Logos, Word

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.”

Translation for “Logos” include:

  • Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac: “the one who is called the Word”
  • Sayula Popoluca: “the Word by which God is known”
  • Miahuatlán Zapotec: “one who revealed God’s thoughts”
  • Alekano: “God’s wise Speech”
  • Tojolabal: “he who told us about God” (Source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February, 1970, p. 1-125.)
  • Yatzachi Zapotec: “Jesus Christ the person who is the Word, he who gives eternal life”
  • Eastern Highland Otomi: “the Word that gives new life to our hearts”
  • Garifuna: “the one named Word, the one who gives life” (Source for this and two above: John Beekman in Notes on Translation 12, November 1964, p. 1ff.)
  • Tzeltal de Oxchuc y Tenejapa (Highland Tzeltal): te C’opile: “the Word” (in a new, 2001 version of the New Testament to avoid the previous translation “the Word of God,” a term also used for “Bible.” — Source: Robert Bascom)
  • Mairasi: “The Message” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • 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)
  • Kikuyu: Ũhoro or “Affair”/”Matter” (source: Leonard Beecher in The Bible Translator 1964, p. 117ff. )
  • Dholuo: Wach: “Word” (but also: “problem,” “issue,” or “matter”) (source: Jim Harries)
  • 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. )
  • Ajië: (click or tap here to read an explanation by Maurice Leenhardt — in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 154ff. ):

    “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 . 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 Latin Verbum (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.”

For another use of dao in the Chinese Bible, see the Way).

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.”

Famously, Goethe also had Faust ponder the translation of Logos into German in the first part of the play of the same name (publ. 1808). The German original is followed by the English translation of Walter Kaufmann (publ. 1963) (click or tap here to read more):

Geschrieben steht: “Im Anfang war das Wort!”
Hier stock ich schon! Wer hilft mir weiter fort?
Ich kann das Wort so hoch unmöglich schätzen,
Ich muß es anders übersetzen,
Wenn ich vom Geiste recht erleuchtet bin.
Geschrieben steht: Im Anfang war der Sinn.
Bedenke wohl die erste Zeile,
Daß deine Feder sich nicht übereile!
Ist es der Sinn, der alles wirkt und schafft?
Es sollte stehn: Im Anfang war die Kraft!
Doch, auch indem ich dieses niederschreibe,
Schon warnt mich was, daß ich dabei nicht bleibe.
Mir hilft der Geist! Auf einmal seh ich Rat
Und schreibe getrost: Im Anfang war die Tat!

It says: “In the beginning was the Word.”
Already I am stopped. It seems absurd.
The Word does not deserve the highest prize,
I must translate it otherwise
If I am well inspired and not blind.
It says: In the beginning was the Mind.
Ponder that first line, wait and see,
Lest you should write too hastily
Is mind the all-creating source?
It ought to say: In the beginning there was Force.
Yet something warns me as l grasp the pen,
That my translation must be changed again.
The spirit helps me. Now it is exact.
I write: In the beginning was the Act.

See also this devotion on YouVersion .

mixture of myrrh with aloes

The Greek that is translated as a “mixture of myrrh with aloes” refers a mixture of “a fragrant resin used for embalming the dead” (myrrh) and a “powdered aromatic sandalwood, spoken of as providing perfume for the bed or clothes” (aloes) (source: Newman / Nida),

Ojitlán Chinantec translates it as “fragrant powder, resin powder and wood powder mixed” and Chol as “a wood that gives a fragrant smell when it is rotten.”

(Source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)

woman (Jesus addressing his mother)

Stephen Hre Kio reports on the translation of the Greek word into Falam Chin that is translated as “woman” in English, specifically when it refers to Jesus addressing his mother (see The Bible Translator 1988, p. 442ff. ):

“No child would call his parents by their names, either half name or full name, in private or in public. To do so would show disrespect of a high degree. It would be an open insult. The only possible situation where the children might address their parents by name would be where a combination of an endearment title and the name was used as a form of introduction, and the listeners were people not familiar with the parents. For example, the son Za Hu can introduce his father to an unfamiliar audience by saying, ‘This is my father U Kaw Kaw. . .’ If he does it without saying ‘my father,’ Za Hu is creating a distance between himself and his father, but not disrespect. If he addresses his father as ‘Man!’ and his mother as ‘Woman!,’ he is in real trouble. He would be creating an image of being uncultured, disrespectful and downright contemptuous.

