What Did Pilate State in John 19:22?: Conclusion

[See part I]

In the conclusion here I shall more closely explore the three verses leading up to Pontius Pilate’s pithy phrase in 19:22. Some necessary background in John’s Gospel will be provided first.

Events Leading Up to Jesus’ Arrest

With Jesus’ increasing popularity following the miracle of Lazarus’ revivification (11:38-45; 12:9-11), some of ‘the Jews’8 conferred with the chief priests and the Pharisees who then summoned the Sanhedrin (11:46-47). They were concerned they would eventually lose their “place and nation” (11:48). While “place” in its Scriptural context may refer to the Temple, it may well (also) mean the leaders’ privileged positions, which were granted by, yet subject to, Roman authority.

At this meeting Caiaphas, the High Priest (11:49) said, “…it is better that one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish” (11:50; cf. 18:14). The narrator of the Gospel adds:

51 He did not say this of himself but, as High Priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, 52 and not only the nation, but also that He would unite into one the children of God who are dispersed.9

The Greek words for “children of God” above are found only here and in 1:12 in John’s Gospel. Thus, ironically, the fulfillment of his words would have different consequences than he likely assumed (cf. 7:35), and would result in the inclusion of Gentile believers as children of God on equal footing (12:32; cf. 4:42; Rom 2:28-29).

They then plotted Christ’s death (11:53), apparently conspiring to arrest Him at the next available opportunity toward that end (11:55-57).

In the meantime, the Devil cast into the heart of Judas Iscariot the desire to betray Jesus (13:2; cf. 13:18, 21). Shortly thereafter, at the Last Supper, “Satan entered into him” (13:27), and then Judas left to carry out his betrayal (13:30). Soon after that he went to an olive grove where he knew Jesus often met with his disciples, bringing with him “a detachment of soldiers and some officers of the chief priests and the Pharisees” (18:1-3).

Jesus’ Arrest and Trials

Jesus was subsequently arrested and brought before Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas (18:12-14), who questioned Him (18:19-23) before sending him on to Caiaphas (18:24). Then Christ was led to Governor Pilate’s palace (18:28).

Pilate enquired about the charges levied against Jesus (18:29), and with no direct answer given (18:30) he instructed them to “judge him by your own law” (18:31).10 ‘The Jews’ replied, “We are not authorized to execute anyone” (18:31). This was to fulfill the kind of death Jesus would suffer (18:32; cf. 12:33), as He indicated earlier—being “lifted up”, i.e., crucified (12:32).

Yet the fact that Roman soldiers (18:3) were employed in Jesus’ capture indicates Pilate may well have been apprised of the charges before Christ was presented to him. This would account for his first question to Jesus: “Are you ‘the king of the Jews’?” (18:33). Pilate’s words here could be intended, alternatively, as showing incredulity (cf. Isa 53:2): “You are ‘the king of the Jews’?”11 After Jesus informed him that His kingdom is not of this world (18:36, 37), Pilate found him without guilt, then asked the Jews if they would agree to release Him as per the annual tradition of freeing one prisoner at Passover (18:38-39). The Jews chose Barabbas instead (18:40).

With that Pilate had Jesus flogged (19:1). The soldiers, mocking Jesus’ ‘purported’ kingship, put a crown of thorns on His head and clad Him in a purple robe (19:2-3).

After this, still unconvinced of Christ’s guilt, Pilate tried once more to persuade them to reconsider (19:4). When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said (19:5), “Behold, the man!” This is probably Pilate’s way of challenging their charge of his alleged claim of political kingship.

In response the chief priests and their officials shouted out (19:6): “Crucify! Crucify!” In return Pilate told them to crucify Him—knowing they couldn’t of course—again stating he found the charges to be without foundation (19:6). ‘The Jews’ countered using a different tact, “We have a law, and according to this law He must die, for He made Himself God’s Son” (19:7; cf. 5:18; 10:33). They were likely appealing to Leviticus 24:16, accusing Jesus of blasphemy.

Upon hearing their new allegation Pilate grew more afraid (19:8). Having been immersed in Greco-Roman polytheism, Pilate may have thought Jesus a ‘divine man’. Whatever the case, this new claim prompted him to ask Jesus, “Where are you from?” (19:9). When Christ remained silent Pilate apparently grew agitated, adding, “Don’t you know I have the authority to release you and I have the authority to crucify you?” (19:10). Jesus responded, “You would have no authority over me if it had not been given to you from above; therefore, the one who has delivered me over to you is guilty of a greater sin” (19:11; cf. 10:17-18).

From this point forward Pilate kept seeking to release Him. But, in persistence, ‘the Jews’ shouted, “If you release this fellow, you are no friend of Caesar’s—anyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar” (19:12). Note the verbal connection between “makes himself a king” and “made Himself God’s Son” (cf. 5:18, 10:33) above.

It was around the “sixth hour” (noon) on the Day of Preparation of Passover week (19:14; cf. 13:1). With this time marker we know that Jesus’ impending death, only a short time away, would be around the same time when priests would begin slaughtering paschal lambs (Exo 12).12 Now the “Lamb of God” (1:29; cf. 1 Cor 5:7; Heb 9:11-15; 1 Pet 1:19; Rev 5:6) is about to meet a similar fate at about the same hour (cf. Exo 12:46; John 19:33, 36).

In response to their last statement (19:12), Pilate brought Jesus out and said (19:13-14), “Here is your king!” To that they shouted: “Take that man away! Take away! Crucify him!”13

Pilate answered (19:15), “Shall I crucify your king?”

The chief priests, in feigned allegiance to Caesar for the sake of expediency, answered (19:15), “We have no king but Caesar!” Their claim could be understood as a denial of their own God, their King (Jdg 8:23; 1 Sam 8:7; Psa 136:3)—at Passover, no less.

Their response was intended to dissuade Pilate from releasing Jesus, as doing so would make it appear he recognized Him as a rival to Caesar’s kingship. And thus Pilate failed in his efforts to free Jesus. ‘The Jews’ and the chief priests forced his hand, and so he handed Jesus over to them for crucifixion. Obviously unhappy with this turn of events, Pilate would exact revenge against them.

The Crucifixion and Pilate’s Enduring Statement

With Jesus formally sentenced, the soldiers took charge (19:16). After carrying His cross, He was ‘lifted up’, placed between two others (19:17-18).

Below is the brief section leading up to and including Pilate’s final statement in John’s Gospel. Each occurrence of the Greek verb root “write” (graphō) is bolded. In addition, titlos is left untranslated, for it is difficult to provide a suitable one-word substitute. An exploration of these terms will commence further below.

19 Yet Pilate also wrote a titlos and fastened it to the cross. It had been inscribed: JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 20 Many of the Jews thus read this titlos, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it had been written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews therefore said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘THE KING OF THE JEWS’, but that man, ‘SAID, I AM KING OF THE JEWS.’”14

22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

Pilate’s inscription was intended as an insult to the Jews. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword here—in more than one way.

Since first century Greek texts lacked punctuation (and spacing between words!), there is some ambiguity as to the exact request of “the chief priests of the Jews” and how they wished to amend Pilate’s original words. I interpret their intention was to replace ‘…THE KING OF THE JEWS’ in the inscription with ‘…SAID, I AM KING OF THE JEWS’, resulting in their proposed verbiage JESUS THE NAZARENE SAID, I AM KING OF THE JEWS. They wanted the words to reflect a claim of Jesus, not a claim of the Jewish nation. From their perspective, the inscription as it stood may “appear to be a formal declaration of Jesus’ identity rather than a charge against Him.”15

Pilate was well aware their charges had been trumped up, so he was undoubtedly taking much pleasure in making a mockery of them in response to their mocked allegiance to Caesar at Jesus’ expense. They may have forced his hand, but he showed them who ultimately had the upper hand.

But Pilate’s vindication would have other ramifications. While we understand the theological implication in Pilate’s inscription—as it stands it makes a true statement of Jesus’ Kingship—taking a closer look at the context while investigating related historical background provides a stronger foundation upon which to construe it this way.

