The Greek that is translated as a form of “teach” is translated with some figurative phrases such as “to engrave the mind” (Ngäbere) or “to cause others to imitate” (Huichol). (Source: Bratcher / Nida)
In Nyongar it is translated as karni-waangki or “truth saying” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang).
The Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek that is typically translated as “elders” in English is translated in the DanishBibelen 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 Germandas Buch translation by Roland Werner (publ. 2009-2022) translates likewise as “leader of the people” (Anführer des Volkes).
In many English translations the Greek terms “hieron” (the whole “temple” in Jerusalem or specifically the outer courts open to worshippers) and “naos” (the inner “shrine” or “sanctuary”) are translated with only one word: “temple” (see also for instance “Tempel” in German [for exception see below] and “tempel” in Dutch, Danish, or Afrikaans).
Other languages make a distinction: (Click or tap here to see more)
Navajo: “house in which worship is carried out” (for naos)
Balinese: “inner part of the Great Temple” (“the term ‘inner part’ denoting the hindmost and holiest of the two or three courts that temples on Bali usually possess”) vs. “Great Temple”
Telugu: “womb (i.e. interior)-of-the-abode” vs. “abode”
Thai: a term denoting the main audience hall of a Buddhist temple compound vs. “environs-of-the-main-audience-hall”
Kituba: “place of holiness of house-God Lord” vs. “house-God Lord”
Shipibo-Conibo: “deep in God’s house” vs. “God’s house” (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
Germandas Buch translation by Roland Werner (publ. 2009-2022): “inner court of the temple” (Tempelinnenhof) vs. “temple”
Languages that, like English, German, Dutch, Danish, or Afrikaans don’t make that distinction include:
Toraja-Sa’dan: “house that is looked upon as holy, that is sacred, that is taboo and where one may not set foot” (lit. “house where-the-belly-gets-swollen” — because taboo is violated — using a term that is also applied to a Muslim mosque) (source for this and the three above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
Aguaruna: “the house for talking to God” (source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
Guhu-Samane: “festival longhouse of God” (“The biiri, ‘festival longhouse’, being the religious and social center of the community, is a possible term for ‘temple’. It is not the ‘poro house’ as such. That would be too closely identified with the cult of poro. The physical features of the building, huge and sub-divided, lend it further favor for this consideration. By qualifying it as ‘God’s biiri’ the term has become meaningful and appropriate in the context of the Scriptures.”) (Source: Ernest Richert in The Bible Translator, 1965, p. 81ff. )
Enga: “God’s restricted access house” (source: Adam Boyd on his blog)
Another distinction that tends to be overlooked in translations is that between hieron (“temple” in English) and sunagógé (“synagogue” in English). Euan Fry (in The Bible Translator 1987, p. 213ff. ) reports on this:
“Many older translations have simply used transliterations of ‘temple’ and ‘synagogue’ rather than trying to find equivalent terms or meaningful expressions in their own languages. This approach does keep the two terms separate; but it makes the readers depend on explanations given by pastors or teachers for their understanding of the text.
“Translators who have tried to find meaningful equivalents, for the two terms ‘temple’ and ‘synagogue’ have usually made a distinction between them in one of two ways (which focus on the contrasting components of meaning). One way takes the size and importance of the Temple to make a contrast, so that expressions such as ‘sacred meeting/ worship house of the Jews’ and ‘big sacred meeting/worship house of the Jews’ are used. The other way focuses on the different nature of the religious activity at each of the places, so that expressions such as ‘meeting/worship house of the Jews’ and ‘sacrifice/ceremony place of the Jews’ are used.
“It is not my purpose in this article to discuss how to arrive at the most precise equivalent to cover all the components of meaning of ‘temple’. That is something that each translator really has to work through for himself in the light of the present usage and possibilities in his own language. My chief concern here is that the basic term or terms chosen for ‘temple’ should give the reader of a translation a clear and correct picture of the location referred to in each passage. And I am afraid that in many cases where an equivalent like ‘house of God’ or ‘worship house’ has been chosen, the readers have quite the wrong picture of what going to the Temple or being in the Temple means. (This may be the case for the word ‘temple’ in English too, for many readers.)”
