fit, worthy

The Greek that is rendered into “worthy” or “fit” in English versions is translated into Sierra Totonac as “proper” / “chief” — “I am not proper / chief enough.” (2nd translation into Sierra Totonac of 1999.)

untie sandals

The Greek that is translated as “(not worthy to) untie sandals” or similar in English is translated in Awa as “because he is an important one, when he speaks I will be silent” since “the Jewish idea of not being worthy of even removing the sandals of an important person is foreign to Papua New Guinea.”

Other languages express it this way: “I am not worthy to be his servant” (Yatzachi Zapotec), “if unworthy I should even carry his burden, it would not be right” (Alekano), or “I don’t compare with him” (Tenango Otomi). (Source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)

complete verse (Mark 1:7)

Following are a number of back-translations of Mark 1:7:

  • Uma: “He spread this news: ‘After me will come one whose power is greater than me/mine. Even to kneel to undo his shoe I am not worthy.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “And he proclaimed like this: ‘There is (someone),’ he said, ‘coming after me, (who is) more powerful than I. I am not even worthy to bend down to loosen the string of his shoes.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Then John preached to the people saying, ‘There is a person coming who will take my place. That person is very much greater than I, because even to take off his shoes, I am not yet worthy to be his servant.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “He was telling the many-people, ‘There is someone greater (lit. higher) than I who is following-me. And because of this greatness of his, I am not worthy to even untie the laces of his shoes.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “He was always saying when he was teaching, ‘The one following me will come who is far superior to me. Even to undo the tie of his footwear to remove them is not possible/acceptable for me to do, for his greatness/importance it really very much.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Shipibo-Conibo: “Then he told them a word: Back of me comes one surpassing me in strength. I am not equal, though I bend down, to untie his shoe string.” (Source: James Lauriault in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 32ff.)
  • Balinese: “Then he preached to the people as follows: ‘After me there comes one mightier than. Even to stoop down to loose the strings of His sandal I feel not fit at all.” (Source: J.L. Swellengrebel in The Bible Translator 1950 p. 75ff.)

pronoun for "God"

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.

Translation: Chinese

在现代汉语中,第三人称单数代词的读音都是一样的(tā),但是写法并不一样,取决于性别以及是否有生命,即男性为“他”,女性为“她”,动物、植物和无生命事物为“它”(在香港和台湾的汉语使用,动物则为“牠”)。这些字的部首偏旁表明了性别(男人、女人、动物、无生命事物),而另一偏旁通常旁提示发音。

到1930年为止,基督教新教《圣经》经过整整一百年的翻译已经拥有了十几个译本,当时的一位圣经翻译者王元德新造了一个“神圣的”代词“祂”,偏旁“礻”表示神明。一般汉语读者会立即知道这字的发音是tā,而这个偏旁表示属灵的事物,因此他们明白这个字指出,三位一体的所有位格都没有性别之分,而单单是上帝。

然而,最重要的新教圣经译本(1919年的《和合本》)和天主教圣经译本(1968年的《思高圣经》)都没有采用“祂”;虽然如此,许多其他的圣经译本采用了这个字,另外还广泛出现在赞美诗和其他基督信仰的书刊中。(资料来源:Zetzsche)

《吕振中译本》的几个早期版本也使用“祂”来指称“上帝”;这个译本的《新约》于1946年译成,整部《圣经》于1970年完成。克拉默斯(Kramers)指出:“‘他’的这种新写法(即‘祂’)产生了一个小问题,就是在指称耶稣的时候,是否一律使用这个敬语代词?《吕振中译本》遵循的原则是,在称呼耶稣这个人的时候,用一般的‘他’,而在称呼耶稣神性的时候,特别是升天之后的耶稣,则用尊称‘祂’。”

Translator: Simon Wong