The Greek that is translated in English as “music” is translated in Muna as “the sound of the gong and the drum.” René van den Berg explains: “There is no abstract word for ‘music’ (the footnote has the loan musik).”

In Noongar it is translated as “singing” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang), in Mazagway as “the sound of singing” (source: Ken Hollingsworth), in Uma as “people playing flutes” (source: Uma Back Translation), in Yakan as “playing-of-the-kulintang/gongs” (source: Yakan Back Translation), in Western Bukidnon Manobo as “drum” (source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation), and in Mofu-Gudur as “the sound of drumming” (source: Ken Hollingsworth).

In Burmese it is “the sound of beating-blowing.” “‘Beating blowing’ is a general term for instrumental music and covers the sound of percussion instruments, wind and brass instruments which are blown, and some stringed instruments which are also ‘beaten.'” (Source: Anonymous)

parable of the prodigal son (image)

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complete verse (Luke 15:25)

Following are a number of back-translations of Luke 15:25:

  • Noongar: “‘While all these things were happening, the first son was outside working. He came back. When he came near the house, he heard singing and dancing,” (Source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • Uma: “‘At that time, the first-born child was away at the fields/garden. When he returned from the garden, and was close to home, he heard people playing flutes and the sounds of a party.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “‘But his older son was at that time in the field. When he came home and when he was close, he heard playing-of-the-kulintang/gongs and dancing there in their house.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And,’ said Jesus, ‘as for that older brother, he was still in the field. And when he was about to arrive home, he heard the drum and the sound of dancing feet.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “‘But his older-sibling, he was still in the rice-fields. When he was going-home, he heard (people)-dancing,” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “But well, his older son wasn’t there, for he was in the field at that time. When he returned, just as he was near the house, he heard dance music.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)

Translation commentary on Luke 15:25 – 15:26


ho huios autou ho presbuteros ‘his elder son.’ autou refers back to ho patēr in v. 22.

en agrō ‘in the field’ (cf. v. 15), presumably at work there.

kai hōs erchomenos ēggisen tē oikia ‘and when going home he approached the house.’ erchomenos lit. ‘going,’ here implicitly ‘going home,’ hence, ‘on his way home,’ ‘on his way back.’

ēkousen sumphōnias kai chorōn ‘he heard music and dancing.’

sumphōnia either abstract, ‘music,’ or concrete, ‘instrument,’ preferably the former.

choros ‘dance,’ here in the plural ‘dancing.’

(V. 26) proskalesamenos hena tōn paidōn ‘after calling one of the servants.’ For proskaleō cf. on 7.18. For pais cf. on 7.7; pais and doulos (v. 22) are synonymous.

epunthaneto ti an eiē tauta ‘he enquired what this was.’ The imperfect tense is conative. The indirect question with the unusual optative with an may express astonishment on the part of the speaker.


Now, see 1.57, and cf. ‘in the meantime’ (Willibrord), ‘while such-things-were-happening’ (Tae’ 1933).

His elder son, or, ‘that (old) man’s elder son,’ ‘the elder son,’ ‘the firstborn son’ (Bahasa Indonesia); or, ‘his (or, that young man’s) elder brother’ (cf. Sranan Tongo).

Was in the field, i.e. ‘was (working) in the field,’ here probably referring to arable land that he tilled or reaped.

Drew near to, cf. 7.12.

Music and dancing, or, ‘noise of merry-making’ (Ekari, not specifying the manner). Music, or, ‘sound of music’ (Trukese, Pohnpeian), ‘singing’ (West Nyanja, similarly Tae,’ Batak Toba), ‘music and clapping’ (Zarma, where dancing unaccompanied by clapping is unthinkable). Idiom may require a reference to the instruments and/or persons making the music, e.g. ‘drums being beaten’ (Shona 1966), ‘persons beating-the-drum’ (Toraja-Sa’dan), ‘sound of flutes’ (Uab Meto), ‘sound of a (percussion) orchestra’ (Javanese, Thai 1967), ‘making-music’ (Tzeltal). Dancing, or, ‘sound of dancing, or, of a dance’ (cf. e.g. Uab Meto), ‘people dancing’ (Shona 1966). Terms used are sometimes more generic, e.g. ‘making-party,’ which includes dancing (Tzeltal), or more specific, e.g. ‘people performing the simbong (round dance with chorus, performed at a feast usually given after a person’s long absence)’ (Toraja-Sa’dan). Connotations of available terms for dancing may range from solemn (ritual or temple dance) to frivolous; one should choose a term referring to a folk dance, culturally regarded as an acceptable form of merry-making.

(V. 26) What this meant, or, ‘what this might be,’ ‘what was happening’; or as a direct question, “What’s going on?” (Good News Translation), ‘What are those people doing?’ (Balinese).

Quoted with permission from Reiling, J. and Swellengrebel, J.L. A Handbook on the Gospel of Luke. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1971. For this and other handbooks for translators see here . Make sure to also consult the Handbook on the Gospel of Mark for parallel or similar verses.