John 19

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This is to explain why different versions of John 19 use different numbers (75 or 100) . I take this to mean both are correct in their own way. The fact is that no major translation is purely one or the other. Every translation involves a combination of both. Rather than either/or, it is often a matter of a spectrum where some translations are more likely to apply one or the other in any given situation. In this case, for example, both ESV and NASB are formally equivalent translations, yet they make different decisions regarding this particular verse.


The words in question are the Greek words λίτρας έκατον (litras hekaton). As I said earlier, both of these words are straightforward. The word λίτρας (litras) is the word from which we get our modern word “liter” we associate with liquid measures in the metric system. It is the Greek word for pound. It is the same word, for example, used in John 12:3 to describe the amount of perfume Mary used to anoint the feet of Jesus. The other word, ἑκατόν (hekaton) is the Greek word for 100. It is where we get our modern prefix hecta/hecto, as in hectare etc., which we still use in the metric system to denote a factor of 100. Therefore, the Greek text includes the word for 100 and the word for pounds to describe the quantity Nicodemus brought.


Why then do so many translations say 75 pounds? The reason is that at the time John wrote his Gospel the λίτρα (litra) or pound referred not to our English pounds but to Roman pounds. English pounds are 16 ounces, but the Roman pound is just a little over 11.5 ounces. This means that the actual amount of weight that Nicodemus brought was around 73 pounds. Since the text makes it clear that it is not giving an exact amount, the ESV and many others translate this “about 75 pounds”.


Those who apply a more formal approach, such as the NASB, recognize that the text includes a Greek word for 100 and a Greek word for pounds that have English equivalents and so they translate it formally. ESV, however, apparently thought that most modern readers would probably not realize that the text is referring to Roman pounds. As a result, they thought formal translation of the verse was not the most accurate way of conveying the meaning of the original in English, and used a dynamic approach for this verse.

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