He deliberately took time to draw near to social outcasts (image)

“Jesus is dressed in a different style of clothing than the style of the woman who is shown as a Lanna Thai northerner. It is unusual for him to talk to a person from a different region, especially a woman. The clothes, the roof of the house in the background, and the dipper for water all indicate that this is in northern Thailand.”

Drawing by Sawai Chinnawong who employs northern and central Thailand’s popular distinctive artistic style originally used to depict Buddhist moral principles and other religious themes; explanation by Paul DeNeui. From That Man Who Came to Save Us by Sawai Chinnawong and Paul H. DeNeui, William Carey Library, 2010.

For more images by Sawai Chinnatong in TIPs see here.

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (John 4:25)

Many languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns (“we”). (Click or tap here to see more details)

The inclusive “we” specifically includes the addressee (“you and I and possibly others”), while the exclusive “we” specifically excludes the addressee (“he/she/they and I, but not you”). This grammatical distinction is called “clusivity.” While Semitic languages such as Hebrew or most Indo-European languages such as Greek or English do not make that distinction, translators of languages with that distinction have to make a choice every time they encounter “we” or a form thereof (in English: “we,” “our,” or “us”).

For this verse (“declare all things to us” in English translations), translators typically select the exclusive form.

Source: SIL International Translation Department (1999)

complete verse (John 4:25)

Following are a number of back-translations of John 4:25:

  • Uma: “That woman said: ‘Yes, what I know [is that] the Redeemer King named Kristus will come. When he comes, he will make everything clear to us.'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “The woman said to Isa, ‘I really do know, in the future there will someone come here to be our (incl.) king, he is the Almasi. When he comes here, he will explain everything to us (excl.).'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And then the woman said, ‘I know that in the future the one whom God has chosen to rule will arrive, the one titled Christ. And when he arrives, he will explain everything to us.'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Then the woman said, ‘I admittedly know that the Messiah is coming (who will be named Cristo). And when he comes, he will make-known to us everything.'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “The woman said next, ‘I know, Master, that that Savior King will come who has been promised by God, the one called Cristo. When he arrives here, he’ll be the one to make-clear to us (incl.) all these things.'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “The woman said, ‘I know that when the Christ comes he will rule here. When he comes he will really tell about everything.'” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

Christ, Messiah

The Greek Christos (Χρηστός) is typically transliterated when it appears together with Iésous (Ἰησοῦς) (Jesus). In English the transliteration is the Anglicized “Christ,” whereas in many other languages it is based on the Greek or Latin as “Kristus,” “Cristo,” or similar.

When used as a descriptive term in the New Testament — as it’s typically done in the gospels (with the possible exceptions of for instance John 1:17 and 17:3) — Christos is seen as the Greek translation of the Hebrew mashiaḥ (המשיח‎) (“anointed”). Accordingly, a transliteration of mashiaḥ is used, either as “Messiah” or based on the Greek or Latin as a form of “Messias.”

This transliteration is also used in the two instances where the Greek term Μεσσίας (Messias) is used in John 1:41 and 4:25.

In some languages and some translations, the term “Messiah” is supplemented with an explanation. Such as in the German Gute Nachricht with “the Messiah, the promised savior” (Wir haben den Messias gefunden, den versprochenen Retter) or in Muna with “Messiah, the Saving King” (Mesias, Omputo Fosalamatino) (source: René van den Berg).

In predominantly Muslim areas or for Bible translations for a Muslim target group, Christos is usually transliterated from the Arabic al-Masih (ٱلْمَسِيحِ) — “Messiah.” In most cases, this practice corresponds with languages that also use a form of the Arabic Isa (عيسى) for Jesus (see Jesus). There are some exceptions, though, including modern translations in Arabic which use Yasua (يَسُوعَ) (coming from the Aramaic Yēšūa’) alongside a transliteration of al-Masih, Hausa which uses Yesu but Almahisu, and some Fula languages (Adamawa Fulfulde, Nigerian Fulfulde, and Central-Eastern Niger Fulfulde) which also use a form of Iésous (Yeesu) but Almasiihu (or Almasiifu) for Christos.

In Indonesian, while most Bible translations had already used Yesus Kristus rather than Isa al Masih, three public holidays used to be described using the term Isa Al Masih. From 2024 the government will use Yesus Kristus in those holiday names instead (see this article in Christianity Today ).

Other solutions that are used by a number of languages include these:

  • Dobel: “The important one that God had appointed to come” (source: Jock Hughes)
  • Noongar: Keny Mammarap or “The One Man” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • Mairasi: “King of not dying for life all mashed out infinitely” (for “mashed out,” see salvation; source: Lloyd Peckham)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “One chosen by God to rule mankind” (source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Bacama: Ma Pwa a Ngɨltən: “The one God has chosen” (source: David Frank in this blog post )
  • Binumarien: Anutuna: originally a term that was used for a man that was blessed by elders for a task by the laying on of hands (source: Desmond Oatridges, Holzhausen 1991, p. 49f.)
  • Noongar: Keny Boolanga-Yira Waangki-Koorliny: “One God is Sending” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • Uab Meto: Neno Anan: “Son of heaven” P. Middelkoop explains: “The idea of heavenly power bestowed on a Timorese king is rendered in the title Neno Anan. It is based on the historical fact that chiefs in general came from overseas and they who come thence are believed to have come down from heaven, from the land beyond the sea, that means the sphere of God and the ghosts of the dead. The symbolical act of anointing has been made subservient to the revelation of an eternal truth and when the term Neno Anan is used as a translation thereof, it also is made subservient to a new revelation of God in Jesus Christ. The very fact that Jesus came from heaven makes this translation hit the mark.” (Source: P. Middelkoop in The Bible Translator 1953, p. 183ff. )

In Finnish Sign Language both “Christ” and “Messiah” are translated with sign signifying “king.” (Source: Tarja Sandholm)


“Christ / Messiah” in Finnish Sign Language (source )

Law (2013, p. 97) writes about how the Ancient Greek Septuagint‘s translation of the Hebrew mashiah was used by the New Testament writers as a bridge between the Old and New Testaments (click or tap here to read more):

“Another important word in the New Testament that comes from the Septuagint is christos, ‘Christ.’ Christ is not part of the name of the man from Nazareth, as if ‘the Christs’ were written above the door of his family home. Rather, ‘Christ’ is an explicitly messianic title used by the writers of the New Testament who have learned this word from the Septuagint’s translation of the Hebrew mashiach, ‘anointed,’ which itself is often rendered in English as ‘Messiah.’ To be sure, one detects a messianic intent on the part of the Septuagint translator in some places. Amos 4:13 may have been one of these. In the Hebrew Bible, God ‘reveals his thoughts to mortals,’ but the Septuagint has ‘announcing his anointed to humans.’ A fine distinction must be made, however, between theology that was intended by the Septuagint translators and that developed by later Christian writers. In Amos 4:13 it is merely possible we have a messianic reading, but it is unquestionably the case that the New Testament writers exploit the Septuagint’s use of christos, in Amos and elsewhere, to messianic ends.”

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

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

Translation commentary on John 4:25

On the meaning of the terms Messiah and Christ, see 1.20,41. The Samaritans looked for a “messiah,” and they referred to him as “Taheb,” which means simply “he who returns.”

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 .