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)

“Pharisee” in Finnish Sign Language (source )

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).”

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (John 9:40)

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.

complete verse (John 9:40)

Following are a number of back-translations of John 9:40:

  • Uma: “Several Parisi people who were there heard the words of Yesus. They said to Yesus: ‘Are you (sing.) saying that we (excl.) also are blind?'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “Some of the Pariseo there heard Isa say this and they said to him, ‘What are you saying there? That we (excl.) are also blind? We (excl.) here can see.'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And there were some Pharisees who heard these words, and they said, ‘So our understanding is blinded is it?'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “There were Pharisees where Jesus was who heard what he said, and they said to him, ‘Are you (sing.) maybe meaning to say that we (excl.) are also blind?'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “The Pariseo who were beside them heard this which Jesus said, therefore they asked at once, saying, ‘Surely we (excl.) aren’t included in those whom you mean by those blind ones!'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “Some of the Pharisees who were standing there heard what Jesus said. They said, ‘Do you think that also we are blind people?'” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

Translation commentary on John 9:40

The phrase with him is translated in a variety of ways: Revised Standard Version and Phillips “near him”; Jerusalem Bible “who were present”; New English Bible “in his company”; New American Bible “around him”; Moffatt “beside him.”

The question raised by some Pharisees expects the answer “No.” They do not believe they are blind.

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 .