The Greek and Latin that is translated as “resurrection” in English is translated in Chicahuaxtla Triqui and Pohnpeian as “live-up” (i.e. return to life) (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel) and in Iloko as panagungar: a term that stems “from the word ‘agungar,’ an agricultural term used to describe the coming back to life of a plant which was wilting but which has been watered by the farmer, or of a bulb which was apparently dead but grows again.” (Source: G. Henry Waterman in The Bible Translator 1960, p. 24ff. )
The name that is transliterated as “Mary” in English is translated in Spanish Sign Language with arms folded over chest which is the typical pose of Mary in statues and artwork. (Source: John Elwode in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 78ff.)
In American Sign Language it is translated with a sign for the letter M and the sign for “virgin,” which could also be interpreted as “head covering,” referring to the way that Mary is usually portrayed in art works. (Source: RuthAnna Spooner, Ron Lawer)
In American Sign Language it is translated with the sign for “government/governor” plus the sign for “P” with a circular movement. The reference to government indicates Pilate’s position of authority in the Roman Empire. (Source: RuthAnna Spooner, Ron Lawer)
The Greek that is typically translated in English as “sign” is translated in Huehuetla Tepehua as “thing to be marveled at” (source: Larson 1889, p. 279) and in Mairasi as “big work” (source: Enggavoter 2004).
The Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and Aramaic that is translated into English as “(to) bless” or “blessed” is translated into a wide variety of possibilities.
The Hebrew term barak (and the Aramaic term berak) also (and originally) means “kneel” (a meaning which the word has retained — see Gen. 24:11) and can be used for God blessing people (or things), people blessing each other, or people blessing God. While English Bible translators have not seen a stumbling block in always using the same term (“bless” in its various forms), other languages need to make distinctions (see below).
In Bari, spoken in South Sudan, the connection between blessing and knees/legs is still apparent. For Genesis 30:30 (in English: “the Lord has blessed you wherever I turned”), Bari uses a common expression that says (much like the Hebrew), ‘… blessed you to my feet.'” (Source: P. Guillebaud in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 189ff. .)
Other examples for the translation of “bless” when God is the one who blesses include (click or tap here to see the rest of this insight):
“showing a good heart” (Kutu) (source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext)
“good luck — have — good fortune — have” (verbatim) ꓶꓼ ꓙꓳ ꓫꓱꓹ ꓙꓳ — ɯa dzho shes zho (Lisu). This construction follows a traditional four-couplet construct in oral Lisu poetry that is usually in the form ABAC or ABCB. (Source: Arrington 2020, p. 58)
In Tagbanwa a phrase is used for both the blessing done by people and God that back-translates to “caused to be pierced by words causing grace/favor” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation).
Ixcatlán Mazatec had to select a separate term when relating “to people ‘blessing’ God” (or things of God): “praise(d)” or “give thanks for” (in 1 Cor. 10:16) (“as it is humans doing the ‘blessing’ and people do not bless the things of God or God himself the way God blesses people” — source: Robert Bascom). Eastern Bru and Kui also use “praise” for this a God-directed blessing (source: Bru back translation and Helen Evans in The Bible Translator 1954, p. 40ff. ) and Uma uses “appropriate/worthy to be worshipped” (source: Uma back translation).
When related to someone who is blessing someone else, it is translated into Tsou as “speak good hopes for.” In Waiwai it is translated as “may God be good and kind to you now.” (Sources: Peng Kuo-Wei for Tsou and Robert Hawkins in The Bible Translator 1962, pp. 164ff. for Waiwai.)
Some languages associate an expression that originally means “spitting” or “saliva” with blessing. The Bantu language Koonzime, for instance, uses that expression for “blessing” in their translation coming from either God or man. Traditionally, the term was used in an application of blessing by an aged superior upon a younger inferior, often in relation to a desire for fertility, or in a ritualistic, but not actually performed spitting past the back of the hand. The spitting of saliva has the effect of giving that person “tenderness of face,” which can be translated as “blessedness.” (Source: Keith Beavon)
Martin Ehrensvärd, one of the translators for the DanishBibelen 2020, comments on the translation of this term: “As for ‘blessing’, in the end we in most instances actually kept the word, after initially preferring the expression ‘giving life strength’. The backlash against dropping the word blessing was too hard. But we would often add a few words to help the reader understand what the word means in a given context — people often understand it to refer more to a spiritual connection with God, but in the Hebrew texts, it usually has to do with material things or good health or many children. So when e.g. in Isaiah 19:25 the Hebrew text says ‘God bless them’, we say ‘God bless them’ and we add: ‘and give them strength’. ‘And give them strength’ is not found in the overt Hebrew text, but we are again making explicit what we believe is the meaning so as to avoid misunderstanding.” (Source: Ehrensvärd in HIPHIL Novum 8/2023, p. 81ff. )
Following are a number of back-translations of Luke 2:34:
Nyongar: “Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, Jesus’ mother, ‘God sent this child to the people of Israel. He will destroy many people and save many people. He is God’s sign. Many people will insult (lit.: ‘bad talk’) him.” (Source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
Uma: “Simeon blessed them, and he said to Maria: ‘From this your child, many descendants of Israel will fall receiving disaster, but many also will be lifted to receive goodness. He is the one chosen and sent here by the Lord God, but many people will reject him,” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
Yakan: “Then Simiyun asked good/blessing for them from God. Then he spoke to Mariyam, the mother of the child, he said, ‘This child of yours, this is what God has destined for him that because of him many people of the tribe of Isra’il will come close to God and also many will go further away from God. He is sent here by God as a sign but he will not be received by most of the people.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And Simeon also prayed for them, that they might be blessed by God. And he said to Mary, the mother of the child, he said, ‘As for this child of yours, God chose him so that we, the descendants of Israel, might be separated apart. Now those who follow him shall be saved, but those who do not follow, God will punish them. He will be identified as a servant of God, but many people will reject him.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
Kankanaey: “Then Simeon blessed them and said to Maria, ‘This baby, God has appointed him to be a sign, but many are those who will reject that sign. Therefore your (sing.) mind will be saddened (lit. injured) as if it is impaled by a sharp sword. Because of him, many of those from-Israel will stumble-and-fall, but many also will stand-up to be saved, and thus what is truly in their thoughts will be-made-known.'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
Tagbanwa: “And then Simeon blessed (lit. caused to be pierced by words causing grace/favor) Jose and Maria, and he said in addition, ‘Maria, what I will say to you concerning this child is true. God has really determined that because of this child, many of us (incl.) Judio will be saved/freed, but many others will be lost/destroyed because they don’t want to submit to him. Because he is like a sign which points/shows the path which goes to God, but well, many will say-it’s-lies to this teaching of his.” (Source: Tagbanwa 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”), “she” (and “her,” “hers,” and “herself”), and “it” (and “its” and “itself”).
Modern 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 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.