The Hebrew assonance tohu wa-bohu is often translated in English as “formless void” or some equivalent, but in some translations and languages attempts have been made to recreate some of its literary flavor:
English: wild and waste (Everett Fox 1995); welter and waste (Robert Alter 2004); void waste (Revised English Bible, 1989); void and vacant (James Moffatt 1935)
German: Irrsal und Wirrsal (Buber / Rosenzweig 1976); wüst und wirr (Einheitsübersetzung, 1980/2016)
French: vide et vague (La Bible de Jérusalem, 1975)
Ancient Greek: aóratos kaí akataskévastos (ἀόρατος καὶ ἀκατασκεύαστος) (Septuagint)
The Greek that is translated as “ponder” in English is translated as “continually think-about” in Tboli, “turn around in the mind” in Batak Toba, “puzzle forth, puzzle back” in Sranan Tongo (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel), “constantly setting down her visions” in Mairasi (source: Enggavoter 2004), “carried all those words in her heart and then sat thinking” in Enga (source: Adam Boyd on his blog), or “moved them in her heart” (bewegte sie in ihrem Herzen) (German Luther translation).
Newman / Nida describe some of the difficulties surrounding the translation of the Greek “Logos” which is typically translated as “Word” in English (click or tap here to read more):
“The term ‘the Word’ has a rich heritage, by way of both its Greek and Jewish backgrounds. For the Greeks who held to a theistic view of the universe, it could be understood as the means by which God reveals himself to the world, while among those who were pantheistic in outlook, the Word was the principle that held the world together and at the same time endowed men with the wisdom for living. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint), the Word could be used both of the means by which God had created the world (Ps 33:6) and through which he had revealed himself to the world (Jer 1:4; Ezek 1:3; Amos 3:1). Among certain of the Greek-speaking Jews of New Testament times, there was much speculation about the ‘wisdom’ of God, which God ‘made in the very beginning, at the first, before the world began’ (Prov 8:22-23). (…) By the time that John writes his Gospel, the Word is close to being recognized as a personal being, and it has roles relating to the manner in which God created the world and to the way in which God reveals himself to the world that he brought into being. Moffatt [whose English translation of the New Testament was published in 1913], realizing the difficulty in finding a term equivalent in meaning to the one used by John, transliterates the Greek term: ‘the Logos existed in the very beginning’ [see also Hart’s translation below or The Orthodox New Testament, 2000)]; while Phillips [New Testament translation published in 1958] at least makes an effort to give his translation meaning: ‘at the beginning God expressed himself.’
“Though the Greek term logos may be rendered ‘word,’ it would be wrong to think it indicates primarily a grammatical or lexical unit in a sentence. Greek has two other terms which primarily identify individual words, whether they occur in a list (as in a dictionary) or in a sentence. The term logos, though applicable to an individual word, is more accurately understood as an expression with meaning; that is, it is ‘a message,’ ‘a communication,’ and, as indicated, a type of ‘revelation.’ A literal translation, therefore, more or less equivalent to English ‘word,’ is frequently misleading.
“In some languages there are additional complications. For example, in some languages the term ‘word’ is feminine in gender, and therefore any reference to it must also be feminine [or neuter — see German below]. As a result, the possible use of pronouns in reference to Jesus Christ can be confusing. Furthermore, in many languages a term such as ‘word’ must be possessed. One cannot speak about ‘the word’ without indicating who spoke the word, since words do not exist apart from the persons who utter them.
“Because of these and other difficulties, many translators treat the term ‘Word’ or Logos as a title, and that is precisely what it is. The very fact that it is normally capitalized in English translations marks it as a title; but in many languages the fact of its being a title must be more clearly indicated by some explicit expression, for example, ‘the one who was called the Word’ [see Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac below] or ‘the one known as the Word’ [see German below] In this way the reader can understand from the beginning that ‘Word’ is to be understood as a designation for a person.
“Therefore, this first sentence in John 1:1 may be rendered ‘Before the world was created, the one who was known as the Word existed’ or ‘… the person called the Word existed.’ In languages which employ honorific forms it is particularly appropriate to use such an indication with the title ‘Word.’ Such a form immediately marks the designation as the title of deity or of a very important personage, depending, of course, upon the usage in the language in question.”
German: Er, der ‘das Wort’ ist: “He who is ‘the Word'” — this solution circumvents the different gender of Jesus (masculine) and “das Wort” (neuter) (in: Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch, 3rd edition: 1997)
Anindilyakwa: Originally translated as N-ayakwa-murra or “he having the properties of a word/message/language.” Since this was not understandable, it is now “Jesus Christ, the one who revealed God who was hidden from us.” (Source: Julie Waddy in The Bible Translator 2004, p. 452ff.)