Other Signs

It was not uncommon in first century Rome for a criminal on his way to execution to be accompanied by a sign stating both his name and the offense for which He was condemned. It was either (a) carried by an official walking in front of him16 or (b) hung around his own neck.17 But there is not much historical evidence for placing this same sign on the criminal’s cross, and what is available is ambiguous.18 We must note that none of the Gospels mention anyone carrying a sign of this sort during the Via Dolorosa. This is not to definitively claim someone had not, however. We merely have no explicit evidence. What we know for certain is that a sign was placed onto Jesus’ cross indicating His supposed crime.19

The word used in both instances above referring to the sign accompanying condemned criminals is the Latin titulus. John’s titlos—found only here in 19:19 and 19:20 in all Scripture (and seems to be first used by John)—is a ‘loanword’ from this Latin term. Titulus had rather broad applications in first century Latin texts. In addition to the two examples previously cited, the word was used by Pliny the Younger (ca. AD 61—113) for a notice to rent20 and by Roman poet Ovid (BC 43—AD 17/18) for a notice of public sale.21 It was also used to signify a grave marker.22 As can be deduced, the term applied to both the object inscribed and its inscription in these instances. However, more importantly, at times titulus was used solely for the writing in distinction from the object on which it was inscribed.23

The term can refer to epitaphs (i.e., the inscriptions) as distinct from grave markers.24 Roman historian Titus Livius Patavinus (ca. BC 64/59—AD 12/17) applied it to Hannibal’s self-inscription on an altar in which he glowingly described his own achievements.25 Columella (ca. AD 4—70), a writer on agricultural concerns, used the word to reference titles of books.26 Ovid, in the very same work referred to in the previous paragraph, used titulus to signify the title of a pamphlet.27 And most pertinent here, in a work written around the time Christ was born Ovid employed the term in reference to honorific titles, as applied to Augustus Caesar, for example.28 In similar fashion, in one context Ovid used it as a title acquired by assuming it from those conquered or from some heroic event, yet also in synonymity with “name” (Latin: nomen).29 Yet, given that Pilate’s purpose with the inscription was to antagonize ‘the Jews’, can we rightly apply any of the latter two meanings (title, name) to John 19:19?

The text in 19:19 states that Pilate wrote the titlos (titulus) and affixed it to the cross. The task of placing the titlos onto the beam, however, was almost certainly delegated. Yet given the preceding historical investigation—illustrating titulus could refer to either the inscribed object and its inscription or the inscription only—there are a number of possible scenarios with regard to the writing of the words. Perhaps Pilate dictated the desired text to a scribe for inscribing.30 Or maybe he himself penned the words on a papyrus (titlos) and then gave this document to a scribe for inscribing onto the (presumed) board of the titlos.31 It could be that he inscribed the titlos in Latin and then gave it to a secretary to translate and write the Aramaic and the Greek. Whatever the case, in some manner, Pilate wrote the titlos.

Textual Clues and Syntactical Pointers

There’s a grammatical issue in the latter part of v. 19 that may well have a bearing here. The words preceding the inscription—“It had been inscribed” in the translation above (akin to the English past perfect)—are translated from a participle reflecting a neuter subject, while titlos is masculine. In other words, it does not refer to titlos. This exact syntax is found again in 19:20. So, to what or who does it refer? This is typically translated impersonally: “There was written” (~ “It [the inscription] read”).32 However, as Keener notes, each and every time this syntactical structure with this verb is used up to this point in John it references Scripture (it is written; it had been written).33 Keener concludes, “Thus John may ironically suggest that Pilate, as God’s unwitting agent (19:11), may carry out God’s will in the Scriptures.”34 Could God’s Spirit have superintended the writing of the inscription, despite Pilate’s vindictive purpose?

The words it is written in the verses prefacing Scripture (2:17; 6:31, 45; 10:34; 12:14; 15:25; cf. 5:46; 8:17) are in the perfect tense-form, while 12:16 contains a pluperfect, the same form as 19:19 and 19:20. Though all these are important to my argument here, key is the usage of 12:16, best rendered these things had been written.35 In that context, the narrator notes that the disciples recalled earlier events but only fully understood how they fulfilled Scripture from their post-Easter perspective (after Jesus’ resurrection). Before considering this line of inquiry further, how might 19:11 (which Keener references above) impact the interpretation in 19:19?

While the authority Pilate possessed in a general sense was certainly “from above” (anōthen), as it is for all rulers and authorities, this was not Jesus’ point here. Similar to v. 19, there is a mismatch in gender in v. 11. Just as the participle in 19:19 is neuter, so it had [not] been given is in 19:11. The Greek word for authority, however, is feminine.36 Thus, if it had not been given to you from above does not refer to Pilate’s general conferred authority but to his specific role in the events unfolding at the time: “the fact that Jesus has been given into his hands has been determined by God”.37

19:11 ouk eiches exousian kat’ emou oudemian ei mē ēn dedomenon soi anōthen
not you have authority over me nothing if not was it having been given you from-above
“You would have no authority over me if it had not been given to you from above.”

This same syntactical format (‘not this’ if it has/had not been given from God) is first found in John the Baptizer’s response to those who mentioned Jesus’ baptizing and the increasing numbers going to Him (3:26): 

3:27 ou dynatai anthrōpos lambanein oude hen ean mē ȩ̄ dedomenon autō̧ ek tou ouranou38
not s/he be able person to receive and-not one if not may-be it having been given him from heaven
A person is not able to receive not one thing if not it may be given to him/her from heaven
“A person is not able to receive anything if it has not been given to them from heaven.”

Though the Baptizer’s statement serves a particular purpose in its context, it should also be seen as a maxim, a general statement as well.39 These words of the Baptizer are the first with this syntactical structure, while Jesus’ words to Pilate are the last. In my opinion these form bookends, one opening and the other closing an inclusio. The Baptizer’s maxim then relates to some intervening uses of “give” (didōmi) such as parts of the Bread of Life discourse (e.g. 6:37, 39), Jesus’ Prayer (17:7, 11, 12, 22), and Jesus’ cup (18:11).40 Of course, it also relates to Jesus’ statement in 19:11. The remaining verse fitting this grammatical structure (6:65) is thematically relevant:

6:65 oudeis dynatai elthein pros me ean mē ȩ̄ dedomenon autō̧ ek tou patros
no one is able to come to me if not may-be it having been given him/her of the Father
“No one is able to come to Me if it has not been given to them by the Father.”

The point here is that while God places individuals in certain positions he also orchestrates specific events, using certain individuals to accomplish specific tasks in these events. Thus, understanding Pilate’s unique role in the Passion per Jesus’ phraseology in 19:11, we might be able to assume that this circumscribed, God-given authority extends to the inscription, especially when we consider the syntax in 19:19 and 19:20 (it had been inscribed) and how that relates to other uses of this same structure. Even still, can we make the leap that his words on the inscription are tantamount to writing Scripture? If so, what Scripture is referenced?

Crucial to understanding the Gospel of John is to grasp that the author is writing from a post-Easter perspective, with the Spirit bringing to remembrance past events, further illuminating them (14:26; 16:12-15). At various points the narrator implies this by calling attention to some of Jesus’ previous statements (12:32 via 12:33 and 18:32 | 6:39 via 17:12 and 18:9). In 2:22 the narrator remarks that after “He was raised” the disciples ‘remembered’ His words and “they believed the Scripture (graphē, noun form of graphō) and the word that Jesus spoke” (in 2:19).  But what “Scripture” is ‘remembered’ here? It cannot be the one referenced in 2:16, for 2:17 specifically states they remembered it. By the context the intended referent appears to be the OT (Tanakh) in a general sense, as it relates to the resurrection.41

Somewhat similar to 2:22 is 12:16. Here the narrator states that the disciples fully realized that these things had been written about Him only “after Jesus was glorified”. “These things” refers to the Scripture referenced in 12:13 and 12:15. Yet in this same context the narrator relates it was not only the things that had been written but also these things done to Him. We can construe that this refers to the events acted out in fulfillment of those two Scriptures. However, oddly, if at the time of Jesus’ ministry the disciples didn’t understand that He was being proclaimed king, why did the crowd say these things? The seeming contradiction is reconciled if we understand it more broadly (similar to 2:22 above) to mean Jesus’ Kingship in the post-Easter sense.42 In other words, their initial interpretation of “king” was in a political sense, then after they ‘remembered’ “these things”, God’s Spirit provided further illumination, as in 2:22.

Tying It All Together

Considering the immediately preceding regarding 2:22 and 12:16, and adding in the syntactical connection between 12:16 and 19:19-20, we have a point of contact. One may argue that the grammatical relationship (these things had been written > it had been written/inscribed) is a bit tenuous, but the thematic one certainly applies. Yet the strength of the thematic link should bolster the grammatical. If the narrator relates how the disciples’ remembrance was further illuminated (implying by virtue of the Spirit: 14:26; 16:12-15), then how much more would the narrator/writer himself be likewise illumined?43 When we factor in the syntactical relationship between 19:19-20 and all other uses of it is written / it had been written (as pertaining to Scripture) in conjunction with Pilate’s unique authority in the Passion as revealed in Jesus’ words in 19:11 (and this grammatical and thematic link to 3:27), we have a stronger case for tying all this together.

Therefore, my contention is that John wrote this with the understanding of a dual purpose for the inscription: one for Pilate’s vengeance, and one for the Spirit to make a true identity statement. In other words, John himself recognized that the words Pilate wrote had influence from the Spirit, so he chose (under influence of the Spirit) it had been inscribed/written as a way to make this connection. I further contend this is why John borrowed the Latin titulus in his use of titlos. Assuming my argument here, one can see it is certainly no leap to enlarge the definition of John’s titlos to include “title” (THE KING OF THE JEWS) and/or “name” (JESUS THE NAZARENE) or both/and (JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS). Thus, rather than merely considering the wording on the inscription as an implication, we have grammatical and contextual reasons to assert with confidence that JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS is indeed written as a Messianic title, and/or a name, a proclamation in a literal sense—in addition to Pilate’s vindication. And the prefatory it had been inscribed designates that the words following, similar to the meaning in 12:16, refer to the OT (Tanakh) generally, rather than one specific verse or section.

Given all this, Pilate’s inscription, with the assistance of God’s Spirit, could be perceived as the climactic contravening of two statements by ‘the Jews’: Jesus “made Himself God’s Son” in 19:7 (cf. 5:18; 10:33) and “makes Himself King” in 19:12 (cf. 1:49; 12:13; 18:38), both encapsulated in Nathaniel’s proclamation in 1:49 “you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel” (cf. 12:13).

If all this prevails, then the chief priests of the Jews’ plea to Pilate to amend the title may be interpreted as an indirect attempt at usurping God’s authority by unknowingly trying to change Scripture. Interestingly, the narrator does not record that they ‘wanted to change’ (using allassō, e.g.) or something to that effect; instead they say to Pilate “do not write” (using graphō). This is yet another grammatical and thematic link further cohering the four verses (19:19-22).

Yet Pilate refused to alter the altar: What I have written, I have written. What I have written, I stand by. The irony then is that Pilate, a pagan and acting as God’s unwitting agent, stood by God’s words, while the opposing Jews, who had just executed their Messiah, wanted to amend them.

So, what did Pilate “state”? His final words “What I have written, I have written” affirm his inscription, and by doing so, those words remain in Scripture in a state of having been written. And, if the analysis here is accepted, with God’s ‘hand’ on Pilate’s ‘pen’, Pilate ‘wrote’ New Testament Scripture, words that endure to this very day.44


8 I place ‘the Jews’ in single quotes when the text uses οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι (hoi Ioudaioi), since this is the manner in which the Gospel of John chooses to identify this sub-group. Note, however, that while John’s characterization is mostly negative in the text here, there are quite a few times in the Gospel when the term is used in positive (2:6; 4:22; 8:31; 11:19, 31, 33, 36, 45; 12:9, 11; 19:31) or neutral (1:19; 2:13; 3:1, 22; 5:1, 15; 6:4; 7:2; 11:55; 13:33; 18:20; 19:20, 40, 42) settings (such as in describing a certain festival “of the Jews”), or times in which the group is perhaps understandably perplexed (2:20; 6:41, 52; 7:15; 7:35; 8:57; 10:19). The term’s meaning in John is a bit ambiguous and remains an enigma. Even the designation the Pharisees is sometimes used positively or neutrally (e.g. 9:16). However in this section of John’s Gospel ‘the Jews’ are Jesus’ adversaries.

9 My translation, as are all Scripture quotations in this article. The Latin is also my translation, assisted by online sources and, at times, by others’ English translations. My goal is to adhere closer to a formal equivalence than a dynamic or functional one. To that end, I endeavor to translate nouns for nouns, verbs for verbs, etc.

10 The words of Pilate here may well be an example of artistic license on the part of John the Evangelist. These may have been meant to be ironical in that, according to Mosaic Law—and in truth, of course—Jesus was not guilty of any crime.

11 Since Greek finite verbs encode person and number, a pronoun is not necessary unless the subject is ambiguous; thus, the presence of the pronoun “you” (συ) here is not necessary, and may be used for emphasis.

12 Here I’m following John’s intent in his presentation of events without trying to reconcile them with the Synoptic accounts. See Thompson, John: A Commentary, pp 388-390. Thompson presents a synopsis of (1) the difference between the Synoptic Gospel’s accounts regarding the timing of Jesus’ death as compared to John’s, (2) the problem of associating Jesus’ death with the “sixth hour” (noon) and how this does not seem to correlate with the timing of the slaughtering of Passover lambs.  However, John’s chronology indicates Jesus will be crucified later than noon (he had to first take up his own cross and then walk to the crucifixion site), and so her observations regarding the typical time range for sacrificing Paschal lambs (beginning a bit after 1:30 in the afternoon at the earliest) do not necessarily contradict this. Those attempting to reconcile John with the Synoptics employ various measures. See, e.g. Andreas J. Köstenberger’s contribution in G. K. Beale & D. A. Carson eds., Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007), p 500.

13 The twice-used verb for “take away” (αἴρω, airō) has a somewhat broad semantic range that can mean take up as in to raise up to a higher position, move to another place, carry away. It seems likely a double meaning is intended here. That is, ‘lift that man up’ may be understood as the additional meaning, in irony.

14 The word translated “Aramaic” is Hebraisti, which some English versions render “Hebrew”. Following Harris (Murray J. Harris, John, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament, Andreas J. Köstenberger & Robert W. Yarbrough, gen. eds. [Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2015], p 314), I construe the periphrastic ἦν + γεγραμμένον in v. 19 and v. 20 as akin to the pluperfect of γράφω (cf. 12:16), though I prefer to translate as an English past perfect rather than a simple past.

15 Thompson, John: A Commentary, p 398.

16 In Roman historian Suetonius’ (c. AD 69—122) Caligula—Emperor from AD 37 to 41—an account of a slave sentenced to execution by the Emperor for stealing silver (32.2) was “preceded by a sign indicating the cause for his punishment” (Latin: praecedente titulo qui causam poenae indicaret). Cf. for a similar account in the 2nd century (AD 177) Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 5.1.44, in which someone carried a board (πίναξ, pinax) in front of Attalus with the inscription THIS IS ATTALUS THE CHRISTIAN.

17 In Suetonius’ Domitianus (10.2-3)—Domitian was Roman Emperor from AD 81 to 96—the sign describing the charge was placed upon the accused gladiator himself (cum hoc titulo: Impie locutus parmularius; “with this sign [upon him]: ‘A Parmularian [gladiator] impiously spoke’”).

18 Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, two volumes (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003) p 2.1137. “The posting of the accusation on the cross is not well attested, either because those describing the crucifixion had already mentioned it being carried out . . . or because the practice was not in fact standard although, given the variations among executions, in no way improbable . . . (p 2.1137, n 608).

19 Although only Matthew (27:37) and Mark (15:26) specifically refer to a sign stating the cause (aitia) for which Jesus was crucified, this does not mean we cannot infer this from the other Gospels (cf. John 19:6).

20 Letters, 7.27 (“To Sura”): Athenodorus legit titulum: “Athenodorus read the notice (to rent the haunted mansion)”.

21 In Remedia Amoris (Cures for Love), for the notice of sale (Latin: sub titulum, “‘under’ the notice”, i.e., “using the notice”) for the household items the unscrupulous girl had plundered (302). Cf. the oft-neglected Marvin R. Vincent, Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2009), p II.283. Cf. Tibellus (c. BC 55-BC 19), Elegiae, 2.4.54: ite sub imperium sub titulumque; “you go under her command and under the notice.”

22 Pliny the Younger: Letters, 6.10.3: post decimum mortis annum reliquias neglectumque cinerem sine titulo sine nomine iacere: “ten years postmortem his remains have been cast down and neglected, without a grave marker and without a name.” That titulus in this context does not mean “epitaph” (the inscription itself as distinct from the marker) is evident by the next line of the epistle, in which the author specifies the words the deceased wanted inscribed (inscriberetur) as his epitaph. Also see Ovid, Fasti, Book IV.23, 44, in which titulus refers to a scroll and the writing upon it (longum scriberet annum vidit  . . . proximus est titulis Epytus: “to see what he might have engraved on the roll . . . next on the scroll is Egyptus”).

23 See F. R. Montgomery Hitchcock, “The Use of γράφειν,” Journal of Theological Studies old series 31 (1930), pp 272-273.

