Jesus' human vs. divine nature in modern Burmese translation

There are three different levels of speech in Burmese: common language, religious language (addressing and honoring monks, etc.), and royal language (which is not in active use anymore). Earliest Bible translations used exclusively royal and religious language (in the way Jesus is addressed by others and in the way Jesus is referred to via pronouns), which results in Jesus being divine and not human. Later editions try to make distinctions.

In the Common Language Version (publ. 2005) the human face of Jesus appears in the narrative of the angel’s message to Joseph and what Joseph did in response (Matthew 1:21-25). The angel told Joseph that Mary was going to give birth to a son, not a prince.

Likewise in Luke 2:6-7 the story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is told simply using the Common language. Again in the description of the shepherds’ visit to the baby Jesus (Mark 1:21-25), in the story of Jesus’ circumcision (Luke 2:6-2:7), and in the narrative of the child Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem (Luke 2:46-51), the human face of Jesus comes to the forefront.

On the other hand, the child Jesus is clearly depicted as a royal or a divine child in the story of the wise men (Matthew 2:9-12), the story of the flight to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-14), and the return to Nazareth (Matthew 2:20-21).

(Source: Gam Seng Shae, The Bible Translator 2002, p. 202ff.)

See also Mary (mother of Jesus).

amazed, astonished, marvel

The Greek that is translated as “astonished” or “amazed” or “marvel” in English is translated in Pwo Karen as “stand up very tall.” (In John 5:20, source: David Clark)

Elsewhere it is translated as “confusing the inside of the head” (Mende), “shiver in the liver” (Uduk, Laka), “to lose one’s heart” (Mískito, Tzotzil), “to shake” (Southern Bobo Madaré), “to be with mouth open” (Panao Huánuco Quechua) (source: Bratcher / Nida), “to stand with your mouth open” (Citak) (source: Stringer 2007, p. 120), “ceasing to think with the heart” (Bulu), or “surprise in the heart” (Yamba) (source for this and one above: W. Reyburn in The Bible Translator 1959, p. 1ff. ).

In Mark 5:20 and elsewhere where the astonishment is a response to listening to Jesus, the translation is “listened quietly” in Central Tarahumara, “they forgot listening” (because they were so absorbed in what they heard that they forgot everything else) in San Miguel El Grande Mixtec, “it was considered very strange by them” in Tzeltal (source: Bratcher / Nida), “in glad amazement” (to distinguish it from other kinds of amazement) (Quetzaltepec Mixe) (source: Robert Bascom), or “breath evaporated” (Mairasi) (source: Enngavoter 2004).

In Western Dani astonishment is emphasized with direct speech. In Mark 1:22, for instance, it says: “Wi!” yinuk, pi wareegwaarak — “They were all amazed, saying ‘Oh'” (source: Lourens De Vries in The Bible Translator 1992, p. 333ff. )

In Low German it is translated as grote Oken maken or “make big eyes” (sometime followed by: un kreegn dat Stillswiegen: “and became silent”) (translation by Johannes Jessen, publ. 1933, republ. 2006).

In the Kölsch translation (publ. 2017) it is translated as brummte de Lück de Kopp or “the heads of the people buzzed,” Bauklötz jestaunt, lit. “marvel toy blocks,” and vür Staune de Muhl nit mieh zojekräch or “so full of marvel that they couldn’t close their mouths again.”

In the Pfälzisch translation by Walter Sauer (publ. 2012) it is often translated as baff vor staune or “speechless because of their marvel.” (source: Zetzsche)(Source: Jost Zetzsche)

See also amazed and astonished.

