relative age of James and John

Many languages have terms for siblings that define whether one is younger or older in relation to another sibling.

Dave Brunn reports this from the translation into Lamogai (see p. 141f. and 181f.):

“Some languages, including Lamogai, have two different words for brother. One means ‘older brother,’ and the other means ‘younger brother.’ In many cases, these languages do not have a generic word that includes both. Relating this to translation, which of the sons of Zebedee do you think was older, James or John? The Bible does not tell us, but there are some clues. The names James and John occur together about twenty times in the New Testament. In every occurrence, James is named first. Since there is not much else to go on, most translators who have faced this issue have considered this to be enough evidence to say James must be the older brother. Here is how we translated this pair of names in Matthew 17:1 in the Lamogai New Testament:

“‘Jems akap ino tikino Jon’ (‘James along-with his younger-brother John’)

“Technically, ‘tikino‘ means younger sibling of the same sex and ‘udikino‘ older sibling of the same sex. A man would refer to his older brother as ‘udikino‘ and his younger brother as ‘tikino.’ And a woman would use the same terms for her older and younger sisters. The term for opposite-sex sibling (either a man to his sister or a woman to her brother) is ‘luku.'” (Source for this paragraph: private communication from Dave Brunn)

In the translation into Oaxaca Chontal, the same principle is applied. (Source: Bratcher / Nida 1961)

The Chilcotin translators have tried to circumvent specifying which of the two is older, even though the language also uses age-specific terms for siblings. In Mark 1:19 and Mark 3:17 it says Zebedee beyiqi… (“Zebedee’s sons…”) and therefore avoids stating their respective age. Likewise in Mark 5:37 it says Peter hink´an ˀelhcheliqi James belh John (“Peter and brothers James and John”) (source: Quindel King).

See also Peter (Simon) / Andrew (relative age).

complete verse (Mark 5:37)

Following are a number of back-translations of Mark 5:37:

  • Uma: “Yesus continued on walking, but he didn’t permit the many people to accompany him entering into Yairus’ house; only Petrus, Yakobus and Yohanes the relative of Yakobus.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “Isa did not take anybody else along only Petros and the two brothers Yakub and Yahiya.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And then the only ones whom Jesus allowed to go with him and Jairus was Peter, James, and John the sibling of James.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “And Jesus did not permit anyone to go-with him except Pedro and the siblings Santiago and Juan.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “And then he said to that crowd that they were to stay behind now. The only ones he took with him were Pedro and those two brothers Santiago and Juan.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Kuku-Yalanji: “Jesus said: ‘Peter, James and John you come with me. Nobody else come.” (Kuku-Yalanji tends to use direct speech; source: Callow 2007, p. 18)

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