dual vs. plural (Matt. 20:22)

Many languages in the world distinguish between plural and dual (and sometimes trial) pronouns (for instance, “you” specifically addressing many, two, or three people).

In Matt. 20:22 (“You do not know what you are asking…” in one English translation) it is left open whether “you” refers to James and John or James and John and their mother (who had asked the questions preceding Jesus’s answers).

While one Fijian translation uses a trial and the Wantoat uses a plural (both indicating that the mother is included), the Bislama translators (in the Nyutesteman long Bislama of 1980) and the Tok Pisin translators use a dual (indicating that the mother is not included).

One of the translators explains: “Here, because of differences between this Matthew passage and the parallel passage which begins at Mark 10:35, the translator must enter into the issues of the so-called ‘Synoptic Problem’ when deciding how many people Jesus is addressing. I suggest the following guidelines for making a decision here and in the passage considered below: a single real historical event is recounted by both Mark and Matthew, both without error, although each with their own selection of material and emphasis. So what do we make of the fact that Matthew has James and John’s mother asking the question, whereas Mark does not mention her at all, having the two men themselves ask it? We conclude that she must have been there, since Matthew says she was; but she was not important in Mark’s eyes, and so he abbreviates her out of his account. Now the answer Jesus gave to the question is identical in the Greek text of the two gospels; and it must have had only one intention, even though as it stands in Greek, it is ambiguous as to dual or trial reference. I suggest that although the mother asked the question, Jesus either perceived that she was merely a ‘front’ for the two men, or else his primary interest was in them anyway, and so he bypasses the mother and makes his answer directly to them. This is certainly the way Mark saw the situation.”

Source: Ross McKerras in Notes on Translation 2/1 1988, p. 53-56.

John the Evangelist (icon)

Following is a Bulgarian Orthodox icon of John the Evangelist from the 14th century (found in Rila Monastery, Bulgaria).

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 disciple).


The Greek that is translated as “teacher” (also: “master”) in English is translated in the 1941 Yiddish by Einspruch as rebe (רֶבּי) or “Rabbi” in an effort to identify Jesus as a teacher of the Jews. (Source: Naomi Seidmann in Elliott / Boer 2012, p. 151ff.)

Likewise, a number of Hebrew translations, including the 2018 and 2020 editions by the The Bible Society in Israel also use “Rabbi” (רַבִּי).

See also rabbi.

John (the disciple)

The term that is transliterated as “John (the disciple)” in English is translated in American Sign Language with the sign for the letter J and the sign signifying “beloved,” referring to John 13:23 et al. (Source: RuthAnna Spooner, Ron Lawer)

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

In Swiss-German Sign Language it is translated with a sign that depicts John’s head resting on Jesus’ chest, referring to John 13:23.

“John” in Swiss-German Sign Language, source: DSGS-Lexikon biblischer Begriffe , © CGG Schweiz

In Spanish Sign Language it is translated with with the sign for “young.” This refers to the traditional belief that he was the youngest of the apostles and the fact that he was younger than his brother James (see relative age of James and John. (Source: Steve Parkhurst)

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

See also John the Evangelist (icon).

Learn more on Bible Odyssey: The Apostle John .

Mark 10:35 - 45 in Mexican Sign Language

Following is the translation of Mark 10:35-45 into Mexican Sign Language with back-translations into Spanish and English underneath:

© La Biblia en LSM / La Palabra de Dios

Retrotraducciones en español (haga clic o pulse aquí)

Jacobo y Juan fueron (a Jesús) y dijeron: “Maestro nosotros dos queremos pedir algo, por favor dinos que sí.”

Jesús (dijo): “¿Qué es lo que quieren decirme?”

Dijeron: “Cuando tú llegues a ser el rey superior sentado en el trono ¿podemos nosotros dos estar sentados a ambos lados de ti?”

Jesús (dijo): “No saben lo que me dicen. Mira, por ejemplo, un poco adelante yo beberé una copa amarga. ¿Uds lo pueden?

Otro ejemplo: yo bajaré en el agua del mar, quiere decir que sufriré fuertemente. ¿Uds lo aceptarían?” Los dos (dijeron que) sí podrían.

Jesús dijo: “yo sufriré e igual en el futuro uds dos sufrirán, pero antes Dios ya ha elegido dos personas que estarán sentados a ambos lados de mi, yo no puede elegirlos.”

Los diez discípulos estaban furiosos y pensaban que Jacobo y Juan eran malos.

Jesús se volteó (hacia los diez) y los llamó y los discípulos vinieron. (Jesús dijo): “Uds saben que en otros países los líders abusan a todas las personas simples, y los mandan.

Uds, los discípulos, no copien esta mentalidad, apartense.

Si uds quieren ser líderes deben servir y ayudar, el líder más importante debe ser humilde y servir y ayudar a las personas.

El hijo de hombre ha venido, ¿y todas las personas lo sirven? No, el opuesto, el hijo de hombre sirve a todas las personas.

El hijo de hombre acepta morir en lugar de ellos para salvar a muchas personas.”

James and John went (to Jesus) and said: “Teacher, the two of us want to ask something, please tell us yes.”

Jesus (said): “What do you want to tell me?”

They said: “When you become king, highly exalted sitting on the throne, can the two of us be seated on both sides of you?”

Jesus (said): You don’t know what you are saying to me. Look, an example: in a short while I will drink a bitter cup. Can you do that?

“Another example: I will go down in the waters of the sea, which means that I will undergo strong suffering. Would you accept that?” The two (said that) yes they could.

Jesus said: “I will suffer and likewise the two of you will suffer, but God has already chosen the two people who will sit on either side of me, I cannot choose them.”

The ten disciples were furious and thought that James and John were bad.

Jesus turned (towards the ten) and called them and the disciples came. (Jesus said):””You know that in other countries the leaders abuse the simple people, and order them around.

“You, the disciples, should not copy this mindset, no keep away from it.

“If you want to be leaders you have to serve and help, the most important leader must be humble ans serve and help the people.

“The Son of Man has come down, and do all the people serve him? No, the opposite, the Son of Man serves all the people.

“The Son of Man agrees to die in their place to save many people.”

Source: La Biblia en LSM / La Palabra de Dios

<< Mark 10:32-34 in Mexican Sign Language
Mark 10:46-52 in Mexican Sign Language >>

inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Mark 10:35)

Many languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns (“we”). (Click or tap here to see more details)

The inclusive “we” specifically includes the addressee (“you and I and possibly others”), while the exclusive “we” specifically excludes the addressee (“he/she/they and I, but not you”). This grammatical distinction is called “clusivity.” While Semitic languages such as Hebrew or most Indo-European languages such as Greek or English do not make that distinction, translators of languages with that distinction have to make a choice every time they encounter “we” or a form thereof (in English: “we,” “our,” or “us”).

For this verse, translators typically select the exclusive form (excluding Jesus).

Source: Velma Pickett and Florence Cowan in Notes on Translation January 1962, p. 1ff.

complete verse (Mark 10:35)

Following are a number of back-translations of Mark 10:35:

  • Uma: “After that Yakobus and Yohanes, the children of Zebedeus, approached Yesus, they said to him: ‘Teacher, we (excl.) have something we (excl.) want to request of you (sing.).'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “So-then Yakub and Yahiya, the sons of Sebede, came close to Isa. They said to him, ‘Sir, we (excl.) would like to ask you (something) to do for us (excl.).'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Then the two sons of Zebedee, James and John, came to Jesus, they said, ‘Oh teacher, we have something to ask from you.'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Then Santiago and Juan who were Zebedeo’s children went to Jesus and they said, ‘Sir teacher, we (excl.) would have something to request from you (sing.).'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “And then Santiago and Juan, the sons of Zebedeo, came up to Jesus and said, ‘Master, there is something we want hopefully to ask you for. If possible/acceptable, please do it.'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)

Japanese benefactives (kanaete)

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 way Japanese show different degree of politeness is through the choice of a benefactive construction as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017.

Here, kanaete (かなえて) or “grant” is used in combination with itadaku (いただく), a humble form of the benefactive morau (もらう). A benefactive reflects the good will of the giver or the gratitude of a recipient of the favor. To convey this connotation, English translation needs to employ a phrase such as “for me (my sake)” or “for you (your sake).”

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