The Wartburg Project

June 29th, 2022

78. Pronouns and Antecedents in the Bible

I noticed in Psalm 72:17 the EHV has “All nations will be blessed through him. They will call him blessed,” but other translations have “They will be blessed through him. All nations will call him blessed.” Why is this?

The second translation is a more word-for-word rendering of the Hebrew. The EHV rendering follows the rules of English grammar and style.

Sometimes grammatical and stylistic difficulties are due to differences between the structures and practices of the English language and the structures and practices of the biblical languages.

The interplay of nouns and pronouns is probably the area of grammar in which translators most often must depart from a word-for-word rendering of the original Hebrew and Greek texts to get a proper English rendering. English often requires a noun where Hebrew might be able to use a pronoun, and vice versa.

English style normally does not permit us to use a pronoun unless there is a clear antecedent in the near vicinity. In cases in which a Hebrew pronoun does not follow its antecedent closely enough to fit English style, translators may have to replace the pronoun with the appropriate noun in order to make it clear who is being referred to (for example, using “Moses” rather than “he”). English style normally does not permit use of a pronoun until a noun has been mentioned to serve as its antecedent. Hebrew does this very thing very often. On the other hand, repeating the same noun over and over again, which is not uncommon in Hebrew, sounds strange in English. So for readability and to avoid a mistaken perception of grammatical and stylistic errors, pronoun usage in the EHV normally follows proper English usage. Footnotes often call attention to places in which the English translation has supplied an antecedent, but this phenomenon is so common that it would be distracting to footnote them all. However, if the biblical author is using pronouns to build suspense by withholding the identity of the referent, a translator should preserve the suspense.