The Greek that is translated as “cross” in English is often referred to a description of the shape. In Chinese, for instance, it is translated as 十字架 shízìjià — “10-character-frame” because the character for “10” has the shape of a cross) or in Ancient Greek manuscripts with the staurogram (⳨) a ligature of the Greek letters tau (Τ) and rho (Ρ) that was used to abbreviate stauros (σταυρός), the Greek word for cross, and may visually have represented Jesus on the cross.

A staurogram spelling of the word σταυρον (as Ϲ⳨ΟΝ) in Luke 14:27 (Papyrus Bodmer XIV, 2nd century). Source: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Elsewhere it refers to the function, e.g. a newly coined term, like one made up of two Sanskrit words meaning “killing-pole” (Marathi NT revision of 1964), “wood to-stretch-out-with” (Toraja-Sa’dan), or “nailing pole” (Zarma). A combination of the two seems to be used in Balinese, which employs a word for the crossbeams in a house, derived from a verb that can refer both to a beam that stretches from side to side under a roof, and to a person stretched out for torture (source for this and above: Reling / Swellengrebel). Similarly, in Lamba it is translated “with umutaliko — ‘a pole with a cross-piece, on which maize was normally tied’ from the verb ‘talika’ which, strangely enough, is used of ‘holding down a man with arms and legs stretched out, someone gripping each limb.'” (Source C. M. Doke in The Bible Translator 1958, p. 57ff.)

“In Mongolian, the term that is used is togonoltchi mott, which is found in the top of a tent. The people on the steppes live in round felt-yurts and the round opening on the top of the tent serves as a window. The crosswood in that opening is called togonoltchi mott. ‘Crucified’ is translated ‘nailed on the crosswood.’ This term is very simple, but deep and interesting too. Light comes to men through the Cross. What a privilege to be able to proclaim such a message.” (Source: A. W. Marthinson in The Bible Translator 1954, p. 74ff. )

In Mairasi it is translated as iwo nasin ae: “chest measurement wood.” “This term refers to the process of making a coffin when a person dies. The man making the coffin takes a piece of bamboo and measures the body from head to heel. He then breaks the stick off at the appropriate point. For the width he measures the shoulders and then ties the two sticks together in the shape of a cross. As he works, he continually measures to make sure the coffin is the correct size. At the gravesite, the coffin is lowered. Then the gravecloth, palm leaves, and finally the chest measurement stick are laid on top of the coffin before the dirt is piled on. This term is full of meaning, because it is in the shape of a cross, and each person will have one. The meaning is vividly associated with death.” (Source: Enggavoter, 2004)

In Lisu it is translated as ꓡꓯꓼ ꓐꓳ ꓔꓶꓸ DU — lä bo tɯ du: “a place to stretch the arms across” (source: Arrington 2020, p. 215), in Nyongar as boorn-yambo: “crossed tree” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang), and in Tibetan as rgyangs shing (རྒྱངས་​ཤིང་​།), lit. “stretch + wood” (“translators have adopted the name of this traditional Tibetan instrument of torture to denote the object on which Jesus died”) (source: gSungrab website )


The English translation of Ruden (2021) uses “stake.” She explains (p. xlv): “The cross was the perpendicular joining of two execution stakes, and the English word euphemistically emphasized the geometry: a cross could also be an abstract cross drawn on paper. The Greeks used their word for ‘stake,’ and this carries the imagery of what was done with it, as our ‘stake’ carries images of burning and impaling. ‘Hang on the stakes’ for ‘crucify’ is my habitual usage.”

See also crucify and this devotion on YouVersion .

humble (verb)

The Greek that is translated as “humbled” in English is rendered in Gumuz as “become small” (source: Loren Bliese) and in Uma as “make hearts low” (“proud,” the opposite is translated as proud “make hearts high” (source: Uma Back Translation).

complete verse (Philippians 2:8)

Following are a number of back-translations of Philippians 2:8:

  • Uma: “And after he became a man, he made himself low and followed the commands of God, until he died crucified like an evil person.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “When he was a human-being, he did not make himself great but he had a lowly/humble liver and he followed all that God commanded him even including/until dying nailed to the post.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Being already a man, He did not make Himself high, but rather He submitted himself to the commands His Father God gave Him, even though by means of this He was nailed to a cross and there He died.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “and he humbled his thoughts in order to obey/fulfill God’s purpose for him even if that was the cause-of-his-death. The way also that he died, it was fearful and shameful, because he was nailed to the cross.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “The-truth-of-that-is, on his becoming a man here in the world, he humbled himself and was very obedient to the will of God the Father, even though it caused his life/breath to be severed. Yes indeed, even the death of being nailed to a cross, he really didn’t say no to it.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “When he lived as a person, he din’t make himself out to be important. He gave himself to do God’s will, even to giving himself to be killed. He died on the cross even though it is said that there is shame for one to die on a cross.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

pronoun for "God"

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 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.

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.

Translation: Chinese





Translator: Simon Wong

Translation commentary on Philippians 2:8

This verse concludes the first stanza of the hymn. It reaches the climax in Christ’s supreme humility and obedience. It is this act of humility which is urged on the Philippian Christians (vv. 3-5).

Note the word order in Greek: in 2.7 we have “but himself he emptied,” with the emphasis on the person; whereas here we have “he humbled himself,” with the emphasis on the act. Note also that the Greek verb is in the aorist tense, describing an act, not a disposition. To reflect this emphasis, he was humble is best taken in the sense of “he abased himself” or “he humiliated himself” (Knox “he lowered his own dignity”). To indicate the role of Jesus in “humbling himself,” one may say in some languages “he caused himself to be humble,” “he himself lowered his own status,” or “he caused himself to become low.” (For the meaning of “humility,” see the discussion under Pp. 2.3.)

Walked the path of obedience all the way to death translates a participial phrase which means literally “becoming obedient to the extent of death.” The action of the aorist participle “becoming” is simultaneous or contemporaneous with the main verb “he humbled,” and it is also explanatory. Christ humbled himself “by becoming” obedient even to the extent of death; in other words, “obedient to death” defines the measure of Christ’s humbling himself (cf. also John 10.17; Heb 5.8; 12.2). The obedience is rendered to God, as implied in verse 9. A contrast with Adam appears to be in the author’s mind (Rom 5.12-21). The act of self-humbling and obedience sums up the whole course of Christ’s life on earth. Good News Translation attempts to make this fact explicit by rendering walked the path of obedience all the way to death. Christ humbled himself by living a life of complete obedience which culminated in death (cf. Phillips). Paul hastens to add that Christ’s death was not a normal death, but the cruel, torturous, shameful death on the cross. It was an accursed death, the death of a common criminal (Gal 3.13).

Two principal problems are involved in the expression walked the path of obedience all the way to death. In the first place, many languages do not permit the metaphorical use of such an expression as walked the path. In the second place, some languages require an indication of the person to whom another is obedient. It may be more satisfactory to render walked the path simply as “becoming,” although one can also say “in what he did he became obedient.” When it is necessary to indicate the person to whom Christ was obedient, that person must, of course, be God. Therefore one may say “he was obedient to God even to the point of dying,” or “… giving his life.”

The final phrase in verse 8, his death on the cross, may be introduced as an explanation of precisely what kind of dying was meant, for example, “He was obedient to God even to the point of dying, that is to say, dying on a cross” or “… that is to say, being crucified.”

Quoted with permission from Luo, I-Jin. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1977. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .