The Hebrew and Greek that is translated with “clothes” or similar in English is translated in Enlhet as “crawling-in-stuff” (source: Jacob Loewen in The Bible Translator 1971, p. 169ff. ) and in Nyongar as bwoka or “Kangaroo skin” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang).

unshrunk cloth (illustration)

The Greek that is translated as “unshrunk cloth” or “unshrunk patch” in English is illustrated for use in Bible translations in East Africa by Pioneer Bible Translators like this:

Image owned by PBT and Jonathan McDaniel and licensed with the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

complete verse (Matthew 9:16)

Following are a number of back-translations of Matthew 9:16:

  • Uma: “After that, Yesus said two more parables, he said: ‘There is no-one who patches an old shirt with a new patch/piece of cloth. Because that new patch/piece of cloth will shrink, until that old shirt tears, with the result that the tear will just get bigger.” (Source: Uma Back Translation)
  • Yakan: “So-then Isa told parables/parabled about the former teaching and his teaching. He said, ‘No person puts a patch of new cloth which has not yet been washed onto old clothes. Because if he does that, the old clothes will tear again and the tear will be greater.'” (Source: Yakan Back Translation)
  • Western Bukidnon Manobo: “Then Jesus told a parable about how his new teaching and the old doctrine do not go together. He said, ‘New cloth which hasn’t yet been shrunk, it is not good to patch a shirt of cloth which is already weak. Because when it is washed, the new cloth will shrink, and the new will tear away from the old, and far bigger will be its torn place.” (Source: Western Bukidnon Manobo Back Translation)
  • Kankanaey: “Jesus also said parabling, ‘There is no person who uses-new cloth -to-patch an old garment. Because what-is-used-to-patch will shrink and what-it-is-patched-to will be ripped worse.” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Tagbanwa: “And then he taught them that it isn’t possible/acceptable to just add on this teaching of his to the customs of the Judio. He said, ‘No-one sews a patch of new cloth not yet laundered on to old clothes. Because when it shrinks, the tear will be all the bigger.” (Source: Tagbanwa Back Translation)
  • Tenango Otomi: “Concerning the new word I am teaching, it cannot be mixed with the old teaching. It is like a new cloth cannot patch old clothing. Because the new cloth will shrink, even more spoiling the old clothing.” (Source: Tenango Otomi Back Translation)

Translation commentary on Matthew 9:16

The two sayings contained in verses 16-17 are in the form of proverbial sayings. In fact, Luke (5.36) specifically identifies them as parables (many languages will identify them as proverbs). Verse 16 describes a scene which is almost universally familiar. If a piece of unshrunk (that is, new) cloth is sewn on an old garment, the new patch will shrink when it is washed and make the hole even bigger than it was before. Old garment (Good News Translation “old coat”) may be translated “old piece of clothing.”

It may be necessary to make explicit that putting a piece of cloth on an old garment is to repair it. Puts may therefore be translated as “sews on,” “uses to repair,” or “uses to patch.”

Further, it is when the patched garment is washed that the patch shrinks and the tearing becomes worse. Some translations specify this: “For when the clothing is washed, the patch shrinks and it tears away from the cloth, making the tear worse.”

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 .