a prisoner, indefinite pronouns

Tongan uses, in addition to a definite article, two indefinite articles. The definite article consists of the particle e before a noun (phrase) with a definite accent on its final vowel, and corresponds almost exactly to the English ‘the.’ One indefinite article consists of the particle e before the noun (phrase) without a definite accent on its final vowel, and corresponds to the English ‘a’ when the emphasis of ‘a’ is on the singleness of the noun (such as in ‘a cat’ with the emphasis on the word ‘a’). The other indefinite article consists of the particle ha, and corresponds to English ‘a’ when the emphasis of ‘a’ is on substance of the noun (phrase) (such as in ‘a cat‘ with the emphasis on the word “cat”).

The Greek that is translated as “a prisoner” in English is translated in Tongan as ha nofo pilīsone: “a prisoner.” Ha here, with its focus on substance, indicates that Philemon did not know Paul’s current status but needed to be informed of it, which conveys an exegetical decision that may or may not be correct. Most Tongan readers feel that e is more appropriate here, Philemon almost certainly, in their view, being well aware that Paul was a prisoner.

indefinite pronouns, Timothy our brother

Tongan uses, in addition to a definite article, two indefinite articles. The definite article consists of the particle e before a noun (phrase) with a definite accent on its final vowel, and corresponds almost exactly to the English ‘the.’ One indefinite article consists of the particle e before the noun (phrase) without a definite accent on its final vowel, and corresponds to the English ‘a’ when the emphasis of ‘a’ is on the singleness of the noun (such as in ‘a cat’ with the emphasis on the word ‘a’). The other indefinite article consists of the particle ha, and corresponds to English ‘a’ when the emphasis of ‘a’ is on substance of the noun (phrase) (such as in ‘a cat‘ with the emphasis on the word “cat”).

The Greek that is translated as “Timothy our brother” in English is translated in Tongan as si‘i kāinga ko Tīmote. As the noun phrase stands without the definitive accent on its final vowel, it actually means ‘Timothy, a brother of ours’, which makes the relationship significantly remoter.

complete verse (Philemon 1:1)

Following are a number of back-translations of Philemon 1:1:

  • Uma: “This letter is from me, Paulus, who am imprisoned because of my work spreading the news of Kristus Yesus, and from Timotius, our one-faith relative, we (excl.) send to you, Filemon, our (excl.) relative whom we (excl.) love, and our (excl.) friend of one-work,” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “This letter is from me, Paul and from Timoteo our (incl.) brother who trusts in Isa Almasi. I am jailed here because I follow Isa Almasi. We (excl.) send this letter to you Pilemon. You are our (excl.) friend and our (excl.) companion working for God.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Our dear friend and partner Philemon. As for me, Paul, the one in prison because of my faith in Jesus Christ, and as for Timothy, our (incl.) brother, we write to you and to Apphia, our sister because of believing, and to Archippus our fellow soldier of Christ, and we also write to the believers who worship in your house.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “I am Pablo who am-imprisoned because of my serving Cristo Jesus. My companion here, it is our sibling/cousin (henceforth brother) Timoteo. Here is our (excl.) letter to you (singular) Filemon who are our (excl.) much-loved friend and fellow-worker.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Our(excl.) held-dear friend Filemon, who is our (excl.) fellow-worker of the work of the Lord, there-(with-you) is our (excl.) letter, I who am Pablo, who is being-imprisoned because of my service to Cristo Jesus, and our sibling in believing Timoteo.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “Listen, our dear fellow worker Philemon. I, along with our brother Timothy, greet you. I, Paul, am in prison here because I speak the word about Jesus Christ.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Phlm. 1:1)

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 Paul and Philemon) for the equivalent of “our brother” and either the exclusive or inclusive form for “our dear friend.”

In Huautla Mazatec, the translators selected the inclusive we, in Tok Pisin, the exclusive form is used for the second occurrence (“our dear friend”).

Source: Velma Pickett and Florence Cowan in Notes on Translation January 1962, p. 1ff. and SIL International Translation Department (1999).

brother (fellow Christian)

The Greek that is translated in English as “brother” (in the sense of a fellow Christian) is translated with a specifically coined word in Kachin: “There are two terms for brother in Kachin. One is used to refer to a Christian brother. This term combines ‘older and younger brother.’ The other term is used specifically for addressing siblings. When one uses this term, one must specify if the older or younger person is involved. A parallel system exists for ‘sister’ as well. In [these verses], the term for ‘a Christian brother’ is used.” (Source Gam Seng Shae)

In Martu Wangka it is translated as “relative” (this is also the term that is used for “follower”.) (Source: Carl Gross)

See also brothers.

Jesus

The Greek Iēsous is “only” a proper name but one with great importance. The following quote by John Ellington (in The Bible Translator 1993, p. 401ff.) illustrates this:

“In Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus Christ, Joseph is told that when Mary gives birth to a son ‘you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins’ (1:21). This name is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name [Yeshua (יֵשׁוּעַ) which is a short form of a name meaning] ‘the Lord [Yahweh] saves.’ The name is very significant and is in itself especially dear to Christians around the world. (…) Unquestionably great importance is attached to the name of Jesus by Christians of all persuasions and backgrounds.”

