inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Matt. 22:24)

Many languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns (“we”). 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 inclusive form (including Jesus).

Source: SIL International Translation Department (1999).

complete verse (Matthew 22:24)

Following are a number of back-translations of Matthew 22:24:

  • Uma: “Those Saduki people came saying to Yesus: ‘Teacher, the prophet Musa taught like this: If a man dies, yet he doesn’t have any children, his sibling must marry his widow so that the dead person will have some descendants.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “They asked him, they said, ‘Sir, Musa wrote he said, ‘If a man dies and he has no children then his younger brother shall marry that widow in order that his older brother has descendants.'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And they said, ‘Teacher, Moses taught long ago that, for example, if there is a man and he has a wife and that man dies, it is necessary for the brother of the man to marry his widow so that the dead person might have children through him.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “They said to him, ‘Sir teacher, our law that Moses wrote says, ‘If there is a married-couple who have no children and the man dies, his brother must marry the widow so that if they have a child, that will be like a child of the dead-one.'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “On arriving, they said, ‘Teacher, Moises taught that if a man who is married dies, that married couple having no children yet, he is to be succeeded by his brother in marrying (that wife). For if they have a child, it is to be regarded as like it is indeed the child of that dead (person).” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “‘Listen, teacher, in the law which Moses wrote, there is written this word which says that when a man dies and he didn’t have any children, then concerning the wife of the dead man who is left, the dead man’s brother will marry the widow so that there will be children as though they were the children of the dead man.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)


The name that is transliterated as “Moses” in English is signed in Spanish Sign Language in accordance with the depiction of Moses in the famous statue by Michelangelo (see here). (Source: John Elwode in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 78ff.)

“Moses” in Spanish Sign Language (source)

Another depiction in Spanish Sign Language (source: Carlos Moreno Sastre):

The horns that are visible in Michelangelo’s statue are based on a passage in the Latin Vulgate translation (and many Catholic Bible translations that were translated through the 1950ies with that version as the source text). Jerome, the translator, had worked from a Hebrew text without the niqquds, the diacritical marks that signify the vowels in Hebrew and had interpreted the term קרו (k-r-n) in Exodus 34:29 as קֶ֫רֶן — keren “horned,” rather than קָרַו — karan “radiance” (describing the radiance of Moses’ head as he descends from Mount Sinai).

Even at the time of his translation, Jerome likely was not the only one making that decision as this recent article alludes to.