The Greek that is translated as “from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heaven” or similar in English is translated in Copainalá Zoque as “out of all the towns there are under heaven” and in Teutila Cuicatec as “throughout the whole earth.” (Source: B. Moore / G. Turner in Notes on Translation 1967, p. 1ff.)
The Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic that is translated as “angel” in English versions is translated in many ways:
- Pintupi-Luritja: ngaṉka ngurrara: “one who belongs in the sky” (source: Ken Hansen quoted in Steven 1984a, p. 116.)
- Shipibo-Conibo: “word-carrier from heaven”
- Tetela, Kpelle, Balinese, and Mandarin Chinese: “heavenly messenger”
- Shilluk / Igede: “spirit messenger”
- Mashco Piro: “messenger of God”
- Batak Toba: “envoy, messenger”
- Navajo: “holy servant” (source for this and above: Bratcher / Nida 1961; Igede: Andy Warren-Rothlin)
- Central Mazahua: “God’s worker” (source: Ronald D. Olson in Notes on Translation January, 1968, p. 15ff.)
- Saramaccan: basia u Masa Gaangadu köndë or “messenger from God’s country” (source: Jabini 2015, p. 86)
- Mairasi: atatnyev nyaa or “sent-one” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
- Shipibo-Conibo: “word bringer” (source: James Lauriault in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 32ff. )
- Apali: “God’s one with talk from the head” (“basically God’s messenger since head refers to any leader’s talk”) (source: Martha Wade)
- Michoacán Nahuatl: “clean helper of God” (source: B. Moore / G. Turner in Notes on Translation 1967, p. 1ff.)
- Nyongar: Hdjin-djin-kwabba or “spirit good” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
- Wè Northern (Wɛɛ): Kea ‘a “sooa or “the Lord’s soldier” (also: “God’s soldier” or “his soldier”) (source: Drew Maust)
- Iwaidja: “a man sent with a message” (Sam Freney explains the genesis of this term [in this article): “For example, in Darwin last year, as we were working on a new translation of Luke 2:6–12 in Iwaidja, a Northern Territory language, the translators had written ‘angel’ as ‘a man with eagle wings’. Even before getting to the question of whether this was an accurate term (or one that imported some other information in), the word for ‘eagle’ started getting discussed. One of the translators had her teenage granddaughter with her, and this word didn’t mean anything to her at all. She’d never heard of it, as it was an archaic term that younger people didn’t use anymore. They ended up changing the translation of ‘angel’ to something like ‘a man sent with a message’, which is both more accurate and clear.”)
Following are a number of back-translations of Mark 13:27:
- Uma: “I will order my angels to go gather the people who are my portion from the whole world, from the corners of the world and from the corners of the sky.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
- Yakan: “And I will command the angels to come and gather the people which I have chosen from the four corners of the world.'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And I will send my angels to the four sides here on the earth, and they will gather together my chosen people from everywhere on the earth.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
- Kankanaey: “Then I will send the angels to the four sources of the wind in order that they go gather-together my people whom I have chosen from all corners of the world.'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “I will then send my angels to gather together all my chosen people coming from whatever place here under the heavens.” (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 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.)
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.
Translator: Simon Wong
After aggelous ‘angels’ Textus Receptus and Kilpatrick add autou ‘his,’ which is omitted by all other modern editions of the Greek text.
There is considerable doubt concerning the authenticity of autou ‘his’ after eklektous ‘elect’: it is omitted by Tischendorf and Soden; placed in brackets by Westcott and Hort, Nestle, and Taylor; included by Textus Receptus, Vogels, Souter, Lagrange, Kilpatrick, and Merk.
apostelei (cf. 1.2) ‘he will send’: in the context, the subject is ‘the Son of man’ of the preceding verse.
tous aggelous (cf. 1.2) ‘the angels,’ ‘the heavenly messengers.’
The rest of the verse reflects O.T. concepts and language such as found in Zech. 2.10 and Deut. 30.4.
kai episunaxei (cf. 1.33) ‘and he will gather,’ ‘and he will bring together (into one group).’
tous eklektous (cf. v. 20) ‘the elect,’ ‘the chosen ones.’
ek tōn tessarōn anemōn ‘from the four winds’: this phrase indicates the four points of the compass, meaning (in popular language) ‘from the four corners of the earth’ (cf. in 1 Chr. 9.24, in the Septuagint, the description of the four sides of the Temple, kata tous tessaras anemous ēsan hai pulai ‘the gates were on the four sides’ – literally, ‘according to the four winds’). The phrase appears not only in the Bible but in the papyri as well. Revised Standard Version‘s literal translation ‘from the four winds’ is likely to be misleading, since in current English the idiom does not denote the four points of the compass (cf. The Modern Speech New Testament ‘from north, south, east and west’; Williams ‘from the four points of the compass’).
ap’ akrou gēs heōs akrou ouranou ‘from the extremity of the earth to the extremity of heaven.’ This phrase is unique and offers some difficulty. It appears to be a combination of two phrases often used in the O.T.: ap’ akrou tēs gēs heōs akrou tēs gēs ‘from one extremity of the earth to the other’ (Deut. 13.8, Jer. 12.12), and ap’ akrou tou ouranou heōs akrou tou ouranou ‘from one extremity of heaven to the other’ (Deut. 4.32; 30.4; Ps. 18(19).7; cf. Mt. 24.31). It would mean, therefore, ‘from one end of the world to the other’ (cf. Bengel: “from the uttermost part of the heaven (sky) and earth in the east, even to the uttermost part of the heaven and earth in the west”). Manson confesses ignorance of the precise meaning of the phrase and conjectures it originally meant ‘from one end of the earth to the other.’
The concept of the universe which underlies this idiom, in conformance with Jewish cosmogony, was that of the heaven as a half circle overarching the earth, the two meeting at the two extremes.
Some, however, take the phrase to mean, ‘he will gather the elect … from the highest (or ‘lowest,’ according to others) point of earth and carry them to the heights of heaven’ (to which 1 Thess. 4.17 lends some support).
For angels see 1.13.
Gather should be rendered by an expression applicable to persons, not to things, e.g. ‘he will cause to come together’ or ‘he will cause to be led together.’ Literally, the angels are the ones which evidently are to perform this task of bringing the elect together, but the syntactic form of the expression would indicate that the Son of man is the cause, since the third person singular subject of the verb is the same as for the verb send.
His elect are ‘his chosen ones’ or ‘the people he has chosen.’
Four winds provides no end of trouble, especially since only rarely can this idiom be translated literally. In Amganad Ifugao, for example, one speaks only of two winds, and ‘winds’ are never used as reference points for directions. Accordingly, one must say ‘from north, east, south, and west.’ In Cashibo-Cacataibo one may translate ‘from all parts.’ In San Blas Kuna the equivalent is ‘from the four directions,’ and in Piro one may use ‘from the four sides.’
From the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven is admittedly one of the most difficult idioms to translate in the entire gospel of Mark, for frankly, as noted above, we do not know precisely what is meant, since we do not know exactly how this expression is relatable to the cosmogony underlying Scriptural usage. It is impossible to translate end as a ‘point’ or ‘projection.’ In some instances this passage has been rendered as ‘from wherever they are, all over the earth and all over heaven’ and ‘from all over earth to all over heaven.’ However, these translations imply gathering the elect together from heaven, a meaning which is not in the original. A more accurate rendering would be ‘from the limit of the earth in one direction to the limit of the earth in the other direction.’
Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on the Gospel of Mark. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1961. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .