The Greek that is typically translated/transliterated in English as “demon” is translated in Central Mazahua as “the evil spirit(s) of the devil” (source: Ellis Deibler in Notes on Translation July, 1967, p. 5ff.).
In Sissala it is translated with kaŋtɔŋ, which traditionally referred to “either a spirit of natural phenomena such as trees, rivers, stones, etc., or the spirit of a deceased person that has not been taken into the realm of the dead. Kaŋtɔŋ can be good or evil. Evil kaŋtɔŋ can bring much harm to people and are feared accordingly. A kaŋtɔŋ can also dwell in a person living on this earth. A person possessed by kaŋtɔŋ does not behave normally.” (Source: Regina Blass in Holzhausen 1991, p. 48f.)
In Umiray Dumaget Agta it is translated as hayup or “creature, animal, general term for any non-human creature, whether natural or supernatural.” Thomas Headland (in: Notes on Translation, September 1971, p. 17ff.) explains some more: “There are several types of supernatural creatures, or spirit beings which are designated by the generic term hayup. Just as we have several terms in English for various spirit beings (elves, fairies, goblins, demons, imps, pixies) so have the Dumagats. And just as you will find vast disagreement and vagueness among English informants as to the differences between pixies and imps, etc., so you will find that no two Dumagats will agree as to the form and function of their different spirit beings.” This term can also be used in a verb form: hayupen: “creatured” or “to be killed, made sick, or crazy by a spirit.
In Yala it is translated as yapri̍ija ɔdwɔ̄bi̍ or “bad Yaprija.” Yaprijas are traditional spirits that have a range presumed activities including giving or withholding gifts, giving and protecting children, causing death and disease and rewarding good behavior. (Source: Eugene Bunkowske in Notes on Translation 78/1980, p. 36ff.)
The Greek that is translated as “paralytic” in English is translated by the Panjabi translation in Persian script with the common expression “one struck by paralysis.” (Source; Yousaf Sadiq in The Bible Translator 2021, p. 189ff.)
Following are a number of back-translations of Matthew 4:24:
- Uma: “That work of Yesus became newsed/known to all the villages in the province of Siria, with the result that many people came wanting to meet him. They carried all their friends who were suffering many kinds of diseases and difficulties, whether those who were possessed by demons, or those who were limpuangaa [fainting spells, epilepsy], or those who were lame. He healed them all.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
- Yakan: “So-then Isa became well-known in all the places of Siriya. Therefore all the sick people were also brought to Isa, those with severe pain, the demon possessed people, the epileptics and the paralyzed. They were all made well by Isa.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Jesus became famous in the neighboring villages even in all the nation of Syria, that’s why they brought to him all who were afflicted with various kinds of sickness, like those tormented by a demon, epileptics, and people who half of their body is dead, and Jesus healed all of these.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
- Kankanaey: “Therefore what Jesus was doing was being-newsed-from-one-to-another as-far-as the entire region of Syria, and they brought to him all those-who-were-sick and those-who-suffered such as the ones-who-were-possessed by evil-spirits, the ones with epilepsy and the cripples (paralitiko). And he healed them all.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “The news about those amazing doings of Jesus travelled far, covering the whole land of Siria. That’s why many now were coming, bringing those ill with many kinds of diseases, including those possessed by evil spirits, the mentally-ill who have seizures, and others who were paralized (lit. had a dead part of their body). He was healing them all.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
- Tenango Otomi: “All over the land of Syria walked the word about what Jesus was doing. Therefore there where Jesus was, there were brought to him all who were sick with all kinds of sickness. People who were walking with evil spirits were brought to him to be cured. People were brought to him who were epileptic. Also people who were paralyzed were brought to Jesus for him to cure them.” (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” 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. 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. (Source: Zetzsche) 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 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.)
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.
See also this chapter in the World Atlas of Language Structures on different approaches to personal pronouns.
Translator: Simon Wong