Why Does John Often Translate And Explain Words? (gospel Of John 1:35-42 )

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

In Jn.1.35-38 we are told that upon hearing John the Baptist proclaiming Jesus to be the Passover Lamb of God, some of the followers of John went to see Jesus. They followed him to the place where he stayed. One relevant for this type of commentary note is that they addressed him as – “Rabbi,” which John also comments meant Teacher. (vs. 38)

In the Judaism of the Second Temple period the word “Rabbi” did not mean the same thing that it means today. It was not an ordained position within the Jewish community as it is today with specific roles. It simply was used as a title of respect along with the acknowledgement that this person had things to teach others (function of a teacher). So was Jesus a rabbi? “Yes” and “no,” More “no” than “yes.”

Another relevant issue that comes up here has to do translations and explanations. John often provides translations or simple explanations of Hebrew and Aramaic terms or names in Greek. This is normally taken to mean that John had Gentile audience in view that knew little about Judaism, so the author felt a need to explain all these things from the start. For example, when “Passover of the Jews” is mentioned, it is argued that the author simply explains to the Gentiles reading his Gospel that Passover was a Jewish holiday. In other posts we will see that this was not at all the case.

Here are some examples: Sea of Galilee – Sea of Tiberius (6:1; 21:1), Cephas – Peter (1:42), Messiah – Anointed (1:40-41; 4:25), Rabbi – Teacher (1:38), Siloam – Sent (9:7), Rabboni – Teacher (20:16). Strikingly, several times he translates Greek back into Hebrew/Aramaic as well,  such as: Skull Hill – Golgotha (19:17) and Stone Pavement – Gabbatha (19:13).

It is important to keep in mind that the Gospel was likely first written to a variety of Israelite groups who were for various reasons opposed to Hoi Ioudaioi (“the Jews” as they called them). While Samaritans may have been one of the major groups to which this gospel was first addressed (remember that early Church engaged in significant mission in Samaria and Samaritans were very large in numbers at the time), there were also others, especially those who are referred to in Rabbinic Jewish literature as the People of the Land.

But let us suppose the unlikely for a moment – that the Samaritans were indeed the sole audience for the book of John. Could this back-and-forth translation still fit? The answer ought to be given in the affirmative. Just as all Jews did not live in Judea, so all Samaritans did not live in Samaria. These expatriate Samaritans, like the Judeans in the Diaspora, may not have had a command of Aramaic or Samaritan Hebrew. They may have needed translation and some limited explanations. Moreover, all local Roman Palestinian groups had their Diaspora representatives. Samaritans were not an exception. These expatriates, but especially their children and grandchildren, had far less exposure to Hebrew and Aramaic than those who remained in their original communities. They may have needed Greek translations for the religious terms used. In fact, just as with any immigrant community, the second and third generations may have had no command of Hebrew or Aramaic at all. The mere existence of the Samaritikon, the Greek Translation of the Samaritan version of Torah, (like the Septuagint Greek version of Torah) argues for such a possibility. There were substantial numbers of Samaritans in the Diaspora; and, perhaps, even in the parts of their thoroughly Hellenized Israelite homeland itself.

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© By Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Ph.D.

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[1] In addition to these considerations there is the fact that different communities used different terms to signify identical or almost identical concepts. For example, rabboni or rabbi for a religious leader or a teacher may have not been the term that the Samaritans used. Today Samaritans call their “rabbi”-like figure a “hacham” (a wise one) to refer to Jesus. It is conceivable that differences in the religious vocabulary of different audiences would account for the presence of this particular phenomenon of translation in the Gospel of John.


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  1. Eric Rodríguez


    Into the Faith of Israel (more than “judaism”) of the 2nd temple period, there were three different nominations to be known: Rabí, Rav and Rabán. First one, referred to “who which had disciples, who indeed, had disciples” (so, in this sense, Yehoshúa’ was a Rabí different as was said, from the currect “Rabbi”); second one, used for the Babylonian wise men (in Toráh), and the third one, exclusively for Hillel’s disciples… Riboní (rarest: Raboní), is an aramaic word meaning “my Lord” (alike ‘Adoní). Well, on other hand, about translations and explanations of some words, if it’s a “Johnian” work,seems to be an appendix for strange readers to improve the connection with some events or places… maybe as a guide of hermeneutic keys, such as is used in hebrew under the name of “Remez” or “Qeri”. Shilóaj / Shalíaj; is in this context, when we can notice that the sentence “we’ve found the Messiah” is directly related to The Lamb of God, cause the aramaic word טלייא Talya or טלי Taleý, means “servant” Cf. Targ. Y. Lv. 15:2; “young”, like נער Na’ar in hebrew) and plays is sound with טלה Taléh “tender Lamb” (Cf. Hag. 9b ) So, it’s clear that Is 49 and 53, are quoted indirectly here! The servant of the Lord… more than the simple “Lamb”…
    Shalom upon you all!