Kwang: “He who is called ‘The reality (lit: the body) of the Word of God himself’” (source: Mark Vanderkooi)
Assamese: বাক্য (bakya) / Bengali: বাক্ (bāk) / Telugu: వాక్యము (vākyamu) / Hindi (some versions): वचन (vachan). All these terms are derived from the Sanskrit vach (वाच्), meaning “speech,” “voice,” “talk,” “language,” or “sound.” Historically, “in early Vedic literature, vach was the creative power in the universe. Sometimes she appears alone, sometimes with Prajapati, the creator god. She is called ‘Mother of the Vedas.’ All of this suggest an interesting parallel with logos. From the Upanishads on [late Vedic period, the Vedic period overall stretches from c. 1500–500 BC), however, she retreats from her creative role and becomes identified with Saraswati, the goddess of speech.”
Sanskrit and Hindi (some versions): शब्द (shabda), meaning “speech sound.” Historically, “Shabda is of importance from the Upanishads on. As shabda-brahman it is eternal and is the ground of the phenomenal world.” (Source for this and above: R.M. Clark in The Bible Translator 1962, p. 81ff. )
Sinhala: ධර්මයාණෝ (dharmayāṇō), meaning “philosophy” or “religion.”
Tonga: Folofola: “Originally, the term is used in the kingly language and is related to the meaning of unrolling the mat, an indispensable item in Tongan traditions. The mats, especially those with beautiful and elaborate designs, are usually rolled up and kept carefully until the visit of a guest to the house. The term thus evokes to the Tongans the idea of God’s Word being unrolled to reveal his love and salvation for mankind.” (Source: Joseph Hong in The Bible Translator 1994, p. 329ff. )
“There are other words that the learned translators of the West have in vain tried to render into rich tongues as French or Latin. They found obscure expressions for the common ‘word’ or ‘speech’ (…) It would seem that these words would present insurmountable difficulties for the translator in primitive languages. Missionaries of the Loyalty Islands could not find the word to translate ‘Word,’ nor have they imagined that there could be a corresponding term in the native language. They simply introduced the Greek word into the vocabulary, pronouncing it in the native fashion, ‘In the beginning the Logos’. These people are intelligent; and do not appreciate pronouncing words which make no sense whatsoever. However, when a Caledonian speaks French, he translates his thoughts as they seem to him the most adequate. He can easily express himself relative to the man who has conceived good things, has said them, or done them. He simply describes such a person as, ‘The word of this man is good’. Thought, speech, and action are all included in the New Caledonian term nô. In speaking of an adulterous man one may say, ‘He has done an evil word’. One may speak of a chief who does not think, order, or act correctly as, ‘His word is not good’. The expression ‘the Word of God’ is limited in our speech to meaning of the divine Scriptures, but in New Caledonian it includes the thoughts and acts of God, ‘God said and it was done’. The New Caledonian has no difficulty in seeing the Word becoming action, becoming flesh, the word becoming a physical reality. Our deceased colleague Laffay once said: ‘I prefer to read John in the Ajië rather than in French’.
The recent English New Testament translation by David Bentley Hart (2017), that uses the transliteration Logos for the Greek Λόγος, says this about its translation (p. 549ff.): “In certain special instances it is quite impossible for a translator to reduce [Λόγος] to a single word in English, or in any other tongue (though one standard Chinese version of the Bible renders logos in the prologue of John’s Gospel as 道 (dao), which is about as near as any translation could come to capturing the scope and depth of the word’s religious, philosophical, and metaphoric associations in those verses, while also carrying the additional meaning of “speech” or “discourse”).”
Below you can find some background of this remarkable Chinese translation (click or tap here to read more):
Dao 道, which developed into a central concept of classical Chinese philosophy, originally carried the meaning of “path” and “(main) road.” From there it developed into “leading” and “teaching” as well as “say” and “speak.”
As early as the 7th century BC, however, dao appears with the meaning “method.” With this and the derived meaning of “the (right) way” and “moral principle,” dao became one of the central concepts of the Confucian writings.
In Daoist writings (especially in the Daodejing ), dao goes far beyond the Confucian meaning to take on creative qualities.
With this new compendium of meaning, the term became suitable for numerous foreign religions to represent central points of their doctrine, including Buddhism (as a translation for bodhi — “enlightenment”), Judaism (similar to the Confucians as the “right [Jewish] way”), and Islam (likewise the “right [Muslim] way”).
