33and ‘to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
The Greek that is translated as “sacrifice” in English is translated in Huba as hatǝmachi or “shoot misfortune.”
David Frank (in this blog post ) explains: “How is it that ‘shoot misfortune’ comes to mean sacrifice, I wanted to know? Here is the story: It is a traditional term. Whenever there were persistent problems such as a drought, or a rash of sickness or death, the king (or his religious advisor) would set aside a day and call on everyone to prepare food, such as the traditional mash made from sorghum, or perhaps even goat. The food had to be put together outside. The king or his religious advisor would give an address stating what the problem was and what they were doing about it. Then an elder representing the people would take a handful of that food and throw it, probably repeating that action several times, until it was considered to be enough to atone for all the misfortune they had been having. With this action he was ‘shooting (or casting off) misfortune’ to restore well-being to his people. As he threw the food, he would say that this is to remove the misfortune that had fallen on his people, and everybody would respond by saying aɗǝmja, ‘let it be so.’ People could eat some of this food, but they could not bring the food into their houses, because that would mean that they were bringing misfortune into their house. There is still a minority of people in this linguistic and cultural group that practices the traditional religion, but the shooting of misfortune is no longer practiced, and the term ‘shoot misfortune’ is used now in Bible translation to refer to offering a sacrifice. Aɗǝmja is how they translate ‘amen.'”
The Greek that is translated as “neighbor” in English is rendered into Babatana as “different man,” i.e. someone who is not one of your relatives. (Source: David Clark)
In North Alaskan Inupiatun, it is rendered as “a person outside of your building,” in Tzeltal as “your back and side” (implying position of the dwellings), in Indonesian and in Tae’ as “your fellow-man,” in Toraja-Sa’dan it is “your fellow earth-dweller,” in Shona (translation of 1966) as “another person like you,” in Kekchí “younger-brother-older-brother” (a compound which means all one’s neighbors in a community) (sources: Bratcher / Nida and Reiling / Swellengrebel), in Mairasi “your people” (source: Enggavoter 2004), in Mezquital Otomi as “fellow being,” in Tzeltal as “companion,” in Isthmus Zapotec as “another,” in Teutila Cuicatec as “all people” (source: Waterhouse / Parrott in Notes on Translation October 1967, p. 1ff.), and in most modern German translations as Mitmensch or “fellow human being” (lit. “with + human being”).
In Matt 19:19, Matt 22:39, Mark 12:31, Mark 12:33, Luke 10:27, Luke 10:29 it is translated into Ixcatlán Mazatec with a term that refers to a person who is socially/physically near. Ixcatlán Mazatec also has a another term for “neighbor” that means “fellow humans-outsiders” which was not chosen for these passages. (Source: Robert Bascom)
In Nyongar it is translated as moorta-boordak or “people nearby” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang).
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”. (…)
[The Greek that is translated with] “love” [in English] of a superior for an inferior must be indicated by one term and that of an inferior for a superior by another. Thus we must translate twice the word “love”: “You shall give respectful love to God, …further, you must love your neighbor as yourself”.
Nida (1952, p. 125ff.) reports on different translation of the Greek and Hebrew terms that are translated as “love” when referring to loving God:
“The Toro So Dogon people on the edge of the Sahara in French West Africa speak of ‘love for God’ as ‘to put God in our hearts.’ This does not mean that God can be contained wholly within the heart of a man, but the Eternal does live within the hearts of men by His Holy Spirit, and it is only love which prompts the soul to ‘put God in the heart.’
“The Mitla Zapotec Indians, nestled in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, describe ‘love’ in almost opposite words. Instead of putting God into one’s own heart, they say, ‘my heart goes away with God.’ Both the Toro So Dogon and the Zapotecs are right. There is a sense in which God dwells within us, and there is also a sense in which our hearts are no longer our own. They belong to Him, and the object of affection is not here on earth, but as pilgrims with no certain abiding place we long for that fuller fellowship of heaven itself.
“The Uduks seem to take a rather superficial view of love, for they speak of it as ‘good to the eye.’ But we must not judge spiritual insight or capacity purely on the basis of idioms. Furthermore, there is a sense in which this idiom is quite correct. In fact the Greek term agapé, which is used primarily with the meaning of love of God and of the Christian community, means essentially ‘to appreciate the worth and value of something.’ It is not primarily the love which arises from association and comradeship (this is philé), but it defines that aspect of love which prompted God to love us when there was no essential worth or value in us, except as we could be remade in the image of His Son. Furthermore, it is the love which must prompt us to see in men and women, still unclaimed for Jesus Christ, that which God can do by the working of His Spirit. This is the love which rises higher than personal interests and goes deeper than sentimental attachment. This is the basis of the communion of the saints.
“Love may sometimes be described in strong, powerful terms. The Miskitos of the swampy coasts of eastern Nicaragua and Honduras say that ‘love’ is ‘pain of the heart.’ There are joys which become so intense that they seem to hurt, and there is love which so dominates the soul that its closest emotion seems to be pain. The Tzotzils, living in the cloud-swept mountains of Chiapas in southern Mexico, describe love in almost the same way as the Miskitos. They say it is ‘to hurt in the heart.’ (…)
“The Q’anjob’al Indians of northern Guatemala have gone even a step further. They describe love as ‘my soul dies.’ Love is such that, without experiencing the joy of union with the object of our love, there is a real sense in which ‘the soul dies.’ A man who loves God according to the Conob idiom would say ‘my soul dies for God.’ This not only describes the powerful emotion felt by the one who loves, but it should imply a related truth—namely, that in true love there is no room for self. The man who loves God must die to self. True love is of all emotions the most unselfish, for it does not look out for self but for others. False love seeks to possess; true love seeks to be possessed. False love leads to cancerous jealousy; true love leads to a life-giving ministry.” (Source: Nida 1952)
In Mairasi, the term that is used for love for God, by God and for people is the same: “desire one’s face.” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
In Ogea the word for “love” is “die for someone.” (Source: Sandi Colburn in Holzhausen 1991, p. 22)
The Hebrew olah (עֹלָה) originally means “that which goes up (in smoke).” English Bibles often translates it as “burnt-offering” or “whole burnt-offering,” focusing on the aspect of the complete burning of the offering.
The GreekSeptuagint and the LatinVulgate Bibles translate it as holokautōma / holocautōsis (ὁλοκαύτωμα / ὁλοκαύτωσις) and holocaustum, respectively, meaning “wholly burnt.” While a form of this term is widely used in many Romance languages (Spanish: holocaustos, French: holocaustes, Italian: olocausti, Portuguese: holocaustos) and originally also in the Catholic tradition of English Bible translations, it is largely not used in English anymore today (the preface of the revised edition of the Catholic New American Bible of 2011: “There have been changes in vocabulary; for example, the term ‘holocaust’ is now normally reserved for the sacrilegious attempt to destroy the Jewish people by the Third Reich.”)
Since translation into Georgian was traditionally done on the basis of the Greek Septuagint, a transliteration of holokautōma was used as well, which was changed to a translation with the meaning of “burnt offering” when the Old Testament was retranslated in the 1980’s on the basis of the Hebrew text.
In the Koongo (Ki-manianga) translation by the Alliance Biblique de la R.D. Congo (publ. in 2015) olah is translated as “kill and offer sacrifice.” (Source: Anicet Bassilua)
The English translation of Everett Fox uses offering-up (similarly, the German translation by Buber-Rosenzweig has Darhöhung and the French translation by Chouraqui montée).
Following are a number of back-translations of Mark 12:33:
Uma: “And we must love him with our real heart, to the full extent of our thinking and the full extent of our ability. And we must love our companions like ourselves. That is better than all livestock and other stuff that we sacrifice to God.'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
Yakan: “And a person should love God with his entire liver and mind and strength. And he also should love his companion as he loves himself. If he follows/obeys this, this is still better than if he sacrifices burned animal or gives anything to God.'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
Western Bukidnon Manobo: “and our holding God the Lord dear in our breath, in our mind, in our understanding, and in all of our actions, and holding dear our companion as if he were our very own breath, these are greater than all the burnt sacrifices and offerings.'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
Kankanaey: “It is also correct that we must concentrate all our mind/thoughts, skill/intelligence and strength in loving him, and we must also love our fellows like our manner-of-loving ourselves. It is more-important that we obey these two commands than our offering animals and other offerings to God.'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
Tagbanwa: “And as for our (incl.) holding him dear without not-meaning-it, but on the contrary with our mind/inner-being and mind/thinking being concentrated, and with all our strength, and our valuing too of our fellowman just like our valuing of our own body, (these are) really greater/more-important than all which is sacrificed by being burned and other things-being-sacrificed with which forgiveness is asked for.'” (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 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 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.