“That is precisely the situation we find in John 2:4 and 19:26, where Jesus addressed his mother as ‘woman’ (Greek gunai). To translate this utterance literally would be Nunau in Falam Chin, and this would be offensive to Falam readers. Although we find the same utterance in John 20:13, by two angels who say to Mary, ‘Woman, why are you crying?,’ this is not as offensive as the other uses. The difference lies in the person who said it. For the angels to say to the woman “Woman,” is acceptable. But for the son to say ‘Woman’ to his mother demonstrates utter disrespect and contempt or even extreme anger. That is precisely what we found the text of John put in the mouth of Jesus. But is that actually what Jesus meant when he said ‘Woman’? Fortunately, we are told that ‘Jesus’ use of ‘woman’ (RSV) in direct address was normal and polite. . . It showed neither disrespect nor lack of love. . .’ (quoted from: Newman / Nida 1980). In Falam, the word ‘woman’ Nunau, will have to be avoided and replaced by Ka Nu, meaning ‘My Mother.’ This is the only choice possible in the situation. ‘Woman’ (Nunau) would be insulting, and ‘mother’ Nu Nu would be childish.”

See also formal pronoun: Jesus and his mother,

Translation commentary on John 1:32

And John gave this testimony renders the Greek “and John testified saying that” (see 1.7). As already noted under 1.7, the term “testimony” or “testify” indicates a clear pronouncement about what one has personally experienced. It would not be sufficient in this instance to translate merely “John said,” but one could use such an expression as “John related clearly” or “John described just what had happened” or “… what he had seen.”

I saw is the same verb discussed in 1.14. The Greek verb is in the perfect tense, which focuses attention on the continuing effect of a past action, that is, John saw the Spirit come on Jesus at his baptism, and the Spirit stayed on him.

As Good News Translation makes clear, the verb stay on refers to the Spirit, and not to the dove. A translation such as New English Bible (“I saw the Spirit coming down from heaven like a dove and resting upon him”) may be taken to imply that it was the dove that was remaining on Jesus. The translator should not try to force this account of Jesus’ baptism to conform with the accounts in the Synoptic Gospels, which have differences among themselves.

Like a dove can be understood either “in the form of a dove” or “in the manner of a dove,” that is, fluttering down as a dove would flutter down. In this context it is better to adopt the second of these interpretations, namely, the manner in which the Holy Spirit came down, rather than the form the Holy Spirit assumed.

There are certain problems implied in the expression “stay on him.” It would suggest that the Holy Spirit perched on Jesus, which, of course, is not what is meant. Therefore, it may be necessary to adopt such an expression as “remained with him” or “continued to be with him.”

One of the problems involved in translating verses 32-33 is the temporal sequence of events. First, there is the statement that John saw the Spirit coming down like a dove from heaven and staying on Jesus. Then there is the statement from God saying that John the Baptist would see the Spirit come down and stay on a particular person, as a sign that this individual would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Finally, in verse 34, John the Baptist states that he has seen this event and therefore can declare that such a person is the Son of God. From this rather confusing sequence, it is difficult to determine whether God spoke to John the Baptist concerning the sign before or after he actually saw the Spirit descend. Therefore, it may be necessary to restructure the order of material in verses 32-33 to read as follows: “This is the way John described what happened: I did not know who this one would be, but God, who sent me to baptize with water, said to me, ‘You will see the Holy Spirit come down and stay on a man; he is the one who baptizes with the Spirit.’ And I did see the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and stay on him”; or, to translate verse 32 as the Good News Translation has done, and begin verse 33 as “Previously I did not know who he would be, but God….” But for a language such as English the sequence can be made clear by the use of a pluperfect tense: “I did not know him, but God … had said to 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 .

Translation commentary on John 2:13

It was almost time for the Passover Festival is literally “and the Passover of the Jews was near.” Good News Translation qualifies the Passover as a Festival in order to make this information immediately explicit for its readers, who otherwise might not have a background for understanding the term. It was customary for Jews to go to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. John mentions this festival in two other places in his Gospel (6.4; 11.55; and possibly it is intended in 5.1). It is interesting to note that in 6.4 John himself qualifies the Passover as “the feast of the Jews.” The Passover Festival took place on Nisan 14 (around April 1). It celebrated the deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt (see especially Exo 12.1-27; Deut 16 1-8).

It is difficult to find an appropriate term to translate Passover or Passover Festival. A literal translation of Passover may be misleading, since it may appear to mean that some of the people passed over a river or some kind of barrier. It may be important, especially at the first mention of the Passover Festival, to indicate that it was “a festival to celebrate the passing over of the angel in ancient times.” In any translation of a Gospel or New Testament, a glossary should be provided, giving a description of major factors in the event of the ancient Passover in Egypt, just preceding the exodus of the Jews from that land.

Traditionally the Passover has been spoken of as the “feast of Passover,” but the term “feast” hardly seems appropriate in a present-day English version. For that reason the term “festival” is used, since it implies more than eating. The Passover was a joyous occasion which took a considerable period of time (especially in view of the need for people to go to and from Jerusalem), and a number of events were connected with it in addition to the ceremonial meal. Since festivals are common in most societies, an appropriate equivalent term can usually be found. The difficulty is that the terms associated with such festivals are often highly specific. If the fact that a term is specific prevents it from being used, it may be necessary to employ such a phrase as “a time of celebrating” or “days when the Jews celebrated the passing over of the angel,” or “… their deliverance from Egypt.”

It was almost time for may be rendered in some languages “a few days later would be the time for” or “soon it would be time for” or “in only a few days it would be the day for.”

Jesus went to Jerusalem is literally “Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” The verb “to go up” is the usual verb for describing a journey to Jerusalem, which was situated in the Judean hill country (compare 5.1; 7.8; 11.55; 12.20). Note the similar use of the verb “to go down to” in verse 12.

Both clauses in 2.13 begin with “and,” a common connective in Jewish Greek. Most translators into English use more natural transitional formulas.

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 .

Translation commentary on John 3:20

Anyone who does evil things is a Semitism, as is the contrasting expression in the following verse, whoever does what is true.

His evil deeds is literally “his deeds.” Several Greek manuscripts do include “evil,” but Good News Translation includes this information on translational, rather than on textual grounds. That is, either Good News Translation make explicit the meaning of “deeds” in the context, or, more likely, the meaning of evil is derived from the verb (see below).

Having already suggested in the preceding verse that light involves the revelation of truth, it may be possible in this verse to eliminate any specific identification or qualification for light; one may, for example, say “anyone who customarily does evil always hates the light of truth” or “… the light which reveals the truth.” The following expression may then be translated “and he will not come to where there is this light.”

The verb to be shown up (evil) is translated “to be shown up” by New English Bible also. Moffatt, Goodspeed, Phillips, Revised Standard Version, Jerusalem Bible and New American Bible all have “to be exposed.” The Greek verb itself (elencho) means, first, “to bring to light” or “to expose,” and then “to convince/convict (someone) of something.” Depending on the context, the meaning may be specifically either “to expose (something to be evil/wrong)” or “to convince/convict (someone) of something (evil/wrong).” In 8.46 (see the comments there) the meaning is “to convict (of sin),” and so Good News Translation renders prove … guilty of sin. In 16.8 (see the comments there), a very difficult passage, the same verb is used of the Holy Spirit who will “convict the world about sin,” that is, will prove to the people of the world that they are wrong about sin. In the present passage no personal object is used; it is as in the other two passages where this verb occurs, and so the meaning is simply “to expose (as evil).” This meaning is apparently the basis for the rendering evil (deeds) to be shown up; though this rendering may also be supported by the observation that in the present context “deeds” are implicitly evil deeds.

The passive expression to be shown up may possibly be transformed into an active phrase by saying “because such a person does not want the light to reveal to others his evil deeds” or “… does not want the light to shine on his evil actions.”

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 .

Translation commentary on John 4:16

This verse introduces a new aspect into the dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Verse 15 indicates that the woman still does not understand what Jesus is talking about, and so, beginning in this verse, Jesus takes a different approach.

And come back must be made more specific in some receptor languages, for example, “and come back with him” or “bring him back with you.” It is obviously implied that the woman should get her husband and return with him to talk further with Jesus.

The term husband is sometimes translated by such a phrase as “your man,” but usually there is more specific expressions to designate the male partner in the marital relation. It can, of course, be expressed as “the man to whom you are married.”

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 .

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 .