A Somewhat Brief Explanation of Verbal Aspect Theory as it Pertains to Koine (NT) Greek, with Focus on Temporal Reference (pt 2)

In part 1, an introduction to Koine Greek verbal aspect theory, as well as an explanation of verbal aspect in English was provided. This part will begin the explanation of the theory as it pertains to NT Greek, illustrating the various temporal references found of the perfective aspect, reflected in the aorist tense-form.

Verbal Aspect in Koine Greek

As noted previously, the English verbal system is intrinsically time-based (in large part); i.e., time is tied directly to the tense-forms (with many forms aided by the use of auxiliary verbs). For example, as we observed above, the English past tense-form encodes both perfective aspect and past time. However, as stated earlier, according to Porter’s verbal aspect theory with respect to NT Greek, aspect is found in a verb’s tense-form,22 while the specific time element is not included. Time is determined by context.

To be more precise, using terminology from the field of linguistics, aspect is semantically encoded in the morphological forms (tense-forms) of NT Greek verbs, while temporal reference (and Aktionsart, ‘kind of action’) is determined by pragmatics, i.e., the context, derived at clause, sentence, or paragraph level, or even from the entire document. Semantics are the meanings of the tense-forms (verbal aspect), while pragmatics (also known as implicature) are what the writer conveys by the use of the tense-forms in particular contexts.23 It’s important to note that the term semantics is understood more narrowly here than common usage, which is typically the range of meanings for a given term (lexical semantics).24 Here the term is much more specific, indicating the non-cancelable properties of a verb, i.e., its morphological form (aspect) and the meaning inherent within the form (grammatical semantics).25 Porter provides an explanation:

…Verbal aspect is a semantic feature which attaches directly to use of a given tense-form in [NT] Greek. Other values [ED: pragmatics] – such as time – are established at the level of larger grammatical or conceptual units, such as the sentence, paragraph, proposition, or even discourse…The choice of the particular verbal aspect (expressed in the tense-form) resides with the language user, and it is from this perspective that grammatical interpretation of the verb must begin.26

In essence, verbal aspect, which is encoded in the morphological form (tense-form) of the verb, is a subjective choice made between the various aspectual options available to the writer (see below for the third option besides perfective and imperfective). Verbal aspect (viewpoint, perspective) is the foremost exegetical consideration for the reader with respect to verbs.27 Once aspect, the semantic value found in the morphological form, is determined, time (and Aktionsart, kind of action) is then ascertained by context, i.e., pragmatics (implicature).

This idea that time is not encoded into the NT Greek verbal system is difficult to conceive for those of us whose native language/s are western European. K. L. McKay notes this struggle:

Our…difficulty is that of divesting ourselves of the basic assumptions of our own language in order to appreciate better those of another language. We moderns tend to be obsessed in our verb usage with the idea of time – past, present, future…Even when we appreciate that [the conception of time in NT Greek] was not [similar to western European languages’ verbal systems], it remains difficult for us to be entirely free of prejudice.28

It is important to keep this in mind as we go along, for we must be vigilant to not impose our own native language rules upon Koine Greek. We must be ever aware of our own internal bias in this regard.

At the risk of potentially causing some confusion, though hopefully to further aid in explanation instead, we could propose a very rough comparison, an analogy of sorts, between English verbal aspect and NT Greek verbal aspect. Taking the two sentences from the previous section that are expressing imperfective aspect (1B & 2B), while deleting both auxiliary verbs, since it’s the auxiliary verb that explicitly denotes temporal reference in these particular examples, we could render them:

1B1) I releasing
2B1) Peter coming

Obviously, this is very bad English grammar, but the point here is to roughly approximate NT Greek imperfective aspect, by removing the specific time reference (“was” and “is,” respectively). To reiterate, this is just a rough analogy; please don’t think of these as simply English participles in and of themselves; rather, think of these as reflecting imperfective aspect with the time element not intrinsic. Moreover, don’t think of the above as Greek participles translated into English, but rather as the verbal roots release (λύω, luō) and come (ἔρχομαι, erchomai), respectively, with imperfective aspect. In this approximation to Koine Greek, both “releasing” and “coming” are semantically encoding aspect but not temporal reference. More information is needed to determine time of action, and this could be done by adding one adverb to each of these ‘sentences’:

1B2) Yesterday I releasing
2B2) Now Peter coming

“Yesterday” and “Now” are examples of pragmatics, more specifically, temporal deictic indicators,29 adverbs modifying “releasing” and “going,” respectively. The term deictic is the adjectival (adjective) form of the noun deixis (from Greek δείκνυμι, deiknumi, show), which means words that point to such things as time, person, and spatial location in a given text.30 Temporal deictic indicators convey time reference in NT Greek, rather than the verbs themselves. However, in Koine Greek the temporal deictic indicators “yesterday” (ἐχθὲς, echthes) and “now” (νῦν, nyn; ἄρτι, arti) may be placed somewhere else in the larger context (paragraph, discourse, etc.) instead of the sentence or clause containing the particular verb. In such instances, with the immediate context at clause or sentence level not explicitly referencing time, temporal reference must be found by the larger context.