24 Martial (ca. AD 38/41—102/104), Epigrammata (published between AD 86 and 103), I.93.4: Plus tamen est, titulo quod breviore legis: ‘Iunctus uterque sacro laudatae foedere vitae, famaque quod raro novit, amicus erat’: “Yet more is what you glean from this brief epitaph: ‘Knit in the sacred bond of life with an honored reputation rarely known: they were friends’.” Cf. Ovid, Epistulae: Sappho Phaoni, 15.190-195; cf. Pliny the Younger, Letters, 9.19.3: . . . si immortalitatem quam meruere sectantur, victurique nominis famam supremis etiam titulis prorogare nituntur: “ . . . if they now seek immortalization, and the names they have so greatly earned in glory and fame to secure, and to perpetuate themselves by epitaphs.” By the context it seems possible that both the inscription and the grave marker are included in titulus here, but the primary meaning is certainly the epitaph/inscription itself.

25 Titus Livius, Ab Urbe Condita (The History of Rome), 28.46.16 aram condidit dedicavitque cum . . . titulo: “he erected and dedicated an altar with . . . an inscription.”

26 De De Rustica, Book IX, preface: tituli, quern prae-scripsimus huic disputationi: “the title, which we have prefixed to this discourse.” Cf. De De Rustica, Book VIII, preface; cf. Quintilian (ca. AD 35—100), Institutio Oratoria, Book 2.14.4: quos hac de re primum scripserat, titulis Graeco nomine utatur: “from earlier [works] which he had written, Greek name titles were used.” In other words, he used Greek names as titles in earlier works.

27 Remedia Amoris, in the very first line of the poem (1): titulum nomenque libelli, “name and title of this little book”. I interpret this as epexegetical such that “name” further defines titulus. In other words, “name” refers to the title (and ‘title’ refers to the name) on the book’s title page, in order to differentiate it from the other meaning of titulus as both inscription and inscribed object (title page). Alternatively, the terms titulus and nomen could be synonymous here. See note 29.

28 Fasti, Book III.419-420: Caesaris innumeris . . . accessit titulis pontificalis honor; “To Caesar’s innumerable . . .  titles the honor of Pontificate was added.” Cf. M. Tullius Cicero (BC 106—BC43), Against Piso, 9.19: posset sustinere tamen titulum consulatus: “might have the power to sustain the title of consulate.”

29 Fasti, Book I.599-604: si a victis, tot sumat nomina Caesar, quot numero gentes maximus orbis habet, ex uno quidam celebres aut torquis adempti aut corvi  titulos auxiliaris habent. Magne, tuum nomen rerum est mensura tuarum; sed qui te vicit, nomine maior erat: “If Caesar claims names from those conquered, let him take as many as the mighty globe has nations! From one event some celebrate—either from a neck-chain won or allied ravens—the titles they possess. O great one [Pompey the Great], your name is the measure of your deeds, but he who conquered you was greater in name.” Cf. Ovid, Fasti, Book IV.115, in which the goddess Venus is referred to as the titulus of a calendar month. See note 27 for another possibility.

30 See Hitchcock, “The Use of γράφειν,” pp 271-273.

31 Ibid.

32 E.g., Harris, John, p 314. See note 14 above.

33 Keener, Gospel of John, p 2.1138. All but one of the Scripture verses Keener cites here are perfects (as the periphrastic ἔστιν γεγραμμένον: 2:17; 6:31, 45; 10:34; 12:14; 15:25), the lone exception being 12:16, a pluperfect (the periphrastic ἦν + γεγραμμένα). While the perfects are important, it is this exception in the pluperfect that provides the primary link for the argument I shall put forth here.

34 Keener, Gospel of John, p 2.1138. The author understands Pilate’s conferred authority in 19:11 in a general sense (pp 2.1126-27) rather than in the more circumscribed view I shall pursue below.

35 It is actually a periphrastic, an equivalent to the pluperfect—see note 33.

36 More specifically, the participle δεδομένον is neuter. It would have to be the feminine δεδομένη to agree with the feminine ἐξουσίαν (authority) here. Cf. C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978) p 543. In addition, it may be that Jesus’ answer here includes a roundabout answer to the question Pilate posed in 19:9: “Where are you from?” Answer: ἄνωθεν, “from above”.

37 Rudolf Bultmann, The Gospel of John, transl. G. R. Beasley-Murray, Gen Ed., R. W. N. Hoare & J. K. Riches (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1971), p 662. Cf. George R. Beasley-Murray, John, Word Biblical Commentary, D. Hubbard, G. Barker, gen. eds. (Waco, TX: Word, 1987), pp 339-340; D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, Pillar New Testament Commentary, D. A. Carson, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), pp 601-602

38 There is a difference here in that a neuter subject is found in ἕν, hen (one) from the apodosis.

39 C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, p 222.

40 This does mean to imply, of course, that 3:27 (and 6:65 just below) is no longer applicable as a general maxim.

41 See C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, p 201.

42 See Carson, The Gospel According to John, pp 433-434.

43 See Jörg Frey, Theology and History in the Fourth Gospel (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2018), pp 151-154.

44 Alternatively, John the Gospel writer took certain liberties in fashioning his Gospel, and in so doing, re-formed some words to make his theological and christological points.


What Did Pilate State in John 19:22?

In reading any common English translation of John 19:22, one finds Pilate saying, “What I have written, I have written.” This is certainly not incorrect, yet I have a feeling some readers may not quite comprehend the significance of this statement, in part, because they are unaware of distinctions in English verb tenses.1 Some may erroneously think “What I wrote, I wrote” conveys the same meaning. In addition, there is a theologically important connotation in the larger context that readers of the English versions would most likely not perceive.

Below is the Greek of Pilates’s quote, under that is its transliteration (exchanging each Greek letter for English equivalents), and underneath that is a corresponding working English translation:

ὃ γέγραφα γέγραφα
ho gegrapha gegrapha
What I have written I have written

The first word is the relative pronoun who/which/what, appropriately translated “what” in this context. Following that are two verbs, the second an exact duplicate of the first. We’ll reserve the final translation until after our investigation. All Greek finite verbs encode person and number (1st person singular, I; 2nd person singular, you; 3rd person singular, he/she/it; etc.), though not gender (male, female, or neuter). In the above, each verb is 1st person singular, and they obviously refer to Pilate. Because every finite verb encodes person and number, each may form a subject-verb sentence, depending on context. For instance, Jesus’ final word on the cross is tetelestai (John 19:30), translated “It is finished.”

The verb gegrapha is in the perfect tense-form (of graphō) in the active voice and the indicative mood. The indicative is the most common mood, expressing facts, false statements assumed to be true, false statements as if true, opinions, or questions. The active voice presents the subject performing the action (Jon ate lunch)—the passive voice is used when the subject receives the action (Lunch was eaten by Jon).

The precise meaning indicated by the Greek perfect tense-form is in dispute, though there are a number of theories proposed in recent scholarly literature. Specific discussion of any of these theories is not necessary, however, as some of the older Greek grammars address the issues relative to Pilate’s statement, and we can apply them here. While the Greek perfect tense-form has a wide range of applications, for our purposes it is easiest to conceive it as similar to the English present perfect tense. This is what is reflected in all the English translations at the above hyperlink (have written). It may be helpful to briefly explain/review the English present perfect as well as a few other English tenses.

Some Tense Explanations in English

Verbs in the English present perfect tense express past verbal actions that retain some sort of connection to the present. If I were to state I have written over 100 blog posts, you would rightly infer that all 100+ posts are still available for reading on this blog. They are all in a state of having been written, a state of ‘written-ness’, and available for viewing.

Alternatively, had I constructed the same sentence but in the English simple past tenseI wrote over 100 blog posts—you might infer that the posts were written at some point in the past yet are no longer available for viewing. The difference between these two English tenses can be found in their respective names. The simple past refers to verbal actions in the past with no further implication of present relevance. The “perfect” in present perfect means “complete”, denoting the past (completed, perfected) portion of the verbal action, while “present” in present perfect indicates the verb’s relevance in the present. The “present” portion of the present perfect tense is formed by using the appropriate auxiliary verb for the present tense, matched by person and number: I have (1st person singular), you have (2nd person singular), she/he/it has (3rd person singular). The “perfect” (past) portion is formed by using the appropriate past participle of the main verb (I have written, you have written, she/he/it has written).

