The Greek that is translated as “”He has Beelzebub” in English is translated in Yatzachi Zapotec as “He talked with Beelzebub.” Otis Leal (in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 164ff. ) explains: “In Mark 3:22 the scribes said that Christ had Beelzebub. From the context it can be seen that they meant that His power was Satanic. The Zapotecs recognize power from the prince of the demons, but would never say that the person with that power ‘has Satan.’ Instead they would say that he ‘talks with Satan.’ To say a person ‘has Satan’ means only that he has a filthy mouth, i.e. he uses filthy language, something of which the scribes would not dare accuse Jesus. Here clearly the meaning of the Scriptures is conveyed by the expression ‘talked with Beelzebub.’ The translation was made accordingly.”
The Greek that is typically translated/transliterated in English as “demon” is translated in Central Mazahua as “the evil spirit(s) of the devil” (source: Ellis Deibler in Notes on Translation July, 1967, p. 5ff.).
In Sissala it is translated with kaŋtɔŋ, which traditionally referred to “either a spirit of natural phenomena such as trees, rivers, stones, etc., or the spirit of a deceased person that has not been taken into the realm of the dead. Kaŋtɔŋ can be good or evil. Evil kaŋtɔŋ can bring much harm to people and are feared accordingly. A kaŋtɔŋ can also dwell in a person living on this earth. A person possessed by kaŋtɔŋ does not behave normally.” (Source: Regina Blass in Holzhausen 1991, p. 48f.)
In Umiray Dumaget Agta it is translated as hayup or “creature, animal, general term for any non-human creature, whether natural or supernatural.” Thomas Headland (in: Notes on Translation, September 1971, p. 17ff.) explains some more: “There are several types of supernatural creatures, or spirit beings which are designated by the generic term hayup. Just as we have several terms in English for various spirit beings (elves, fairies, goblins, demons, imps, pixies) so have the Dumagats. And just as you will find vast disagreement and vagueness among English informants as to the differences between pixies and imps, etc., so you will find that no two Dumagats will agree as to the form and function of their different spirit beings.” This term can also be used in a verb form: hayupen: “creatured” or “to be killed, made sick, or crazy by a spirit.
In Yala it is translated as yapri̍ija ɔdwɔ̄bi̍ or “bad Yaprija.” Yaprijas are traditional spirits that have a range presumed activities including giving or withholding gifts, giving and protecting children, causing death and disease and rewarding good behavior. (Source: Eugene Bunkowske in Notes on Translation 78/1980, p. 36ff.)
In Lamnso’ it is translated as aànyùyi jívirì: “lesser gods who disturb, bother, pester, or confuse a person.” (Source: Fanwong 2013, p. 93)
The Greek that is usually translated as “scribe” in English “were more than mere writers of the law. They were the trained interpreters of the law and expounders of tradition.”
Here are a number of its (back-) translations:
- Yaka: “clerk in God’s house”
- Amganad Ifugao: “man who wrote and taught in the synagogue”
- Navajo: “teaching-writer” (“an attempt to emphasize their dual function”)
- Shipibo-Conibo: “book-wise person”
- San Blas Kuna: “one who knew the Jews’ ways”
- Loma: “educated one”
- San Mateo del Mar Huave: “one knowing holy paper”
- Central Mazahua: “writer of holy words”
- Indonesian: “expert in the Torah”
- Pamona: “man skilled in the ordinances” (source for this and all above: Bratcher / Nida)
- Sinhala: “bearer-of-the-law”
- Marathi: “one-learned-in-the-Scriptures”
- Shona (1966): “expert of the law”
- Balinese: “expert of the books of Torah”
- Ekari: “one knowing paper/book”
- Tboli: “one who taught the law God before caused Moses to write” (or “one who taught the law of Moses”) (source for this and 5 above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
- Nyongar: Mammarapa-Warrinyang or “law man” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
- Mairasi: “one who writes and explains Great Above One’s (=God’s) prohibitions” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
- Chichewa: “teacher of Laws” (source: Ernst Wendland)
- North Alaskan Inupiatun: “teachers of law”
- Huehuetla Tepehua: “writer”
- Yatzachi Zapotec: “person who teaches the law which Moses wrote”
- Alekano: “man who knows wisdom” (source for this and four above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
- Saint Lucian Creole French: titcha lwa sé Jwif-la (“teacher of the law of the Jews”) (source: David Frank in Lexical Challenges in the St. Lucian Creole Bible Translation Project, 1998)
- Chichimeca-Jonaz: “one who teaches the holy writings”
- Atatláhuca Mixtec: “teacher of the words of the law”
- Coatlán Mixe: “teacher of the religious law”
- Lalana Chinantec: “one who is a teacher of the law which God gave to Moses back then”
- Tepeuxila Cuicatec: “one who know well the law” (Source for this and four above: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August 1966, p. 86ff.)
- Huixtán Tzotzil: “one who mistakenly thought he was teaching God’s commandments”(Huixtán Tzotzil frequently uses the verb -cuy to express “to mistakenly think something” from the point of view of the speaker; source: Marion M. Cowan in Notes on Translation 20/1966, pp. 6ff.)