Following are the three aspects of NT Greek, followed by the verb tense-forms which express the particular aspect:31

Perfective aspect: aorist tense-form

Imperfective aspect: present tense-form, imperfect tense-form

Stative aspect: perfect tense-form, pluperfect tense-form

The stative aspect will be discussed a bit later. Recall from the parade analogy that perfective aspect is the view from the helicopter. As indicated above, this is reflected by only one form – the aorist tense-form. Also, recall that imperfective aspect is the view of the parade at street level. But, what is the difference between the imperfect tense-form and the present tense-form you may be thinking? It is one of proximity. The imperfect tense-form is a bit more remote spatially than the present tense-form; i.e., the present tense-form is more proximate (closer to the event/situation) than the imperfect tense-form.32

As we can see in the above, some terminology in the forms are similar to English (present, perfect), but these are used in very different ways. Therefore, the similarity in the names can result in some confusion for those who tend to equate tense-forms with temporal reference and/or those who may inadvertently impose English usage upon the Greek.33 To further confound the issue, many traditional grammars claim that, for example, the aorist tense-form reflects past time but with exceptions, while the present tense-form reflects present time but with exceptions.34 These “exceptions” are eliminated when one views the verb tense-forms as solely encoding aspect rather than time (and kind of action – Aktionsart), which, again, is a pragmatic function determined by context. The following sections will make that assertion clear.

Perfective Aspect

Perfective aspect is the “least marked” of the three aspects, the default, the one used unless a special emphasis is desired.35 Accordingly, the aorist tense-form, the only form semantically encoding perfective aspect, is the predominate tense-form carrying the narrative in the NT.36 The aorist mostly does convey past time, as revealed by the contexts, in the NT. This is primarily because, given its perfective aspect, which provides a summary, wholistic view of individual events or situations, it is well-suited for narrative, which is typically set in past time.37 Yet, as we will see, there are instances in which the aorist tense-form conveys present temporal reference (from the perspective of the speaker and/or situation),38 and even future time (though these are very few).39

Let’s examine a few NT examples of perfective aspect, expressed by the aorist tense-form. We’ll start with the shortest verse in all Scripture – John 11:35. For those with no Greek background, many times verbs are placed before the subject (also, verbs encode person and number: e.g., 3rd person singular {he/she/it} in the following). Also, the definite article (the, in this case ὁ, ho, the masculine singular form) many times precedes names.

ἐδάκρυσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς.
weep         (the) Jesus
Jesus wept.

Here ἐδάκρυσεν is the aorist tense-form of δακρύω (dakruō, weep). Using this form indicates that the Gospel writer wished to summarize Jesus’ weeping, rather than focus upon its progression. This is the helicopter, or remote, summary perspective. In this example, clearly the setting indicates past time by looking at the immediate context.

Romans 5:14 provides another illustration of perfective aspect:

ἀλλ᾿ ἐβασίλευσεν ὁ θάνατος ἀπὸ Ἀδὰμ μέχρι Μωϋσέως40
But     reign         the death from Adam  to      Moses
But death reigned from (the time of) Adam to Moses

In this verse ἐβασίλευσεν is the aorist tense-form of βασιλεύω (basileuō, reign). Note that this ‘reign’ of death encompasses quite a long interval (from Adam to Moses), yet Paul uses the perfective aspect to show a summary perspective of this time period. Of course, this time period was in the past from the point of Paul’s writing.

Yet, Jesus’ words as recorded by the Gospel writer in John 13:31 indicate the future use of the perfective aspect:

νῦν ἐδοξάσθη ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου καὶ ὁ θεὸς ἐδοξάσθη ἐν αὐτῷ·
Now glorify the Son of Man         and (the) God glorify in Him.
Now the Son of Man is to be glorified and God is to be glorified in Him.41

Most English translations render both aorist verbs with present time reference (is glorified);42 however, in order to properly exegete this verse, to find temporal reference, we must look at the larger context. As George H. Guthrie asserts, “[A] key to understanding an act of communication…is to understand the organization of material as related to a given context, and this is the objective of a form of inquiry known as ‘discourse analysis’.”43 The term discourse analysis, as used here, refers to analyzing not just discourse (conversations between individuals), but also narrative. While sometimes the immediate context will make temporal reference obvious, at other times it is necessary to do further discourse analysis, to look not only to the larger context (previous and following sentences) but to even larger chunks, to include prior and subsequent paragraphs, and perhaps the whole document.44

To assist in exegeting 13:31, we’ll go back to John 12:23-29, to find an earlier mention of glorification of which “the hour has come”. In that particular context, Jesus mentions the future event of His being “lifted up” (12:32), just as He had stated this earlier in 3:14 (and 8:28); then He goes on to speak of His death (12:35), as the narrator had earlier (12:33). This is obviously referring to the Crucifixion, and it is this event that will bring glorification. This is the same event in view in John 13:31.

