The Greek that is translated as “acknowledge” or “confess” in English is rendered as “say openly … that they have believed” (Tzeltal), “approves” (Chichewa), “declares/mentions (my) name” (Kekchí, Sranan Tongo), “talks (my) good name” (Northern Grebo), “testifies to (me)” (Zarma, Pohnpeian), “takes (my) side” (Shona, translation of 1966), or “speaks for (me)” (Ekari).
The Greek that is a transliteration of the Hebrew Pərūšīm and is typically transliterated into English as “Pharisee” is transliterated in Mandarin Chinese as Fǎlìsài (法利賽 / 法利赛) (Protestant) or Fǎlìsāi (法利塞) (Catholic). In Chinese, transliterations can typically be done with a great number of different and identical-sounding characters. Often the meaning of the characters are not relevant, unless they are chosen carefully as in these cases. The Protestant Fǎlìsài can mean something like “Competition for the profit of the law” and the Catholic Fǎlìsāi “Stuffed by/with the profit of the law.” (Source: Zetzsche 1996, p. 51)
In Finnish Sign Language it is translated with the sign signifying “prayer shawl”. (Source: Tarja Sandholm)
In British Sign Language it is translated with a sign that depicts “pointing out the law.” (Source: Anna Smith)
“Pharisee” in British Sign Language (source: Christian BSL, used with permission)
Scot McKnight (in The Second Testament, publ. 2023) translates it into English as Observant. He explains (p. 302): “Pharisee has become a public, universal pejorative term for a hypocrite. Pharisees were observant of the interpretation of the Covenant Code called the ‘tradition of the elders.’ They conformed their behaviors to the interpretation. Among the various groups of Jews at the time of Jesus, they were perhaps closest to Jesus in their overall concern to make a radical commitment to the will of God (as they understood it).”
Following are a number of back-translations of John 12:42:
Uma: “But even so, there were many Yahudi leaders who believed in Yesus. But they just believed secretly, because they were afraid lest the Parisi people expel them from the house of prayer.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
Yakan: “But even though it was like that, many of the Yahudi leaders believed in Isa but they did not speak openly about this, because they were afraid that perhaps the Pariseo would know it and then they would no longer be allowed in the prayer-house.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
Western Bukidnon Manobo: “In spite of that, many of the rulers of the Jews believed in Jesus, but they didn’t say that they believed in him because they were afraid of the Pharisees because their right to enter the churches might be taken away from them.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
Kankanaey: “Many nonetheless of the leaders of the Jews believed in Jesus. But they didn’t admit their belief on-account-of their fear that the Pharisees would punish them by their not being-counted among their fellow Jews.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
Tagbanwa: “However even though it was like that now, even the leaders of the Judio, there were now many who believed-in/obeyed Jesus. But their belief was only in secret, they weren’t admitting it, for they were evading the Pariseo, because maybe they would be removed from the place-for-worship, no longer included as being a Judio.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
Tenango Otomi: “However, many Jews who had authority believed in Jesus. Yet they didn’t tell the people what they believed because they feared the Pharisees and wanted to keep from having their names taken out of the church.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
Even then may be rendered “There were in fact” or “Actually there were.” This verse serves to emphasize what is to follow and suggests a certain amount of contrast with what has preceded.
Many Jewish authorities is literally “many authorities.” The reference is to the Jewish leaders. “The leading men” of Jerusalem Bible seems to imply that a number of leading citizens believed in Jesus, whereas the emphasis is that a number of the Jewish authorities believed in Jesus (note, for example, New American Bible “There were many, even among the Sanhedrin, who believed in him”). Goodspeed translates “… even among the members of the Council, many came to believe in him.” It is quite likely that authorities in this context is to be understood specifically as members of the Jewish Council (see 3.1; 7.26,48).
The expression because of the Pharisees may require further expansion in some languages, for example, “because of fear of the Pharisees” or “because they feared what the Pharisees might do to them.”
In Jesus is literally “in him.” It is necessary to make the pronominal reference explicit; otherwise it may be taken as referring back to Isaiah in verse 41, since he is the last person mentioned by name.
Talk about it openly is the verb spoke out clearly (1.20; see also 9.22). Goodspeed translates “would not acknowledge it” (New English Bible “would not acknowledge him”); Phillips has “would not admit it” (Jerusalem Bible “did not admit it”; New American Bible “refused to admit it”). It may be necessary in some languages to say “would not say to others that they believed in Jesus.”
Be expelled from the synagogue is the same expression used in 9.22.
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 .