Though the simple past tense does not imply continuing relevance, this does not necessarily mean there is no connection to the present. The simple past is merely silent regarding current relevance. Comparatively, a verb in the English present perfect always implies something about the present. Thus, the context will determine which one is more suitable. Let’s make a comparison:

I lost my marbles yesterday.
I have lost my marbles! (and I am frantically trying to find them)

In the first instance, reflecting the simple past tense, this is a simple narrative statement, implying no continuing relevance. The second instance reflects the present perfect tense, of course. If it took ten minutes to find my marbles, then that would have been ten minutes I was in a state of having lost my marbles, frantically trying to find them. Upon finding the marbles I would be in a new, much happier (and more lucid) state of having found my marbles. At that point I could exclaim—again using the present perfect tense—“I have found my marbles!”, illustrating this new state.

I could recount the episode by using the past perfect tense: “I had lost my marbles yesterday”. The past perfect indicates a past action that had subsequent relevance in the past following that action (without commenting on present relevance). After finding my marbles yesterday I could have put the two sentences together, stating: “I had lost my marbles, but after a frantic search I have found them!”. Thus, had lost (past perfect) reflects the past action + its subsequent past relevance, while have found reflects a past action + present relevance.

Context will determine which verb tense is best to use:

Francois made dinner last Thursday. He might even make dinner again next month.
Mom has made dinner. (and dinner is now ready to eat)
Myrna has watched all the Die Hard movies three times, and she plans to watch them all again.
Jacob had washed the towels. He has now placed them into the dryer. (they are currently drying)
Johnny has listened to the train coming into the station every day for the past three years.

While the simple past tense of  Francois’ dinner in this context implies this was a one-time only or rare occurrence, the present perfect tense of Mom’s dinner implies that dinner is now ready to eat. As for Myrna, the present relevance of the present perfect tense is the fact that this apparent Bruce Willis fan enjoys these movies so much she wishes to watch all them yet again. The past perfect tense had washed represents the necessary prerequisite for Jacob’s currently drying towels, the latter implied by the present perfect has placed and the adverb “now”. In the final example, it is reasonable to infer that Johnny will listen to the trains yet again tomorrow, given the daily recurring (“every day”) has listened, i.e., present perfect tense.

With this brief review of a few English verb tenses completed, we are ready to proceed to the Greek.

Some Tense Explanations in Koine  (New Testament) Greek

This idea of a past action with continuing relevance in the present in the English present perfect tense is the primary thrust of the Greek perfect tense-form. Smyth provides a basic definition: “a completed action the effects of which still continue in the present”.2 Dana and Mantey use a broader outline:

The significance of the [Ancient Greek] perfect tense in presenting action as having reached its termination and existing in its finished results lies at the basis of its uses. Emphasis, as indicated by context or the meaning of the verb root, may be on either the completion of the action or on its finished results. This possible difference in emphasis lies at the basis of the variation in the uses of the perfect tense.3

Going back to the previously mentioned tetelestai, “it is finished” in John 19:30, like the twinned verbs in 19:22 this one is in the perfect tense-form. Yet here the verb is in the 3rd person singular and the passive voice. Note that, with the exception of Young’s Literal Translation, common English versions do not read it has been finished. This is because, though the larger context implies completed actions leading up to the culmination point, translators deem that it is the state of completion that is the emphasis in the immediate context: It is finished.4

Similarly, in Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, He answers the Devil’s commands/temptations with gegraptai, “it is written” (Matthew 4:4,7,10, and parallels)—the “it” referring to Scripture. This verb has the same root (graphō) as our subject verse John 19:22, and it is in the same perfect tense-form. The only difference is that here it is a 3rd person singular in the passive voice. The common rendering “it is written” reflects the primary focus on its state of having been written, not on the fact that Scripture was written. As A. T. Robertson comments on its usage in these contexts, “It was written . . . and still is on record.”5 Just like my example of the blog, both the past action and the present results are encoded, but here it is the latter that is understood as the main point: It is written.

Now going back to English for a few moments, let’s say you have a report that needs to be written by 5 o’clock today. At 4:15 your nosy coworker asks if you will meet the deadline. Given that you typically set out to finish a task at least an hour before the deadline (you do, right?), if you express your answer with the verb finish or write, you could say:

I have written the report. (active voice, present perfect)
I have finished the report. (active voice, present perfect)
The report has been written. (passive voice, present perfect)
The report has been finished. (passive voice, present perfect)
The report is written. (passive voice, ___________?)
The report is finished. (passive voice, ___________?)

Though the last two are unquestioningly passive, there is cause to question whether these convey the same meaning as the middle two sentences. To better illustrate, below is a new sentence, stating it in the English present perfect, first in the active voice, then in the passive, followed by a sentence in the same format as the last two above.

Sally has written the book.
The book has been written by Sally.
The book is written by Sally. (?)

To alleviate any possible confusion, observe that the second sentence contains the same exact verb form (has been written) as the passive example further above regarding the report that was due at work. Note the difference between “has written the book” here and “have written the report” above. The different auxiliary verb (has vs. have) reflects the difference between the 3rd person (Sally has) and the 1st person (I have). With this clarified, we’ll resume.

Recall that the English present perfect reflects a completed (perfected) action with relevance in the present. The first two sentences certainly are present perfects. But the third one is an attempt at illustrating the state following the verbal action, in order to focus on the result over against the past action. But is this an accurate way to convey this? Let’s take the same basic sentence just above and put it into the English simple past tense, then the simple present tense, both in answer to the question “Who is the author of this book?”

Sally wrote this book. (active) >> This book was written by Sally. (passive)
Sally writes this book. (active) >> This book is written by Sally. (passive)

Notice how the bolded sentence above is identical to the third one in the previous set. Thus, that sentence, like this one, is in the simple present. Speaking on this specific issue, Smyth writes, “When the [Greek] perfect marks the enduring result rather than the completed act, it may often be translated by the [English] present.”6 Did you notice what I did in the previous sentence? I prefaced the Smyth quotation with writes, the English simple present, mirroring the first of the second pair of sentences just above (Sally writes the book.). My objective was to signify the enduring words in Smyth’s grammar book. This is typical English convention—that is, substituting the English simple present for the English present perfect when the verb’s enduring result is the emphasis in a given context as opposed to the verb’s completed action.

Yet this convention does not work as well in the 1st and 2nd person for the English present perfect in the active voice. We can quickly deduce that each sentence on the right below cannot be understood to say the same thing as the one on its left:

I have written the document. >> I write the document. (?)
I think you have written this note! >> I think you write this note! (?)

With all the foregoing, we are prepared (finally!) to get back to Pilate’s statement. The first instance of gegrapha is best rendered “I have written”, just like the typical English translation.7 This reflects the past action of inscribing JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS (19:19) as well as the present results reflected in those words as they appear on the sign. We could paraphrase this first part of Pilate’s statement (ho gegrapha):

“What I wrote and currently appears on the sign…”

The enduring relevance of this first verb began at the point at which the inscribing of the inscription had been completed (19:19) and continued until the time Pilate responded to the chief priests (19:21-22). In other words, the duration was relatively short.

But what does the second occurrence of gegrapha mean and how should it be translated? The Jews were unhappy with Pilate’s phrasing of the sign, strongly suggesting he amend it. But Pilate was resolute—he wasn’t going to change it. So, what is the best way to translate this second Greek perfect-tense verb? Strictly speaking, “I have written” is correct, and we may well leave it that way. Yet this second gegrapha focuses on the then-present enduring result of the sign’s ‘written-ness’. Since we cannot use the passive voice (“it is written”, “it stands written”) because this verb is in the active voice, and we have determined that the active voice in the English simple present (“I write”) does not adequately convey the results of a present perfect (“I write”), we may phrase it something like:

“What I wrote and currently appears on the sign, I shall keep recorded.” (I shall not change)
“What I wrote and currently appears on the sign, I shall retain.” (I shall not change)
“What I wrote and currently appears on the sign, I stand by.” (I shall not change)

The last sentence above may be the best, since it does not use a future auxiliary verb (shall) as do the others. To be sure, the future enduring results are implied, but it’s the present enduring results that are specifically encoded by the Greek perfect tense-form here. Then again, the state of ‘written-ness’ should be understood as remaining unless and until some further action brings about a new state. With none specified in the larger context, it is safe to assume this state will continue on.

Thus, to capture the overall meaning here—though it’s not as pithy and as catchy as “What I have written, I have written”—I might render John 19:22:

Pilate replied, “What I have written, I stand by.”

Pilate’s inscription JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS remains written. What does this signify theologically in its context? The next part will elucidate.


