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.)

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

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)