the Father loves the Son

The Greek that is translated in English as “the father loves the son” is translated in Alekano as “his father was pleased with his son,” since in that language “most kinship terms have an obligatory possessive pronoun suffix (or prefix and suffix). Hence it is impossible to say ‘a father’ or ‘the father’; one must say ‘my father” or ‘your father’ or “some person’s father'” (source: Larson 1998, p. 42). William Thompson (in: The Bible Translator 1950, p. 165ff. ) observes the same for Wayuu.

placed all things in his hands

The Greek that is translated in English as “placed all things in his hands” is translated in Asháninka as “allowed him to rule over all.” The meaning of the metaphor in the Greek would have not been clear if translated directly. (Source: Larson 1998, p. 87)

complete verse (John 3:35)

Following are a number of back-translations of John 3:35:

  • Uma: “God the Father loves his Child, and has given him all his power.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “God really loves his Son and he has given him authority over everything.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Very big in the breath of our Father God is his son Jesus. And he has entrusted to him the rule over everything.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Because God the Father, he loves his Child, and he turned-over everything to him.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “The Son is really held dear by the Father. And he has handed all things over to him.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “The Father loves his Son and gave him the power to rule all things.” (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 this chapter in the World Atlas of Language Structures on different approaches to personal pronouns.

Translation: Chinese





Translator: Simon Wong

Translation commentary on John 3:35

The first part of this verse and the first part of 5.20 are almost identical, the Father loves the Son, but a different verb is used for “love” in each of the two passages. The Greek verb used in 3.35 is agapaō, and in 5.20 it is phileō. At one time it was customary for scholars to differentiate between the use of these two verbs in John’s Gospel, but most scholars now agree that there is no distinction in meaning between them. There is certainly no distinction in these two verses. When translating either of the verbs for “love,” one should remember that the primary focus in the biblical concept of love is always that of giving rather than receiving. One loves another for the sake of benefiting the one he loves, rather than for the sake of receiving benefit from the object of his love. See the discussion of “love” at 3.16.

The verb loves is in the present tense and indicates that the Father constantly and always loves his Son.

It is impossible in many languages to translate “the Father,” for such kinship terms as “father,” “son,” “mother,” etc., must occur with some kind of possessive and imply a relation, for example, “his father,” “my father,” “our father,” etc.—not “the father.” Since in this context “Father” is a substitute for “God,” some translators simply say “God loves his Son.” This solution is, of course, the easiest one, but it does not adequately reflect the meaning of verse 35. In some languages the expression “our Father” (using “our” in the inclusive first person plural form) is frequently used as a substitute for “God,” and in such languages an appropriate equivalent would be “our Father loves his Son.” To make this meaning more explicit, some languages require “our Father God loves his Son.”

Has put (perfect tense in Greek) suggests that what has been put in the Son’s power remains within his power. The phrase in his power translates a Semitic expression (literally “in his hand”); Jerusalem Bible has simply “to him” and New American Bible “over to him.”

Has put everything in his power may be rendered in some languages “has given him control over everything” or, in the causative sense, “has caused him to have power over everything” or “… to control everything” or “has caused that he may command everything.”

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 .