1 I am taking the words in the Greek text of John as the words of Pilate, whether or not these reflect his very utterance. The words may well be John’s own rendering in service of a larger theological motif. More on this later.

2 Herbert W. Smyth, Greek Grammar, Gordon M. Messing, rev. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1956 [1920]), p 434, § 1945.

3 H. E. Dana & Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (NY: Macmillan, 1955), p 201 § 184.

4 Of course, one must concede that because of the verb root itself—complete, finish—the past necessarily recedes in favor of the state of completion. In other words, it cannot be ‘unfinished’. Note Marianne Meye Thompson’s objection to this rendering (John: A Commentary, New Testament Library, C. Clifton Black, et al eds. [Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2015]), “…Jesus’ last words from the cross, tetelestai, ‘It is finished!’ (19:30) surely means ‘it has been accomplished’ or ‘it has been completed’ with reference to completing God’s mission and work” (p 395). I have to agree.

5 A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1934), p 895.

6 Smyth, Grammar, p 434, § 1946.

7 Some grammars and commentaries claim this first γέγραφα is “aoristic”, functioning as if an aorist tense, akin to the English simple past wrote. Entailed in this position is that the second γέγραφα is construed as an English present perfect have written, with a focus on the enduring result. Robertson makes a strong case that the perfect never functions ‘aoristically’ in the NT, though it does later (A Grammar of the GNT, pp 898-902; cf. 895 [β]).

I Keep Forgetting

Word of the day:


The inability to remember a particular word or name

Now, if only I could recall this word next time I can’t remember the word I’m looking for…

Give Peace, O Lord

Estonian composer Arvo Pärt had been commissioned to compose a work to be premiered at a peace concert in Barcelona on July 1, 2004. The piece, “Da Pacem Domine” (Give Peace, O Lord), was begun two days after the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings, in memoriam of its victims. It has been performed in Spain every year since, in commemoration.

The text of “Da Pacem Domine” has its origins as an antiphon circa 6th or 7th century (though, as the liner notes to Pärt’s 2005 release Lamentate and the 2009 In Principio state, this piece is based on 9th century Gregorian antiphon), a Christian hymn sourced from 2 Kings 20:19, 2 Chronicles 20:12,15 and Psalm 72:6-7. Prior to Pärt’s adaptation, it was apparently last used in Roman hymnals (and perhaps in the Church of England) in the late 1800s.

The vlogger below set this prayer of peace—as sung by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir & Paul Hillier—against a backdrop of soberingly haunting black and white war-themed images:

Da pacem, Domine,
in diebus nostris,
quia non est alius
qui pugnet pro nobis
nisi tu, Deus noster

Give peace, O Lord,
in our time,
for there is no other
who fights for us
but you, our God

Yet I offer this more broadly. To all in need of peace for a variety of reasons, may the Prince of Peace grant it to you faster than you can say “amen”.

Letter From a Concerned Follower

And as before, I’ve again used the title of a Pedro the Lion song for a blog post. This time the track is from the album The Only Reason I Feel Secure…Is That I Am Validated By My Peers:

It’s weird to think of all the things
That have not been keeping up with the times
It’s ten o’clock the sun has now
Just begun to set the western hills on fire

I hear you don’t change
How do you expect to keep up with the trends?
You won’t survive the information age
Unless you plan to change the truth
To accommodate the brilliance of men, the brilliance of men

Some folks think we’re better now
Social evolution’s new synthetic
Will keep us on a straighter path
As better men use brand new math
With no wrong answers

I’m just a little bit worried
Do you have some sort of plan?
Have you been finally defeated
By the cunning of these fully evolved men?

I hear that you don’t change
How do you expect to keep up with the trends?
You won’t survive the information age
Unless you plan to change the truth
To accommodate the brilliance of men, the brilliance of men

Book Review: A Scripture Index to Charlesworth’s The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, by Steve Delamarter

[Steve Delamarter, A Scripture Index to Charlesworth’s The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2002, Sheffield Academic Press, London, UK, 99 pages]


Essential Complement to Charlesworth’s OTP

To those of a Christian or Jewish persuasion (or those researching either of these belief systems) who own Charlesworth’s two-volume The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (OTP) I would call this an essential complement. It includes “all of the references of the Protestant scriptures contained in the footnotes and in the margins of the OTP” (p 7). Including the footnotes is quite the bonus.

After a very brief preface, followed by a short piece by James H. Charlesworth himself titled “Biblical Stories and Quotations Reflected and Even Adumbrated in the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha”, then a brief intro by Delamarter, there are two separate indexes, the first for Volume One and the second for Volume Two. In each of the latter two, Delamarter lists, in order by the 66 books of the Christian Bible (excluding the Apocrypha/Deuterocanon), first the Biblical reference, then its corresponding parallel/allusion/echo in the OTP to its right. If it’s an Old Testament reference following more closely the Septuagint (over against the Hebrew), the Scripture verse will have a parenthetical “(LXX)” following it. From Charlesworth’s first volume, for example, there are four OTP intertextual references to Genesis 2:7:

Apocalypse of Adam 1:2
Apocalypse of Adam 2:5
Testament of Isaac 3:15
Testament of Abraham 11:9 ftnt c

These are all on four separate lines in the index, with the last one adding (LXX) after Gen. 2:7, since this is an LXX, not an MT reference.

The author’s desire is “that, by means of this index, users will have a more convenient point of entry into the study of the intertextuality of scripture and Pseudepigrapha than has ever been available before” (p 10). I’d say this work succeeds marvellously in that aim.

Erratta: On page 47 it should be Jude 6 rather than Jude 5 as the reference from/to 1 Enoch 10:4.

Probing the Prologue in the Gospel According to John: John 1:6-8

[See Introduction; John 1:1-2; John 1:3-5]

Some believe the prologue was initially a Christian hymn, repurposed by the Gospel writer.48 At least a few with this perspective construe 1:6-8 as an interpolation, an addition to the original hymn.49 Yet even if the prologue had its genesis as a hymn, with the Gospel writer adapting it, inserting these verses for his own aims, one should hardly view 6-8 as merely parenthetical, as if almost superfluous. On the contrary, these three verses are integral to the overall purpose.50 They serve to shift the light in 1:4-5 from some ambiguous post-creation period to the public sphere at a particular time—thus revealing the apparent polysemy in v. 5—via the witness of a man named John.51

This man, John, is ‘sent from God’ (v. 6). Within the prologue (and the Gospel) he is never identified as “the Baptist” or “the Baptizer”, however the writer consistently records him elsewhere in terms of this function by using various forms of the verb baptize (βαπτίζω, baptizō: 1:25, 26, 28, 31, 33; 3:26; 10:40). Accordingly, he shall be called “the Baptizer” here, in order to differentiate him from the Gospel writer.

The Baptizer will be mentioned yet again in the prologue (v. 15).

A Man Sent from God

 Ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος, ἀπεσταλμένος παρὰ θεοῦ,52 ὄνομα αὐτῷ Ἰωάννης
Egeneto anthrōpos, apestalmenos para theou, onoma autō̧ Iōannēs
Came (a) person,53 having-been-sent from God, name to him John
There was a man, sent from God, named John.

This verse begins with the same verb used throughout v. 3—ginomai (here in the aorist form, egeneto). However, it serves a different purpose in this context, taking on a slightly different nuance. The verb here functions as a discourse marker, signaling a transition, introducing a new character54 (cf. Mark 1:4).

Yet there may be an additional implication in this context. Though the aorist egeneto can be used to signify a ‘coming into being’ at a point in time (cf. 8:58: “Before Abraham came into existence/was born”), it can also indicate a time period, such as an entire lifetime. When considered in conjunction with the perfect participle apestalmenos, as well as the final clause (cf. Luke 1:13: “Your wife, Elizabeth, will give birth to a son, and you shall call him John” [to onoma autou Iōannēn]), this interpretation gains plausibility.55 In other words, when the initial (principle) verb is taken in its full sentential context, the Baptizer’s entire existence, beginning from his birth (as foretold in Luke 1:11-20 by Gabriel, who announced both his purpose and the Nazarite restrictions to be placed upon his entire life), is likely authorial intent.

The introduction of the Baptizer in the prologue, his ‘coming’ (egeneto), is contrasted with the introduction of the Word (vv. 1-2), aka the Light (vv. 7-9ff), as ‘being’ (ēn).56 While the Baptizer came (egeneto), as one sent from God within the course of human history, the Word (the Light) existed (ēn) with God in the beginning, pre-history.57 Moreover, the Baptizer was a man (anthrōpos), while the Word (the Light) is identified as God (theos).58

The participle apestalmenos, from apostellō (its noun form apostolos, “apostle”; apostolē is “apostleship, assignment”), means more than merely “sent” here.59 It connotes being commissioned or consigned for a particular purpose. The Baptizer was consigned by God.

