inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Rom. 5:6)

Many languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns (“we”). (Click or tap here to see more details)

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 5:6)

Following are a number of back-translations of Romans 5:6:

  • Uma: “The love of God for us is like this: at the time that God set, when we had no strength to help ourselves, at that time Kristus died in our place. Yet at that time, we were far from God.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “God really loves us (incl.) very much. Formerly we (incl.) really couldn’t do anything in order to be freed from our (incl.) sin. But when the day arrived which God had appointed/arranged, Isa Almasi died because of us (incl.) sinful people.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Just think about God’s favor to us. For at the time decided by God, when there was nothing we could do to free ourselves of punishment, Christ died in the place of us (incl.) transgressors.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “At the proper time that God chose, while we still had no power to do what God wanted, Cristo died for us sinners.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “As for us, never could we find on our own how to save our souls. But there came the day God had determined in which Christ die for our sins.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

Christ, Messiah

The Greek Christos (Χρηστός) is typically transliterated when it appears together with Iésous (Ἰησοῦς) (Jesus). In English the transliteration is the Anglicized “Christ,” whereas in many other languages it is based on the Greek or Latin as “Kristus,” “Cristo,” or similar.

When used as a descriptive term in the New Testament — as it’s typically done in the gospels (with the possible exceptions of for instance John 1:17 and 17:3) — Christos is seen as the Greek translation of the Hebrew mashiaḥ (המשיח‎) (“anointed”). Accordingly, a transliteration of mashiaḥ is used, either as “Messiah” or based on the Greek or Latin as a form of “Messias.”

This transliteration is also used in the two instances where the Greek term Μεσσίας (Messias) is used in John 1:41 and 4:25.

In some languages and some translations, the term “Messiah” is supplemented with an explanation. Such as in the German Gute Nachricht with “the Messiah, the promised savior” (Wir haben den Messias gefunden, den versprochenen Retter) or in Muna with “Messiah, the Saving King” (Mesias, Omputo Fosalamatino) (source: René van den Berg).

In predominantly Muslim areas or for Bible translations for a Muslim target group, Christos is usually transliterated from the Arabic al-Masih (ٱلْمَسِيحِ) — “Messiah.” In most cases, this practice corresponds with languages that also use a form of the Arabic Isa (عيسى) for Jesus (see Jesus). There are some exceptions, though, including modern translations in Arabic which use Yasua (يَسُوعَ) (coming from the Aramaic Yēšūa’) alongside a transliteration of al-Masih, Hausa which uses Yesu but Almahisu, and some Fula languages (Adamawa Fulfulde, Nigerian Fulfulde, and Central-Eastern Niger Fulfulde) which also use a form of Iésous (Yeesu) but Almasiihu (or Almasiifu) for Christos.

In Indonesian, while most Bible translations had already used Yesus Kristus rather than Isa al Masih, three public holidays used to be described using the term Isa Al Masih. From 2024 on, the government is using Yesus Kristus in those holiday names instead (see this article in Christianity Today ).

Other solutions that are used by a number of languages include these:

  • Dobel: “The important one that God had appointed to come” (source: Jock Hughes)
  • Noongar: Keny Mammarap or “The One Man” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • Mairasi: “King of not dying for life all mashed out infinitely” (for “mashed out,” see salvation; source: Lloyd Peckham)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “One chosen by God to rule mankind” (source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Bacama: Ma Pwa a Ngɨltən: “The one God has chosen” (source: David Frank in this blog post )
  • Binumarien: Anutuna: originally a term that was used for a man that was blessed by elders for a task by the laying on of hands (source: Desmond Oatridges, Holzhausen 1991, p. 49f.)
  • Noongar: Keny Boolanga-Yira Waangki-Koorliny: “One God is Sending” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • Uab Meto: Neno Anan: “Son of heaven” P. Middelkoop explains: “The idea of heavenly power bestowed on a Timorese king is rendered in the title Neno Anan. It is based on the historical fact that chiefs in general came from overseas and they who come thence are believed to have come down from heaven, from the land beyond the sea, that means the sphere of God and the ghosts of the dead. The symbolical act of anointing has been made subservient to the revelation of an eternal truth and when the term Neno Anan is used as a translation thereof, it also is made subservient to a new revelation of God in Jesus Christ. The very fact that Jesus came from heaven makes this translation hit the mark.” (Source: P. Middelkoop in The Bible Translator 1953, p. 183ff. )

In Finnish Sign Language both “Christ” and “Messiah” are translated with sign signifying “king.” (Source: Tarja Sandholm)

“Christ / Messiah” in Finnish Sign Language (source )

Law (2013, p. 97) writes about how the Ancient Greek Septuagint‘s translation of the Hebrew mashiah was used by the New Testament writers as a bridge between the Old and New Testaments (click or tap here to read more):

