John the Baptist

The name that is transliterated as “John (the Baptist)” in English is translated in Spanish Sign Language as “baptize” (source: John Elwode in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 78ff.)

In American Sign Language it is translated with the sign for the letter J and the sign signifying “shout,” referring to John 1:23. (Source: RuthAnna Spooner, Ron Lawer)

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

A question of cultural assumptions arose in Tuvan. The instinctive way to translate this name denotatively would be “John the Dipper,” but this would carry the highly misleading connotation that he drowned people. It was therefore decided that his label should focus on the other major aspect of his work, that is, proclaiming that the Messiah would soon succeed him. (Compare his title in Russian Orthodox translation “Иоанн Предтеча” — “John the Forerunner.”) So he became “John the Announcer,” which fortunately did not seem to give rise to any confusion with radio newsreaders! (Source: David Clark in The Bible Translator 2015, p. 117ff.)

In Nyongar it is translated as John-Kakaloorniny or “John Washing” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang).

See also John the Baptist (icon).


The Greek that is translated in English as “prison” is translated in Dehu as moapokamo or “house for tying up people” (source: Maurice Leenhardt in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 97ff. ) and in Nyongar as maya-maya dedinyang or “house shut” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang).

John the Baptist (icon)

Following is a Syriac Orthodox icon of John the Baptist from the 18/19th century (found in the Cathedral of Saints Constantine and Helen, Yabrud, Syria).

The wings are often depicted in icons of John the Baptist because of his status as a messenger. The scroll that John the Baptist holds quotes John 1:29 and reads (translated into English): “I saw and witnessed concerning him, ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’”

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 )

See also John the Baptist.

complete verse (Luke 3:20)

Following are a number of back-translations of Luke 3:20:

  • Nyongar: “Then Herod did a worse thing: his police seized John and tied him up in prison.” (Source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • Uma: “So, when Herodes heard that admonishment of Yohanes, he didn’t [implies contra-expectation] change his evil actions, he just added to them: he arrested Yohanes and put him in prison.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “Then Herod added yet to his bad doings, he put Yahiya in prison.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Now one of those days when all the people had finished being baptized, Jesus also had himself baptized by John. And then Jesus prayed, and while He was still praying, the heaven was opened and there landed on him the Holy Spirit who looked like a dove. And then God was heard speaking in Heaven, and He said, ‘You are my precious son; I am very pleased with you.’ There were very many things still that John taught those people, because he caused them to understand the good news. And as for John, he told the people that the custom of Governor Herod was bad because Herod had stolen his sister-in-law, Herodias, who was the wife of his younger brother Philip. And that which John told about was not the only evil doing of Herod because there were many other very evil things that he did. And that’s not all the evil that he did because he put John in prison.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “But Herod, he became increasingly wicked/malicious and had-Juan -imprisoned.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “But well, Herodes in fact increased the size of his sin, for the time came when he caused Juan to be imprisoned.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)

Translation commentary on Luke 3:19 – 3:20


ho de Hērōdēs ho tetraarchēs ‘but Herod the tetrarch,’ cf. on v. 1. For de and the connection with the preceding verse, cf. on men oun in v. 18. The verb of which ho Hērōdēs is the subject is prosethēken ‘added,’ see below.

elegchomenos hup’ autou ‘being reproved by him,’ going with ho Hērōdēs. The present tense of the participle suggests that this reproving happened more than once.

elegchō ‘to reprove,’ ‘to show somebody his fault.’

peri Hērōdiados … kai peri pantōn ‘concerning Herodias … and concerning everything.’ The idea of the clause appears to be that John used to reprove Herod because of every wicked thing he did but that his reproval of Herod because of Herodias (cf. Mt. 14.4) was what made Herod have John arrested.

tou adelphou autou. According to Josephus Herodias’ first husband, referred to in this verse was Herod, son of Herod the Great and Mariamne (the second wife of that name). Herod the tetrarch was the son of Herod the Great and Malthake, whom he married after Mariamne, cf. IDB II, 586ff. Hence adelphou refers to an older brother of a different mother.

