The Greek that is translated as “neighbor” in English is rendered into Babatana as “different man,” i.e. someone who is not one of your relatives. (Source: David Clark)

In North Alaskan Inupiatun, it is rendered as “a person outside of your building,” in Tzeltal as “your back and side” (implying position of the dwellings), in Indonesian and in Tae’ as “your fellow-man,” in Toraja-Sa’dan it is “your fellow earth-dweller,” in Shona (translation of 1966) as “another person like you,” in Kekchí “younger-brother-older-brother” (a compound which means all one’s neighbors in a community) (sources: Bratcher / Nida and Reiling / Swellengrebel), in Mairasi “your people” (source: Enggavoter 2004), in Mezquital Otomi as “fellow being,” in Tzeltal as “companion,” in Isthmus Zapotec as “another,” in Teutila Cuicatec as “all people” (source: Waterhouse / Parrott in Notes on Translation October 1967, p. 1ff.), and in most modern German translations as Mitmensch or “fellow human being” (lit. “with + human being”).

In Matt 19:19, Matt 22:39, Mark 12:31, Mark 12:33, Luke 10:27, Luke 10:29 it is translated into Ixcatlán Mazatec with a term that refers to a person who is socially/physically near. Ixcatlán Mazatec also has a another term for “neighbor” that means “fellow humans-outsiders” which was not chosen for these passages. (Source: Robert Bascom)

In Nyongar it is translated as moorta-boordak or “people nearby” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang).

love for God vs. love for others

Balinese uses a honorific system with three levels of how someone can be addressed or talked about. For example, “love” of a superior for an inferior must be indicated by one term and that of an inferior for a superior by another. In the Greek phrase that is translated in English as “you shall love the Lord your God (…) and your neighbor as yourself”, Balinese translates asih subaktija ragane teken Ida Sang Hyang Widi Wasa (…) tur tresnainja sesaman ragane, buka nresnain deweke padidi: “You shall give respectful-love to God, … further, you must love your neighbor as yourself.”

Source: J.L. Swellengrebel in The Bible Translator 1963, p. 158ff.

love your neighbor as yourself

The Greek and Hebrew that is translated in English as “love your neighbor as yourself” is translated in Shilluk, Anuak, and Nuer as “love your neighbors as yourselves.” In those and other languages a plural form has to be used if it is to be applied to more than one person where in English a singular can stand for many (compare everyone, each, whoever, any). (Source: Larson 1998, p. 42)

See also he who / whoever and neighbor.

complete verse (Mark 12:31)

Following are a number of back-translations of Mark 12:31:

  • Uma: “And this is the second command: ‘We must love our companion like we love ourselves.’ There are no other commands that are bigger than these two.'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “And the commandment following it is this: ‘You (sing.) shall love your companion as you (sing.) love yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these two commandments.'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “The second is this: ‘You must hold dear your companion. Regard him as if he were your own breath.’ There is nothing commanded us that is higher than these two.'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “The second most-important is: ‘You (sing.) must love your (sing.) fellow like your (sing.) manner-of-loving yourself (sing.).’ No command is more-important than these.'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “This is the second. ‘You (sing.) are to value your fellowman just like your valuing of your own body.’ There are no other laws which can exceed these.'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)

Translation commentary on Mark 12:31


The commandment quoted is from Lev. 19.18, and follows the Septuagint literally.

plēsion (12.33) is an adverb used as a noun, meaning ‘neighbor.’ In this context it does not indicate simply the person who lives next door, but represents the Hebrew reʿa ‘fellow citizen,’ or, in a more general way, ‘the other man,’ ‘fellow-man.’

hōs seauton ‘as yourself’: in the same way a man loves himself he is to love his fellow-man.


The second may require the addition of the noun ‘commandment,’ sometimes with a shift in order of subject and predicate elements, e.g. ‘this is the second commandment.’

The form of this command is in the singular, including not only the subject you but the object neighbor. In many languages, however, this use of the singular would be understood to mean that Jesus was telling the particular man that he should love his one neighbor. In order for this to be generic, many languages require plurals, e.g. ‘you (plural) should love your neighbors.’

The English form employs the future auxiliary shall but the meaning is obligatory, which in many languages must be rendered as ‘must,’ ‘ought to,’ or ‘should.’

For love see 10.21.

Neighbor is usually quite easily translated, but there are sometimes certain idiomatic forms which are employed, e.g. ‘a person outside of your building’ (Barrow Eskimo), ‘your back and side,’ implying position of the dwellings (Tzeltal), ‘younger-brother-older-brother,’ a compound which means all one’s neighbors in a community (Kekchi).

As yourself may require the repetition of the verb in order to show the parallelism, e.g. ‘feel hurt for your neighbors as you feel hurt for yourselves’ (Tzeltal).

For constructions involving comparison see 1.7. In this instance one can sometimes translate as ‘no other commandment surpasses these two commandments’ or ‘these two commandments are really big; no other commandment is big’ (where a paratactic positive-negative statement is the normal construction).

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on the Gospel of Mark. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1961. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .