manger

The Greek that is typically translated in English as “manger” is translated in Mbe as édzábri, the term used for “old worn-out baskets that isn’t usable anymore, except to feed the animals.”

John Watters (in Wycliffe Bible Translators 2016, p. 19) tells the story how this word was chosen:

“In Nigeria, the Mbe translation team was translating the Gospel of Luke. They came to chapter 2, verse 7, which says, ‘She [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.’

“The translators took the time to ponder how to to translate some of the words, but not ‘manger.’ They immediately used the word ókpáng.

“As their translation consultant, I asked them, ‘What’s an ókpáng? Tell me what it looks like.’ One of the translators drew a picture on the whiteboard. It was essentially a cradle hung by ropes so that the newborn could be laid in it and swung.

“I suggested they check the collection of notes and commentaries we were using to help the translators whose first language isn’t English. The Mbе translators saw that ‘manger’ referred to animal feeding trough.

“Even as the Mbe team read the notes, they objected. ‘We have always used the word ókpáng. We have used it for years, and that’s what we should use.’ I pointed out to them that it wasn’t just a matter of tradition. God expects us to find the words that express the original meaning as accurately as possible. Furthermore, this word tells us something profound about God.

“‘When he came to live among us and bring salvation to us, he came in the lowliest way possible. He did not come and sleep in a nice ókpáng like every Mbe mother wants for her newborn. Instead, he showed us his unbelievable humility,’ I told them. ‘So we need to find your best word for an animal-feeding trough.’

“Suddenly the person who had argued most loudly for the traditional term offered, ‘We feed our animals out of an old worn-out basket that isn’t usable anymore, except to feed the animals. We call it édzábri!’

“‘Then try that term,’ I said.

As the Mbe people listened, they were visibly moved. Picturing the newborn baby lying in the animals’ feeding basket, they recognized in a new way that Jesus was willing to do whatever it took to reach them. As an adult, he would humble himself by washing the disciples’ feet and then by dying on the cross. And this humility started right from birth, when he was born to a young peasant woman under questionable social conditions and laid in an animal-feeding trough.”

See also Bethlehem.

Mary (mother of Jesus)

The name that is transliterated as “Mary” in English is translated in Spanish Sign Language with arms folded over chest which is the typical pose of Mary in statues and artwork. (Source: John Elwode in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 78ff.)


“Mary” in Spanish Sign Language, source: Sociedad Bíblica de España

In American Sign Language it is translated with a sign for the letter M and the sign for “virgin,” which could also be interpreted as “head covering,” referring to the way that Mary is usually portrayed in art works. (Source: RuthAnna Spooner, Ron Lawer)


“Mary” in American Sign Language, source: Deaf Harbor

In the Burmese Common Language Version (publ. 2005), Mary is described as a king’s mother by using the royal noun suffix taw / တော် with the word “mother” in Matthew 1:16 and Luke 2:33. This is done to highlight the status of Jesus as a king or the divine Son. Othjer passages where taht is used include Matthew 2:11, 13, 14, 20, and 21. (Source: Gam Seng Shae, The Bible Translator 2002, p. 202ff.) See also Jesus’ human vs. divine nature in modern Burmese translation.

Jesus' human vs. divine nature in modern Burmese translation

There are three different levels of speech in Burmese: common language, religious language (addressing and honoring monks, etc.), and royal language (which is not in active use anymore). Earliest Bible translations used exclusively royal and religious language (in the way Jesus is addressed by others and in the way Jesus is referred to via pronouns), which results in Jesus being divine and not human. Later editions try to make distinctions.

In the Common Language Version (publ. 2005) the human face of Jesus appears in the narrative of the angel’s message to Joseph and what Joseph did in response (Matthew 1:21-25). The angel told Joseph that Mary was going to give birth to a son, not a prince.

Likewise in Luke 2:6-7 the story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is told simply using the Common language. Again in the description of the shepherds’ visit to the baby Jesus (Mark 1:21-25), in the story of Jesus’ circumcision (Luke 2:6-2:7), and in the narrative of the child Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem (Luke 2:46-51), the human face of Jesus comes to the forefront.

On the other hand, the child Jesus is clearly depicted as a royal or a divine child in the story of the wise men (Matthew 2:9-12), the story of the flight to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-14), and the return to Nazareth (Matthew 2:20-21).

(Source: Gam Seng Shae, The Bible Translator 2002, p. 202ff.)

See also Mary (mother of Jesus).

Nativity scene (icon)

Following is a Macedonian Orthodox icon of the Nativity scene from 1865 (found in Saint George Church in Kočani, North Macedonia).

Down below is a modern icon from the Eritrean Orthodox Church.

Orthodox Icons are not drawings or creations of imagination. They are in fact writings of things not of this world. Icons can represent our Lord Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the Saints. They can also represent the Holy Trinity, Angels, the Heavenly hosts, and even events. Orthodox icons, unlike Western pictures, change the perspective and form of the image so that it is not naturalistic. This is done so that we can look beyond appearances of the world, and instead look to the spiritual truth of the holy person or event. (Source )

Nativity (image)

He Qi © 2021 All Rights Reserved.

Image taken from He Qi Art . For purchasing prints of this and other artworks by He Qi go to heqiart.com .

For other images of He Qi art works in TIPs, see here.

complete verse (Luke 2:16)

Following are a number of back-translations of Luke 2:16:

  • Noongar: “They hurried away and came to Mary and Joseph. They saw the baby. He was lying in the food container.” (Source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • Uma: “They went, they indeed did find Maria and Yusuf, with their baby that was sleeping in a manger.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “So-then they hurried there and they found Mariyam and Yusup, and the child was there laid in the box for feeding animals.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And then they left and came in a hurry, and arrived to Joseph and Mary, and they saw also the baby that had been laid down in the feeding-place of the horse.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Then they hurried to go, and they came-upon Maria and Jose and the baby laid-down in the eating-place of the animals.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “After they had discussed that, they hurried going there. They found Maria and Jose together with that baby who was lying there in the animal feeder.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)