peri pantōn hōn epoiēsen ponērōn ‘concerning all the wicked things he did.’ ponērōn goes with pantōn and hōn is attraction of the relative pronoun into the case of its antecedent.

ponēros ‘wicked,’ ‘evil,’ ‘bad,’ always with a moral connotation.

prosethēken kai touto epi pasin ‘added also this to all (the wicked things he did).’ pasin refers back to the preceding clause peri pantōn … ponērōn. kai touto refers to the next clause. The clause represents John’s arrest by Herod as the crowning of all his other wicked deeds, cf. New English Bible, An American Translation.

prostithēmi ‘to add,’ ‘to grant.’

katekleisen ton Iōannēn en phulakē ‘he shut up John in prison,’ asyndetic clause, taking up and explaining touto.

katakleiō ‘to lock up,’ ‘to shut up.’ For phulakē, here meaning ‘prison,’ cf. on 2.8.


The syntactic structure will have to be changed more or less radically in some languages, e.g. ‘John also reproved Herod … for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all … done. After that/Then he/Herod added to all his crimes this (one): he shut up John in prison.’

To reprove, or, ‘to rebuke’ (for which cf. on 4.35), ‘to scold’ (Kituba, similarly Tae,’ using a verbal derivation of ‘angry’), ‘to hit-with words’ (Batak Toba); or analytically, ‘to say that he had done evil.’

For Herodias. Luke says less than he probably knew, and than we can know from Mk. 6.17f. Style, or decodability may require some clarification, e.g. “over the affair of … H.” (New English Bible, similarly Lü Zhenzhong.), ‘for his doings with H.,’ ‘because of what Herod did about the woman Herodias’ (Manobo, which has to add ‘woman,’ because the proper name and the rendering of “brother’s wife”, i.e. ‘sibling’s spouse,’ do not specify the sex), but Luke’s allusive way of speaking should be preserved as far as possible; if one wishes to state the case overtly, one should do so in a footnote.

His. If Herod has been clearly in focus in the preceding clauses the pronoun will usually be sufficient as reference to him here; if not, one will have to use the proper name, or to change the sentence structure so as to keep one’s references straight.

His brother’s wife, or, ‘whom his brother had married,’ ‘who was married (or, had been given in marriage) to his brother.’

The evil things Herod had done, or, ‘the crimes/misdeeds Herod (or, he) had done,’ ‘Herod’s (or, his) crimes/misdeeds/wicked doings.’ Some versions (e.g. New English Bible, Kituba, Hindi) add ‘other,’ to bring out that ‘his doings with Herodias’ were a crime also.

(V. 20) Added this to them all, or, ‘to all his evil doings/crimes,’ ‘to (lit. on top of) all other bad things he had done’ (Kituba); or, ‘extra added one item’ (Chinese Union Version), ‘did something even worse’ (Western Highland Purepecha, similarly Good News Translation), ‘put crime on top of crime’ (Sranan Tongo).

He shut up John in prison, or, ‘he imprisoned/locked-up J.,’ or, ‘he gave J. rope in the rope house,’ as the idiom is in Alekano. That Herod is not the direct agent, may lead to, ‘he caused-to-be-put J. in prison’ (Kituba, similarly Western Highland Purepecha).

The connexion between “added this to them all” and “shut up J. in prison” is indicated by the forward pointing deictic element “this” in the first sentence, to which the next sentence is epexegetic. To express this relationship more overtly one may add a connective, e.g. ‘namely,’ ‘that is’ (Chinese); elsewhere subordination is preferable, either of the second sentence, e.g. “by throwing J. in prison” (The Four Gospels – a New Translation, similarly some other English versions, Bahasa Indonesia), or of the first sentence, e.g. ‘locked-up J., in-addition-to all those crimes’ (Balinese), ‘imprisoned J., (as) the worst of all the evil things he did.’

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.