sign

The Greek that is typically translated in English as “sign” is translated in Huehuetla Tepehua as “thing to be marveled at” (source: Larson 1889, p. 279) and in Mairasi as “big work” (source: Enggavoter 2004).

Son of Man

The Greek that is translated as “Son of Man” and is mostly used by Jesus to refer to himself is (back-) translated in the following languages as (click or tap for details):

  • San Miguel El Grande Mixtec: “One who is a person”
  • Tzotzil: “I who am equal with men” or “The Older Brother of Everybody” (“expressing the dignity and authority of the Messiah and the universality of his work”)
  • Chuj: “One who became human”
  • Terêna: “The True Man”
  • Tenango Otomi: “The Man Appointed” (i.e. the man to whom authority has been delegated) (source for this and preceding: Beekman, p. 189-190, see also Ralph Hill in Notes on Translation February 1983, p. 35-50)
  • Huehuetla Tepehua: “Friend of all men”
  • Aguaruna: “One who was born becoming a person” (source for this and two above: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Older Sibling of Mankind” (source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Child of a Person” (source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “One From Heaven Born of Man/human?” (source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “Man who came from heaven” (source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
  • Yatzachi Zapotec: “One who God sent, who was born a human” (a direct translation would have suggested “that the father is unknown due to the indiscretions of the mother” and where “he is the son of people” is used when one wants to disclaim responsibility for or relationship with a child caught in some mischief — source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • Mezquital Otomi: “The son who became a person” (Source: B. Moore / G. Turner in Notes on Translation 1967, p. 1ff.)
  • Alekano: “The true man who descended from heaven” (source: Ellis Deibler in Notes on Translation June 1986, p. 36ff.)
  • Central Tarahumara: “One who has been stood up to help” (“This suggests that Christ has been given authority to some appointed task. A very generic word, help, was selected to fill in the lexically obligatory purpose required by the word which means to appoint or commission. Usually this word is used of menial tasks but not exclusively. The choice of this generic term retains the veiled reference to the character of Christ’s work which He intended in using the ‘Son of Man’ title.”)
  • Chicahuaxtla Triqui: “He who is relative of all people.” (“The Triqui word for relative is a rather generic term and in its extended sense sometimes is diluted to neighbor and friend. But the primary meaning is relative.”)
  • Xicotepec De Juárez Totonac: “Sibling of All People”
  • Tepeuxila Cuicatec: “The Person who Accompanies All People” (“The literal equivalents ‘son of man’ and ‘son of people’ were both rejected because of the false inference of natural birth involving a human father. Furthermore, it was necessary to expand any translation of the Bible by the addition of the pronoun ‘I’ so as to clarify the fact that Jesus is using the third person in referring to Himself. A common expression used by the Cuicatecos when difficulties befall someone, is to say to that one, ‘don’t worry, we are accompanying you.’ By this they mean they share that person’s sorrow. When wedding guests arrive at the home of a son who has just been married, they say to the father, ‘We have come to accompany you.’ By this they mean that they have come to share the father’s joy. These expressions do not refer to ordinary physical accompaniment, which is expressed by a set of different verbs. For example, visits are always announced by some such greeting as, “I have come to visit you,’ ‘I have come to see you,’ or ‘I have come to ask you something.’ The desire to accompany a friend on a journey is expressed by saying, ‘I will go with you.’ Translation helpers used the verb ‘accompany’ in constructing the phrase ‘I, the Person who Accompanies All People.'(…) It reflects the fact that Jesus closely identified Himself with all of us, understands our weaknesses, shares our burdens, rejoices with us in times of gladness, etc.”) (source for this and the three preceding: Beekman in Notes on Translation January 1963, p. 1-10)
  • Guhu-Samane: “Elder-brother-man” (“Since the term denotes an elder brother in every way such as honor, power, leadership, representation of the younger, etc. it is a meaningful and fitting — though not ostentatious — title.” Source: Ernest Richert in The Bible Translator 1965, p. 198ff. )
  • Avaric: “Son of Adam” (“from Islam, which means ‘human'”) (source: Magomed-Kamil Gimbatov and Yakov Testelets in The Bible Translator 1996, p. 434ff. )
  • Navajo: Diné Silíi’ii — “Man he-became-the-one-who” (“This terra presented a difficulty not only in Navajo but also one peculiar to all the Athapaskan languages. It lies in the fact that all these languages, so far as we know, have a word phonetically similar to the Navajo diné which has three meanings: ‘man, people in general,’ ‘a man,’ ‘The People’ which is the name the Navajos use for themselves. (The name Navajo was first used by the Spanish explorers.) Although it seemed natural to say diné biye’ ‘a-man his-son,’ this could also mean ‘The-People their-son’ or ‘a-Navajo his-son,’ in contrast to the son of a white man or of another Indian tribe. Since the concept of the humanity of Christ is so important, we felt that diné biye’ with its three possible meanings should not be used. The term finally decided on was Diné Silíi’ii ‘Man he-became-the-one-who.’ This could be interpreted to mean ‘the one who became a Navajo,’ but since it still would impart the idea of Christ’s becoming man, it was deemed adequate, and it has proven acceptable to the Navajos.”) (Source: Faye Edgerton in The Bible Translator 1962, p. 25ff. )
  • Toraja-Sa’dan: “Child descended in the world” (“using a poetic verb, often found in songs that [deal with] the contacts between heaven and earth”) (source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • Obolo: Gwun̄ Ebilene: “Child of Human” (source: Enene Enene).
  • Mairasi: Jaanoug Tat: “Person Child” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • Morelos Nahuatl: “Christ who became man”
  • Teutila Cuicatec: “One Who Accompanies all people”
  • Isthmus Mixe: “Jesus Christ, the one who is a person” (source for this and two above: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August 1966, p. 86ff.)
  • Northern Puebla Nahuatl: “Son of men” (source: B. Moore / G. Turner in Notes on Translation 1967, p. 1ff.)
  • Inga: ” . . .: “One who became Man” (source: S. Levinsohn in Journal of Translation 18/2022, p. 67ff. )
  • Costa Rican Sign Language: “It was impossible to translate the expression ‘Son of Man.’ The son-man sign simply means ‘male child.’ The Costa Rican Sign Language (LESCO) team opted for an interpretation of the term and translated it ‘Jesus.'” (Source: Elsa Tamez (in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 59ff.)
  • Lokạạ: wẹẹn wạ ọnẹn or “son of a person.” “This translation is symbolic in that it uses indigenous Lokạạ words. However, since the publication of the New Testament in 2006, this phrase has gained popularity within contemporary Lokạạ society as an expression to describe an important person whose career is going well. In the New Testament, the phrase ‘son of man’ is used to describe Jesus as prototypically human, but the Lokạạ phrase is now being used to describe an exceptional person in Lokạạ society.” (Source: J.A. Naudé, C.L. Miller Naudé, J.O. Obono in Acta Theologica 43/2, 2023, p. 129ff. )