The Jesuits, who had intensively dealt with Confucianism from the 16th century on, also took over dao as the “correct (Catholic) way,” and the so-called Figurists, a group of Jesuits in the 18th century who saw the Messianic figure of Jesus Christ outlined in Chinese history, went so far as to point to the existence of John’s Logos in the dao of Daodejing.
In later Catholic Bible translations, dao was rarely used as a translation for Logos; instead, the LatinVerbum (from the Latin Vulgate) was transliterated, or yan 言 — “language”, “meaning” — was used, usually with the prefix sheng 圣 — “holy” (also used by the Russian Orthodox Church).
Protestant translations, however, began to use dao as a translation for Logos in the 1830s and have largely retained this practice to this day.
Some voices went so far as to describe Logos and dao as a point of contact between Christianity and the Chinese religions. By its gradual shaping in Greek and Jewish philosophy, Logos had become an appropriate “word vessel.” Similarly, dao’s final formation in Daodejing had also assumed the necessary capacity to serve as a translation for Logos.
The origins of dao and Logos have some clear differences, not the least being the personal relationship of Logos as the Son of God with God the Father. But it is remarkable that using dao as the translation of Logos emulates John’s likely intention with the use of Logos: the central concept of the philosophical and religious ideas of the target culture was used to translate the central concept of Christian theology.
This was not possible in the case of European cultures, which for the most part have offered only translations such as Word or Verbum, terms without any prior philosophical or religious meaning. Only advanced civilizations like China — or ancient Greece — were able to accomplish that. (Summarized version of: Zetzsche, Jost. Aspekte der chinesischen Bibelübersetzung. R. Malek (ed.) Fallbeispiel China. Beiträge zur Religion, Theologie und Kirche im chinesischen Kontext. Nettetal: Steyler Verlag, 1996.)
Peng Kuo-Wei adds this perspective (in Noss / Houser, p. 885): “The Chinese term chosen for logos is not hua (‘word’ or ‘utterance’) but dao from which the term ‘Taoism’ is derived and which can denote a general principle, a way (concrete or abstract), or reason. Thus, Chinese readers can understand that the dao of God is not just words spoken by God, but it constitutes the guiding salvific principle underlying the whole biblical account, including his action in history and teaching and action of Jesus whom he sent. Jesus is the dao of God because his ministry, death and resurrection comprises the fulfillment and realization of God’s theological and ethical principles for humanity.”
The English translation by Sarah Ruden (2021) uses true account in John 1. She explains (p. lxiii): “Logos can mean merely ‘statement’ or ‘speech,’ but it also has lofty philosophical uses, especially in the opening of the Book of John, where it is probably connected to the Stoic conception of the divine reasoning posited to pervade the universe. The essential connotation here is not language but the lasting, indisputable, and morally cogent truth of numbers, as displayed in correct financial accounting: this is the most basic sense of logos.”
The Greek that is translated as “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” or similar in English is translated in Muna as “what comes-out at the lips, it comes from the fullness/overflowing of the heart.”
René van den Berg explains: “It is very impolite in Muna to mention someone’s mouth (wobha) or tongue (lela). The words themselves are not taboo or obscene, but in combination with a possessor they are frowned upon and should be avoided. In fact, if you want to abuse someone, you should refer to his or her mouth or tongue. The implications for translation are obvious (…). [Sometimes] ‘mouth’ was replaced by ‘lips’ (wiwi), a perfectly acceptable term, even when possessed.”
In the German Luther Bible it says: Denn wes das Herz voll ist, des geht der Mund über or “what the heart is full of, with that the mouth flows over,” in Uab Meto it says “his mouth says only what the heart is more than full of,” and in Tzeltal it is “in our hearts arise all those things which come out of our mouths.” (Source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
Some translations specifically reproduce the voice of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible.
English: This may God do to “the enemies of” David, and thus may he add,
if I leave from all that belongs to him, by daybreak [even] one pissing against the wall!
“David’s enemies”: Later scribes have added the word “enemies” here, in order to avoid placing a verbal curse on David.
“One pissing against the wall”: Others, euphemistically, “a single male,” but the imagery is doglike. Unlike most modern translations, Tyndale and the King James Version got it right: “aught / one that pisseth by the wall.”
Source: Everett Fox 2014
German: so tue Gott Dawids Feinden, so füge er hinzu,
laß ich bis zum Morgenlicht von allem, was sein ist, einen Wandpisser übrig!