“Another important word in the New Testament that comes from the Septuagint is christos, ‘Christ.’ Christ is not part of the name of the man from Nazareth, as if ‘the Christs’ were written above the door of his family home. Rather, ‘Christ’ is an explicitly messianic title used by the writers of the New Testament who have learned this word from the Septuagint’s translation of the Hebrew mashiach, ‘anointed,’ which itself is often rendered in English as ‘Messiah.’ To be sure, one detects a messianic intent on the part of the Septuagint translator in some places. Amos 4:13 may have been one of these. In the Hebrew Bible, God ‘reveals his thoughts to mortals,’ but the Septuagint has ‘announcing his anointed to humans.’ A fine distinction must be made, however, between theology that was intended by the Septuagint translators and that developed by later Christian writers. In Amos 4:13 it is merely possible we have a messianic reading, but it is unquestionably the case that the New Testament writers exploit the Septuagint’s use of christos, in Amos and elsewhere, to messianic ends.”

Learn more on Bible Odyssey: Christ .

Japanese benefactives (shinde)

Like a number of other East Asian languages, Japanese uses a complex system of honorifics, i.e. a system where a number of different levels of politeness are expressed in language via words, word forms or grammatical constructs. These can range from addressing someone or referring to someone with contempt (very informal) to expressing the highest level of reference (as used in addressing or referring to God) or any number of levels in-between.

One way Japanese show different degree of politeness is through the choice of a benefactive construction as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017.

Here, shinde (死んで) or “die” is used in combination with kudasaru (くださる), a respectful form of the benefactive kureru (くれる). A benefactive reflects the good will of the giver or the gratitude of a recipient of the favor. To convey this connotation, English translation needs to employ a phrase such as “for me (my sake)” or “for you (your sake).”

(Source: S. E. Doi, see also S. E. Doi in Journal of Translation, 18/2022, p. 37ff. )

Translation commentary on Romans 5:6

In this sentence the subject, Christ, and the main verb, died, are emphatic; they occur first and last in the structure, with all the other elements coming in between. The word rendered helpless (so also An American Translation* and Jerusalem Bible) actually means “weak,” but it is agreed that it has this meaning in the present passage (see New English Bible “powerless”; Phillips “powerless to help ourselves”).

It is important that the translator realize that we are included in the group of the wicked, and not that we and wicked are set in contrast.

It is assumed by most translators and commentators that the phrase translated at the time that God chose is connected with the verb died. This phrase is related in meaning to the one in Galatians 4.4, when the right time finally came, and is rendered in a variety of ways in different translations. Perhaps the nearest thing to a literal rendering appears in the Revised Standard Version, “at the right time” (An American Translation* “at the decisive moment”; Jerusalem Bible “at his [Christ’s] appointed time”). The New English Bible appears to connect this primarily with the time of our helplessness, though it does relate it also to the time of Christ’s death (“for at the very time when we were still powerless, then Christ died”). However one translates this phrase, in this context it refers to the time that was within God’s purpose and choice. This is the reason that the translation appears as it does in the Good News Translation.

The principal difficulty in verse 6 is the occurrence of two expressions of time, both relating, but in different ways, to the main clause Christ died for the wicked. The first expression is a general term for time, equivalent in some languages to “during the time that we were still helpless.” The second expression of time is quite specific (sometimes called punctiliar) and is translated as “at the specific time.” In some languages the second expression of time is best treated as a separate sentence—for example, “while we were still helpless, Christ died for us who were wicked; he died just at the time that God chose.” It may be necessary to introduce “us who were wicked” in order to make it perfectly clear that Christ died for the same persons who were still helpless.

An expression for helplessness may be “we could not help ourselves.”

In rendering at the time that God chose, the idea of choosing a time may need to be expressed in quite a different manner from that of choosing an object. One may need to employ some other type of verbal expression—for example, “at the time that God decided” or “at the time that God decided was best.” In these contexts “time” must refer to an occasion, not to time as a continuity or a continuation of events. In some languages the expression of occasion may only be rendered as “on the day that God chose,” since “day” is also a generic expression for “occasion.”

In the phrase for the wicked the preposition for must be taken with the meaning of “for the sake of,” and not with the meaning “in place of.” Moreover, it is valuable to realize that in the present passage Paul is not dealing so much with the theology of redemption as he is with the extent to which God went in order to show his love for sinful man. In most languages there is a well-defined way of introducing benefactives, that is to say, persons who are benefited by some particular action or event, introduced generally in English by the preposition for. However, in some languages benefaction is expressed specifically by a purpose clause with the verb “to help”—for example, “Christ died in order to help us who were wicked.”

Quoted with permission from Newman, Barclay M. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Romans. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1973. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .