The Greek that is translated literally as “horn of salvation” and more idiomatically as “mighty savior” in most English versions is translated along those lines in many languages as well. In Uab Meto, however the term for “horn” is also used metaphorically for “hero” and in Balinese the term for “tusk,” which suggests “champion/hero” (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel).
The Greek that is translated with “salvation” in English is translated in the following ways:
- San Blas Kuna: “to receive help for bad deeds” (“this help is not just any kind of help but help for the soul which has sinned)
- Northwestern Dinka: “help as to his soul” (“or literally, ‘his breath'”) (source for this and the one above: Nida 1952, p. 140)
- Central Mazahua: “healing the heart” (source: Nida 1952, p. 40)
- Tzeltal: col: “to get loose,” “to go free,” “to get well” (source: Marianna C. Slocum in The Bible Translator 1958, p. 49f.)
- Aari: “the day our Savior comes” (in Rom 13:11) (source: Loren Bliese)
in Mairasi its is translated as “life fruit” or “life fruit all mashed out.” Lloyd Peckham explains: “In secret stories, not knowable to women nor children, there was a magical fruit of life. If referred to vaguely, without specifying the specific ‘fruit,’ it can be an expression for eternity.” And for “all masked out” he expains: “Bark cloth required pounding. It got longer and wider as it got pounded. Similarly, life gets pounded or mashed to lengthen it into infinity. Tubers also get mashed into the standard way of serving the staple food, like the fufu of Uganda, or like poi of Hawaii. It spreads out into infinity.” (See also eternity / forever)
In Lisu a poetic construct is used for this term. Arrington (2020, p. 58f.) explains: “A four-word couplet uses Lisu poetic forms to bridge the abstract concrete divide, an essential divide to cross if Christian theology is to be understood by those with oral thought patterns. Each couplet uses three concrete nouns or verbs to express an abstract term. An example of this is the word for salvation, a quite abstract term essential to understanding Christian theology. To coin this new word, the missionary translators used a four-word couplet: ℲO., CYU. W: CYU (person … save … person … save). In this particular case, the word for person was not the ordinary word (ʁ) but rather the combination of ℲO., and W: used in oral poetry. The word for ‘save’ also had to be coined; in this case, it was borrowed from Chinese [from jiù / 救]. These aspects of Lisu poetry, originally based on animism, likely would have been lost as Lisu society encountered communism and modernization. Yet they are now codified in the Lisu Bible as well as the hymnbook.”
Following are a number of back-translations of Luke 1:69:
- Uma: “He gives us a powerful Warchief who brings salvation. That Warchief is the descendant of King Daud, his slavelong ago.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
- Yakan: “He sends to us (incl.) a savior, he is certainly powerful and he is a descendant of his servant King Da’ud ley.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “He will send here to us the Savior who is the descendent of the servant of the Lord long ago, King David.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
- Kankanaey: “For he sent a powerful-one to save us who was the descendant of the one who served him who was King David.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “For he has sent here to us the without-equal Savior, coming from the descendants of his servant king David.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
The name that is transliterated as “David” in English is translated in Spanish Sign Language with the sign signifying a sling and king (referring to 1 Samuel 17:49 and 2 Samuel 5:4). (Source: John Elwode in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 78ff.)
“David” in Spanish Sign Language (source)
The (Protestant) Chinese transliteration of “David” is 大卫 (衛) / Dàwèi which carries an additional meaning of “Great Protector.”
Click or tap here to see a short video clip about David (source: Bible Lands 2012)
Many languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns (“we”). 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, translators typically select the inclusive form (including the people of Israel).
Source: Velma Pickett and Florence Cowan in Notes on Translation January 1962, p. 1ff.
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