Source: Buber / Rosenzweig 1976
French: Ainsi fera Elohîms aux ennemis de David et ainsi il ajoutera si je laisse,
de tout ce qui est à lui, avant le matin, un pisseur contre un mur !
A particularly interesting development in the history of Christianity [related to translation] took place with respect to the Greek term monogenés, literally, ‘only, unique, one of kind.’ It was used of Isaac as the son of Abraham [see Gen. 22:2], though Isaac was not the only son of Abraham, for he had a son Ishmael, and with a later wife Keturah, several sons. But Isaac was the only son of a particular kind, that is to say, the unique son of the promise. The term monogenés was translated into Latin as unigenitus, meaning literally ‘only begotten’ [in English — or likewise traditionally in Chinese: “dúshēng 獨 生,” Italian: “unigenito,” Spanish “unigénito,” or German: “eingeboren”] but in Greek the equivalent of ‘only begotten’ would have two n’s and not just one. Nevertheless, the Latin misinterpretation of monogenés has constituted such a long tradition that any attempt to speak of Jesus as the ‘unique son of God’ rather than the ‘only begotten son’ is often announced as a case of blatant heresy. (Source: Nida 1984, p. 114.)
In Waiwai, the Greek that is translated as “only begotten Son” in English in John 3:16 is translated as cewnan tumumururosa okwe, where the “particle okwe indicates dearness, and it must be included in Waiwai for the expression ‘only begotten Son’ to mean anything like what it means to God or to us as Christians.” (Source: Robert Hawkins (in The Bible Translator 1962, pp. 164ff. )
Tzotzil: “where they place God’s gifts” (source: John Beekman in Notes on Translation, March 1965, p. 2ff.)
Tsafiki: “table for giving to God” (source: Bruce Moore in Notes on Translation 1/1992, p. 1ff.)
Nyongar: karla-kooranyi or “sacred fire” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
Uma: “offering-burning table” (source: Uma Back Translation)
Yakan: “place for sacrificing” (source: Yakan Back Translation)
Tagbanwa: “burning-place” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
The Ignaciano translators decided to translate the difficult term in that language according to the focus of each New Testament passage in which the word appears (click or tap here to see the rest of this insight
Willis Ott (in Notes on Translation 88/1982, p. 18ff.) explains:
Matt. 5:23,24: “When you take your offering to God, and arriving, you remember…, do not offer your gift yet. First go to your brother…Then it is fitting to return and offer your offering to God.” (The focus is on improving relationships with people before attempting to improve a relationship with God, so the means of offering, the altar, is not focal.)
Matt. 23:18 (19,20): “You also teach erroneously: ‘If someone makes a promise, swearing by the offering-place/table, he is not guilty if he should break the promise. But if he swears by the gift that he put on the offering-place/table, he will be guilty if he breaks the promise.'”
Luke 1:11: “…to the right side of the table where they burn incense.”
Luke 11.51. “…the one they killed in front of the temple (or the temple enclosure).” (The focus is on location, with overtones on: “their crime was all the more heinous for killing him there”.)
Rom. 11:3: “Lord, they have killed all my fellow prophets that spoke for you. They do not want anyone to give offerings to you in worship.” (The focus is on the people’s rejection of religion, with God as the object of worship.)
1Cor. 9:13 (10:18): “Remember that those that attend the temple have rights to eat the foods that people bring as offerings to God. They have rights to the meat that the people offer.” (The focus is on the right of priests to the offered food.)
Heb. 7:13: “This one of whom we are talking is from another clan. No one from that clan was ever a priest.” (The focus in on the legitimacy of this priest’s vocation.)
Jas. 2:21: “Remember our ancestor Abraham, when God tested him by asking him to give him his son by death. Abraham was to the point of stabbing/killing his son, thus proving his obedience.” (The focus is on the sacrifice as a demonstration of faith/obedience.)
Rev. 6:9 (8:3,5; 9:13; 14:18; 16:7): “I saw the souls of them that…They were under the table that holds God’s fire/coals.” (This keeps the concepts of: furniture, receptacle for keeping fire, and location near God.)
Rev. 11:1: “Go to the temple, Measure the building and the inside enclosure (the outside is contrasted in v. 2). Measure the burning place for offered animals. Then count the people who are worshiping there.” (This altar is probably the brazen altar in a temple on earth, since people are worshiping there and since outside this area conquerors are allowed to subjugate for a certain time.)