- German das Buch translation by Roland Werner (publ. 2009-2022): “theologian”
- English translation by Scot McKnight (in The Second Testament, publ. 2023): Covenant Code scholar
In British Sign Language it is translated with a sign that combines the signs for “expert” and “law.” (Source: Anna Smith)
“Scribe” in British Sign Language (source: Christian BSL, used with permission)
The name that is transliterated as “Jerusalem” in English is signed in French Sign Language with a sign that depicts worshiping at the Western Wall in Jerusalem:
“Jerusalem” in French Sign Language (source )
While a similar sign is also used in British Sign Language, another, more neutral sign that combines the sign “J” and the signs for “place” is used as well. (Source: Anna Smith)
“Jerusalem” in British Sign Language (source: Christian BSL, used with permission)
Following are a number of back-translations of Mark 3:22:
- Uma: “There were also some Yahudi religion teachers who had just arrived from Yerusalem. Those religious teacher said: ‘Ah! He is possessed by Beelzebub, the king of all demons. It is that king of demons who has given him power to expel demons.'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
- Yakan: “There were some teachers of the religious law, who had come down from Awrusalam who spoke, they said, ‘That Isa is possessed by Belsebul, the leader of demons, that’s why he can cast-out the demons.'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And there were teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem, and they said, ‘This person is possessed by Endedaman the boss of the demons, and because of this he is able to drive demons away from people.'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
- Kankanaey: “There were also some teachers of the law from Jerusalem who were saying, ‘Beelzebul has possessed him. That leader of the evil-spirits is who gave him power to cause-evil-spirits -to-leave.'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “The explainers of law who came from Jerusalem said, ‘He really is possessed by Beelzebub who is the leader of all the evil spirits. That one, that’s who gave him the ability to drive out evil spirits.'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
- Lacandon: “…. ‘Jesus’ real boss is the devil. He gives him power to remove devils. Beelzebub is the name of his real boss. He is the one who rules all the devils.'” (Source: B. Moore / G. Turner in Notes on Translation 1967, p. 1ff.)
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
hoi apo Ierosolumōn katabantes ‘who came down from Jerusalem’: one went up to the capital (cf. 10.32) and came down from it (cf. similar usage with regard to London) (cf. Lk. 2.51, 10.30f., Acts 8.26).
For hoi grammateis ‘the scribes’ cf. 1.22.
elegon hoti … kai hoti ‘they were saying that … and that’: both times hoti is recitative, introducing direct speech. This being so, it would be more accurate to punctuate the translation in such a way as to indicate two direct statements: The scribes … were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “By the prince of demons he casts out demons.”
elegon ‘they were saying’: the statement was repeated.
Beelzeboul echei ‘he has Beelzebul,’ i.e. ‘he is possessed by Beelzebul.’ Commentators are divided over whether or not ‘Beelzebul’ and ‘the prince of the demons’ are the same one, or refer to two different evil spirits.
en tō archonti tōn daimoniōn ‘in the ruler of the demons.’
en ‘in,’ ‘by,’ i.e. ‘in the name of,’ ‘by the power of.’
ho archōn (only here in Mark) ‘ruler,’ ‘chief’: in form it is the present participle of the verb archo ‘to rule.’
ekballei ta daimonia ‘he drives out the demons’ (cf. 1.34).
For scribes see 1.22.
In many languages expressions of coming and going, whether up to or down from, are used with great precision and care, something which is not typical of the Gospels. Accordingly, if one is to use such expressions in a translation in a language which maintains a scrupulous consistency in such details of movement, it is obligatory that one maintain the same expressions throughout. Otherwise the reader is likely to be utterly confused.
For expressions dealing with possession see 1.23. A literal translation of this type of expression ‘has Beelzebul’ or ‘is possessed by Beelzebul’ can give rise to entirely wrong meanings. For example in Izthmus Zapotec to say only ‘is possessed by’ would mean ‘to speak filthy words.’ On the other hand, if one wants to designate demon possession, one must say ‘he talks with Beelzebul.’ Despite the fact that the literal expressions in this language do not seem to carry this proportionate scale of intensity in meaning, nevertheless, they do, and what counts is not the literal words but the meaning.
If one wishes to identify Beelzebul with the prince of the demons, one may translate ‘and by this prince of demons’ (San Mateo del Mar Huave).
The last clause of this verse introduces a difficult problem of secondary agency. That is to say, the primary agent is he (i.e. Jesus), but the secondary agent (secondary in terms of the grammatical structure, but primary in importance as far as the scribes were concerned) is the prince of demons. In languages in which such secondary agency can be expressed by a prepositional phrase, as in Greek or English, the problem is simple enough, but in many languages this is not possible. The alternatives are of two types: (1) the secondary agent becomes the primary agent of a causative expression, e.g. ‘the prince of demons causes him to cast out demons’ or ‘… gives him power to cast out…’ (Copainalá Zoque) and (2) the secondary agent becomes the source of power for the accomplishment of an activity, e.g. ‘Jesus receives power from the prince of demons so that he can cast out demons.’
Prince is ‘the chief’ (Copainalá Zoque, Southern Bobo Madaré) or ‘the ruler.’ In Shipibo-Conibo one may say ‘the strong one among the demons.’
For demons see 1.26, 32.
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 .