Here are some examples:
Bambara: “house of God” (or: “big house of worship”) vs. “worship house” (or: “small houses of worship”)
Toraja-Sa’dan: “house where-the-belly-gets-swollen” (see above) vs. “meeting house for discussing matters concerning religious customs” (and “church” is “house where one meets on Sunday”)
Navajo: “house in which worship is carried out” vs. “house of gathering” (source for all above: Bratcher / Nida)
Click or tap here to see a short video clip about Herod’s temple (source: Bible Lands 2012)Click or tap here to see a short video clip showing synagogues in New Testament times (source: Bible Lands 2012)
Following are a number of back-translations of Matthew 21:23:
Uma: “Yesus also entered into the House of God and taught. While he was teaching, the chief priests with several Yahudi elders arrived and asked him, they said: ‘Tell us, from where is your seat/authority to do all that in the House of God? Who gave you power like that?'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
Yakan: “So-then Isa went back to the big prayer-house and he taught the people. While he was teaching the leaders of the priests and the elders went to him and they said, ‘What is your authority to do as you did the other day? And who has given you the authority?'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Jesus returned to the House of God, and he taught the people. And some chief priests and some elders of the Jews arrived, and they asked Jesus, ‘All these things that you are doing here in the House of God, what is your authority to do this, and who gave you the authority so that you could do it?'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
Kankanaey: “Then Jesus returned to the Temple. As he was teaching, the leaders of the priests and the elders went to him. They questioned him, saying, ‘What is your (sing.) authority to be doing these things? Who gave this authority to you (sing.)?'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
Tagbanwa: “Jesus again entered the Templo. Just as he was teaching, the chiefs of the priests and the important tribal-leaders of the Judio approached him. They questioned him saying, ‘What is your authority for doing these things? Who gave you this authority?'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
Tenango Otomi: “When Jesus arrived back at the church, he taught the people there. While he was teaching, there approached the chief priests and the men who lead the Jews and they said to Jesus: ‘Listen, man, why are you doing what you do? Who gave you permission for what you do?'” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
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.
And when he entered the temple is translated “Jesus came back to the Temple” in Good News Translation, which continues to follow the pattern of beginning each new section by identifying the pronominal referents of the Greek text by their proper names. Both Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch and Bible en français courant have done the same thing. In some languages it will be important to specify the sequence of events: “Jesus went back to the Temple. When he went in….”
Here again the Greek word for temple refers, not to the building proper, but to the large complex which was built around it. Jesus was probably on one of the porches that surrounded the court of the Gentiles at this time.
The chief priests and the elders confront Jesus again in 26.3, 47; the terminology is slightly different from “the chief priests and the scribes” (verse 15), who confront him during the cleansing of the Temple. The word elders is used first in 15.2. Here it is followed by the construction of the people, which Good News Translation leaves implicit, assuming that it is equivalent to “Jewish.” Elders can often be translated literally and be understood, especially in societies where the men (generally not the women) of a certain age and status are leaders of the community. But otherwise “leaders” can be used.
Came up to may better be “went up to” or “approached.”
As has sometimes been misunderstood by translators to mean “since” or “because,” but in this verse it is used to mean “while.”
As he was teaching: Matthew emphasizes the teaching ministry of Jesus here (see Mark “as he was walking”), although the following question relates specifically to the things that Jesus was doing. In languages where teaching requires an object, Jesus can be said to be teaching “about God.” It may also be necessary to say whom he was teaching. Some general phrase such as “the people” will serve well here.
By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority? though stated as two questions, actually are asking the same question: “Who gave you the right to do these things?” The men who raised the issue assumed that the answer was either God, Satan, Jesus himself, or some other human authority (Traduction œcuménique de la Bible (footnote)). Bibel im heutigen Deutsch, 1st edition renders the two questions thus: “Who has given you the right to come in here like this? Who authorized you?”
These things may well refer to what Jesus had done the day before, when he chased the merchants and moneychangers from the Temple, but translators should probably not specify this in their translations. Barclay has “What right have you to act as you are doing?”
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 .