relationship of elder son and father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son

New Testament Greek is by Balinese standards an extremely impolite language. Consider, for example, the second person pronoun. When speaking to God, to a nobleman, to a friend, to a pupil, or to a slave, the same word is used. In Balinese this is completely different. In the above examples one would differentiate various social ranks and use terms which, more or less freely translated, mean “adored one” or “he who is borne on the head”, “feet of Your Highness”, “older (or younger) brother”, “little one”, and “you”. (…) In Balinese one has to cope with three vocabularies within the language, each of which, at a moderate estimate, includes some hundreds of words. One employs the ordinary common language (“Low Balinese”) when speaking with intimates, equals, or inferiors; polite terms must, however, be used as soon as one begins to speak to one’s superiors or to strangers; and “deferential” terms are obligatory in all cases when one is so bold as to speak of parts of the body, or the acts, possessions, and qualities of important people. The Balinese sums up the two last named vocabularies under the term alus (“fine”, or “noble”): we say “High Balinese”. (…)

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the younger son, who feels himself less than a slave, speaks to his father in High Balinese; the elder son may use the intimate Low Balinese. When, however, the latter severs himself from the intimate family community, he uses High Balinese to express his contempt, thus placing a gulf between himself and his father.

Source: J.L. Swellengrebel in The Bible Translator 1950, p. 124ff.

fattened calf

The phrase that is translated in English as “fattened calf” is translated in Fuyug as “the calf full of grease.” (Source: David Clark)

In some Hindi translations it is translated as mota pashu (मोटा पशु) or “fattened animal” to avoid the traditionally negative association with slaughtering cows. (In the case of पवित्र बाइबिल, the Common Language Hindi Bible, a footnote is added that says “In the original text: ‘calf.'”)

See also fatted cattle and kill the fatted calf.

parable of the prodigal son (image)

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Image taken from the Wiedmann Bible. For more information about the images and ways to adopt them, see here .

For other images of Willy Wiedmann paintings in TIPs, see here.

kill the fatted calf

The now commonly-used English idiom “kill the fatted calf” (meaning having a celebration for someone who’s been away a long time) was first coined in 1526 in the English New Testament translation of William Tyndale. (Source: Crystal 2010, p. 277)

For other idioms in English that were coined by Bible translation, see here.

See also fattened calf and fatted cattle.

addressing the father in the parable of the prodigal son in Japanese

Like a number of other East Asian languages, Japanese uses a complex system of honorifics, i.e. a system where a number of different levels of politeness are expressed in language via words, word forms or grammatical constructs. These can range from addressing someone or referring to someone with contempt (very informal) to expressing the highest level of reference (as used in addressing or referring to God) or any number of levels in-between.

One important aspect of addressing someone else in one’s or someone else’s family is by selecting the correct word when referring to them.

One way to do this is through the usage of an appropriate title within a conversation. In the widely used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017, in the parable of the prodigal son, both of the sons refer to their father with o-tō-san (お父さん), a form that expresses the intimate father-son relationship, whereas the servant (in Luke 15:27) refers to the father as o-tō-sama (お父様) with a formal title -sama to express a higher level of reference.

Incidentally, the term o-tō-sama (お父様) is used only one other time in the Shinkaiyaku Bible (in Judges 11:36).

(Source: S. E. Doi, see also S. E. Doi in Journal of Translation, 18/2022, p. 37ff. )

See also addressing the father intimately in Japanese and Japanese honorifics

complete verse (Luke 15:30)

Following are a number of back-translations of Luke 15:30:

  • Noongar: “But this your son, he throws away all your money on bad women and now he comes home, and you kill the best young bullock for him!'” (Source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • Uma: “But your (sing.) child there who wasted your (sing.) goods with loose women, when he comes home you (sing.) go ahead and kill him a fat cow!'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “But when that son of yours arrives, after he has destroyed your wealth with bad women, you butcher for him the cow you have fattened.'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “But as for this son of yours who has wasted your possessions because of his evil desire for women, you have butchered the fattened calf.'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “But here-now however your (sing.) child came-home who has wasted your (sing.) possessions in womanizing, and he now is the one for-whom-you (sing.)-are-butchering our fat cow!'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “But on the return of this son of yours who spent-too-freely your assets/possessions on a disgraceful lifestyle, you even have that fattened young cow killed in the big-size of your happiness over him.'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)

formal pronoun: Jesus addressing religious leaders

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 religious leaders with the formal pronoun, showing respect. Compare that with the typical address with the informal pronoun of the religious leaders.

The only two exceptions to this are Luke 7:40/43 and 10:26 where Jesus uses the informal pronoun as a response to the sycophantic use of the formal pronoun by the religious leaders (see formal pronoun: religious leaders addressing Jesus).

In most Dutch translations, the same distinctions are made, with the exception of Luke 10:26 where Jesus is using the formal pronoun. In Afrikaans and Western Frisian the informal pronoun is used throughout.

Translation commentary on Luke 15:30


ho huios sou houtos ‘this son of yours,’ contrasting with emoi in v. 29. houtos here with obvious contempt, as shown by what follows.

ho kataphagōn sou ton bion meta pornōn ‘who has devoured your possessions with prostitutes.’ katesthiō means here ‘to destroy,’ ‘to consume,’ ‘to eat up.’ For bios cf. on 8.43; here it is used hyperbolically since the younger son spent only his part of his father’s possessions.

pornē ‘prostitute,’ ‘harlot.’


One may have to change the sentence structure, e.g. ‘this son of yours has devoured … with harlots; but when (or, as soon as) he (emphatic) came, you killed….’

Devoured. A verb meaning ‘to eat up’ can sometimes be used in the metaphorical sense required here, e.g. in Sranan Tongo; where that is not the case one may say, ‘to spend all,’ ‘to waste,’ ‘to squander’ (see v. 13).

Harlots. Some idiomatic expressions used are, “women of the street” (An American Translation), ‘single (woman) of the-state/government’ (Kituba), ‘women who live like dogs’ (Kaqchikel), ‘ten pence women’ (Uab Meto), ‘bad women’ (Thai 1976, Trukese, Pohnpeian), ‘lustful/debauched women’ (Toraja-Sa’dan, Yao), ‘ones-who-walk’ (Medumba). Often a generic term is used, e.g. “his women” (New English Bible), les femmes (Bible de Jérusalem, similarly Tae’ 1933), in this context the mere plural being enough to give the word a clearly pejorative meaning. Cf. also on “sinner” in 7.37.

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.