John the Baptist

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

“John the Baptist” in Mexican Sign Language (source: BSLM )

In German Sign Language (Catholic) it is translated with the sign for the letter J and the sign signifying a Catholic baptism by sprinkling on the head.

“John” in German Sign Language /catholic, source: Taub und katholisch

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 Noongar 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 Noongar as maya-maya dedinyang or “house shut” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang).

Herod vs. Herodias

The Greek that is transliterated in English as “Herod” and “Herodias” is translated in Southern Puebla Mixtec as “King Herod” and “the woman Herodias” to distinguish between confusingly similar names. (Source: B. Moore / G. Turner in Notes on Translation 1967, p. 1ff.)

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 (Mark 6:17)

Following are a number of back-translations of Mark 6:17:

  • Uma: “Like this is the account of Yohanes the Baptizer’s death. King Herodes took and married Herodias, the wife of his own relative who was named Filipus. Many times Yohanes denounced Herodes because of his behavior, he said to him: ‘You cannot marry that sister-in-law of yours! That behavior of your breaks the Law of Musa.’ From there, Herodes ordered his soldiers to go capture Yohanes. They did capture him, bound him and put him in prison.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “For it had been King Herod hep who had commanded Yahiya to be seized and he had commanded him to be imprisoned. It happened like this: This King Herod had married his sister-in-law, Herodiyas, but his younger brother Pilip, the husband of Herodiyas, was still alive. So-then when they already had become-one, Yahiya scolded the king. Yahiya said to him, ‘It is not right/lawful (halal) if you are-one with the wife of your brother. You are sinning.’ Na, that was the reason why Herodiyas became-the-enemy-of/enemied Yahiya and wanted to kill him. But the king didn’t allow it,” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Herod said that due-to what had happened before. Because he had had-Juan -arrested and had had-him-imprisoned in-chains due-to Juan’s admonishing him. Because Herod, he married his sister-in-law Herodias the wife of his younger-sibling Felipe.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Herodes spoke like that because in the past, he was the one who had caused Juan to be arrested, bound and imprisoned, because of Herodias who was the wife of Felipe who was Herodes’ brother. For Herodes had grabbed-for-himself that sister-in-law of his.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Alekano: (includes vv. 17-20) “Herod previously took his younger brother Philip’s wife Herodias. After he did that, John telling Herod said, ‘your younger brother’s wife you have taken — it is not right.’ After he said that, on account of Herodias, Herod sent men and they went and seizing John’s hands arope in the rope house. After they did that, Herodias, being bad in her liver concerning John, desired to strike and kill him, but John remained a straight-going man, not having sin, and Herod perceived it and remained afraid concerning him, and since he guarded over him well, Herodias was unable to kill John. Herod, hearing John’s talk day after day, heard his two ears but enjoyed his insides rose up) hearing the talk he spoke.” (Source: Ellis Deibler in The Bible Translator 1968, p 14ff. )

Translation commentary on Mark 6:17


autos gar ho Hērōdēs ‘for Herod himself’: most translations disregard the personal pronoun autos ‘he’ as being redundant (cf., however, Manson ‘for this same Herod…’).

This whole narrative (6.17-29) of the imprisonment and death of John the Baptist is parenthetical, being here inserted to explain the statement (v. 14) that Jesus was John risen from the dead. The order of events here is not chronological: the arrest of John had taken place before Jesus began his ministry in Galilee (1.14), but we are not given the precise time of his subsequent death at the hands of Herod Antipas.

aposteilas ekratēsen ‘sending he arrested’: ‘he sent and arrested.’ Arndt & Gingrich cassify this use of the verb ‘send’ as an auxiliary meaning that ‘the action has been performed by someone else’: here it would mean ‘he had John arrested.’

krateō (cf. 1.31) ‘seize,’ ‘arrest.’

kai edēsen autōn en phulakē ‘and he bound him in prison’ not in the sense that he was in prison, tied up, but ‘bound him (and put him) in prison.’

deō (cf. 3.27) ‘bind,’ ‘restrict.’

phulakē (6.28, 48) ‘prison’; in 6.48 it means ‘watch’ (i.e. an interval of time).

dia Herōdiada ‘on account of Herodias’: Revised Standard Version ‘for the sake of’ may be misunderstood.

On the identity of the Philip here referred to, see the commentaries.

hoti autēn egamēsen ‘because he (Herod) married her’: this clause explains the statement that John had been placed in prison on account of Herodias.

gameō (10.11, 12; 12.25) ‘to marry’: generally used of men.


Sent and seized is either ‘sent men to seize’ or ‘caused John to be seized.’ Seized should here be translated as ‘arrested.’

Bound him in prison is ‘had him put in prison’ or, where the idiom may require, ‘tied him up in jail,’ but not necessarily with the literal meaning of ‘to bind.’

For the sake of Herodias may be variously translated, depending upon the perspective in question: ‘because of Herodias’ (meaning, because of what she had done, asked, or wanted), ‘in order to please Herodias,’ or ‘he did this for Herodias.’

Contemporary historical sources indicate that there are some difficulties involved in this statement of the relationship of Herodias to Philip, but the translator is not called upon to re-edit, but to translate. Hence, one may say ‘Herodias had been the wife of Philip, Herod’s brother’ (‘younger brother,’ if such a distinction is required).

Because he had married her is very loosely connected with the preceding. If translated without some more precise transition, it may mean in some languages that ‘Herodias was Philip’s wife because he (i.e. Philip) had married her.’ As a result, one must recast the sentence somewhat to read, ‘this happened because Herod had married Herodias.’ The pronominal element should refer to all the preceding sequence, including if possible the concern of Herod, the imprisonment of John, and Herod’s actions in order to please Herodias.

Note that the sequence of events as described: (1) the worry of Herod, (2) the beheading of John, (3) the imprisonment of John, and (4) Herod’s marriage to Herodias are told in reverse order of their temporal sequence. In some languages this requires very careful handling of conjunctions or tense forms of the verbs.

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 .