eternity, forever, forever and ever

The Greek that is typically translated as “eternity,” “forever,” or “forever and ever” in English are translated in Mairasi as “mashed out infinitely.” Lloyd Peckham explains: “Bark cloth required pounding. It got longer and wider as it got pounded. Similarly, life gets pounded or mashed to lengthen it into infinity. Tubers also get mashed into the standard way of serving the staple food, like the fufu of Uganda, or like poi of Hawaii. It spreads out into infinity.” (Source: Lloyd Peckham)

In Lisu the phrase “forever and ever” is translated as ꓕꓲꓽ ꓞꓲꓼ ꓕꓲ ꓑ — thi tsi thi pa, verbatim translated as “one – lifetime – one – world.” This construction follows a traditional four-couplet construct in oral Lisu poetry that is usually in the form ABAC or ABCB. (Source: Arrington 2020, p. 57f.)

See also forever, eternal life and salvation.

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (John 12:34)

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 exclusive form (excluding Jesus).

Source: Velma Pickett and Florence Cowan in Notes on Translation January 1962, p. 1ff.

Son of Man

The Greek that is translated as “Son of Man” and is mostly used by Jesus to refer to himself is (back-) translated in the following languages as (click or tap for details):

  • San Miguel El Grande Mixtec: “One who is a person”
  • Tzotzil: “I who am equal with men” or “The Older Brother of Everybody” (“expressing the dignity and authority of the Messiah and the universality of his work”)
  • Chuj: “One who became human”
  • Terêna: “The True Man”
  • Tenango Otomi: “The Man Appointed” (i.e. the man to whom authority has been delegated) (source for this and preceding: Beekman, p. 189-190, see also Ralph Hill in Notes on Translation February 1983, p. 35-50)
  • Huehuetla Tepehua: “Friend of all men”
  • Aguaruna: “One who was born becoming a person” (source for this and two above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Older Sibling of Mankind” (source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Child of a Person” (source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “One From Heaven Born of Man/human?” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “Man who came from heaven” (source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
  • Yatzachi Zapotec: “One who God sent, who was born a human” (a direct translation would have suggested “that the father is unknown due to the indiscretions of the mother” and where “he is the son of people” is used when one wants to disclaim responsibility for or relationship with a child caught in some mischief — source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • Mezquital Otomi: “The son who became a person” (Source: B. Moore / G. Turner in Notes on Translation 1967, p. 1ff.)
  • Alekano: “The true man who descended from heaven” (source: Ellis Deibler in Notes on Translation June 1986, p. 36ff.)
  • Central Tarahumara: “One who has been stood up to help” (“This suggests that Christ has been given authority to some appointed task. A very generic word, help, was selected to fill in the lexically obligatory purpose required by the word which means to appoint or commission. Usually this word is used of menial tasks but not exclusively. The choice of this generic term retains the veiled reference to the character of Christ’s work which He intended in using the ‘Son of Man’ title.”)
  • Chicahuaxtla Triqui: “He who is relative of all people.” (“The Triqui word for relative is a rather generic term and in its extended sense sometimes is diluted to neighbor and friend. But the primary meaning is relative.”)
  • Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac: “Sibling of All People”
  • Tepeuxila Cuicatec: “The Person who Accompanies All People” (“The literal equivalents ‘son of man’ and ‘son of people’ were both rejected because of the false inference of natural birth involving a human father. Furthermore, it was necessary to expand any translation of the Bible by the addition of the pronoun ‘I’ so as to clarify the fact that Jesus is using the third person in referring to Himself. A common expression used by the Cuicatecos when difficulties befall someone, is to say to that one, ‘don’t worry, we are accompanying you.’ By this they mean they share that person’s sorrow. When wedding guests arrive at the home of a son who has just been married, they say to the father, ‘We have come to accompany you.’ By this they mean that they have come to share the father’s joy. These expressions do not refer to ordinary physical accompaniment, which is expressed by a set of different verbs. For example, visits are always announced by some such greeting as, “I have come to visit you,’ ‘I have come to see you,’ or ‘I have come to ask you something.’ The desire to accompany a friend on a journey is expressed by saying, ‘I will go with you.’ Translation helpers used the verb ‘accompany’ in constructing the phrase ‘I, the Person who Accompanies All People.'(…) It reflects the fact that Jesus closely identified Himself with all of us, understands our weaknesses, shares our burdens, rejoices with us in times of gladness, etc.”) (source for this and the three preceding: Beekman in Notes on Translation January 1963, p. 1-10)
  • Guhu-Samane: “Elder-brother-man” (“Since the term denotes an elder brother in every way such as honor, power, leadership, representation of the younger, etc. it is a meaningful and fitting — though not ostentatious — title.” Source: Ernest Richert in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 198ff. )
  • Avaric: “Son of Adam” (“from Islam, which means ‘human'”) (source: Magomed-Kamil Gimbatov and Yakov Testelets in The Bible Translator 1996, p. 434ff. )
  • Navajo: Diné Silíi’ii — “Man he-became-the-one-who” (“This terra presented a difficulty not only in Navajo but also one peculiar to all the Athapaskan languages. It lies in the fact that all these languages, so far as we know, have a word phonetically similar to the Navajo diné which has three meanings: ‘man, people in general,’ ‘a man,’ ‘The People’ which is the name the Navajos use for themselves. (The name Navajo was first used by the Spanish explorers.) Although it seemed natural to say diné biye’ ‘a-man his-son,’ this could also mean ‘The-People their-son’ or ‘a-Navajo his-son,’ in contrast to the son of a white man or of another Indian tribe. Since the concept of the humanity of Christ is so important, we felt that diné biye’ with its three possible meanings should not be used. The term finally decided on was Diné Silíi’ii ‘Man he-became-the-one-who.’ This could be interpreted to mean ‘the one who became a Navajo,’ but since it still would impart the idea of Christ’s becoming man, it was deemed adequate, and it has proven acceptable to the Navajos.”) (Source: Faye Edgerton in The Bible Translator 1962, p. 25ff. )
  • Toraja-Sa’dan: “Child descended in the world” (“using a poetic verb, often found in songs that [deal with] the contacts between heaven and earth”) (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • Obolo: Gwun̄ Ebilene: “Child of Human” (source: Enene Enene).
  • Mairasi: Jaanoug Tat: “Person Child” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • Morelos Nahuatl: “Christ who became man”
  • Teutila Cuicatec: “One Who Accompanies all people”
  • Isthmus Mixe: “Jesus Christ, the one who is a person” (source for this and two above: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August 1966, p. 86ff.)
  • Northern Puebla Nahuatl: “Son of men” (source: B. Moore / G. Turner in Notes on Translation 1967, p. 1ff.)
  • Inga: ” . . .: “One who became Man” (source: S. Levinsohn in Journal of Translation 18/2022, p. 67ff. )
  • Costa Rican Sign Language: “It was impossible to translate the expression ‘Son of Man.’ The son-man sign simply means ‘male child.’ The Costa Rican Sign Language (LESCO) team opted for an interpretation of the term and translated it ‘Jesus.'” (Source: Elsa Tamez (in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 59ff.)
  • Lokạạ: wẹẹn wạ ọnẹn or “son of a person.” “This translation is symbolic in that it uses indigenous Lokạạ words. However, since the publication of the New Testament in 2006, this phrase has gained popularity within contemporary Lokạạ society as an expression to describe an important person whose career is going well. In the New Testament, the phrase ‘son of man’ is used to describe Jesus as prototypically human, but the Lokạạ phrase is now being used to describe an exceptional person in Lokạạ society.” (Source: J.A. Naudé, C.L. Miller Naudé, J.O. Obono in Acta Theologica 43/2, 2023, p. 129ff. )

In many West African languages, using a third person reference as a first person indicator is common practice with a large range of semantic effects. Languages that use the exact expression “son of man” as a self-reference or reference to another person include Lukpa, Baatonum, Mossi (“son of Adam”), Yoruba (“son of person”), Guiberoua Béte, or Samo. (Source: Lynell Zogbo in: Omanson 2000, p. 167-188.)

In Swahili the expression Mwana wa Mtu or mwana wa mtu or “son/daughter of human person,” which is used by several Bible translations, also has “the idiomatic meaning of ‘a human being’” (source: Jean-Claude Loba-Mkole in An Intercultural Criticism of New Testament Translations 2013, see here). The same is true for the Lingala expression Mwana na Moto — “son/daughter of human person.” (Ibid.)

In Balinese “we are again bordering on theological questions when we inquire as to which vocabulary shall be used to translate the texts where Jesus speaks of himself as ‘the Son of man.’ One of the fixed rules governing the use of these special vocabularies is that one may never use the deferential terms in speaking of oneself. This would be the extreme of arrogance. Now if one considers the expression ‘Son of man’ primarily as a description of ‘I,’ then one must continually indicate the possessions or actions of the Son of man by Low Balinese words. In doing this the mystery of the expression is largely lost. In any case the vocabulary used in most of the contexts would betray that Jesus means the title for himself.

“However, a distinction can actually be made in Balinese between the person and the exalted position he occupies. For example, the chairman of a judicial body may employ deferential terms when referring to this body and its chairman, without this being taken as an expression of arrogance. Considered from this standpoint, one may translate in such a way that Jesus is understood as using such deferential words and phrases in speaking of himself. The danger is, however, that the unity between his person and the figure of “the Son of man” is blurred by such usage.

“On request, the New Testament committee of the Netherlands Bible Society advised that ‘the sublimity of this mysterious term be considered the most important point and thus High Balinese be used.'”

Source: J.L. Swellengrebel in The Bible Translator 1950 , p. 124ff.

In Malay, Barclay Newman reports on the translation of “Today’s Malay Version” (Alkitab Berita Baik) of 1987:

“One of the first things that we did in working through the earlier part of the New Testament was to decide on how we would translate some of the more difficult technical terms. It was immediately obvious that something must be done with the translation of ‘the Son of Man,’ since the literal rendering anak manusia (literally ‘child of a man’) held absolutely no meaning for Malay readers. We felt that the title should emphasize the divine origin and authority of the one who used this title, and at the same time, since it was a title, we decided that it should not be too long a phrase. Finally, a phrase meaning ‘the One whom God has ordained’ was chosen (yang dilantik Allah). It is interesting to note that the newly-begun Common Indonesian (Alkitab Kabar Baik, published in 1985) has followed a similar route by translating ‘the One whom God has chosen’ (yang depilih Allah).”

Source: Barclay Newman in The Bible Translator 1974, p. 432ff.

See also Son of God.

formal pronoun: common people addressing Jesus

Like many languages (but unlike Greek or Hebrew or English), Tuvan uses a formal vs. informal 2nd person pronoun (a familiar vs. a respectful “you”). Unlike other languages that have this feature, however, the translators of the Tuvan Bible have attempted to be very consistent in using the different forms of address in every case a 2nd person pronoun has to be used in the translation of the biblical text.

As Voinov shows in Pronominal Theology in Translating the Gospels (in: The Bible Translator 2002, p. 210ff.), the choice to use either of the pronouns many times involved theological judgment. While the formal pronoun can signal personal distance or a social/power distance between the speaker and addressee, the informal pronoun can indicate familiarity or social/power equality between speaker and addressee.

Here, the crowd (or individuals within the crowd) addresses Jesus with the formal pronoun, expressing respect.

complete verse (John 12:34)

Following are a number of back-translations of John 12:34:

  • Uma: “The crowds said: ‘In the Law of the Lord we (excl.) read: The Redeemer King lives forever. Why do you say that the Child of Mankind must be made-high on/over the earth? What Child of Mankind are you talking about anyway?'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “The crowds of people answered Isa, they said, ‘Our (excl.) holy-book says that the Almasi will live forever. But you say that the Son of Mankind has to be lifted up and killed. Who then is this Son of Mankind?'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And then the people said, ‘There is that which has been taught to us from the written word of God that the king chosen by God will never die. But you, you say that the older brother of mankind will be lifted up on a post. Who is this that you are talking about, this older brother of mankind?'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Whereupon the many-people said, ‘Why perhaps do you (sing.) say that the one who am Child of a Person must be raised-up? Because what God caused-to-be-written that was taught to us (excl.), it says that the Messiah will live-and-live forever. Who then perhaps is that one who am Child of a Person?'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Those people replied, saying, ‘We(excl.) know what is said there in the writing which is the word of God, that as for that Cristo who was promised, he will remain without ending. Well why did you say that he who is the One From Heaven Born of Man will be put up on high on a cross? What kind of person is meant by the One From Heaven Born of Man?'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “The people said, ‘We have heard what is written in the book of the law, that the Christ lives forever. And you say the Man who came from heaven must be nailed on a cross. Who is this man from heaven you are talking about then?'” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

Christ, Messiah

The Greek Christos (Χρηστός) is typically transliterated when it appears together with Iésous (Ἰησοῦς) (Jesus). In English the transliteration is the Anglicized “Christ,” whereas in many other languages it is based on the Greek or Latin as “Kristus,” “Cristo,” or similar.

When used as a descriptive term in the New Testament — as it’s typically done in the gospels (with the possible exceptions of for instance John 1:17 and 17:3) — Christos is seen as the Greek translation of the Hebrew mashiaḥ (המשיח‎) (“anointed”). Accordingly, a transliteration of mashiaḥ is used, either as “Messiah” or based on the Greek or Latin as a form of “Messias.”

This transliteration is also used in the two instances where the Greek term Μεσσίας (Messias) is used in John 1:41 and 4:25.

In some languages and some translations, the term “Messiah” is supplemented with an explanation. Such as in the German Gute Nachricht with “the Messiah, the promised savior” (Wir haben den Messias gefunden, den versprochenen Retter) or in Muna with “Messiah, the Saving King” (Mesias, Omputo Fosalamatino) (source: René van den Berg).

In predominantly Muslim areas or for Bible translations for a Muslim target group, Christos is usually transliterated from the Arabic al-Masih (ٱلْمَسِيحِ) — “Messiah.” In most cases, this practice corresponds with languages that also use a form of the Arabic Isa (عيسى) for Jesus (see Jesus). There are some exceptions, though, including modern translations in Arabic which use Yasua (يَسُوعَ) (coming from the Aramaic Yēšūa’) alongside a transliteration of al-Masih, Hausa which uses Yesu but Almahisu, and some Fula languages (Adamawa Fulfulde, Nigerian Fulfulde, and Central-Eastern Niger Fulfulde) which also use a form of Iésous (Yeesu) but Almasiihu (or Almasiifu) for Christos.

In Indonesian, while most Bible translations had already used Yesus Kristus rather than Isa al Masih, three public holidays used to be described using the term Isa Al Masih. From 2024 the government will use Yesus Kristus in those holiday names instead (see this article in Christianity Today ).

Other solutions that are used by a number of languages include these:

  • Dobel: “The important one that God had appointed to come” (source: Jock Hughes)
  • Noongar: Keny Mammarap or “The One Man” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • Mairasi: “King of not dying for life all mashed out infinitely” (for “mashed out,” see salvation; source: Lloyd Peckham)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “One chosen by God to rule mankind” (source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Bacama: Ma Pwa a Ngɨltən: “The one God has chosen” (source: David Frank in this blog post )
  • Binumarien: Anutuna: originally a term that was used for a man that was blessed by elders for a task by the laying on of hands (source: Desmond Oatridges, Holzhausen 1991, p. 49f.)
  • Noongar: Keny Boolanga-Yira Waangki-Koorliny: “One God is Sending” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • Uab Meto: Neno Anan: “Son of heaven” P. Middelkoop explains: “The idea of heavenly power bestowed on a Timorese king is rendered in the title Neno Anan. It is based on the historical fact that chiefs in general came from overseas and they who come thence are believed to have come down from heaven, from the land beyond the sea, that means the sphere of God and the ghosts of the dead. The symbolical act of anointing has been made subservient to the revelation of an eternal truth and when the term Neno Anan is used as a translation thereof, it also is made subservient to a new revelation of God in Jesus Christ. The very fact that Jesus came from heaven makes this translation hit the mark.” (Source: P. Middelkoop in The Bible Translator 1953, p. 183ff. )

In Finnish Sign Language both “Christ” and “Messiah” are translated with sign signifying “king.” (Source: Tarja Sandholm)


“Christ / Messiah” in Finnish Sign Language (source )

