still waters

The Hebrew that is often translated as “still waters” in English is translated as “water at the mouth of a well” in Dan since “the imagery of ‘still water’ is seen as something negative, water that is dirty since it isn’t moving.”

Psalm 23:1 and 2 in Tlingit

Constance Naish and Gillian Story (in The Bible Translator 1963, p. 91f. ) tell this story of a misunderstood version of Psalm 23 in Tlingit:

“‘The Lord is my shepherd…and I am His sheep — isn’t this the sense in which we understand this phrase as the result of long familiarity with the Twenty-third Psalm? But couldn’t it mean instead, ‘The Lord is the one who herds sheep for me?’ It was in some such sense that a Tlingit interpreter for some of the early missionaries understood it. His interpretation of the opening verses of this Psalm was later translated back again from Tlingit into English like this:

‘The Lord is my goat hunter;
I don’t want Him.
He knocks me down on the mountain:
He drags me down to the beach …

“The Tlingits had no domestic animals, apart from hunting dogs, and a mountain goat was the closest thing they knew to a sheep. Who would think of herding the sure-footed mountain goats? But in the northern limits of the Tlingit area goats could be hunted, so — ‘The Lord is my goat hunter.’

“‘I shall not want’ is not the normal form of expression for a modern speaker of English, and a Tlingit who had newly learned English, when most of his people still spoke nothing but Tlingit. might well be expected to be stumbled by it. ‘I shall not want’ — surely an object must be supplied? Hence the interpretation comes out, ‘I don’t want Him.’

“‘He maketh me to lie down …’ Familiarity with a shepherd’s care for his sheep helps us to understand this, but how would one make a mountain goat lie down? How did ‘green pastures’ become ‘the mountain’? In this area the forests of spruce and hemlock come right down to the water’s edge and at the lower levels are broken only by muskeg swamps or by groups of houses in cleared land. At the higher levels on the mountains there are clearings where the little plant called deer cabbage grows in abundance, the nearest equivalent to a meadow as we know it. So with no knowledge of the pasture or the shepherd comes the statement, ‘He knocks me down on the mountain.’

“‘He leadeth me beside the still waters.’ What happened to this sentence? There is more than one word in Tlingit that could be used to translate the word ‘lead.’ Probably the interpreter used the one that means ‘to lead on a string.’ as a protesting animal might be led. He failed to visualize correctly the picture presented in the Psalm. As for the ‘still waters.’ a little word meaning really ‘down to the water’s edge’ was probably used here. Since the beach is the most common ‘water’s edge’ in this area of coastlands and islands, this was the picture conjured up for the Tlingit listeners: ‘He drags me down to the beach.’”

complete verses (Psalm 23)

Following is a back-translation of Psalm 23 in the Chichewa (interconfessional translation, 1999):

Chauta [see tetragrammaton (YHWH)] he is my herdsman,
I will surely not lack a [little] thing, not at all.
He lays me down on a pasture of new grass.
He guides me to still waters to go and rest there.
He revives my life-force.
He leads me in a righteous path in accordance with the glory of his name.
It may be that I walk in a ravine of black darkness,
but I will not fear any kind of evil,
for You Lord you stay with me.
Your warclub and walking stick protect me.
You prepare food for me, as my enemies look on.
You welcome me well by anointing my head with oil,
you fill my cup to overflowing.
Truly, your good things and your love
will stay with me all the days of my life.
I will live in your House my whole life long.

(Source: Wendland 1998, p. 148f.)

Metrical translations of Psalm 23 from the British Isles

Following are a number of translations of Psalm 23 into metre from a number of languages in the British Isles.

The English translation by George Herbert (publ. 1633)

The God of love my shepherd is,
    And He that does me feed:
While He is mine, and I am His,
    What can I want or need?

He leads me to the tender grass,
    Where I both feed and rest;
Then to the streams that gently pass:
    In both I have the best.

Or if I stray, He does convert
    And bring my mind in frame:
And all this not for my dessert,
    But for His holy name.

Yea, in death’s shady black abode
    Well may I walk, not fear:
For You are with me; and Your rod
    To guide, Your staff to bear.

Nay, you do make me sit and dine,
    Ev’n in my enemies’ sight:
My head with oil, my cup with wine
    Runs over day and night.

Surely Your sweet and wondrous love
    Shall measure all my days;
And as it never shall remove,
    So neither shall my praise.

The Welsh translation by Edmund Prys (publ. 1621) (click or tap here)

Yr Arglwydd yw fy ’mugail clau,
    ni âd byth eisiau arnaf: 
Mi a gâf orwedd mewn porfa frâs,
    ar lan dwfr gloywlas araf. 
Fe goledd f’enaid,
    ac a’m dwg rhyd llwybrau diddrwg cyfion,
Er mwyn ei enw mawr dilys
    Fo’m tywys ar yr union. 
Pe rhodiwn (nid ofnwn am hyn)
    yn nyffryn cysgod angau,
Wyd gyda mi, a’th nerth,
    a’th ffon, ond tirion ydyw’r arfau:
Gosodaist fy mwrdd i yn frâs,
    lle’r oedd fy nghâs yn gweled:
Olew i’m pen, a chwppan llawn,
    daionus iawn fu’r weithred. 
O’th nawdd y daw y doniau hyn
    i’m canlyn byth yn hylwydd:
A minnau a breswyliaf byth
    a’m nyth yn nhy yr Arglwydd.

