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).
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.), or “people with dirty hearts” (Mairasi) (Enggavoter 2004).
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):
- Ngäbere: “word searcher”
- Yaka: “one who learned from Jesus”
- Navajo, Western Highland Purepecha, Tepeuxila Cuicatec, Lacandon: “one who learned”
- San Miguel El Grande Mixtec: “one who studied with Jesus”
- Northern Grebo: “one Jesus taught”
- Toraja-Sa’dan: “child (i.e., follower) of the master”
- Indonesian: “pupil”
- Central Mazahua: “companion whom Jesus taught”
- Kipsigis, Loma, Copainalá Zoque: “apprentice” (implying continued association and learning)
- Cashibo-Cacataibo: “one who followed Jesus”
- Huautla Mazatec: “his people” (essentially his followers and is the political adherents of a leader)
- Highland Puebla Nahuatl: based on the root of “to imitate” (source for this and all above: Bratcher / Nida)
- Chol: “learner” (source: Larson 1998, p. 107)
- 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)
- Nyongar: ngooldjara-kambarna or “friend-follow” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
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.
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.
See also this chapter in the World Atlas of Language Structures on different approaches to personal pronouns.
Translator: Simon Wong