The word play in the Hebrew original between “shaqed” (translated in most English versions as “almond tree”) of Jer 1:11 and “shoqed” (translated in most English versions as “watching”) in Jer 1:12 is reproduced in the German Good News translation (Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch) of 1982 with Wacholderzweig (“juniper branch”) and wache (“watch”). Accompanying the translation is a note, indicating that the literal translation would be Mandelbaum (“almond tree”), which they point out is the first to bloom in the spring, giving the appearance not to have slept. Then they explain that just as Hebrew has a play on words between “shaqed” and “shoqed,” so also they have made a play on words between Wacholder and wachen in their translation.
Das Wortspiel im hebräischen Oiginal zwischen "shaqed" (zu deutsch "Mandelbaum") in Jer. 1.11 und "shoqed" (zu deutsch "sehen", "schauen") in Jer 1.12 wird von der Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch von 1982 mit "Wacholderzweig" and "wache" nachgebildet. Die Übersetzung wird von folgender Fußnote begleitet: "Der Mandelbaum blüht im Frühjahr als erster und scheint im Winter sozusagen gar nicht 'geschlafen' zu haben." Dann wird erklärt, dass das hebräische Wortspiel dem deutschen Wortspiel zwischen "Wacholder" und "wachen" Vorbild war.
The Greek that is translated “not on talk but on power” or similar in English is translated with a alliteration in the common language version of the SpanishBiblia Dios Habla Hoy (“no es cuestión de palabras, sino de poder“) and the FrenchParole de Vie (“pas une affaire de paroles mais de puissance“). An early version of the GermanGute Nachricht also had an alliteration with “Wort” and “Wirkung” (source: Barclay Newman in The Bible Translator 1978, p. 225ff. )
Kankanaey: “one whom we hope/expect will do all we are waiting for” (source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
Tagbanwa: “one who is the pledge of our assurance of salvation in the future.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
In various German and Dutch Bible translations, the term Heiland is used, which was introduced by Martin Luther in the 16th century and means “the healing one.” This term (as “Hælend”) was used in Old English as a translation for “Jesus” — see Swain 2019 and Jesus.
In American Sign Language it is signed with a sign describing releasing someone from bondage. (Source: Yates 2011, p. 52)
The translation of the Greek οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι (hoi Ioudaioi), traditionally “the Jews” in English, is used particularly often in the Gospel of John and has been receiving attention in the last 50 years. Below you’ll find an overview of how some English translators and translation have translated it, why they did so and the solutions some other languages have chosen.
Starting in the late 1960s, at the time the English Today’s English Version (Good News Bible) and respective translations in other languages (see below) were published, many translators started to question the translation of hoi Ioudaioi with “the Jews.”
“In order to better understand the meaning of ‘the Jews’ in the Gospel of John, we must first look at the use and meaning of ‘the world’ in this Gospel. The author sees everything in terms of opposite forces: light and darkness, truth and error, life and death, God and the Devil. And he makes a sharp distinction between the world and Jesus and his followers, especially in the last half of the Gospel. Of course the world is the object of God’s love and of Christ’s saving mission (John 3:16–17; 12:47; 17:21, 23), but it is not the object of the love of the followers of Jesus: they are not commanded to love the world. The disciples of Jesus are in the world (John 13:1), but they do not belong to it (John 15:19). The world hates Jesus and his disciples, because they do not belong to it (John 15:18–19; 17:14, 15, 16). The world loves only those who belong to it (John 15:19). It does not know Jesus (John 1:10), or the Father (John 17:25), and cannot receive the Spirit of truth (John 14:17). The world’s ruler is to be overthrown (John 12:31, 14:30; 16:11). When Jesus is parted from his disciples, they will be sad, but the world will be glad (John 16:20). Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33); his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). In the Gospel of John ‘the world’ stands in opposition to Jesus and his disciples.
“‘The Jews’ belong to ‘the world,’ as compared with Jesus and his followers. The Jews, like the world, do not know the Father. They have never heard his voice or seen his face, nor do they believe in the one whom he sent (John 5:37, 38). Jesus says to the Jews. ‘You come from this world, but I do not come from this world’ (John 8:23). (…)
“The author clearly places himself, and those whom he represents, as separate from the Jews. He speaks of ‘the Passover of the Jews’ (John 2:13; 6:4; 11:55), the religious rules of the Jews about purification (John 2:6), a religious festival of the Jews (John 5:1), the Festival of Shelters of the Jews (John 7:2), the Day of Preparation of the Jews (John 19:42), and the way in which Jews prepare a body for burial (19:40).