In many West African languages, using a third person reference as a first person indicator is common practice with a large range of semantic effects. Languages that use the exact expression “son of man” as a self-reference or reference to another person include Lukpa, Baatonum, Mossi (“son of Adam”), Yoruba (“son of person”), Guiberoua Béte, or Samo. (Source: Lynell Zogbo in: Omanson 2000, p. 167-188.)

In Swahili the expression Mwana wa Mtu or mwana wa mtu or “son/daughter of human person,” which is used by several Bible translations, also has “the idiomatic meaning of ‘a human being’” (source: Jean-Claude Loba-Mkole in An Intercultural Criticism of New Testament Translations 2013, see here). The same is true for the Lingala expression Mwana na Moto — “son/daughter of human person.” (Ibid.)

In Balinese “we are again bordering on theological questions when we inquire as to which vocabulary shall be used to translate the texts where Jesus speaks of himself as ‘the Son of man.’ One of the fixed rules governing the use of these special vocabularies is that one may never use the deferential terms in speaking of oneself. This would be the extreme of arrogance. Now if one considers the expression ‘Son of man’ primarily as a description of ‘I,’ then one must continually indicate the possessions or actions of the Son of man by Low Balinese words. In doing this the mystery of the expression is largely lost. In any case the vocabulary used in most of the contexts would betray that Jesus means the title for himself.

“However, a distinction can actually be made in Balinese between the person and the exalted position he occupies. For example, the chairman of a judicial body may employ deferential terms when referring to this body and its chairman, without this being taken as an expression of arrogance. Considered from this standpoint, one may translate in such a way that Jesus is understood as using such deferential words and phrases in speaking of himself. The danger is, however, that the unity between his person and the figure of “the Son of man” is blurred by such usage.

“On request, the New Testament committee of the Netherlands Bible Society advised that ‘the sublimity of this mysterious term be considered the most important point and thus High Balinese be used.'”

