The Hebrew that is translated as “(glowing) coals” in English is translated in Owa as “stones of parrot offspring” (due to the fact that parrots are red!).
In the translation of these two verses into Gbaya the translators used a number of ideophones (words that expresse what is perceived by the five senses).
The original text says:
Nù foo mɔ ɗirr,
ɓɛɛ o gun kaya zuɗi ɓut.
Nɛ́ nyimsea kɔ̧-a̧ a̧ dee ha̧ mɔ mɛ fo mɔ.
Zi-wee tura nɛ̀ kɔ̧ zɔ̧ɔ̧-a̧a̧ gbonɛ nduɗɛɛ,
wee baa kɔ̧ nú-a mbɛt,
ɓɛɛ o kɛ̧i̧-wee nyɔŋ yoŋgoŋgo.
A word-for-word back translation is
“Earth moved ɗirr and the feet-hills broke loose ɓut was anger of him that caused for things to move smoke-fire rose from inside his nose nduɗɛɛ fire blazed in mouth him also and coal-fire ate yoŋgoŋgo.
Philip Noss (in The Bible Translator 1985, p. 423ff.) explains: “The Psalmist’s imagery vividly portrays the awesome power of God. In the English translation, the power of the imagery is conveyed by the verbs, but in Gbaya it is conveyed by ideophones that modify the verbs. The Gbaya verb states that the earth moved and the ideophone described how it moved — ɗirr, in the way that the earth trembles when there is an earthquake. In the second line the mountains are shaken, and the Gbaya verb is that commonly used with uprooting a plant like a mushroom whose root goes very deep into the earth. The verb and the ideophone ɓut create an image that dramatically depicts the mountains’ being shaken to their very foundations. The image of smoke also calls for an ideophone because the verb normally used for the movement of smoke merely describes the motion of smoke drifting or floating in its usual lazy manner. The English Good News Translation here says that it ‘poured’ from his nostrils, and Gbaya uses the ideophone nduɗɛɛ to depict mass movement, that of smoke pouring out of his nostrils. The final line includes an ideophone that makes explicit the burning heat of the coals in his mouth. Without it, the coals might be dying embers, but with yoŋgoŋgo, it is clear that they are burning devouring coals. Two lines of the translation are without ideophones, that of the prosaic explanation that it is God’s anger that is the cause of the events being described by the Psalmist, and the next to last line in which the consuming flame is described. In the latter clause, an ideophone is not needed because the verb itself is powerful and precise in this context. An ideophone would have been redundant and would have drawn needless attention to itself.”
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