“And quite as clearly he regards Jesus as not ‘a Jew’. In talking to the Jews. Jesus speaks of ‘your Law’ (John 7:19; 8:17; 10:34) and ‘your circumcision’ (John 7:22). Abraham is ‘your father’ (John 8:56). When the Jews say to him. ‘Our ancestors ate manna in the desert’ (John 6:31), Jesus replies, ‘What Moses gave you was not the bread from heaven’ (John 6:32), and later on says, ‘Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert’ (John 6:49).
“It is true that twice Jesus is called a Jew: by the Samaritan woman (John 4:9) and by Pilate (John 18:35). But in both instances the term is used in its sense of ‘person of Judah’, contrasted with the Samaritan and the Roman. The same applies in John 4:22, where Jesus says to the Samaritan woman. ‘You (Samaritans) do not really know whom you worship; we (Jews) know whom we worship, for salvation comes from the Jews.’
“Apart from those two instances, it is only in John 1:11 that Jesus is identified as a Jew. in the statement that he came to ‘his own country’, but ‘his own people’ did not receive him. This passage, however, does not go against the Gospel as a whole, in which Jesus is shown as not being a part of ‘the Jews.’
“What accounts for this? It seems clear that the deep differences shown between Jesus and ‘the Jews’ of his time reflect the hostility between Church and Synagogue at the time the author wrote his Gospel. He has moved back the disputes and arguments of his own time into the time of Jesus, and they are represented as taking place between Jesus and the people of his time.
“The prominent part played by the Pharisees in the opposition to Jesus is worthy of note here. The High Priest and the chief priests are mentioned often, especially in chapters 18-19, as we would expect. They were, after all, the religious authorities responsible for arresting Jesus and turning hint over to Pilate. What is surprising is that the Pharisees appear so often in the Gospel (see John 1:24; 4:1; 7:32, 47, 48; 8:13; 9:13, 15, 16, 40; 11:46; 12:19, 42), and are at times identified as ‘the Jews’, that is, the authorities. Their part in relation to Jesus in the Gospel of John is different from the part they play in the other Gospels. In John it is their refusal to believe in Jesus and his claims that brings them into conflict with him. They are not, as in the other Gospels, condemned by Jesus because of their hypocrisy or their understanding of the Law. (…)
“The translator is bound to represent faithfully the way in which the author describes the ministry of Jesus. But the way in which he will translate the Greek hoi loudaioi every time it appears in the Gospel is not an easy matter to decide. (1) Should he not, always and everywhere, translate it by ‘the Jews’? This certainly may be argued, since the author does not use the expression in a precise national or racial sense of the people of Israel in the years A.D. 30-33, but of the opponents of his own time who denied the claims the Church makes about Jesus the Messiah. If the translator did this, however, he would almost be forced to use quotation marks — ‘the Jews’ — to show the strangeness of the phrase. (2) But since the author has placed these disputes in the time of Jesus, it is at this level that the translation must take place, so that ‘the Jews’ must be identified in terms of the people of Jesus’ own time. But as a matter of fact Jesus was a Jew, and to translate a passage, for example. ‘Jesus, in Jerusalem, said to the Jews’, is as unnatural as to say, ‘The President, in Washington, said to the Americans’, or, ‘The Queen, in London, said to the British.’
“In translating on this ‘historical’ level, however, does not the translator somehow distort the meaning of the text? The answer depends on whether we believe that the author intended his readers to understand his Gospel as reporting historical events which took place in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee in the early part of the first century. Assuming that he did, it seems to me that the translator does not have much of a choice, unless he says something like ‘the enemies of Jesus’, or ‘the unbelievers’ every time ‘the Jews’ is used of the opponents of Jesus.
“Consequently, in following the course which I think is the only right one to take, the translator must carefully observe the different senses in which ‘the Jews’ is used in the Gospel of John—and this is what will be done in this study, with an examination of every occurrence of the phrase and its meaning in the ‘historical’ setting of the Gospel. (…)
“According to this review, ‘the Jews’ in the Gospel of John may have four different meanings:
its natural sense, meaning simply Jewish people
Judeans, people who live in and near Jerusalem
people hostile to Jesus
the authorities in Jerusalem
For the Contemporary English Version in the 1990s, similar translation strategies were taken, as explained by David Burke, a member of the translation team (see the reprint from an original article in TIC TALK 24, 1993, right here ). Other English translations that use varied translations for hoi Ioudaioi include the Living Bible, New International Version, Common English Bible, New Living Translation, The Inclusive New Testament, and others.
