John the Baptist

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


“John the Baptist” in Mexican Sign Language (source: BSLM )

In German Sign Language (Catholic) it is translated with the sign for the letter J and the sign signifying a Catholic baptism by sprinkling on the head.


“John” in German Sign Language /catholic, source: Taub und katholisch

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

Similarly, in French Sign Language, it is “prepare the way.” (Source: Lexique – Explications en langue des signes)

In Vietnamese (Hanoi) Sign Language it is translated with the sign for leaping in the womb (see Luke 1:41) and baptism. (Source: The Vietnamese Sign Language translation team, VSLBT)


“John” in Vietnamese Sign Language, source: SooSL

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

See also John the Baptist (icon).

Learn more on Bible Odyssey: John the Baptist .

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.

Jeremiah

The name that is transliterated as “Jeremiah” in English is translated in American Sign Language with the sign signifying “prophet (seeing into the future)” and “crying.” (Source: Phil King in Journal of Translation 16/2 2020, p. 33ff.)


“Jeremiah” in American Sign Language (source )

In Swiss-German Sign Language it is translated with a sign that depicts to lament often.


“Jeremiah” in Swiss-German Sign Language, source: DSGS-Lexikon biblischer Begriffe , © CGG Schweiz

Following is a Russian Orthodox icon of Jeremiah from the 18th century (found in the Transfiguration Church, Kizhi Monastery, Karelia, Russia).

 
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 )

Learn more on Bible Odyssey: Jeremiah .

formal pronoun: disciples addressing Jesus

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, individual or several disciples address Jesus with the formal pronoun, expressing respect. Compare this to how that address changes after the resurrection.

In most Dutch as well as in Western Frisian and Afrikaans translations, the disciples address Jesus before and after the resurrection with the formal pronoun.

See also this devotion on YouVersion .

complete verse (Matthew 16:14)

Following are a number of back-translations of Matthew 16:14:

  • Uma: “His disciples answered: ‘There are some who say that you (sing.) are Yohanes the Baptizer come back to life. There are also those who say they you (sing.) are a prophet of long ago who has appeared again, like the prophet Elia, the prophet Yeremia, or other prophets.'” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “They said, ‘Some people say that you are Yahiya who bathed people come alive again. Others also say that you are Nabi Eliyas and others yet say that you are Nabi Jeremiya or one of the prophets of old.'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And they answered, ‘Some of them, they say that you are John the Baptist raised from the dead. And others, they say that you are Elijah, and others, they say that you are Jeremiah. And if not he, then you are one of those inspired ones of God long ago.'” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “‘There are those who say that you (sing.) are Juan the Baptizer. Others say that you (sing.) are Elias, and yet others say that you (sing.) are Jeremias or another prophet from long-ago,’ they answered.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “His disciples replied saying, ‘Some say, you are Juan who was baptizing. Well as for others, they say you are Prophet Elias. Some others say you are Prophet Jeremias or one of those other prophets of the past who has come to life again.'” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “His learners said: ‘There are some who say that you are John who baptized. Other people say that you are Elijah. Others say that you are Jeremiah. Others say that you are some other spokesman from God.'” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

Elijah

The name that is transliterated as “Elijah” in English is translated in Spanish Sign Language as “whirlwind” (according to 2 Kings 2:11) (Source: John Elwode in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 78ff. )


“Elijah” in Spanish Sign Language, source: Sociedad Bíblica de España

Click or tap here to see how other sign languages are translating “Elijah”

In American Sign Language it is translated with a depiction of being taken up to heaven with a chariot of fire. (Source: ASL Sign Language Directory )


“Elijah” in American Sign Language (source )

Likewise in Estonian Sign Language, but with a different sign (source: Liina Paales in Folklore 47, 2011, p. 43ff.)


“Elijah” in Estonian Sign Language (source )

In Finnish Sign Language it is translated with the sign signifying “fire” (referring to 1 Kings 18:38). (Source: Tarja Sandholm)


“Elijah” in Finnish Sign Language (source )

Following is a Russian Orthodox icon of Elijah from the late 13h century.

 
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 Moses and Elijah during the Transfiguration.

Learn more on Bible Odyssey: Elijah .

prophet

Eugene Nida wrote the following about the translation of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek terms that are typically translated with “prophet” in English:

“The tendency in many translations is to use ‘to foretell the future’ for ‘prophesy,’ and ‘one who foretells the future’ for ‘prophet.’ This is not always a recommended usage, particularly if such expressions denote certain special native practices of spirit contact and control. It is true, of course, that prophets of the Bible did foretell the future, but this was not always their principal function. One essential significance of the Greek word prophētēs is ‘one who speaks forth,’ principally, of course, as a forth-teller of the Divine will. A translation such as ‘spokesman for God’ may often be employed profitably.” (1947, p. 234f.)

Following is a list of (back-) translations from other languages (click or tap for details):

  • San Blas Kuna: “one who speaks the voice of God”
  • Central Pame and Vai: “interpreter for God”
  • Kaqchikel, Navajo, Yaka: “one who speaks for God”
  • Northern Grebo: “God’s town crier” (see more about this below)
  • Sapo: “God’s sent-word person”
  • Shipibo-Conibo, Ngäbere: “one who speaks God’s word”
  • Copainalá Zoque: “one who speaks-opens” (a compound meaning “one who discloses or reveals”)
  • Sierra Totonac: “one who causes them to know” (in the sense of “revealer”)
  • Batak Toba: “foreteller” (this and all the above acc. to Nida 1961, p. 7)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “one who is inspired of God” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Alekano: “the true man who descended from heaven” (source: Ellis Deibler in Notes on Translation June 1986, p. 36ff.)
  • Aguaruna: “teller of God’s word” (source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125)
  • Ekari: “person who speaks under divine impulse”
  • Mandarin Chinese: 先知 xiānzhī — “one who foreknows” (or the 1946/1970 translation by Lü Zhenzhong: 神言人 shényánrén — “divine-word-man”)
  • Uab Meto: “holy spokesman” (source for this and two above: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • Kouya: Lagɔɔ gbʋgbanyɔ — “the one who seeks God’s affairs” (source: Saunders, p. 269)
  • Kafa: “decide for God only” (source: Loren Bliese)
  • Martu Wangka: “sit true to God’s talk” (source: Carl Gross)
  • Eastern Highland Otomi: “word passer” (source: John Beekman in Notes on Translation November 1964, p. 1-22)
  • Obolo: ebi nriran: “one with power of divine revelation” (source: Enene Enene)
  • Mairasi: nonondoai nyan: “message proclaimer” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • Highland Totonac: “speaker on God’s behalf”
  • Central Tarahumara: “God’s preacher” (source for this and above: Waterhouse / Parrott in Notes on Translation October 1967, p. 1ff.)
  • Coatlán Mixe: “God’s word-thrower”
  • Ayutla Mixtec: “one who talks as God’s representative”
  • Isthmus Mixe: “speaker for God” (source for this and two above: Viola Waterhouse in Notes on Translation August 1966, p. 86ff.)
  • Mezquital Otomi / Paasaal: “God’s messenger” (source: Waterhouse / Parrott in Notes on Translation October 1967, p. 1ff. and Fabian N. Dapila in The Bible Translator 2024, p. 415ff.)
  • Noongar: Warda Marridjiny or “News Traveling” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang)
  • Kutu: mtula ndagu or “one who gives the prediction of the past and the future” (Source: Pioneer Bible Translators, project-specific translation notes in Paratext)
  • French 1985 translation by Chouraqui: inspiré or “inspired one” (“someone in whom God has breathed [Latin: in + spiro]) (source: Watson 2023, p. 45)

In Ixcatlán Mazatec a term is used that specifically includes women. (Source: Robert Bascom)

About the translation into Northern Grebo:

“In some instances these spiritual terms result from adaptations reflecting the native life and culture. Among the Northern Grebo people of Liberia, a missionary wanted some adequate term for ‘prophet,’ and she was fully aware that the native word for ‘soothsayer’ or ‘diviner’ was no equivalent for the Biblical prophet who spoke forth for God. Of course, much of what the prophets said referred to the future, and though this was an essential part of much of their ministry, it was by no means all. The right word for the Gbeapo people would have to include something which would not only mean the foretelling of important events but the proclamation of truth as God’s representative among the people. At last the right word came; it was ‘God’s town-crier.’ Every morning and evening the official representative of the chief goes through the village crying out the news, delivering the orders of the chief, and announcing important coming events. ‘God’s town-crier’ would be the official representative of God, announcing to the people God’s doings, His commands, and His pronouncements for their salvation and well-being. For the Northern Grebo people the prophet is no weird person from forgotten times; he is as real as the human, moving message of the plowman Amos, who became God’s town-crier to a calloused people.” (source: Nida 1952, p. 20)

In American Sign Language it is a person who sees into the future:


“Prophet” in American Sign Language (source )

In British Sign Language it is is translated with a sign that depicts a message coming from God to a person (the upright finger) and then being passed on to others. (Source: Anna Smith)


“Prophet” in British Sign Language (source: Christian BSL, used with permission)

See also prophesy and prophesy / prophetic frenzy.

Learn more on Bible Odyssey: How to Recognize a Biblical Prophet .

Translation commentary on Matthew 16:14

If the Son of Man is specifically identified with Jesus in verse 13, then the reply in verse 14 may require a second-person reference: “Some say that you are….” Many languages will require a short sentence as a response, as in “Some people say the Son of Man is (or, you are) (really) John the Baptist.”

In the Greek sentence only the verb said appears, but English requires the introduction of say … say, as in Revised Standard Version and Good News Translation.

According to 14.2, Herod Antipas thought that Jesus was John the Baptist come back to life. Evidently there were others who shared this belief along with him. For John the Baptist, see comments on 3.1.

Elijah may not be well known to many readers, especially in languages where the Old Testament has not yet been translated or widely distributed. It may be helpful in such cases to say “the prophet (of long ago) Elijah.” On the belief that Elijah would return prior to the day of final judgment, see comment at 11.14.

Jeremiah or one of the prophets: in order not to convey the false impression that Jeremiah was not one of the prophets, Good News Translation translates “Jeremiah or some other prophet.” Since Jeremiah was definitely considered a prophet by the Jewish community, it is quite obvious that Matthew has no intention of excluding him from among the prophets. In fact, this is in all probability Matthew’s way of placing Jeremiah at the forefront of the prophets.

For some translators, the fact that the people named here are all dead needs to be indicated. This is especially the case when there are many readers who do not have great familiarity with the Bible. Sometimes a footnote is necessary. Other times, to say something like “prophet of long ago” or “John the Baptist reappeared” is sufficient.

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 .