In Fuyug the name “Jesse” sounded like a word meaning to have sex, so a change was needed to avoid this. Then there arose a risk of confusion with the name “Isaiah.” It ended up with Jesse as “Aisaja” and Isaiah as “Isai.”
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 the author and readers of the book of Isaiah).
Source: Velma Pickett and Florence Cowan in Notes on Translation January 1962, p. 1ff.
Following are a number of back-translations of Matthew 8:17:
- Uma: “From all that Yesus did, the words of the prophet Yesaya were fulfilled that said: ‘He is the one who carries our (incl.) suffering and heals our (incl.) diseases.'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
- Yakan: “He did this so that/and the words of Nabi Isaya in the holy-book came true that say, ‘He removed our pain and he removed our sicknesses.'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “The reason he did this was because the prophesy of Isaiah long ago, the inspired one of God, is being fulfilled. He said, ‘He removed our sicknesses, and he cured our diseases.'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
- Kankanaey: “This was done so that what God caused-to-be-said by Isaias the prophet would be fulfilled, saying, ‘He himself was the one-who-removed the suffering/hardship of our bodies and our sicknesses.'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “Through that which he did, what had been said by the prophet Isaias in the past was fulfilled, which said, ‘He took-on-himself-all our (incl.) griefs and sufferings so that they would be removed from us.'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
- Tenango Otomi: “This happened so that it came out as the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah who said: ‘Concerning all the sickness we had, all he took away what we suffered,’ he said.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
(To view the different translations of this term in a simplified graphical form on a new page, click or tap here.)
Eugene Nida wrote the following about the translation of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek terms that are typically translated with “prophet” in English:
“The tendency in many translations is to use ‘to foretell the future’ for ‘prophesy,’ and ‘one who foretells the future’ for ‘prophet.’ This is not always a recommended usage, particularly if such expressions denote certain special native practices of spirit contact and control. It is true, of course, that prophets of the Bible did foretell the future, but this was not always their principal function. One essential significance of the Greek word prophētēs is ‘one who speaks forth,’ principally, of course, as a forth-teller of the Divine will. A translation such as ‘spokesman for God’ may often be employed profitably.” (1947, p. 234f.)
Following is a list of (back-) translations from other languages (click or tap for details):
- San Blas Kuna: “one who speaks the voice of God”
- Central Pame and Vai: “interpreter for God”
- Kaqchikel, Navajo, Yaka: “one who speaks for God”
- Northern Grebo: “God’s town crier” (see more about this below)
- Sapo: “God’s sent-word person”
- Shipibo-Conibo, Ngäbere: “one who speaks God’s word”
- Copainalá Zoque: “one who speaks-opens” (a compound meaning “one who discloses or reveals”)
- Sierra Totonac: “one who causes them to know” (in the sense of “revealer”)
- Batak Toba: “foreteller” (this and all the above acc. to Nida 1961, p. 7)
- Alekano: “the true man who descended from heaven” (source: Ellis Deibler in Notes on Translation June 1986, p. 36ff.)
- Aguaruna: “teller of God’s word” (source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125)
- Ekari: “person who speaks under divine impulse”
- Chinese: 先知 xiānzhī — “one who foreknows” (or the 1946/1970 translation by Lü Zhenzhong: 神言人 shényánrén — “divine-word-man”)
- Uab Meto: “holy spokesman” (source for this and two above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
- Kouya: Lagɔɔ gbʋgbanyɔ — “the one who seeks God’s affairs” (source: Saunders, p. 269)
- Kafa: “decide for God only” (source: Loren Bliese)
- Martu Wangka: “sit true to God’s talk” (source: Carl Gross)
- Eastern Highland Otomi: “word passer” (source: John Beekman in Notes on Translation November 1964, p. 1-22)
- Obolo: ebi nriran: “those with power of divine revelation” (source: Enene Enene)
- Mairasi: nonondoai nyan: “message proclaimer” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
- Highland Totonac: “speaker on God’s behalf”
- Central Tarahumara: “God’s preacher” (source for this and above: Waterhouse / Parrott in Notes on Translation October 1967, p. 1ff.)
- Coatlán Mixe: “God’s word-thrower”
- Ayutla Mixtec: “one who talks as God’s representative”
- Isthmus Mixe: “speaker for God” (source for this and two above: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August 1966, p. 86ff.)
In Ixcatlán Mazatec a term is used that specifically includes women. (Source: Robert Bascom)
About the translation into Northern Grebo:
“In some instances these spiritual terms result from adaptations reflecting the native life and culture. Among the Northern Grebo people of Liberia, a missionary wanted some adequate term for ‘prophet,’ and she was fully aware that the native word for ‘soothsayer’ or ‘diviner’ was no equivalent for the Biblical prophet who spoke forth for God. Of course, much of what the prophets said referred to the future, and though this was an essential part of much of their ministry, it was by no means all. The right word for the Gbeapo people would have to include something which would not only mean the foretelling of important events but the proclamation of truth as God’s representative among the people. At last the right word came; it was ‘God’s town-crier.’ Every morning and evening the official representative of the chief goes through the village crying out the news, delivering the orders of the chief, and announcing important coming events. ‘God’s town-crier’ would be the official representative of God, announcing to the people God’s doings, His commands, and His pronouncements for their salvation and well-being. For the Northern Grebo people the prophet is no weird person from forgotten times; he is as real as the human, moving message of the plowman Amos, who became God’s town-crier to a calloused people.” (source: Nida 1952, p. 20)
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 (click or tap here to read more):
In modern Chinese, 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, many other Bible translations do and it is widely used in hymnals and other Christian materials. (Source: Zetzsche)
Early versions of Lü Zhenzhong’s (呂振中) version (New Testament: 1946, complete Bible: 1970) also used 祂 to refer to “God.” Kramers points out: “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.”
Source: R. P. Kramers in The Bible Translator 1956, p. 152ff.
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.)
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,” “kind,” 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.
Translator: Simon Wong