John 19:2:
- Uma: “Those soldiers made a hat from thorny vines that was like a king’s hat , and they hatted it to Yesus. After that, they clothed him with reddish clothes like a king’s clothes , they kneeled down to him, and they said to him; ‘Many greeting, King of the Yahudi people!’ And they slapped him.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
- Yakan: “After that the soldiers twisted thorny vines, making something like a king’s crown and placed it on Isa’s head. They also dressed him in a purple robe like the robe of a king.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And as for the soldiers, when they had finished beating him, they braided in a circle a thorny vine and placed it on his head. And then they clothed him in a red garment pretending that he is a king.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
- Kankanaey: “Then the soldiers braided thorns which they put-on-him -as-a-crown. Then they dressed him in a red robe,” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “Then what the soldiers did was, they bent-in-a-loop something-thorny and made it into a crown. Then they put the crown on Jesus. They dressed him in a red cloak like the clothing of a king.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
- Tenango Otomi: “The soldiers put a crown of thorns which they had woven on Jesus’ head. They clothed him with purple clothing.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
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.”
Translator: Simon Wong