For a recent translation of the New Testament, its translator and Eastern Orthodox scholar David B. Hart (2017) explains why he chose to use ‘Judaean’ for every occurrence of the singular Ioudaios or the plural Ioudaioi throughout the New Testament (for more see here):
“The next term is Ioudaios — or Ioudaioi in the plural — which is usually rendered ‘Jew’ or ‘Jews,’ except in places where ‘Judaean’ or ‘Judaeans’ seems better to fit the context: again a perfectly justifiable practice, but also one that inadvertently introduces a distinction into the text that would not have been entirely intended by the authors. The books of the New Testament were written in an age in which national, ethnic, religious, and racial identities were not arranged in the often pernicious categories that came to hold sway in subsequent centuries; and it would be a severe distortion of the texts of the New Testament to allow these later developments to cast a shadow backward onto a time innocent of the evils of mediaeval or modern history. For example—and the most striking example — the Gospel of John has often been accused of anti-Semitism, despite the anachronism of the very concept. Where English readers are accustomed to reading the Gospel as referring, often opprobriously, to ‘the Jews,’ the original text is usually referring to the indigenous Temple and synagogue authorities of Judaea, or to Judaeans living outside Judaea, or even to ‘Judaeans’ as opposed to ‘Galileans’ (see, for instance, John 7:1). The Gospel definitely reflects the disenchantment of Jewish Christians in Asia Minor with those they saw as having expelled them from the synagogue, and later Christian culture certainly often took this as an excuse for anti-Jewish violence and injustice, but it would be absurd to impute to the Gospel the sort of religious prejudices born in later generations, or certainly the racial ideologies that are so much a part of the special legacy of post-Enlightenment modernity. I have rendered the word as ‘Judaean’ or ‘Judaeans’ throughout, even where that sounds somewhat awkward, and even in places where ‘Jew’ or ‘Jews’ would be an utterly anodyne or bracingly affirmative translation. After all, the general extension of the term ‘Jews’ to all who worshipped Israel’s God meant principally that their cultic life was focused on the Temple in Jerusalem. Again, my rationale for doing this, and for ignoring my own twinge of reluctance whenever it produced a somewhat inept construction, is that I thought it better to preserve the unity of the word and the concept in the language of the ancient authors than to impose distinctions that would make the texts conform more readily to our cultural categories (and historical sins). (source: Hart 2017, p. 548f.)
Other English translations that use Judeans in most passages in John for Ioudaioi include N.T. Wright’s Kingdom New Testament (in the UK: New Testament for Everyone), the Messianic Jewish Bible Project’s Tree of Life translation, and David Stern’s Jewish New Testament.
In The Jewish Gospel of John its translator explains why he chose to not translate but instead transliterate virtually ever occurrence of Ioudaioi (for more see here):
“The Gospel of John was initially written for a particular audience consisting of a variety of intra-Israelite groups, one of the main ones being the Samaritan Israelites. To them, unlike for us today, the word Ioudaioi did not mean ‘the People of Israel,’ i.e. ‘the Jewish people’ as we call them today. For these people, the people I propose are one of the main audiences for the Gospel of John, the Ioudaioi, meant something different.
“One modern example that illustrates this ancient dynamic comes from an Eastern European setting. The Ukrainians often called Russians, with whom they had an uneasy relationship to say the least, ‘Maskali.’ The Ukrainian word ‘Maskal’ comes from the name of the Russian Imperial Capital — Moscow. Those who were either of Russian ethnic descent, or who even as much as acknowledged Moscow’s authority or leading role in the region, could be referred to as ‘Maskal.’ In fact, the Maskal did not have to be from Moscow or be ethnically Russian at all. The individual simply needed to be (or be perceived to be) a supporter of a Moscow-led political agenda. Other peoples outside of the Russian-Ukrainian political conflict, who were familiar with the issues, never used the designation ‘Maskali’ themselves, knowing that it was a Ukrainian term for the Russians and Russia’s affiliates.
“Therefore, using a similar analogy, those who acknowledged the Jerusalem-approved authorities in Kfar Nahum (Capernaum) and Cana, which were far from Jerusalem, were also referred to by the principal name for the Jerusalemite formal rulers and leading sect — the Ioudaioi. All members of the Jerusalem-led system became the Ioudaioi in the Gospel of John. This is very similar to the way ‘Russians’ became ‘Maskali’ to Ukrainians and to others who witnessed their polemic. So when the audience for John’s Gospel heard these anti-Ioudaioi statements (like John 7:1-2), whom did they think the author/s had in mind? This is the key question.