The Baptizer Testifies about “the Light”

οὗτος ἦλθεν εἰς μαρτυρίαν ἵνα μαρτυρήσῃ περὶ τοῦ φωτός,
houtos ēlthen eis martyrian hina martyrēsȩ̄ peri tou phōtos,
This-one came for testimony so-that he-might-testify concerning the Light,
This man came as a witness, to testify about the Light,

The writer proceeds from the general of v. 6 to the more specific in 7. In contrast to egeneto in v. 6, ēlthen (the aorist of erchomai) here is best defined “of making an appearance: come before the public, appear”.60 It focuses on the Baptizer’s ministry.

Strictly speaking, a subject pronoun (houtos here) is redundant—all finite verbs encode person and number (though not gender)—so the presence of the demonstrative pronoun provides some measure of emphasis.61 The sense is this particular man (as opposed to another).

The Baptizer was commissioned to bear witness to the Light—not unlike Moses before him, who was commissioned (LXX: apostellō) by the LORD, YHWH to go to Pharaoh, to lead the sons of Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3:10-15).62 The Light is picked up from verse 5, thus firmly situating ‘it’ in the first century via the Baptizer. And, as Hurtado asserts, this ‘Light’ “can only be Jesus, as the succeeding narrative goes on to explain in 1:19-34”.63 Verse 1:31 provides the most succinct statement of his commissioning: “…I came baptizing in water so that He [Jesus] might be revealed to Israel”. This serves as further evidence towards negating the position that “the Word” was an ‘it’—an utterance, or merely a personification of God (see The Word was an “it”? section in 1:1-2).

The clause hina martyrēsȩ̄ is epexegetical, that is, it serves to further explain the preceding eis martyrian.64 The Baptizer came as a witness, but for what purpose specifically? He came as a witness, to testify about the Light.

While the Baptizer’s testimony places the Light into the specific historical setting ca. 30 AD, from the undefined period (and ambiguous function) of vv. 1:4-5,65 one should not think to limit his witness to his first century ministry. The Baptizer continues to testify via this Gospel’s written record (and other New Testament writings) as each new reader imbibes its elixir of life.

Jesus, in speaking with the Pharisees (John 8:12), claims to be “the Light of the world” (to phōs tou kosmou), and those who follow Him will not walk in darkness, but will have “the Light of life” (to phōs tēs zōēs)—certainly a reference to 1:4-5. In v. 4, however, the narrator states that life (zōē) was in the Logos and that this life was “the Light of humanity” (to phōs tōn anthrōpōn).

Jesus explicitly or implicitly refers to Himself as “the Light” a number of times in John’s Gospel (3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-36; 12:46).

ἵνα πάντες πιστεύσωσιν δι᾿ αὐτοῦ.
hina pantes pisteusōsin di’ autou.
that all might-believe through him.
so that all might come to believe through him.

Since the genitive form (autou) of the Greek personal pronoun autos could represent either a masculine or neuter noun, there is initial ambiguity as to its referent: belief through whom? Is it the Light or the Baptizer? The ambiguity quickly vanishes when the larger context is considered. The subject is the Baptizer, and the emphasis is on his testimony about the Light; thus, the Baptizer is the intended referent. Belief in the Light is to be effected through the Baptizer. The next verse reinforces this. John the Baptizer’s ultimate goal is to bring all to belief in the Light through his testimony—a lofty objective, indeed.

Pantes pisteusōsin di’ autou (“all might believe through him”) here should be compared to v. 3’s panta di’ autou (“all through Him”). In v. 3 panta (“all”) is neuter, denoting the entirety of creation; comparatively, pantes (“all”) in v. 7 is obviously limited to humans (anthrōpos) and is, accordingly, understood to be masculine. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that v. 7’s pantes refers back to the humanity (anthrōpōn) of “the Light of humanity” (to phōs tōn anthrōpōn) in v. 4. The life in the Word is the Light of humanity, and John’s aim is that all men and women believe in this Light.

The use of “believe” here is the very first in John’s Gospel. It forms the initial bookend of an inclusio, with “believe” in 20:31 the other bookend. The Baptizer is one witness among quite a few in this Gospel (the Father, the disciples, etc.), another one being the recording of Jesus’ signs “so that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (20:31).66

The aorist subjunctive pisteusōsin, “might believe” is likely ingressive, signifying initial coming to faith (“might come to believe”).67 Yet the temporal sphere of the verb’s action should be understood as encompassing both the Baptizer’s entire earthly ministry and his continuing legacy via the Gospel. All might come to believe by the Baptizer’s words as he spoke them in the first century, and all might come to believe via the record of the Baptizer’s testimony in John’s Gospel in the ensuing centuries on up to the present day.

The Baptizer was Not the Light

οὐκ ἦν ἐκεῖνος τὸ φῶς, ἀλλ᾿ ἵνα μαρτυρήσῃ περὶ τοῦ φωτός.
ouk ēn ekeinos to phōs, all’ hina martyrēsȩ̄ peri tou phōtos.
not was that-one the Light, but so that he-might-testify about the Light.
He was not the Light, but ˻he came˼ to testify about the Light.

Once again we find a demonstrative pronoun (ekeinos) used for the Baptizer. In this context, especially given its placement after the verb, it is emphatic, referring back to the demonstrative houtos at the beginning of v. 7.68 The italicized He in the translation illustrates this emphasis.69

Excepting the adversative conjunction alla (the final a elided here), “but”, the last two clauses (hina martyrēsȩ̄ peri tou phōtos) mirror two clauses found in the middle of v. 7. As the phrase is elliptical, with the verb omitted, a verb must be supplied from either v. 7 (ēlthen) or v. 6 (egeneto, or a form of apostellō).70 Most popular English versions insert “he came” (ēlthen)—as rendered here. This seems best, for this is the nearest anteceding principle verb.71

Some believe the emphatic He was not the Light may have been stated in response to a group of individuals who viewed the Baptizer as the Light/Christ (Messiah) or some other lauded figure.72 Possible Biblical evidence for this may be inferred from John 1:19-25 (cf. 3:22-36) and Acts 18:25-19:7. However, some caution must be exercised here, for the Baptizer is highly regarded in this Gospel (and elsewhere), so to see this strictly as a polemic against a presumed John the Baptizer sect is likely overstating the case.73 Rather, this emphatic statement more likely provides a transition to v. 9.74 Moreover, Jesus identifies the Baptizer as “the lamp” (ὁ λύχνος, ho lychnos) in John 5:35. The lamp came not to self-illuminate, he came to shed light on the Light.


48 Keener, Gospel of John, pp 1.334-337; cf. Edwards, Discovering John, pp 84-97.

49 See, e.g., Bultmann, Gospel of John, pp 15-18, 48-49; cf. Bruce (F. F. Bruce, Gospel & Epistles of John), who supposes, “It may have been originally a separate composition which has been integrated with the Gospel by having two preliminary sections of narrative dovetailed into it—verses 6-8 and verse 15…” (p 28; cf. p 34). Martin Hengel (“The Prologue of the Gospel of John as the Gateway to Christological Truth” in Bauckham/Mosser, John and Christian Theology) is “convinced that this hymn corresponds to the text of the Prologue and that only the two passages about John the Baptist in vv. 6-8 and 15—written in the same style as the hymn—have been inserted to clamp it to the Gospel” (p 268).