© British and Foreign Bible Society

The Irish translation by Norman McLeod (publ. 1836) (click or tap here)

Is é Dia féin is áodhaire dhamh,
    Aon easbhuidh orm ni bhíaidh.
Do bheir se orm go luighím sios,
    A ninbhir fhéir mhínlígh:
A’s fós re taobh na nuisgeadhuidh,
    Ag siubhal sios go mall,
Ata se do mo threórughadh,
    Go mín réidh ann ’sgach ball.
Aiseógair m’anam dhamh air ais:
    Treorochuigh se mo chéim
A slighe ghlan na fíréuntacht,
    Do bhrigh dheagh‐anma féin.
Seadh fós, da siubhlóchuin eadhon thríd,
    Glean dhorcha sgáil’ an bháis,
Aon olc na urchóid theacht oram,
    Ni heagal liom ’sní cás;
Do bhrigh go bhfuil tu leam do ghnáth;
    Do lorg ’sdo mhaide tréun,
Atáid ag tabhárt cómhfhurtacht
    A’s fuasgladh dhamh a m’fheidhm.
Gléusfa tu bórd a radhárc mo nam’d:
    Le hola d’úng mo cheann;
A taosgadh ta mo chupán fós,
    Ag meud an lainn tá ann.
Ach leanfuidh maith a’s trócair diom,
    A’n fhaid a bhias me beó;
A’s cómhnochad a náras Dé,
    Air feadh mo ré, ’smo ló.

Digitized by Bible Societies in Ireland with the help of MissionAssist

The Manx translation by Mark, Sodor and Mann (publ. 1761) (click or tap here)

Yn Chiarn eh-hene nee mish y rere,
    Tra ta mee huggey geam;
Yn bochill mie nee goaill kiarail,
    Nagh bee’m dy bragh ayns feme.
Ayns faiyr meenure as lane dy vlaa,
T’eh kinjagh fassagh mee;
    Reesht m’y leeideil gys fynneraght,
    Yn raad ta geillyn roie.
My chree waggântagh t’eh chyndaa,
    Er graih e ennym hene;
As gynsagh mee cre’n aght dy hooyl,
    Ayns raaidyn jeeragh, glen.
Ga dy beïn shooyl ayns coan y vaaish,
    Cha bee’m ayns dooyt erbee;
Dty ’latt, dty lorg nee m’y endeil,
    As kinjagh gerjagh mee.
Neayr’s ta my Yee jeh mooad’s e ghraih,
    Er reayll my vea ass gaue;
Yn vea shen neem’s y hymney da,
    As ayns e hiamble ceau.

© British and Foreign Bible Society

The Scottish Gaelic translation (publ. 1992) (click or tap here)

Is e Dia fhèin as buachaill dhomh,
    cha bhi mi ann an dìth.
Bheir e fa-near gu’n laighinn sìos
    air cluainean glas’ le sìth:

Is fòs ri taobh nan aibhnichean
    thèid seachad sìos gu mall,
A ta e ga mo threòrachadh,
    gu mìn rèidh anns gach ball.

Tha ’g aisig m’anam dhomh air ais:
    ’s a treòrachadh mo cheum
Air slighean glan’ na fìreantachd,
air sgàth dheagh ainme fhèin.

Seadh, fòs ged ghluaisinn eadhon trìd
    ghlinn dorcha sgàil a’ bhàis,
Aon olc no urchuid a theachd orm
    chan eagal leam ’s cha chàs;

Air son gu bheil thu leam a-ghnàth,
    do lorg, ’s do bhata treun,
Tha iad a’ tabhairt comhfhurtachd
    is fuasglaidh dhomh am fheum.

Dhomh dheasaich bòrd air beul mo nàmh:
    le ola dh’ung mo cheann;
Cur thairis tha mo chupan fòs,
    aig meud an làin a th’ann.

Ach leanaidh maith is tròcair rium,
    an cian a bhios mi beò;
Is còmhnaicheam an àros Dhè,
    ri fad mo rè ’s mo lò.

© 1992, 2016 Comann Bhìoball na h-Alba (Scottish Bible Society)

The Scots translation by T.T. Alexander (publ. 1928) (click or tap here)

E’en as a shepherd tents his sheep,
    The Lord for me doth fend;
He mak’s me rest, whaur pasture’s best,
    And wimplin’ waters wend.
Sood my soul ail, He mak’s it hale
    And airts my feet to gang,
For His name’s sake, the bonny gait,
    Whaur’s nocht o’ ill or wrang.
Whaun I am boon to traivel doon
    The mirky Glen o’ Daith,
Nae dreid I bruik, His stave and crook
    Sal haud me free o’ skaith.
Wi’ ample fare Thou dost prepare
    My board, while faemen glow’r;
Wi’ eintment fine my heid dis shine,
    My bicker’s skailin’ ow’re.
Guidness and mercy a’ my days
    Are siccar at my side;
And in God’s hame I’ll be fu’ fain
    For evermair to bide.

Digitized by MissionAssist

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