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

In Malay, Barclay Newman reports on the translation of “Today’s Malay Version” (Alkitab Berita Baik) of 1987:

“One of the first things that we did in working through the earlier part of the New Testament was to decide on how we would translate some of the more difficult technical terms. It was immediately obvious that something must be done with the translation of ‘the Son of Man,’ since the literal rendering anak manusia (literally ‘child of a man’) held absolutely no meaning for Malay readers. We felt that the title should emphasize the divine origin and authority of the one who used this title, and at the same time, since it was a title, we decided that it should not be too long a phrase. Finally, a phrase meaning ‘the One whom God has ordained’ was chosen (yang dilantik Allah). It is interesting to note that the newly-begun Common Indonesian (Alkitab Kabar Baik, published in 1985) has followed a similar route by translating ‘the One whom God has chosen’ (yang depilih Allah).”

Source: Barclay Newman in The Bible Translator 1974, p. 432ff.

See also Son of God.

complete verse (Luke 21:25)

Following are a number of back-translations of Luke 21:25:

  • Noongar: “‘Strange things will happen in the sun, in the moon and in the stars. On this Earth, many great places will despair, fearing the sound of waves and the angry sea.” (Source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • Uma: “‘At that time, there will be signs in the sun, in the moon and in the starts. All mankind, their hearts will be pounding [i.e., fearful] and confused hearing the sound and sloshing/splashing of the sea.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “‘And there will be signs to be seen in (lit. on top of) the sky in the sun and the moon and the stars. And here in the world all the tribes will be terrified and they will be confused (lit. not know-know) about the roar of the sea and the big waves.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And there will be a sign which you will see in the sun, the moon, and in the stars. And here on earth the breath of all mankind will be filled with terror because they will hear then the very great noise of the sea and the great waves of the sea coming one after another.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “‘After-that there will be fearful-things that will happen to the sun, moon and stars. And all people on this earth, they will be completely disturbed and great also will be their fear of the waves and the strong roaring of the ocean.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “The time will come when signs will be seen in the sun, moon and stars. Here on earth all nations will be overwhelmed and panicky from the roaring and breaking of waves which has never before been experienced like that.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)

Translation commentary on Luke 21:25

Exegesis:

kai esontai sēmeia ‘and (then) there will be signs,’ i.e. probably after the times of the Gentiles (cf. Lagrange). For sēmeion cf. on v. 7 and reference there. The event to which the signs here point is described in v. 27.

en hēliō kai selēnē kai astrois ‘in sun and moon and stars,’ without article and hence denoting together the sky in its entirety. selēnē and astron.

kai epi tēs gēs sunochē ethnōn ‘and on earth (there will be) anguish of the nations,’ with estai understood, i.e. the nations will be in anguish. epi tēs gēs here different from v. 23.

sunochē ‘anguish,’ ‘dismay,’ ‘distress’ (cf. sunechō 4.38).

en aporia ēchous thalassēs kai salou lit. ‘in perplexity of the sound and the rolling of the sea,’ i.e. because of a perplexity due to the sound and the rolling of the sea. thalassēs may go with ēchous or with both ēchous and salou. The latter is preferable.

aporia lit. ‘being at a loss,’ ‘bewilderment,’ ‘perplexity.’ Together with what follows it takes up and explains sunochē.

ēchos ‘sound,’ ‘noise,’ ‘roaring.’

salos ‘rolling or tossing motion, especially of waves.’

Translation:

There will be signs. A verb like ‘appear/be-seen/become-visible’ may better fit the noun here.

Distress of nations in perplexity, or, ‘nations will be distressed, because they are perplexed,’ or simply, ‘nations will be distressed and perplexed.’ Some versions treat the two nouns as a hendiadys, e.g. ‘perplexed distress,’ ‘desperate fright’ (Nieuwe Vertaling). Nations probably refers here both to the Gentiles and to the Jewish people. The concept perplexity may be expressed by such idioms as ‘the heart jumps up’ (Dan), ‘speech vanishes’ (Malay), ‘spirit/mind at-its-end’ (Toraja-Sa’dan, cf. also English “at their wits’ end”), ‘no longer knowing what to do’ (Sranan Tongo), ‘tying up the head’ (Zarma); cf. also on 9.7.

At the roaring of the sea and the waves, or, taking ‘sea’ with both other nouns (see Exegesis), ‘at the roaring and the rolling of the sea,’ ‘because the sea is roaring and (its waves are) rolling.’ The expression refers to excessive sound and movement of the sea. The movement, being the producer of the sound, may better come first, cf. The Four Gospels – a New Translation‘s “surge and thunder of the sea”.

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.