inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Rom. 4:1)

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 the writer of the letter and the readers).

Source: Velma Pickett and Florence Cowan in Notes on Translation January 1962, p. 1ff.

complete verse (Romans 4:1)

Following are a number of back-translations of Romans 4:1:

  • Uma: “So now we-take / let’s-take as an example Abraham, our forefather [lit., grandparent long ago]. What was the way that Abraham became straight in God’s sight?” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “So-then what do we (dual) say about Ibrahim, the forefather of us (excl.) Yahudi?” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “For example Abraham, the ancestor of us (excl.) Jews,” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Let us consider Abraham who is the ancestor of us Jews. What was the reason for which he was counted as righteous?” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “How about our ancestor Abraham? What did he do so that God cleared his sin?” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)