“To Samaritan Israelites, whatever else the Ioudaioi may have been, they were certainly Judeans –- members of the former Southern Kingdom of Israel who had adopted a wide variety of innovations that were contrary to the Torah as Samaritans understood it. Judging from this Gospel, the original audience understood that, as well as simply being Judeans, the Ioudaioi were: i) Judean authorities, and (ii) affiliated members of this authority structure living outside of Judea.
“These affiliates were located both in the territories of the former Northern Kingdom of Israel (Galilee) and in the large Israelite diaspora outside the Land of Israel, both in the Roman Empire and beyond. In this way, the Gospel of John, like the other Gospels, portrayed Jesus’ antagonists as representatives of sub-groups within Israel, and not the people of Israel as a whole. In other words Ioudaioi (‘the Jews’ in most translations) in this Gospel are not ‘the Jewish People’ in the modern sense of the word.
“The translation of Ioudaioi always and only as ‘Jews’ sends the reader in the opposite direction from what the author intended. While the translation of this word simply as ‘Judeans,’ is a more accurate choice than ‘Jews,’ it is still not fully adequate –- for three reasons that come to mind:
The English word Jews evokes, in the minds of modern peoples, the idea of Jewish religion (i.e. Jews are people who profess a religion called Judaism) and therefore cannot be used indiscriminately to translate the term Ioudaioi, since, in the first century, there was no separate category for religion (Judaism, when it was used, meant something much more all-encompassing than what it means to us today). In a sense, it was only when non-Israelite Christ-followers, in an attempt to self-establish and self-define, created the category called Christianity, that the category called Judaism, as we know it today, was also born. Since then most Christian theologians and most Jewish theologians after them project our modern definition of Judaism back into the New Testament.
On the other hand, the English word Judean evokes in the minds of modern people, oftentimes, an almost exclusively geographical definition (a Judean is the person who lives in Judea or used to live in Judea) and hence cannot be used indiscriminately either, since today it does not imply everything it intended to imply in late antiquity.
The word Judean, without clarification and nuancing, does not account for the complex relationship of the outside-of-Judea affiliates with the Jerusalem authorities either.
“Because of the lack of a perfect word to describe what was meant by Ioudaioi in the Gospel of John, I suggest that the word is best left untranslated.” (source: Lizorkin-Eyzenberg 2015, p. XIff.)
In other languages, many common language versions (approximate equivalents to the English Today’s English Version (Good News Bible) or other simplified translations (as well as non-simplified versions) use varied translations for Ioudaioi in John as well. Below are some examples of translations of hoi Ioudaioi in John 1:19:
Portuguese: líderes judeus (Jewish leaders) (in Nova Tradução na Linguagem de Hoje — New Translation in Today’s Language)
French: autórités juives (Jewish authorities) (in Bible en français courant — Bible in Modern French) or chefs juifs (Jewish leaders) (in Parole de Vie — Word of Life)
Spanish: autiridades des judias (Jewish authorities) (in Dios Habla Hoy — God Speaks Today)
Italian: autorità ebraiche (Jewish authorities) (in Traduzione Interconfessionale in Lingua Corrente — Interconfessional Translation into Modern Language)
Dutch: Joodse leiders (Jewish leaders) (in BasisBijbel — Basic Bible)
German: führende Männer (leading men) (in Die Gute Nachricht: Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch — Good News: The Bible in Today’s German), führende Männer des jüdischen Volkes (leading men of the Jewish people) (in Neue Genfer Übersetzung — New Geneva Translation), or jüdische Behörden (Jewish authorities) (in BasisBibel — Basic Bible)
Indonesian: penguasa Yahudi (Jewish authorities) (in Alkitab dalam Bahasa Indonesia Masa Kini — The Bible in Today’s Indonesian)
Hindi: यहूदी धर्म-गुरुओं ने Yahūdī dharma-guruoan ne (Jewish religious leaders (in पवित्र बाइबिल CL — Holy Bible CL)
Nepali: यहूदी अगुवाहरूले Yahūdī aguvāharūlē (Jewish leaders) (in सरल नेपाली पवित्र बाइबल (Simple Nepali Holy Bible)
Hebrew: רָאשֵׁי הַיְּהוּדִים rashei hayehudim (heads of the Jews) (Modern Hebrew New Testament)
Wendland (1998, p. 93) gives a large range of translations that was used in Chichewa interconfessional translation (publ. 1999): “Jewish leaders” (John 2:18); “people” (John 7:35); Jewish guards of the Temple (John 18:12); “Jewish elders/authorities” (John 18:28); “tribe/nation of Jews” (John 18:33); “whole crowd” (John 18:38).