While Iēsous (pronounced: /i.ɛː.suːs/) is transliterated as “Jesus” (pronounced /ˈdʒiːzəs/) in English it is transliterated and pronounced in a large variety of other ways as well, following the different rules of different languages’ orthographies, writing systems and rules of pronunciation. The following is a (very partial) list of forms of Jesus in Latin characters: Chesús, Ciisusu, Gesù, Gesû, Gesü, Ġesù, Giêsu, Hesu, Hesús, Iesu, Ihu, Íosa, Ìosa, Isus, Isus, Isus, Isuthi, Îtu, Jasus, Jeesus, Jeesus, Jehu, Jeso, Jesús, Jésus, Jezi, Jézi, Ježiš, Jezus, Jézus, Jėzus, Jēzus, Jezusi, Jėzus, Jezuz, Jisos, Jisọs, Jisas, Jisu, Sisa, uJesu, ŵaYesu, Xesosi, ´Xesús, Ya:su, Yēēsu, Yeso, Yésʉs, Yexus, Yezo, Yezu, Yiisu, Yiitju, Yisufa, Yusu, Zîsɛ, Zjezus, and this (equally incomplete) list with other writings systems: ᔩᓱᓯ, Յիսուս, ᏥᏌ, ኢየሱስ, ܝܫܘܥ, Ісус, 耶稣, იესო, ईसा, イエス, 예수, येशू, യേശു, ජේසුස්, যীশু, ‘ঈছা, இயேசு, ఏసు, เยซู, យេស៊ូ, يَسُوعَ (note that some of these might not display correctly if your computer does not have the correct fonts installed).

Click or tap here to read more).


In some languages the different confessions have selected different transliterations, such as in Belarusian with Isus (Ісус) by the Orthodox and Protestant churches and Yezus (Езус) by the Catholic church, Japanese with Iesu (イエス) (Protestant and Catholic) and Iisusu (イイスス) (Orthodox), or Lingala with Yesu (Protestant) or Yezu (Catholic). These differences have come to the forefront especially during the work on interconfessional translations such as one in Lingala where “many hours were spent on a single letter difference” (source: Ellington, p. 401).

In Chinese where transliterations of proper names between the Catholic and Protestant versions typically differ vastly, the Chinese name of Jesus (Yēsū 耶稣) remarkably was never brought into question between and by those two confessions, likely due to its ingenious choice. (Click or tap here to see more).

The proper name of God in the Old Testament, Yahweh (YHWH), is rendered in most Chinese Bible translations as Yēhéhuá 耶和華 — Jehovah. According to Chinese naming conventions, Yēhéhuá could be interpreted as Yē Héhuá, in which would be the family name and Héhuá — “harmonic and radiant” — the given name. In the same manner, 耶 would be the family name of Jesus and 稣 would be his given name. Because in China the children inherit the family name from the father, the sonship of Jesus to God the Father, Jehovah, would be illustrated through this. Though this line of argumentation sounds theologically unsound, it is indeed used effectively in the Chinese church (see Wright 1953, p. 298).

Moreover, the “given name” of 稣 carries the meaning ‘to revive, to rise again’ and seems to point to the resurrected Jesus. (Source: J. Zetzsche in Malek 2002, p. 141ff., see also tetragrammaton (YHWH))

There are different ways that Bible translators have chosen historically and today in how to translate the name of Jesus in predominantly Muslim areas: with a form of the Arabic Isa (عيسى) (which is used for “Jesus” in the Qur’an), the Greek Iēsous, or, like major 20th century Bible translations into Standard Arabic, the Aramaic Yēšūaʿ: Yasua (يَسُوعَ). (Click or tap here to see more.)

Following are languages and language groups that use a form of Isa include the following (note that this list is not complete):

In German the name Jesus (pronounced: /ˈjeːzʊs/) is distinguished by its grammatical forms. Into the 20th century the grammatical rules prescribed a unique Greek-Latin declination: Jesus (nominative), Jesu (genitive, dative, vocative), Jesum (accusative), from which today only the genitive case “Jesu” is still in active use.

In Lamba the name ŵaYesu consists of a transliteration Yesu and the prefix ŵa, a plural form for “proper names when addressing and referring to persons in any position of seniority or honor.” While this was avoided in early translations to avoid possible misunderstandings of more than one Jesus, once the church was established it was felt that it was both “safe” and respectful to use the honorific (plural) prefix. (Source C. M. Doke in The Bible Translator 1958, p. 57ff.)

Translation: German

Auf Deutsch wird der Name Jesus (ausgesprochen: /ˈjeːzʊs/) durch dessen grammatikalische Formen hervorgehoben. Bis ins 20. Jahrhundert schrieben die grammatikalischen Regeln eine nur hier verwendete Griechisch/Lateinsche Misch-Deklination vor: Jesus (Nominativ), Jesu (Genitiv, Dativ, Vokativ) und Jesum (Akkusativ), von welchen heute nur noch der Genitiv-Kasus „Jesu“ aktiv verwendet wird.

Translator: Jost Zetzsche