  2. Jerry Christensen

    I’m confused about the leap from “behold the lamb of God” to “We have found the Messiah”. If a Jewish perspective would have been that the lamb is killed and the blood applied protects from God’s judgement, how does this allow linkage to a Jewish understanding of the Messiah as a kingdom ruler? Whenever I have opportunity to speak with a practicing Jew, I ask what the attributes of the Messiah will be. The answer is often vague, but usually includes the word “statesman”. Were there conflicting understandings of what the Messiah would look like at the time of Christ?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Jerry, this is a very complex topic. I will give a short answer and then you do the rest of research on it. There was no “Jewish understanding” of Messiah. There were Jewish understandings of Messiah. For example, some believed that there was only one Messiah, others that there were two. You should read about Messiah Ben David and Messiah Ben Joseph. See where the research will lead you to. Therefore, what John meant by “Behold the Lamb of God” and what disciples meant by “We found the Messiah,” probably, was based on different understanding of Messiah or not fully developed understanding of either one. This is why in Judaism up until now Messiah is not a Halahic discussion.

  3. Sonia Willats

    Thank you for promised posting on “Messiah and Rabboni”. Do you think that John’s exclamation of :”Behold the Lamb of God” would have evoked Isa 53 in his audiences mind, and sureley also the concept of a sacrificial lamb, being the Passover lamb? Also, do you think that John may have been connected with the Qumran community?

    Thank you again, Eli and to the Hebrew University for these studies. And soon I hope to enroll for Biblical Hebrew studies.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I do not think this reference would have evoked Is. 53 imagery. This was a clear connection with the Passover, however.

      About John and Qumran please see my previous post here.

      So glad to hear that you will soon be our student. Make sure to sign up to get the posts from week to week. You can do so on every page of the blog.


      1. Nathaniel

        “Behold the Lamb of God” and elsewhere, “who takes away the sins of the world.”

        Leviticus gives us the list of sacrifices and some of those deal with sin. How / where do we learn that the korban Pesach also atones for sins?…

        –I thought John was talking about the atonement offerings.

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          I see what you are asking. I don’t know how to answer this question. Perhaps, someone in the forum will be able to. Perhaps… the key to this may be found in that a different (non-levitical) priesthood is operating through Jesus and therefore sacrifice descriptions in Leviticus may not be as important as is commonly thought.

        2. Jerry Christensen

          I’m just speculating, but perhaps because while Jesus satisfied both the Pesach and Yom Kippur sacrifices, it wouldn’t make sense for him to die twice. Pesach to escape God’s wrath, and Yom Kippur to return to right standing.

    2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Sonia, to enroll please go to this link http://eteacherbiblical.com/signup

  4. Nathaniel

    On translations and explanations,

    John is a very complicated book, theologically. So I’m surprised that the author chose to translate basic ideas instead of (or in addition to) making comments to clarify his theology– Comments like (“and thus he declared all foods clean”).

    How do we know that these explanations are not textual accretions from later copyists?
    Such clarifications, it would seem, would be intended for the novice / new initiate into the early (or later) Christian community, and not for the theological adept.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      You wrote: On translations and explanations,

      John is a very complicated book, theologically. So I’m surprised that the author chose to translate basic ideas instead of (or in addition to) making comments to clarify his theology– Comments like (“and thus he declared all foods clean”).

      Nathaniel, sorry for delay in response. There many places like these in John. Perhaps, made by the author perhaps added by later editor/s. Its very difficult to know for sure. There is no problem with translation of basic ideas if in various Israeli traditions they meant slightly different things and sometimes very different things. Perhaps, I am not seeing here the problem you are seeing. Can you clarify?

      How do we know that these explanations are not textual accretions from later copyists?
      Such clarifications, it would seem, would be intended for the novice / new initiate into the early (or later) Christian community, and not for the theological adept.

      Answer: Yes, it could be the editors and copyists who are responsible adopting the Jewish texts to Gentile readings later on. But it also could be written to various Inter-Israelite audiences from there start who also needed translations and explanations due to their various reference points of terms. For example, Passover the Jews is not meant to explain that Passover was a Jewish Holiday, but that from variety of Passover dates and types Jesus celebrated with the Passover of the Jews (sanctioned by Jerusalem’s Temple leadership).

  5. Michelle

    I’ve read the book of John for years, and it never occurred to me that John was explaining things because he was writing to people who might not understand what he was referring to.

    One question: you mentioned “a variety of Israelite groups who were… opposed to the Jews.” What other groups were there besides the Samaritans?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Michele, you should read http://iibsblogs.wpengine.com/index.php/2012/08/rethinking-israelite-samaritans-and-their-diaspora/

      But there were a number of other groups, qumranites, people of the land, samaritans are the once we know about.

      1. Michelle

        I read the article, Dr. Eli. Thank you!