complete verse (Matthew 14:21)

Following are a number of back-translations of Matthew 14:21:

  • Uma: “The number of those who ate at that time, it was maybe five thousand, still only men, not-yet counted the women and children.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “The people who had eaten were five thousand men, not counting the women and children.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Five thousand is the number of the men who ate, and the women and children were not included in the counting.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “The number of those-who-ate was-about (lit. went to) five thousand of old-men and young-men, excluding the women and children.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “As for the number of those who ate, the men alone were five thousand, apart from the women and children.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “Concerning the people who ate at this time, there were five thousand men who ate. A count wasn’t made of the women and the children.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

large numbers in Angguruk Yali

Many languages use a “body part tally system” where body parts function as numerals (see body part tally systems with a description). One such language is Angguruk Yali which uses a system that ends at the number 27. To circumvent this limitation, the Angguruk Yali translators adopted a strategy where a large number is first indicated with an approximation via the traditional system, followed by the exact number according to Arabic numerals. For example, where in 2 Samuel 6:1 it says “thirty thousand” in the English translation, the Angguruk Yali says teng-teng angge 30.000 or “so many rounds [following the body part tally system] 30,000,” likewise, in Acts 27:37 where the number “two hundred seventy-six” is used, the Angguruk Yali translation says teng-teng angge 276 or “so many rounds 276,” or in John 6:10 teng-teng angge 5.000 for “five thousand.”

This strategy is used in all the verses referenced here.

Source: Lourens de Vries in The Bible Translator 1998, p. 409ff.

See also numbers in Ngalum and numbers in Kombai.

Translation commentary on Matthew 14:21

Those who ate may require an object: “those who ate the bread and fish.” It is interesting to note that some Greek manuscripts do include “the loaves” as object of the verb, and one Latin manuscript even has “bread and fish.”

Both Matthew and Mark (6.44) note that five thousand took part in the meal, though only Matthew emphasizes the number by the additional comment besides women and children. Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch translates the verse “About five thousand men had taken part in the meal, in addition to the women and children.” Besides women and children may necessitate restructuring as a complete statement: “In addition some women and children had also eaten all the bread and fish that they wanted.”

The separate mention of the women and children makes it very clear that five thousand refers specifically to the men. It would not be correct, therefore, to say “five thousand people.”

Translators will find many ways to restructure this verse to make it more natural. Examples are “There were about five thousand men who ate (the bread and fish), not counting the women and children who were there too” and “Altogether, about five thousand men as well as women and children were given food (or, bread and fish) to eat.”

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 .