The Greek that is translated in English as “old self” or similar is translated in Enlhet as “old innermost.” “Innermost” or valhoc is a term that is frequently used in Enlhet to describe a large variety of emotions or states of mind (for other examples see here). (Source: Jacob Loewen in The Bible Translator 1969, p. 24ff. )
The Greek that is translated into English as “crucify” is translated into Naro with xgàu which literally means “to stretch” as is done with a skin after slaughtering in order to dry it. The word is also widely accepted in the churches (source: Gerrit van Steenbergen). Similarly, Balinese and Toraja-Sa’dan also translate as “stretch him” (Source: Reiling / Swellengrebel) and in Rendille as lakakaaha — “stretched and nailed down” (source: Holzhausen / Riderer 2010, p. 33).
In Ghari it becomes “hammer to the cross” (source: David Clark), in Loma “fasten him to a spread-back-stick” (source: Bratcher / Nida), in Sundanese “hang him on a crossbeam” (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel), in Aguaruna “fasten him to the tree,” in Navajo “nail him to the cross,” in Yatzachi Zapotec “fasten him to the cross” (source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.), in Nyongar “kill on a tree” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang), and in Apali the different aspects of the crucifixion have to be spelled out: “nail to a tree piece put cross-wise, lift up to stand upright (for the crucified person) to die (and in some contexts: to die and rise again)” (source: Martha Wade).
In British Sign Language it is signed with a sign that signifies “nails hammered into hands” and “arms stretched out.” (Source: Anna Smith)
“Crucify” or “crucifixion” in British Sign Language (source: Christian BSL, used with permission)
The Hebrew and Greek that is typically translated as “sin” in English has a wide variety of translations.
The Greek ἁμαρτάνω (hamartanō) carries the original verbatim meaning of “miss the mark.” Likewise, many translations contain the “connotation of moral responsibility.” Loma has (for certain types of sin) “leaving the road” (which “implies a definite standard, the transgression of which is sin”) or Navajo uses “that which is off to the side.” (Source: Bratcher / Nida). In Toraja-Sa’dan the translation is kasalan, which originally meant “transgression of a religious or moral rule” and has shifted its meaning in the context of the Bible to “transgression of God’s commandments.” (Source: H. van der Veen in The Bible Translator 1950, p. 21ff. ).
In Shipibo-Conibo the term is hocha. Nida (1952, p. 149) tells the story of its choosing: “In some instances a native expression for sin includes many connotations, and its full meaning must be completely understood before one ever attempts to use it. This was true, for example, of the term hocha first proposed by Shipibo-Conibo natives as an equivalent for ‘sin.’ The term seemed quite all right until one day the translator heard a girl say after having broken a little pottery jar that she was guilty of ‘hocha.’ Breaking such a little jar scarcely seemed to be sin. However, the Shipibos insisted that hocha was really sin, and they explained more fully the meaning of the word. It could be used of breaking a jar, but only if the jar belonged to someone else. Hocha was nothing more nor less than destroying the possessions of another, but the meaning did not stop with purely material possessions. In their belief God owns the world and all that is in it. Anyone who destroys the work and plan of God is guilty of hocha. Hence the murderer is of all men most guilty of hocha, for he has destroyed God’s most important possession in the world, namely, man. Any destructive and malevolent spirit is hocha, for it is antagonistic and harmful to God’s creation. Rather than being a feeble word for some accidental event, this word for sin turned out to be exceedingly rich in meaning and laid a foundation for the full presentation of the redemptive act of God.”
In Kaingang, the translation is “break God’s word” and in Sandawe the original meaning of the Greek term (see above) is perfectly reflected with “miss the mark.” (Source: Ursula Wiesemann in Holzhausen / Riderer 2010, p. 36ff., 43)
Martin Ehrensvärd, one of the translators for the DanishBibelen 2020, comments on the translation of this term: “We would explain terms, such that e.g. sin often became ‘doing what God does not want’ or ‘breaking God’s law’, ‘letting God down’, ‘disrespecting God’, ‘doing evil’, ‘acting stupidly’, ‘becoming guilty’. Now why couldn’t we just use the word sin? Well, sin in contemporary Danish, outside of the church, is mostly used about things such as delicious but unhealthy foods. Exquisite cakes and chocolates are what a sin is today.” (Source: Ehrensvärd in HIPHIL Novum 8/2023, p. 81ff. )
Following are a number of back-translations of Romans 6:6:
Uma: “We know, relatives: our former life was killed together with Kristus on the cross tree, in order that the power of sin in our lives be destroyed, in order that we no longer be enslaved by sin.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
Yakan: “We (dual) know that our (dual) inborn sinning/old nature has been figuratively nailed together with Isa Almasi onto the post where he was nailed, in order that our (dual) inborn sinning would be destroyed and we (dual) would no longer be made slaves by our (dual) sin.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
Western Bukidnon Manobo: “For we (incl.) know that our former law-breaking humanity, it’s as if it was nailed along with Christ on the cross so that it might die. And because of this, our always having to sin was removed. And at last we are no longer slaves to evil behavior.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
Kankanaey: “Because we know that our former life was included in his being nailed to the cross so that the power of our sinfulness would be removed and we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
Tenango Otomi: “When Christ was nailed to the cross, it was as though our bodies were nailed. Because now is finished the sins we committed before, now no longer does sin rule us as though it were our bosses.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
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.
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 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.
Old being (Moffatt and An American Translation* “old self”; Jerusalem Bible “our former selves”; New English Bible “the man we once were”) is literally “old man” (see old self of Ephesians 4.22 and Colossians 3.9). Paul’s reference, of course, is to the kind of person that the believer was before his conversion.
In some languages our old being may be rendered as “what we used to be,” “the way in which we used to live,” or “as far as our being what we used to be.”
There are certain complications in translating put to death with Christ on his cross. In some languages it is best to take with Christ on his cross as being temporally related to the phrase put to death—for example, “what we used to be was, as it were, put to death at the same time that Christ was put to death on the cross,” “… when Christ was crucified,” or “… when people crucified Christ.”
The power of the sinful self (New English Bible “the sinful self”) is literally “the body of sin” (An American Translation*, Moffatt, Jerusalem Bible “sinful body”). Here “body” is used as a means of speaking of one’s total being, and so self seems to be a more adequate translation than “body.” The Good News Translation takes the phrase “the body of sin” with the extended meaning of the power of the sinful self; this assumes that Paul is speaking of the power that the sinful self holds over one’s person rather than of the sinful self itself.
The power of the sinful self may be equivalent in some instances to “our strong desire to sin” or “we who desire strongly to sin.” The passive expression might be destroyed can be made active, in which case God would have to be the agent—for example, “in order that God could destroy our strong desires to sin.” In some instances “the old man” may be translated as “the old heart,” and therefore one may render this clause as “in order that our old heart might be destroyed” or “in order that the old heart which sins might be destroyed.”
There is a special complication in verse 6, since there are two purpose clauses. The first purpose clause depends upon our old being having been put to death with Christ, and the second purpose clause, so that we should no longer be the slaves of sin, is the purpose of “our sinful self having been destroyed.” In some languages it may be necessary to make a break between the first and second purposes and recapitulate briefly—for example, “our sinful self has been destroyed in order that we should no longer be slaves of sin.”
The expression the slaves of sin is rendered in some languages as “to have sin boss us,” “to have sin command us,” or “to do what sin says, just as slaves do what their masters say.”
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 .