inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Matt. 13:28)

Many languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns (“we”). (Click or tap here to see more details)

The inclusive “we” specifically includes the addressee (“you and I and possibly others”), while the exclusive “we” specifically excludes the addressee (“he/she/they and I, but not you”). This grammatical distinction is called “clusivity.” While Semitic languages such as Hebrew or most Indo-European languages such as Greek or English do not make that distinction, translators of languages with that distinction have to make a choice every time they encounter “we” or a form thereof (in English: “we,” “our,” or “us”).

For this verse, translators typically select the exclusive form (excluding the addressee).

Source: Velma Pickett and Florence Cowan in Notes on Translation January 1962, p. 1ff.

complete verse (Matthew 13:28)

Following are a number of back-translations of Matthew 13:28:

  • Uma: “‘The owner of the garden said: ‘That is the work of our (incl.) enemy.’ ‘From there, the paid workers also said: ‘If you (sing.) want, we will go pull out that grass!'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “The owner of the field answered, he said, ‘My enemy has done that.’ His servants said, ‘Do you want us to go and pull out those weeds?'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And the person said, ‘It’s my enemy that planted that.’ And they said, ‘Shall we pull them up or not?'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “”Someone who hates us did that,’ he said answering. ”Do you (sing.) want us (excl.) to go weed-the-rice-field?’ they said.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “The owner replied, ‘Oh, that is the mischief of my opponent.’ ‘Well,’ said those slaves of his, ‘do you want us to weed them out now?'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “The boss said to the workers who were speaking with him: ‘It is my enemy who planted the weeds you are talking about.’ Then the workers said to their boss: ‘Do you want us to go pull up the weeds which are along with the wheat?’ they said.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

enemy / foe

The Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and Latin that is translated as “enemy” or “foe” in English is translated in the Hausa Common Language Bible as “friends of front,” i.e., the person standing opposite you in a battle. (Source: Andy Warren-Rothlin)

In North Alaskan Inupiatun it is translated with a term that implies that it’s not just someone who hates you, but one who wants to do you harm (Source: Robert Bascom), in Tarok as ukpa ìkum or “companion in war/fighting,” and in Ikwere as nye irno m or “person who hates me” (source for this and one above: Chuck and Karen Tessaro in this newsletter ).

formal 2nd person pronoun (Spanish)

Like many languages (but unlike Greek or Hebrew or English), Spanish uses a formal vs. informal second-person pronoun (a familiar vs. a respectful “you”). Spanish Bibles all use only the informal second-person pronoun (), with the exception of Dios Habla Hoy (third edition: 1996) which also uses the formal pronoun (usted). In the referenced verses, the formal form is used.

Sources and for more information: P. Ellingworth in The Bible Translator 2002, p. 143ff. and R. Ross in The Bible Translator 1993, p. 217ff.

See also the use of the formal vs. the informal pronoun in the Gospels in Tuvan.

Translation commentary on Matthew 13:28

An enemy (Good News Translation “some enemy”) is redundant in Greek, which is literally “an enemy, a man.” Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch translates “This must have been done by someone who wants to hurt me.”

Gather them is translated “pull up the weeds” by Good News Translation, since for English speakers gather is more appropriately used of wheat and other edible plants. Moreover, on the basis of verse 29, uprooting is obviously intended.

The text uses two verbs in the question, go and gather. To retain the two is necessary in many languages, but some translations will have simply “Do you want us to pull up the weeds?”

Quoted with permission from Newman, Barclay M. and Stine, Philip C. A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1988. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .