The Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek that are translated as “wine” in English is translated into Pass Valley Yali as “grape juice pressed long ago (= fermented)” or “strong water” (source: Daud Soesilo). In Guhu-Samane it is also translated as “strong water” (source: Ernest L. Richert in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 198ff.).
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: “And we went with Jesus again to the town of Cana . . .”
Following are a number of back-translations of John 4:46:
- Uma: “Yesus also arrived in Kana town in Galilea, in the town where he had changed water into wine. Not far from Kana, there was a leader/commander in Kapernaum town who worked in the house of the king, his child was very sick.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
- Yakan: “So-then Isa returned to Kana there in Jalil. There in Kana hep he had made the water into wine. So-then while he was there a certain titled-one of the king was also there. His male child was sick there in the town Kapernaum.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Jesus returned to the town of Cana in Galilee. That was the town where he changed the water into wine. And there was there a person who had an important position with the king. And he had a child there in the village of Capernaum who was sick.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
- Kankanaey: “When that was so, plural Jesus returned to Cana the town in Galilea where-he-had-turned-water -into liquor. Upon his arriving there, there was an official of the government whose male child was sick in Capernaum.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “He returned again to Cana which is in the district of Galilea, there being where he had caused the water to become prepared-drink on his first going there. At Capernaum, which is another town in the district of Galilea, there was a person whose position/responsibility was important. His son was seriously ill.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
- Tenango Otomi: “Jesus returned and went to the town of Cana in the land of Galilee where he had caused the water to become wine. A man who was a native of Capernaum had the high position of working for the government. He had a son who was sick.” (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.”
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