Image taken from the Wiedmann Bible. For more information about the images and ways to adopt them, see here .
For other images of Willy Wiedmann paintings in TIPs, see here.
The Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek that is typically translated as “elders” in English is translated in the Danish Bibelen 2020 as folkets ledere or “leaders of the people.”
Martin Ehrensvärd, one of the translators, explains: “The term ‘elder’ turned out to pose a particularly thorny problem. In traditional bibles, you can find elders all of over the place and they never pose a problem for a translator, they are just always elders. But how to find a contemporary term for this semi-official, complex position? This may have been our longest-standing problem. A couple of times we thought we had the solution, and then implemented it throughout the texts, only to find out that it didn’t work. Like when we used city council or village council, depending on the context. In the end we felt that the texts didn’t work with such official terms, and throughout the years in the desert, these terms didn’t make much sense. Other suggestions were ‘the eldest and wisest’, ‘the respected citizens’, ‘the Israelites with a certain position in society’, ‘the elder council’ –- and let me point out that these terms sound better in Danish than in English (‘de fremtrædende borgere,’ ‘de mest fremtrædende israelitter,’ ‘alle israelitter med en vis position,’ ‘de ældste og de klogeste,’ ‘ældsterådet’). In the end we just said ‘leaders of the people.’ After a lot of hand-wringing, it turned out that we actually found a term that worked well. So, we had to give up conveying the fact that they were old, but the most important point is that they were community leaders.” (Source: Ehrensvärd in HIPHIL Novum 8/2023, p. 81ff. )
The German das Buch translation by Roland Werner (publ. 2009-2022) translates likewise as “leader of the people” (Anführer des Volkes).
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:
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)
Following are a number of back-translations of Matthew 16:21:
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)
The Greek that is often translated as “disciple” in English typically follows three types of translation: (1) those which employ a verb ‘to learn’ or ‘to be taught’, (2) those which involve an additional factor of following, or accompaniment, often in the sense of apprenticeship, and (3) those which imply imitation of the teacher.
Scot McKnight (in The Second Testament, publ. 2023) translates it into English as apprentice.
In Luang several terms with different shades of meaning are being used.
Source: Kathy Taber in Notes on Translation 1/1999, p. 9-16.
In American Sign Language it is translated with a combination of the signs for “following” plus the sign for “group.” (Source: RuthAnna Spooner, Ron Lawer)
“disciples” in American Sign Language, source: Deaf Harbor
In British Sign Language a sign is used that depicts a group of people following one person (the finger in the middle, signifying Jesus). Note that this sign is only used while Jesus is still physically present with his disciples. (Source: Anna Smith)
“Disciple in British Sign Language (source: Christian BSL, used with permission)
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 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