Law (2013, p. 97) writes about how the Ancient Greek Septuagint‘s translation of the Hebrew mashiah was used by the New Testament writers as a bridge between the Old and New Testaments (click or tap here to read more):

“Another important word in the New Testament that comes from the Septuagint is christos, ‘Christ.’ Christ is not part of the name of the man from Nazareth, as if ‘the Christs’ were written above the door of his family home. Rather, ‘Christ’ is an explicitly messianic title used by the writers of the New Testament who have learned this word from the Septuagint’s translation of the Hebrew mashiach, ‘anointed,’ which itself is often rendered in English as ‘Messiah.’ To be sure, one detects a messianic intent on the part of the Septuagint translator in some places. Amos 4:13 may have been one of these. In the Hebrew Bible, God ‘reveals his thoughts to mortals,’ but the Septuagint has ‘announcing his anointed to humans.’ A fine distinction must be made, however, between theology that was intended by the Septuagint translators and that developed by later Christian writers. In Amos 4:13 it is merely possible we have a messianic reading, but it is unquestionably the case that the New Testament writers exploit the Septuagint’s use of christos, in Amos and elsewhere, to messianic ends.”

law

The Greek that is translated in English as “Law” or “law” is translated in Mairasi as oro nasinggiei or “prohibited things” (source: Enggavoter 2004) and in Noongar with a capitalized form of the term for “words” (Warrinya) (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang).

In Yucateco the phrase that is used for “law” is “ordered-word” (for “commandment,” it is “spoken-word”) (source: Nida 1947, p. 198) and in Central Tarahumara it is “writing-command.” (wsource: Waterhouse / Parrott in Notes on Translation October 1967, p. 1ff.)
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Translation commentary on John 12:34

The crowd answered is more literally “therefore (oun) the crowd answered him.”

Our Law tells us translates a false passive construction in Greek (“we heard from the Law”). Good News Translation makes it an active construction and specifies that the reference is to the Jewish (Our) Law. Our Law in this context is best understood as a reference to the entire Jewish Bible, not just to the section traditionally known as “the Law.” If any specific passage is in the minds of the people, it is probably Psalm 89, which both the New Testament (Acts 13.22; Rev 1.5; 3.14) and Jewish rabbinical sources interpret Messianically. For example, Psalm 89.36 states “his seed (= David’s descendant) remains forever,” while in verse 51 of that same Psalm interprets the “seed” as the Lord’s “anointed” (= the Messiah). However, it is impossible to be this precise; more than likely this teaching is a general conclusion derived from the total Old Testament.

In a number of languages it is not possible to say “our Law tells us,” for one cannot speak of a collection of ordinances as doing any kind of talking. But it is possible to say “in our laws we read that” or “from our laws we learn that.”

It should be noted that it is not Jesus, but the people who introduce the mention of the Son of Man. For the crowd, at least in this context, the Messiah is identified with the Son of Man. If the Messiah will live forever, how then can Jesus say that he will be lifted up (that is, be put to death)? Who is this Son of Man? may be taken either as a question regarding the identity of the Son of Man, or as one regarding his relation to the Messiah.

For languages in which the Son of Man is made specific with a first person reference when Jesus himself is speaking, it may be appropriate here to identify the Son of Man with a second person singular pronoun, for example, “you as the Son of Man.” However, if one uses this expression, the question which follows may seem strange, for Who is this Son of Man? seems to be asking about the identity of that person. One possible interpretation of the phrase Son of Man may be “What do you mean by the expression Son of Man?” However, real dangers are involved in attempting to be too specific, either in identifying the referent of the Son of Man in the first of the two questions, or in trying to suggest too clearly the relation between the phrase Son of Man and Messiah. Since the crowd was not certain of what was meant or intended, there is nothing wrong in leaving the questions somewhat obscure. In fact, introducing some measure of obscurity would be completely in keeping with this context.

Perhaps it should be noted that, whereas most translations render with the meaning will live forever, Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch has “will remain with us forever.” This translation represents a slight shift in emphasis, and it seems that the interpretation of Good News Translation and most other translations is more in accord with what is meant in this particular passage. Here again Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch translates “Messiah” by “the promised Savior,” which is a definite improvement over most other translations. (See comments at 1.20.)

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 .