During the translation of one of the miracles of feeding or crowds with fish and bread into Yami, Graham Ogden tells this story:

“A small population on tiny Orchid Island, off the S-E coast of Taiwan, depended to a large extent on fishing as a source of food. When translating the story of the Five Loaves and Two Fish the translator asked a question that took me by surprise. He asked what kind of fish they were. I said they were just fish! But he said, I have to know what kind of fish they were because we have no word ‘fish.’ How come? I asked. He said we have no general word, because every fish has a name. So I suggested he choose a common type. He then said, But was it a fish that only men can eat or only women? Do you mean that there are cultural restrictions on who can eat which kind of fish? Yes, he said. Is there not one kind of fish that everyone can eat, given the circumstances? Oh yes, he said, there is one kind. Then that’s the name to use, I said. He was satisfied with that answer.”

complete verse (Mark 6:43)

Following are a number of back-translations of Mark 6:43:

  • Uma: “After they ate, they gathered up the leftover bread and fish, twelve baskets full.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “After they had eaten, the disciples of Isa gathered their left-over bread and fish, twelve baskets full.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And as for that food, his disciples picked up twelve baskets of broken bread and fish which were left over.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “When they gathered-up what was left-over, twelve baskets were filled (lit. placed-in) with the broken-scraps of food.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “The disciples collected that left-over bread and fish which had been broken into pieces, and twelve baskets were filled.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)

Translation commentary on Mark 6:42 – 6:43


In v. 43 instead of kophinōn plērōmata ‘basketfuls’ of all modern editions of the Greek text, Textus Receptus has kophinous plēreis ‘baskets full.’


echortasthēsan (7.27; 8.4, 8) ‘they were fed,’ ‘they were filled,’ ‘they were satisfied.’

kai ēran klasmata dōdeka kophinōn plērōmata ‘and they took up (the) broken pieces, twelve basketfuls.’ While it is possible that the subject of ‘they took up’ is the disciples, it is more probable that the verb is used impersonally, meaning simply ‘twelve basketfuls were taken up.’

klasma (8.8, 19, 20) ‘fragment,’ ‘broken piece’: it should be made clear in translation that these were pieces that remained uneaten, not crumbs that were dropped in eating.

dōdeka kophinōn plērōmata literally ‘twelve fillings of baskets,’ ‘twelve basketfuls’: plērōma is ‘that which fills,’ ‘complement’ (cf. 2.21), and the phrase here indicates the amount (in terms of capacity) of broken pieces of bread which remained. The strict meaning is rather ‘twelve basketfuls’ than ‘twelve baskets full of….’

kophinos (8.19) ‘basket’: a stiff wicker basket in which the Jews carried provisions. There is no agreement as to the precise size, nor does it seem that difference in size is what distinguished it from the spuris ‘basket’ of 8.8. It appears that spuris was a flexible mat-basket, made of rushes, perhaps, especially used by fishermen for carrying fish or food generally.

kai apo tōn ichthuōn ‘and of the fish,’ i.e. ‘and some of the fish’ (Translator’s New Testament): for this same kind of construction cf. 5.35 (cf. Arndt & Gingrich: ‘the remnants of the fish’).


They all would evidently refer not only to the people but to the disciples and Jesus. One may translate ‘everyone ate.’

When the receptor language demands an active construction, specifying who took up the fragments, it is probably justifiable to use ‘the disciples took up.’ They did not pick up the food from the ground, and hence one may translate as in some languages ‘received back from the people pieces of bread and fish, enough to fill twelve baskets.’

Though the Greek word for ‘basket’ kophinos does not indicate the specific size of the container involved, it is entirely legitimate to select in the receptor language a term which would identify a relatively large basket, the type of container that might be carried by people who were out gathering supplies in the fields or who used the baskets for transporting produce.

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 .