The Greek that is translated as “lifted up the serpent” or similar in English is translated in Aguaruna as “put up high that which had been made imitating a snake.” (Source: Larson 1998, p. 108)
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: “I who am 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: “I 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: “I, the 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.)
- Yatzachi Zapotec: “I whom God sent, I 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: “I, 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: “I have 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: “I, 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: “son (lit. 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: ” it is translated as itutumu ijo isibi : “Child of Human” (source: Enene Enene).
- Mairasi: Jaanoug Tat: “Person Child” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
- Morelos Nahuatl: “Christ who became man”
- Teutila Cuicatec: “the 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: ” . . .: “this 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.)
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.
Following are a number of back-translations of John 3:14:
- Huehuetla Tepehua: “Moses hung up the snake out where it was quiet. Well, also in the same way it is necessary that I should be hung up, I who am the friend of all men.”
- Alekano: “Just like Moses a long time ago in the wilderness lifted up the thing made to look like a snake, they will surely lift up me the true man.” (Source for this and above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
- Uma: “‘Long ago in the wilderness, the prophet Musa made an image of a snake from brass, and he put it on the end of a wooden pole and stuck it in the ground to stand it up. Whoever was bitten by a snake, if they looked up at that brass image of a snake, they would live. So, like that brass snake was made high long ago, so also I the Child of Mankind must be made high,” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
- Yakan: “Musa in old times, at the time when he was there in the lonely place together with the tribe of Isra’il, he made (a thing) in the shape of a snake from brass and lifted it up and hung it onto a post so that when the people who had been bitten looked at that snake would get well. Likewise I, the Son of Mankind, I also have to be lifted up onto a post and be killed,” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
- Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And then Jesus said again, ‘Long ago when Moses was still out in the land where nobody lives, he made a brass snake and he put it on wood and he raised it up. As for me, the older sibling of mankind, that is the same thing that is going to happen to me in the future because I also will be fastened to a wood and raised up.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
- Kankanaey: “And what will happen to me, it is like what happened to the imitation/fake snake which Moses fastened-to and raised-up on a post when they were walking through the place with no inhabitants. Because I also who am Child of a Person, I must be fastened-to the cross and be-raised-up” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
- Tagbanwa: “And in the way in which Moises put-up-high what he’d made which was like a snake there in the wilderness, putting it on wood/tree which he set up, like that indeed is what will be done to me who am the One From Heaven Born of Man. They will nail me to a cross and then put-up-high like that snake which was made.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
- Tenango Otomi: “There in the wilds, Moses made a metal snake and standing up a pole he raised it high. In like manner it will happen to the Man who came from heaven, it is necessary that the cross be stood up with him on it.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
The name that is transliterated as “Moses” in English is signed in Spanish Sign Language in accordance with the depiction of Moses in the famous statue by Michelangelo (see here ). (Source: John Elwode in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 78ff.)
“Moses” in Spanish Sign Language (source )
In French Sign Language, a similar sign is used, but it is interpreted as “radiance” (see below) and it culminates in a sign for “10,” signifying the 10 commandments:
“Moses” in French Sign Language (source )
The horns that are visible in Michelangelo’s statue are based on a passage in the Latin Vulgate translation (and many Catholic Bible translations that were translated through the 1950ies with that version as the source text). Jerome, the translator, had worked from a Hebrew text without the niqquds, the diacritical marks that signify the vowels in Hebrew and had interpreted the term קרו (k-r-n) in Exodus 34:29 as קֶ֫רֶן — keren “horned,” rather than קָרַו — karan “radiance” (describing the radiance of Moses’ head as he descends from Mount Sinai).
Even at the time of his translation, Jerome likely was not the only one making that decision as this recent article alludes to.