different levels of fatherhood

New Testament Greek is by Balinese standards an extremely impolite language. Consider, for example, the second person pronoun. When speaking to God, to a nobleman, to a friend, to a pupil, or to a slave, the same word is used. In Balinese this is completely different. In the above examples one would differentiate various social ranks and use terms which, more or less freely translated, mean “adored one” or “he who is borne on the head”, “feet of Your Highness”, “older (or younger) brother”, “little one”, and “you”. (…) In Balinese one has to cope with three vocabularies within the language, each of which, at a moderate estimate, includes some hundreds of words. One employs the ordinary common language (“Low Balinese”) when speaking with intimates, equals, or inferiors; polite terms must, however, be used as soon as one begins to speak to one’s superiors or to strangers; and “deferential” terms are obligatory in all cases when one is so bold as to speak of parts of the body, or the acts, possessions, and qualities of important people. The Balinese sums up the two last named vocabularies under the term alus (“fine”, or “noble”): we say “High Balinese”. (…)

Joseph and Mary are spoken of as Jesus’ parents, and here the familiar words for “father” and “mother” are appropriate. But when Jesus speaks of being “about my Father’s business” (vs. 49), thus indicating who His true Father is, He uses the High Balinese word adji “father”.

Source: J.L. Swellengrebel in The Bible Translator 1950, p. 124ff.

formal pronoun: Jesus and his mother

Like many languages (but unlike Greek or Hebrew or English), Tuvan uses a formal vs. informal 2nd person pronoun (a familiar vs. a respectful “you”). Unlike most other languages that have this feature, however, the translators of the Tuvan Bible have attempted to be very consistent in using the different forms of address in every case a 2nd person pronoun has to be used in the translation of the biblical text.

As Voinov shows in Pronominal Theology in Translating the Gospels (in: The Bible Translator 2002, p. 210ff.), the choice to use either of the pronouns many times involved theological judgment. While the formal pronoun can signal personal distance or a social/power distance between the speaker and addressee, the informal pronoun can indicate familiarity or social/power equality between speaker and addressee.

Here, Jesus addresses Mary, his mother, with the formal, respectful pronoun, whereas she addresses him with the informal pronoun, typically used by parents for their children.

Vitaly Voinov explains how the translation team made those choices: “As in probably all languages with a formal/informal distinction, so in Tuvan, parents always address their children with the informal pronoun. Mary does likewise in the only passage where she directly addresses Jesus (Luke 2:48). It was assumed by the Tuvan translation team that Jesus always treated Mary with proper filial respect as a fulfillment of the fifth commandment (cf. Luke 2:51). This is the case even in John 2, where he addresses her as gunai ‘woman’ [see woman], and at first seemingly turns down her request.”

In most Dutch translations, the same distinctions are made.

In Gbaya, Jesus addresses his mother with the less courteous pronoun. (Source Philip Noss)

See also woman (Jesus addressing his mother).

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Luke 2:48)

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, translators typically select the exclusive form (excluding Jesus).

Source: Velma Pickett and Florence Cowan in Notes on Translation January 1962, p. 1ff.

complete verse (Luke 2:48)

Following are a number of back-translations of Luke 2:48:

  • Noongar: “Jesus’ mother and father were surprised when they saw him, and Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘Son, why do you do this thing to us? Your father and I were afraid and we wanted to see you.'” (Source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • Uma: “His mother and father were surprised to see him. His mother said: ‘Son [vocative form used for boys], why did you (sing.) do this to us! Your (sing.) father and I [lit, we (excl.) your father] have been busy looking for you (sing.)!'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “His parents wondered/marvelled very much when they saw him. His mother said to him, ‘Son, (Toto’) why did you do like this to us? Your father and I have been really troubled looking for you.'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And Mary and Joseph, they were very surprised when they found him in the church. And his mother said to him, ‘Son, why did you do this to us which has caused us such grief, for your father and I, we’ve been very worried, looking for you?'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “His parents were likewise amazed at seeing him there. Then his mother said, ‘My child, why did you (sing.) do this to us (excl.)? Your (sing.) father and I have been extremely worried indeed in our looking-and-looking for you (sing.).'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “When Jose and spouse saw him, they were also amazed too. His mother said, ‘Son, why are you treating us like this, since the insides of your father and me were quaking very much looking for you? We thought something had happened to you.'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)