lamb

The term that is translated as “lamb” in English is typically translated as “offspring of a sheep” in Ixcatlán Mazatec since there is no specific word for “lamb.” Since this could distract readers with thoughts of God being the sheep when the “lamb” refers to Jesus the translation into Ixcatlán Mazatec chose “little (individual) sheep” for those cases. (Source: Robert Bascom)

In Dëne Súline the native term for “lamb” directly translated as “the young one of an evil little caribou.” To avoid the negative connotation, a loan word from the neighboring South Slavey was used. (Source: NCAM, p. 70)

For the Kasua translation, it took a long process to find the right term. Rachel Greco (in The PNG Experience) tells this story:

“To the Kasua people of Western Province, every four-legged animal is a pig. They call a horse a pig-horse, a cow, a pig-cow, and a sheep, a pig-sheep, because all of these animals have four legs, which is kopolo, or pig, in their language.

“When the translation team would translate the word, ‘sheep’ in the New Testament, they would translate it as ‘pig-sheep’. So when Jesus is referred to as the ‘Lamb,’ (John 1:29; Rev. 12:11; Rev. 17:14), they translated as ‘pig-sheep’ so that in John 1:29 it would read: ‘Behold, the pig-sheep of God.’

“When some members of the translation team attended the Translators Training Course, they had the opportunity to observe and study sheep for the first time. As they watched and learned more about the animals’ behavior, their understanding of these creatures—and God’s Word—rotated on its axis.

“Once during the course, Logan and Konni — the translation team’s helpers — were driving with the team to a Bible dedication when Amos, one of the team members, said passionately, ‘We can’t use the word kopolo in front of the word, ‘sheep’! Pigs know when they’re about to die and squeal and scream.’ The team had often watched villagers tie up pigs so they wouldn’t escape.

“’But,’ Amos said, ‘Jesus didn’t do that.’ The team had learned that sheep are quiet and still when death walks toward them. They had observed, as they translated the New Testament, the words of Isaiah 53 fulfilled: ‘Like a lamb led to the slaughter, he did not open his mouth.’ And now they understood what it meant. For this reason, the team decided not to put pig-sheep in the New Testament for the word ‘sheep,’ but used sheep-animal or, in their language, a:pele sipi.

“The Kasua translation team also chose to discard the word ‘pig’ before sheep because pigs are unclean animals to the Jews. The team knew that Jesus was called the ‘Lamb of God’ in the New Testament to show that he is unblemished and clean. Hopefully the Lord will open up the Kasua villagers’ eyes to these same truths about Jesus as they read of Him in their own language.”

complete verse (Revelation 5:8)

Following are a number of back-translations of Revelation 5:8:

  • Uma: “When he took that letter/paper, the four living things and the twenty-four elders lay prostrate, worshipping that Lamb. Each of them held a harp and a golden basin full of fragrant stuff called incense. That incense means the prayers of people who are the portion of God.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “When he took it, immediately the four different-kind-of angels and twenty four elders prostrated towards him, that is praising him. Each one of the elders held a harp and a golden censer full of incense. Because the fragrance of that incense is a sign of the prayers of the people belonging to God.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And when He took the scroll, the four creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down on their faces in front of the young sheep to worship Him. Each one of the elders had a harp (arpa), and they were holding golden bowls full of sweet smelling stuff which is burned to make sweet smelling smoke. The meaning of this is the prayers of the people who belong to God.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Upon his taking it, the four creatures and the twenty four leaders, they knelt face-down in front of him. Each of the leaders, he had a harp (loan arpa) which he was strumming and he was holding a gold bowl full of incense (loan insinso) which are the prayers of God’s people.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “When he took hold of it, those four created living beings and those twenty four elders bowed down with their faces down low, each of them (the elders) holding a stringed-instrument which was an alpa, and also holding a gold bowl full of incense. What was meant by that was the prayers of God’s people.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “When he took the paper, the four who stood at each corner of the throne and also the twenty-four who sat in the chairs all kneeled before the Lamb. Each of them had a stringed instrument named harp and each held a bowl of gold in which burned incense. This stands for the prayers to God made by the people who are in the hand of God.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
  • Martu Wangka: “Then after that, those same four and the twenty four old men, they went to that young sheep and they lay face down to praise him. They had guitars, each one of them, in their hands and they each had a billy/bowl in their hand and there was smoke rising from those. A long time back the Father’s relatives (God’s people) were praying to the Father from the earth. As they were praying to the Father, then their talk would become smoke, and I saw smoke rising from those bowls.” (Source: Carl Gross)

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” 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.”

The English “Contemporary Torah” addresses the question of God and gendered pronouns by mostly avoiding pronouns in the first five books of the Jewish Bible/Old Testament (unless God is referred to as “lord,” “father,” “kind,” or “warrior”). It does that by either using passive constructs or by using “God” rather than a pronoun.

Translation: Chinese

在现代汉语中,第三人称单数代词的读音都是一样的(tā),但是写法并不一样,取决于性别以及是否有生命,即男性为“他”,女性为“她”,动物、植物和无生命事物为“它”(在香港和台湾的汉语使用,动物则为“牠”)。这些字的部首偏旁表明了性别(男人、女人、动物、无生命事物),而另一偏旁通常旁提示发音。

到1930年为止,基督教新教《圣经》经过整整一百年的翻译已经拥有了十几个译本,当时的一位圣经翻译者王元德新造了一个“神圣的”代词“祂”,偏旁“礻”表示神明。一般汉语读者会立即知道这字的发音是tā,而这个偏旁表示属灵的事物,因此他们明白这个字指出,三位一体的所有位格都没有性别之分,而单单是上帝。

然而,最重要的新教圣经译本(1919年的《和合本》)和天主教圣经译本(1968年的《思高圣经》)都没有采用“祂”;虽然如此,许多其他的圣经译本采用了这个字,另外还广泛出现在赞美诗和其他基督信仰的书刊中。(资料来源:Zetzsche)

《吕振中译本》的几个早期版本也使用“祂”来指称“上帝”;这个译本的《新约》于1946年译成,整部《圣经》于1970年完成。克拉默斯(Kramers)指出:“‘他’的这种新写法(即‘祂’)产生了一个小问题,就是在指称耶稣的时候,是否一律使用这个敬语代词?《吕振中译本》遵循的原则是,在称呼耶稣这个人的时候,用一般的‘他’,而在称呼耶稣神性的时候,特别是升天之后的耶稣,则用尊称‘祂’。”

Translator: Simon Wong