The name that is transliterated as “Capernaum” in English is translated in Spanish Sign Language as “town base camp” (referring to information about Capernaum being Jesus’ home base during his ministry in Matthew 4:13 and Mark 2:1) (Source: John Elwode in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 78ff.)
The Greek that is translated as “brothers” in English is translated as “younger siblings” in Huehuetla Tepehua. (Source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
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: “After that we went to Capernaum with him and with his mother and his brothers. And we stayed there a few days.”
Following are a number of back-translations of John 2:12:
- Uma: “When the feast was finished, he went to Kapernaum town with his mother, his relatives, and his disciples. They stayed there several nights.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
- Yakan: “After this Isa and company went down to the town of Kapernaum. His companions who went along with him were his mother, his siblings and his disciples. They stayed there a number of days.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “After this Jesus and his mother and his siblings and his disciples, they went to the village of Capernaum, and they did not leave there for some days.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
- Kankanaey: “When the wedding was finished, Jesus and his mother, his siblings/cousins and his disciples went to Capernaum, and they stayed there for how many days only.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “After that marriage-celebration, Jesus went to Capernaum, together with his disciples, his mother and his younger-siblings. They weren’t there for very long.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
- Tenango Otomi: “Afterwards he went to the town of Capernaum accompanied by his mother, brothers, and his learners. There he was for a few days.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
(To view the different translations of this term in a simplified graphical form on a new page, click or tap here.)
The Greek that is often translated as “disciple” in English typically follows three types of translation: (1) those which employ a verb ‘to learn’ or ‘to be taught’, (2) those which involve an additional factor of following, or accompaniment, often in the sense of apprenticeship, and (3) those which imply imitation of the teacher.
Following are some examples (click or tap for details):
- Ngäbere: “word searchers”
- Yaka: “those who learned from Jesus”
- Navajo, Western Highland Purepecha, Tepeuxila Cuicatec, Lacandon: “those who learned”
- San Miguel El Grande Mixtec: “those who studied with Jesus”
- Northern Grebo: “the ones Jesus taught”
- Toraja-Sa’dan: “children (i.e. followers) of the master”
- Indonesian: “pupils”
- Central Mazahua: “companions whom Jesus taught”
- Kipsigis, Loma, Copainalá Zoque: “apprentices” (implying continued association and learning)
- Cashibo-Cacataibo: “those who followed Jesus”
- Huautla Mazatec: “his people” (essentially his followers and is the political adherents of a leader)
- Highland Puebla Nahuatl: based on the root of “to imitate” (source for this and all above: Bratcher / Nida)
- Chol: “learners” (source: Larson 1998, p. 107)
- Waorani: ones who live following Jesus” (source: Wallis 1973, p. 39)
- Ojitlán Chinantec: “learners” (Source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
- Javanese: “pupils” or “companions” (“a borrowing from Arabic that is a technical term for Mohammed’s close associates”)
- German: “Jünger” (“younger ones”) (source for this and one above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
In Luang several terms with different shades of meaning are being used.
- For Mark 2:23 and 3:7: maka nwatutu-nwaye’a re — “those that are taught” (“This is the term used for ‘disciples’ before the resurrection, while Jesus was still on earth teaching them.”)
- For Acts 9:1 and 9:10: makpesiay — “those who believe.” (“This is the term used for believers and occasionally for the church, but also for referring to the disciples when tracking participants with a view to keeping them clear for the Luang readers. Although Greek has different terms for ‘believers’, ‘brothers’, and ‘church’, only one Luang word can be used in a given episode to avoid confusion. Using three different terms would imply three different sets of participants.”)
- For Acts 6:1: mak lernohora Yesus wniatutunu-wniaye’eni — “those who follow Jesus’ teaching.” (“This is the term used for ‘disciples’ after Jesus returned to heaven.”)
Source: Kathy Taber in Notes on Translation 1/1999, p. 9-16.
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.
Translator: Simon Wong