rhetorical questions (John 7:51)

During the translation of the New Testament into Huixtán Tzotzil, translation consultant Marion Cowan found that questions where the answer is obvious, affirmative rhetorical questions, as well questions raising objections tended to cause confusion among the readers. So these are rendered as simple or emphatic statements.

Accordingly, John 7:51 reads “Thus says our law that first we ask the one who is to be judged, first we find out what sin he has committed.”

Source: Marion Cowan in The Bible Translator 1960, p. 123ff.

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (John 7:51)

Many languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns (“we”). 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 inclusive form (including the Pharisees).

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

complete verse (John 7:51)

Following are a number of back-translations of John 7:51:

  • Uma: “‘According to our laws, we cannot condemn a person if his defense has not been heard and if his actions have not been examined.'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “‘Our (dual) law says that a person cannot be dropped judgment on if he has not been heard first so that it is known as to what he has done.'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “he said, ‘Our law does not permit that we condemn a man to be punished before that man has been investigated, before he is able to give his defense.'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “‘If based-upon (concessive particle) our law, we cannot condemn a person if he has not yet had an investigation/trial. He must first have opportunity to answer so that we will then consider what his crime/sin is. Isn’t that so?'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “‘Isn’t it indeed against our laws to just-go-ahead and judge/sentence a person if he hasn’t yet been interrogated to find out properly what he is doing which is wrong?'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “‘The law we follow says that it is not permitted to pronounce a sentence on a person if the trial is not yet made so that he may be accused.'” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)


The Greek that is translated in English as “Law” or “law” is translated in Mairasi as oro nasinggiei or “prohibited things.” (Source: Enggavoter 2004)

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.)