Translation commentary on John 4:48

The Greek text begins this verse with John’s favorite particle (see comments on oun under 2.18). The clause unless you see miracles and wonders comes first in the Greek order and is emphatic. The Greek text has literally “signs and wonders,” a construction (called “hendiadys”) often found in the Old Testament, in which two nouns joined by “and” are used as the equivalent of a noun modified by an adjective. “Wonders” is taken here as a way of modifying and intensifying the noun “signs.” Throughout the Gospel of John Good News Translation renders “signs” as miracles, and wonders is understood as the equivalent of an adjective, for example, “wonderful signs” or “wonderful miracles.” New English Bible and Jerusalem Bible have “signs and portents,” but “portents” connotes a forewarning of evil, which is not intended here. For languages in which it is difficult to use two terms such as “miracles and wonders,” or even “signs and wonders,” it may be useful to follow Good News Translation‘s example and use one term as a qualification of the other, for example, “wonderful miracles” or “remarkable signs.”

Although Jesus addressed the man directly, he used the plural form of “you.” Good News Translation makes this clear by translating None of you. It is important that the plural form of the verb be indicated in translation to show that Jesus’ words apply to others as well as to the official. Most English translations give the impression that Jesus is directing his remark solely to the official, without reference to others who undoubtedly were present on this occasion. In some languages it may be useful to shift the order of the conditional elements in the statement to read, “If you people do not see wonderful miracles, you will never believe.” For languages which require a grammatical object for a verb meaning “believe,” it may be possible to translate “If you people do not see me perform miracles, you will not trust me” or “… you will not have any confidence in me.”

Quoted with permission from Newman, Barclay M. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on the Gospel of John. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1980. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

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