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.

John came neither eating nor drinking

The Greek that is translated in English as “John came neither eating nor drinking” had to be supplemented in Yalunka with bayo a yi sunni waxatin birin: “because he was fasting all the time.”

Greg Pruett tells why this had to be done:

“One year we were testing whether the Yalunka people understood the way we translated ‘John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ I asked, ‘What kind of man was John the Baptist?’ The Muslim leaders of the village said, ‘He was a great sorcerer.’ I said, ‘Why do you say that?’ They replied, ‘It says right there that John the Baptist came neither eating nor drinking.’

“In Yalunka culture, there are night people who learn magic techniques so that their soul can leave their body at night and consume the souls of other people. When they awake the next morning, they intimidate people by saying, ‘I don’t need any rice today because… you know.’ And everyone knows they have been out eating souls all night. They understood the translation to mean that John the Baptist’s soul was leaving his body at night and he was consuming the souls of other people thereby causing chronic disease. So we had to add implied information: bayo a yi sunni waxatin birin (‘because he was fasting all the time’). Once we had added the implied information of the idea of ‘fasting’ the readers were able to seize on the proper frame of reference and no longer misunderstood.”


The Greek that is typically translated/transliterated in English as “demon” is translated in Central Mazahua as “the evil spirit(s) of the devil” (source: Ellis Deibler in Notes on Translation July, 1967, p. 5ff.).

In Sissala it is translated with kaŋtɔŋ, which traditionally referred to “either a spirit of natural phenomena such as trees, rivers, stones, etc., or the spirit of a deceased person that has not been taken into the realm of the dead. Kaŋtɔŋ can be good or evil. Evil kaŋtɔŋ can bring much harm to people and are feared accordingly. A kaŋtɔŋ can also dwell in a person living on this earth. A person possessed by kaŋtɔŋ does not behave normally.” (Source: Regina Blass in Holzhausen 1991, p. 48f.)

In Umiray Dumaget Agta it is translated as hayup or “creature, animal, general term for any non-human creature, whether natural or supernatural.” Thomas Headland (in: Notes on Translation, September 1971, p. 17ff.) explains some more: “There are several types of supernatural creatures, or spirit beings which are designated by the generic term hayup. Just as we have several terms in English for various spirit beings (elves, fairies, goblins, demons, imps, pixies) so have the Dumagats. And just as you will find vast disagreement and vagueness among English informants as to the differences between pixies and imps, etc., so you will find that no two Dumagats will agree as to the form and function of their different spirit beings.” This term can also be used in a verb form: hayupen: “creatured” or “to be killed, made sick, or crazy by a spirit.

In Yala it is translated as yapri̍ija ɔdwɔ̄bi̍ or “bad Yaprija.” Yaprijas are traditional spirits that have a range presumed activities including giving or withholding gifts, giving and protecting children, causing death and disease and rewarding good behavior. (Source: Eugene Bunkowske in Notes on Translation 78/1980, p. 36ff.)

In Lamnso’ it is translated as aànyùyi jívirì: “lesser gods who disturb, bother, pester, or confuse a person.” (Source: Fanwong 2013, p. 93)

See also devil and formal pronoun: demons or Satan addressing Jesus.

John the Baptist

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

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 Nyongar it is translated as John-Kakaloorniny or “John Washing” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang).

See also John the Baptist (icon).

complete verse (Matthew 11:18)

Following are a number of back-translations of Matthew 11:18:

  • Uma: “Its meaning: Yohanes the Baptizer they do not like, Me also they do not like. When Yohanes came, he fasted and did not drink that which makes-drunk. They rejected him, they said: ‘He is possessed [ridden]!'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “You are like those children. For Yahiya came and he often fasted and he did not drink intoxicating drink, na, and the people said that he is demon possessed.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Now you saw John; he fasts and he doesn’t drink wine, and you said that he is demon-possessed.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “They are what you can-be-compared-to, because Juan came and he was fasting and was not drinking intoxicating-beverages and you said, ‘He is demon-possessed (reproof particle).'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “You are just like them, for nothing is acceptable to you either. Because as for Juan, he fasted and didn’t drink intoxicating liquor. Well, the people said he is possessed by an evil spirit.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “You are like that, in that if it doesn’t happen just like you say, you are angry. Because John came, the one who fasted and you said that he walks with an evil spirit because of what he does.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

Translation commentary on Matthew 11:18

Jesus is no longer reporting what the children said. It is sometimes necessary to make this clear, as in “People today are like them (or, that) because….”

Verses 18-19 contain the application of the parable. For John came neither eating nor drinking is made shorter by Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch (“John fasted”); Barclay restructures for clarification (“living the life of an ascetic”). To say John came neither eating nor drinking does not mean he was some supernatural being who did not eat or drink anything at all. It means firstly that he fasted regularly, that is, went without food in order to worship God. (See comments at 6.16.) Secondly, it states he drank no alcoholic drinks. Therefore the translation can be “For when John came he often went without food to worship God, and he drank nothing alcoholic (or, no wine).”

And can be “but,” “and yet,” or “and as a result.”

They can be “people.”

He has a demon (Good News Translation “He has a demon in him”) means “he is possessed by an evil spirit” (Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch). Barclay has “The man is demon-possessed!”; both New Jerusalem Bible and New English Bible, “He is possessed.” Neither Phillips (“He’s crazy!”) nor New American Bible (“He is mad!”) should be followed, since they fail to convey the idea of demon possession, which is integral to the biblical culture. For a discussion of spirit possession, see 4.24. “He has an evil spirit in him” or “An evil spirit has filled him” are just two examples of how it can be translated here.

The sentence can be either direct speech, “and people say, ‘He has an evil spirit,’ ” or indirect, as in “people say about him that he is possessed by an evil spirit.”

Quoted with permission from Newman, Barclay M. and Stine, Philip C. A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1988. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .