whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all

The Greek that is translated as “whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” or similar in English is translated in Tzotzil as “If anyone wants to be thought of as the most important, let him humble himself, let him help all people,” in Chuj as “If there is one man wants to lift up himself among you, he must make himself lowly before you. He must enter as the servant of you all, he said,” and in Choapan Zapotec as “If a person wants to command his fellow-men, he must consider himself to be as a person who has no authority, let him work without pay for anyone.” (Source: B. Moore / G. Turner in Notes on Translation 1967, p. 1ff.)

See also complete verse (Mark 9:35).

complete verse (Mark 9:35)

Following are a number of back-translations of Mark 9:35:

  • Uma: “So, Yesus sat and he called his twelve disciples, he said: ‘Who[ever] wants to have the bigger life, he must live making-himself-low [i.e., humbly], lower than all his companions, and he must be a servant to all his companions.'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “So-then Isa sat down and he called his twelve disciples to his side. He said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be made very great/honored much, he should cause himself to be low/humble himself so that he is the lowest of all, and he should be the servant of all people.'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Then Jesus sat down, and he called tp him his twelve disciples, and he said to them, ‘Any one of you who wants to be greatest, this is what he must do. He must consider that his status is very low, and he must let all of his companions order him around.'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Then Jesus sat-down. He called his twelve disciples and said, ‘The one who wants to become the greatest, he must make himself the lowest and serve all his companions.'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “Jesus got settled sitting down and caused those twelve disciples of his to come close. He said, ‘The one who wants to be first in praiseworthiness/glory, he must make himself lower than all and become servant of all people.'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)

formal pronoun: Jesus addressing his disciples and common people

Like many languages (but unlike Greek or Hebrew or English), Tuvan uses a formal vs. informal 2nd person pronoun (a familiar vs. a respectful “you”). Unlike other languages that have this feature, however, the translators of the Tuvan Bible have attempted to be very consistent in using the different forms of address in every case a 2nd person pronoun has to be used in the translation of the biblical text.

As Voinov shows in Pronominal Theology in Translating the Gospels (in: The Bible Translator 2002, p. 210ff.), the choice to use either of the pronouns many times involved theological judgment. While the formal pronoun can signal personal distance or a social/power distance between the speaker and addressee, the informal pronoun can indicate familiarity or social/power equality between speaker and addressee.

Here, Jesus is addressing his disciples, individuals and/or crowds with the formal pronoun, showing respect.

In most Dutch translations, Jesus addresses his disciples and common people with the informal pronoun, whereas they address him with the formal form.

Translation commentary on Mark 9:35


kathisas (10.37, 40; 11.2, 7; 12.36, 41; 14.32; 16.19) ‘sitting down’ – perhaps as a teacher.

tous dōdeka (cf. 3.14, 16; 6.7) ‘the Twelve’: a title, not simply a number.

ei tis thelei (cf. 8.34) ‘if any one wants’: as in 8.34, this translation is to be preferred to Revised Standard Version ‘if any one would.’

prōtos (cf. 6.21) ‘first,’ used with the idea of rank and position (cf. also 10.31, 44, where the word is used with this same meaning).

estai pantōn eschatos kai pantōn diakonos ‘he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.’ This statement is not in the nature of a threat against the selfseekers, as though it meant, “This is what will happen if anyone wants to be first!” It is rather Jesus’ teaching on how really to be ‘first’: ‘If you want to be first, become the last, become the servant of all’ (cf. Gould). The future estai ‘shall be’ has the force (as often) of an imperative ‘must be.’

eschatos (10.31; 12.6, 22) ‘last’ in rank or position, as in the case of prōtos ‘first’; therefore, ‘least,’ ‘most insignificant.’

diakonos (10.43) ‘servant.’


Called the twelve must be carefully translated, for ‘calling’ may imply shouting to, which obviously is not the meaning here. Rather, the meaning is that Jesus told his disciples to gather around him or to come to him to listen to what he had to say.

The twelve must be expanded in many languages to ‘the twelve disciples,’ since numerals cannot be used as substantives in this type of construction.

If any one would be first may require some more specific delimitation, since ‘first’ may not imply rank or relative position among persons, as it does in Greek and English. For example, in Tzeltal one must translate, ‘if any one wishes to raise himself up to the first place’ (implying relative height), but in other languages, e.g. Punu, one may say ‘if any one wishes to be at the face,’ meaning the front of the line of men going down a trail; cf. Toraja-Sa’dan ‘when someone wants to be in the forefront’; Javanese ‘leading-man.’ Still another ordering is found in some languages ‘if any one wishes to be the elder,’ employing age grading as a basis for rank in any group. It makes no difference whether a language employs space or time as a basis for distinction – the important thing is the ranking of members within a group.

Last of all must be translated in contrast with ‘first.’ For example, in Punu one may say ‘he must return to the back of all,’ thus preserving the figure of the trail.

Servant of all may need some cultural adaptation, e.g. ‘do errands for everyone’ (Copainalá Zoque).

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 .