complete verse (John 7:19)

Following are a number of back-translations of John 7:19:

  • Uma: “The prophet Musa long ago gave you the Law of the Lord. But there is not one of you who follows that Law. Why do you want to kill me?'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “Isa said also to those leaders, ‘Did Musa not give to you the law? But none of you follows the law. Why do you want to kill me?'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Our ancestor long ago Moses, he is the one who gave you the laws, and I know that there is none of you who fulfills the law, for why are you thinking about killing me?'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Moses is the one who made-known to you God’s law back then, isn’t that so? But absolutely none of you obeys-it. Because if you did obey it, you wouldn’t be-intending to kill-me.'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Isn’t it so that it was Moises who gave you the laws? But no matter who of you, there’s really no truth/reality to your following/obeying of those laws. If your following really was true, why would you want to kill me?'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “Isn’t it true that Moses gave you the law? And that law is what no one of you has obeyed. How come you want to kill me because you say that I don’t obey what the law says?'” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

formal pronoun: Jesus addressing his disciples and common people

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, Jesus is addressing his disciples, individuals and/or crowds with the formal pronoun, showing respect.

In most Dutch translations, Jesus addresses his disciples and common people with the informal pronoun, whereas they address him with the formal form.


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 Nyongar 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.)


The name that is transliterated as “Moses” in English is signed in Spanish Sign Language and Polish 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 )

American Sign Language also uses the sign depicting the horns but also has a number of alternative signs (see here).

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.

In Estonian Sign Language Moses is depicted with a big beard. (Source: Liina Paales in Folklore 47, 2011, p. 43ff.)

See also Moses and Elijah during the Transfiguration.

Translation commentary on John 7:19

Moses gave you the Law, didn’t he? is stated in such a way as to expect a positive answer. In languages in which a rhetorical question may be misleading (especially when there is no immediate answer), a strong declarative statement may be used, for example, “Moses certainly gave you the Law” or “You will all agree, Moses gave you the Law.”

Obeys the Law is literally “keeps the Law,” a frequent Semitic expression. Moffatt translates “none of you honestly obeys the Law”; New English Bible “you all break it.” Obeys the Law may be expressed as “does what the Law says” or “lives as the Law commands you” or “follows the laws in what you do.”

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 .