The Greek that is translated in English as “cut (branches)” had to be further specified in Chilcotin with the word xadajelht’az (“they cut off with knife-like tool”)
“Our Native translator asked if they used a saw, knife or an axe. Why? Because cutting with each of these instruments (and scissors as well) requires different verb stems. We concluded that they used knife-like instruments!”
Quindel King in Northern Canada Evangelical Mission, p. 70.
Following are a number of back-translations of Matthew 21:8:
Uma: “They went toward Yerusalem. When Yesus passed by, very many people spread out their clothes in the road, and some of them cut leaves of trees and put them down in the road to honor him.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
Yakan: “There were also many people there. They spread out their clothes on the road where he passed by. Some broke off leafy branches and scattered them on the road to honor Isa.” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
Western Bukidnon Manobo: “And then because great was their honoring Jesus, the people spread their cloaks in Jesus’ path. And others there, they cut off leafy twigs and placed them all over the path.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
Kankanaey: “Most of the many-people who were there, they spread-out their outer garments on the road. Others spread it (road) with tree branches that they whacked off in order to thereby-honor Jesus.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
Tagbanwa: “Really many spread out their cloaks there on the trail. Those others cut branches of a plant like badangan (small palm) and that’s what they put on the trail, which was a sign of their honoring and welcoming of Jesus.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
Tenango Otomi: “There on the road over which Jesus would pass, many people spread out their cloaks in the road. Other people cut palm branches to spread in the road.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)
Most of the crowd … and others may need to be restructured slightly. “Most of the people in the crowd … and some of them (or, some of the rest of them)” is an example.
After spread their garments on the road, Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch adds “as a carpet.” In many places of the modern world it is customary to roll out a carpet for a visiting dignitary, but there is the possibility that the action of the people (especially that of spreading tree branches in the road) may be understood in a negative sense. The addition of Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch immediately avoids this potential misunderstanding. Another quite common solution is to add “for him to ride on.” Another is to add “to honor him,” either after on the road or at the end of the verse.
As with the garments the disciples spread over the donkeys, garments here probably refers to the outer coats. See Matthew 21.7 above.
Regarding the branches, it seems unlikely that the crowd cut large branches. As with the coats, the idea is to have something for the donkeys to walk on. It was a way of showing honor to Jesus.
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 .