The Greek that is translated as “tax collector” in English is translated in Tagbanwa as “money-grabbing official receivers of payment” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation) and in Nyongar as mammarapa boya-barranginy or “people taking money” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation). Likewise, in Cashibo-Cacataibo, it is the “ones who take the money” (source: Bratcher / Nida 1961).
In Mairasi it is translated as “the people who collect money pertaining to head payment.”(Source: Enggavoter 2004)
Click or tap here to see a short video clip about tax collectors in biblical times (source: Bible Lands 2012)
The Greek that is translated as “sinner” in English is translated as “people with bad hearts” (“it is not enough to call them ‘people who do bad things,’ for though actions do reflect the heart, yet it is the hearts with which God is primarily concerned — see Matt. 15:19”) in Western Kanjobal, “people who are doing wrong things in their hearts” in San Blas Kuna (source: Nida 1952, p. 148), “people with bad stomachs” in Q’anjob’al (source: Newberry and Kittie Cox in The Bible Translator 1950, p. 91ff. ), “those others who don’t fully obey our laws” in Tagbanwa (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation), or “people with dirty hearts” or “people who are called ‘bad'” in Mairasi (source: Enggavoter 2004).
In Central Mazahua and Teutila Cuicatec it is translated as “(person who) owes sin.” (Source: Waterhouse / Parrott in Notes on Translation October 1967, p. 1ff.)
Following are a number of back-translations of Matthew 9:10:
Uma: “After that, Yesus and his disciples ate in the house of Matius, and there were also many tax collectors and other people that the crowds said had evil deeds who came to eat with them.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
Yakan: “So-then Isa ate there in the house of Mateo. Also many tax collectors and other sinful people went there and they sat down to eat together with Isa and his disciples.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And when Jesus and his disciples were eating in the house of Matthew, there were many tax collectors and law-breaking people who were eating there also.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
Kankanaey: “As then plural Jesus and his disciples were eating in plural Mateo’s house, many arrived who were collectors of taxes and other sinful people, and they joined-in-eating.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
Tagbanwa: “And then when Jesus and his disciples went to the house of Mateo to eat with him, many came who were officlal-receivers of that payment and others who were regarded by the leaders of the Judio as sinners. They all ate together.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
Tenango Otomi: “One day Jesus went along with his learners to a meal at the house of Matthew. There where Jesus ate there were many tax collectors. There were also other people who were said to have many sins.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
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.
Following are some examples (click or tap for details):
Waorani: “one who lives following Jesus” (source: Wallis 1973, p. 39)
Ojitlán Chinantec: “learner” (Source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
Javanese: “pupil” or “companion” (“a borrowing from Arabic that is a technical term for Mohammed’s close associates”)
German: Jünger or “younger one” (source for this and one above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
Germandas Buch translation by Roland Werner (publ. 2009-2022). “student” or “special student” (using the traditional German term Gnade)
Nyongar: ngooldjara-kambarna or “friend-follow” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
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.
For Mark 2:23 and 3:7: maka nwatutu-nwaye’a re — “those that are taught” (“This is the term used for ‘disciples’ before the resurrection, while Jesus was still on earth teaching them.”)
For Acts 9:1 and 9:10: makpesiay — “those who believe.” (“This is the term used for believers and occasionally for the church, but also for referring to the disciples when tracking participants with a view to keeping them clear for the Luang readers. Although Greek has different terms for ‘believers’, ‘brothers’, and ‘church’, only one Luang word can be used in a given episode to avoid confusion. Using three different terms would imply three different sets of participants.”)
For Acts 6:1: mak lernohora Yesus wniatutunu-wniaye’eni — “those who follow Jesus’ teaching.” (“This is the term used for ‘disciples’ after Jesus returned to heaven.”)
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)
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.
It may be necessary to indicate in general terms the shift in temporal setting. For example, Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch begins “Later Jesus was the guest of Matthew.” Another rendering would be “Later, Jesus went to Matthew’s house.”
It should be clear that he refers to Jesus, not Matthew.
The RSV footnote indicates that sat at table may also be translated “reclined at table.” What the footnote is referring to is the manner in which people positioned themselves with one elbow on the floor while eating from a low table. They would not have been sitting in chairs.
One very natural way to translate sat (or, reclined) at table is “and as he was sitting at the table to eat.” Another way is “while he was eating.”
In the house … sat down with Jesus: this ambiguous construction is translated by Good News Translation to indicate specifically that the meal was “in Matthew’s house.” However, the alternative rendering of Good News Translation provides the other possible meaning: “in his (that is, Jesus’) home.” Most translations retain the ambiguity: “When Jesus was at table in the house” (New English Bible) and “While he was at dinner in the house” (Jerusalem Bible). New American Bible is explicit: “while Jesus was at table in Matthew’s home.” Some scholars think that with Jesus and his disciples implies that Jesus was the host and that the meal must have been in his home.
Translators who can retain the ambiguity may want to do so, translating in the house literally. In cases where this is not possible, translators usually specify “in Matthew’s house,” but obviously they can also follow the alternative rendering of Good News Translation, as in “in his house” or “at his home.”
For behold, see comments on 1.20 and 8.2.
Tax collectors were regarded as sinful because their business brought them into constant contact with non-Jews (see comments on 5.46).
And sinners: in order to indicate that tax collectors were also regarded as sinners by the Jews, one may need to translate “and other sinful people” (Good News Translation “and other outcasts”). The term sinners would have included not only persons of immoral character, but also Jews who ignored the stricter requirements of the Law as interpreted by the Pharisees in particular. Anchor Bible has “non-observant (Jews),” and Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch “others who had just as bad a profession.”
To retain sinners in the context of the Gospels is often misleading, since modern readers tend to understand it in the narrower sense of immoral people. But as we pointed out, the Jews used the term to cover a much wider group than that. “Outcasts” of Good News Translation is sometimes a good model, but many translators have followed Barclay, “people with whom no respectable Jew would have had anything to do.”
The tax collectors and other sinners sat down with Jesus and his disciples. It is clear from the context that they sat down to eat also, but in some languages this will have to be stated explicitly.
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 .