50 See Ridderbos, Gospel of John, p 41; Barrett, St. John, p 159.

51 See Carson, Gospel, pp 119-120; Lincoln, Truth on Trial, p 58.

52 There is no article preceding θεοῦ here, though it is true that the article is lacking before “God”, “Father”, and other ‘concrete’ nouns in prepositional phrases at times throughout Scripture—and as noted earlier in the comments to 1:1a of the non-concrete “beginning”. In John’s Gospel it is lacking after παρα̒ (“from/by”) only a few times (John 1:6 [παρὰ θεοῦ]; 1:14 [παρὰ πατρο̒ς]; 9:16 [παρὰ θεοῦ]; 9:33 [παρὰ θεοῦ]; and maybe 16:27 [split in the manuscripts between παρὰ θεοῦ, παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ, and παρὰ {τοῦ} πατρο̒ς]); however, note the presence of the article in a dozen others (John 5:44 [παρὰ τοῦ μόνου θεοῦ]; 6:45 [παρὰ τοῦ πατρο̒ς]; 6:46 [παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ]; 8:38 [παρὰ τῷ πατρι̒, παρὰ τοῦ πατρο̒ς]; 8:40 [παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ]; 10:18 [παρὰ τοῦ πατρός μου]; John 15:15 [παρὰ τοῦ πατρο̒ς]; 15:26 [παρὰ τοῦ πατρο̒ς, παρὰ τοῦ πατρο̒ς]; 16:28 [παρὰ τοῦ πατρο̒ς]; and, John 19:25 [παρὰ τῷ σταυρῷ])—two to three times as many with the article, depending on how one interprets the text critical data in 16:27. Perhaps it’s significant that every time the article is present before “God” and “Father” after παρα̒ Jesus (Word-made-flesh) is speaking, while the times the article is lacking occurs in narrative (1:6; 1:14) or when others are speaking (9:16; 9:33)—excluding verse 16:27 from this analysis. More work needs to be done—that is, analyzing the other prepositional phrases in John—before coming to any conclusions. Of course, we already covered πρὸς τὸν θεόν in both 1:1b and 1:2, but the presence of the article in these may be understood to be a method of differentiating the anarthrous θεός in 1:1c (θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος) from ὁ θεός in 1:1b and 1:2, while simultaneously providing some commonality yet distinction between ὁ λόγος as θεός in 1:1c and ὁ θεός of 1:1b and 1:2. In other words, the arthrous θεός in the prepositional phrases of 1:1b and 1:2 may have a separate discourse function.

53 Ανθρωπος is considered gender neutral, generally (e.g. John 1:9; 2:25), yet in the cultural milieu of the first century, the a priori assumption would have been male (see Jaime Clark-Soles’ essay “‘I Will Raise [Whom?] Up on the Last Day’: Anthropology as a Feature of Johannine Eschatology” in New Currents through John: A Global Perspective, eds. Francisco Lozada, Jr. & Tom Thatcher [Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006], pp 33-34). So, even though “man” (as opposed to “woman”) would be assumed, on first reading one should think gender neutrally. Of course, here in 1:6 the gender is made clear by both the masculine participle and the masculine name in the final clause. Note that in John 4 the Samaritan woman is consistently referenced as γυνή, even when she self-references (“being a γυναικὸς Σαμαρίτιδος” [4:9]).

54 Johannes P. Louw & Eugene A. Nida, eds. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1989), Electronic text hypertexted and prepared by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 4.1, “γίνομαι,” p 811 (§ 91.5); cf. Beasley-Murray, John, p 12; Harris, John, EGGNT, p 26. Bultmann (Gospel of John, pp 48-49, n 3) sees Ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος as a Hebraism, comparing with wayᵉhı̂ ʾı̂š ʾeḥāḏ in Judges 13:2, 19:1 from the same book, and 1 Samuel 1:1, thus, to his mind, providing evidence that (a) this section (vv. 6-8) is not part of the original hymn, but the narrator’s own comments, and (b) that the narrator writes in a Jewish flavor as of one from the area of Syria (p 6). Bultmann finds other commonalities with the Hebrew, as well (p 49, n 3); cf. Ridderbos, Gospel of John, p 41. Contra Hengel (“The Prologue”, pp 276-277), who views the verb as punctiliar, paralleling it with ἐγένετο in v. 14.

55 The perfect verbal form can be defined in shorthand as ‘past action with present results’ (see, e.g., H. E. Dana & Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament [New York: MacMillan, 1927], pp 200-205); however, importantly, the time element, including duration, must be determined by context. In the overall context of vv. 6-8, and even the larger context of the entire Gospel, the participle ἀπεσταλμένος here could be viewed as strictly covering his ministry as the Baptizer. Yet, with the initial aorist ἐγένετο and the final clause which seems to allude to Luke 1, it can be viewed as encompassing his earthly existence in its entirety. The aorist ἐγένετο by itself can be understood as either a past action at a particular point in time (“came-to-be”, i.e. birth) or as encompassing a long time period (the aorist is perfective in aspect—see here for explanation), to include even the Baptizer’s whole life. If the participle was also an aorist (or if ἐγένετο was absent, and “sent” was the principle verb and in the aorist), we might be inclined to understand the entire verbal action as strictly punctiliar. But in view of the perfect participle here, ἐγένετο may be better perceived in a constative sense, to include not only the Baptizer’s public ministry (which is not mentioned until the next verse), but his entire ‘coming’, i.e., his earthly life in its totality. In other words, the past action of the perfect would be God’s initial sending (at conception or birth) and the ‘present results’ would consist of his entire earthly life. When comparing the future tense of Luke 1:13’s “you shall call the name of him John” (a then-prophecy) with “Ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος…name to him John” (a general truth post-prophetic fulfillment), and given the evidence provided just above, it seems reasonable to see v. 6 as referring to the entire life of the Baptizer. Moreover, comparing ἐγένετο here to ἦλθεν in v. 7, and the specified function stated for the Baptizer there (see below), it seems the Gospel writer intended to start from the general in v. 6 and move to the more specific in v. 7.

56 See Westcott, St. John, para 1146. This writer, though, calls the referent in v. 9 “the Word”.

57 Brown (John I-XII, p 8) observes that ἐγένετο here is, of course, the same verb used in v. 3 and compares with the use of ἦν in vv. 1-2, noting that the former is used of creation, seemingly concluding from this that the Gospel writer used ἐγένετο as a way of identifying the Baptizer as a creature. Leon Morris (Gospel According to John, p 89) is more explicit, acknowledging that, while ἐγένετο here places “no particular emphasis on creation”, the usage in this context “must be held to point a contrast between Jesus and John”.

58 Köstenberger, John, BECNT, p 32.

59 Morris (Leon Morris, Gospel According to John, p 89, n 48) notes that the passive ἀποστέλλω here (cf. 3:28) contrasts with the active voice when this verb is used for Jesus being sent from the Father.

60 BDAG, “ἔρχομαι” (1.b.), p 394.

61 Cf. οὗτος in 1:2.

62 See Barrett, St. John, p 159.

63 Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, p 365.

64 Harris, John, EGGNT, p 26; Barrett, St. John, p 159. Lincoln (Truth on Trial, pp 21, 58-60ff, 146) asserts John the Baptizer’s witness is part of a larger “lawsuit motif” in John’s Gospel.

65 See Bruce, Gospel & Epistles of John, p 34; cf. Koester, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel, p 129.

66 The bracketed “come to” signifies a text critical issue in 20:31, in which manuscripts are divided between the aorist and the present tense-form. See Harris, John, EGGNT, p 5 for a somewhat detailed discussion.

67 Harris, John, EGGNT, p 26.

68 Harris, John, EGGNT, p 26.

69 The KJV renders it “He was not that Light”, likely in an effort to retain, as closely as possible, the original word order in translation.

70 See Harris, John, EGGNT, pp 26-27.

71 This yields ἀλλὰ ἦλθεν ἵνα μαρτυρήσῃ περὶ τοῦ φωτός. While some English versions pick up “sent” from v. 6, this seems dubious. It requires making a periphrastic construction (adding ἦν [from the first clause of v. 8?] to ἀπεσταλμένος) or changing the participle to an aorist (or perfect?) indicative. Louw and Nida (L&N), noting that ἵνα clauses can be “markers of purpose for events and states (sometimes occurring in highly elliptical contexts)”, take ἐγένετο from v. 6 (cf. Harris, John, EGGNT, p 26), rendering this phrase but (this happened) in order that he could witness concerning the light (p 785 [§ 89.59]). But if we apply L&N here we would have two near-consecutive parallel ἵνα clauses (in v. 7 and v. 8) with different meanings, the second one taking the principle verb from the verse preceding the first one (v. 6). Applying Occam’s razor seems prudent here: supplying the principle verb found in the sentence from which this phrase is sourced (v. 7; ἦλθεν) is the simplest solution. While we certainly cannot impose English upon the Greek, this resembles the solution in the following: He went to the convenience store to pick up some milk. He didn’t go grocery shopping, but to the convenience store. We would understand the ellipsis as “he went”, that is: He didn’t go grocery shopping, but [on the contrary] he went to the convenience store (to pick up some milk).

72 See Brown, John I-XII, pp LXVII-LXX; Keener, Gospel of John, pp 1.388-391.

73 See Ridderbos, Gospel of John, p 42.

74 Barrett, St. John, p 160; Carson, Gospel, p 121.