While the adverb νῦν (now) is typically a temporal deictic indicator for present time, in this case it’s in the sense of near-future, like we have in “the hour has come” in 12:23.45 Jesus’ words in 13:31 are immediately preceded by “When he [Judas] was gone, Jesus said” – clearly, it wasn’t Judas’ leaving in and of itself that glorified the Son, however Judas’ forthcoming betrayal would set the stage for the events that would ultimately lead to the Crucifixion. Moreover, the future tense-forms of “to glorify” in the very next verse (13:32 – “will glorify”) appear to logically indicate a future temporal reference for verse 31. [Note that the future tense-form is not listed as an aspect above, because it is “not fully aspectual,” or “aspectually vague” – see note 22.] This particular example well illustrates the importance of looking to broader contextual clues to determine temporal reference.

The Father’s words to the Son just after His baptism, after He came up out of the water, are certainly not past temporal reference, yet they don’t seem to express merely present time either. The Father’s voice at Jesus’ baptism is recorded in all three synoptic Gospels (Mat 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22). The wording in the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Luke is identical:

σὺ     εἶ   ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν      σοὶ         εὐδόκησα.
You be the Son my the beloved in/with You I well pleased
You are my [one] beloved Son, with You I am well pleased.

The use of the English present tense-form in translation is probably the best rendering; however, as noted, this does not seem to fully convey the force of the Father’s words.46 In the Culy, Parsons, and Stigall commentary on Luke in the Baylor Handbook of the Greek New Testament series, the authors take special note of this verb and its form as used in the above context:

…This is a good example of why some scholars (e.g. Porter, Decker, Campbell) maintain that the aorist tense, like the other tenses, does not explicitly refer to time, though it is used most often to refer to past events…Here, God is simply portrayed as speaking of his pleasure with Jesus as a whole action or simple event by using the aorist tense/perfective aspect (cf. McKay, 27) rather than as a process (imperfective aspect). There is no indication in the context that God’s pleasure with Jesus begins at this point, which would require that God also began to be pleased with Jesus at the transfiguration….47

Note the authors’ last sentence above; similar words were spoken by the Father at the Transfiguration (Mat 17:5, II Peter 1:17; though cf. Mark 9:7, Luke 9:35). We wouldn’t think the Father began to be pleased at baptism, and then began again to be pleased at the Transfiguration. So, did the Father begin to be pleased with the Son at baptism and continue to be pleased on up through to the Transfiguration, or perhaps even for the rest of His earthly ministry?  Or, was the Father pleased the 30 years preceding, on up to, and including baptism and the Transfiguration? Without belaboring any further, it’s clear to see that in this case we cannot definitively pinpoint temporal reference.  This illustrates the difficulty of translating an aspect-based language such as Koine Greek to a time-based language such as English. As Porter observes, “The focus upon finding a specific temporal reference in the realm of past, present or future often encumbers discussion of Greek tense-forms.”48

With this in mind, Porter argues that, with no specific temporal deictic indicators in the context to temporally anchor the Father’s assessment of the Son, the usage here is timeless,49 defined as “not restricted to any temporal sphere of reference”, with timeless also including such things as mathematical truths (e.g., 1 + 1 equals 2).50 Porter makes a distinction between “timeless” and “omnitemporal” (Porter’s term, which means “all time” – past, present and future – with the term encompassing yet refining what is usually termed “gnomic” in most grammars).51  The former (timeless) cannot be placed on a time-line because it pertains to “a statement that is not deictically limited,” with this perhaps exemplifying “the essentially non-temporal semantic character of the verb itself.”52 The latter (omnitemporal) is something that is always occurring or recurring: it is occurring, has always been occurring, and will continue to be occurring temporally.53

Perhaps a handy way to differentiate between the two is with the shorthand “not fixed to the time-line” for timeless, as compared to “always on the time-line” for omnitemporal.  A timeless truth or event/situation does not fit on a particular place on the time-line as the time of action is either: (1) irrelevant, or (2) not specified, not determinable by the context. An omnitemporal event/situation is always occurring/recurring, and hence, always on the time-line.

The Apostle Peter quotes from Isaiah (40:6-8) in his first epistle, thus providing an example of the aorist tense-form used for an omnitemporal action. Following is the latter part of 1 Peter 1:24 (cf. James 1:11):54

ἐξηράνθη ὁ χόρτος καὶ τὸ ἄνθος ἐξέπεσεν
dry up    the grass and the flower falls
the grass dries up and the flower falls (off)         

Again, this is the summary, complete (not completed), or remote perspective. The processes of nature are continually recurring, and have always been occurring since creation (or, at least since the Fall in the Garden), so these are on the time-line, or at least recurring at intervals on the time-line.

The only temporal reference we’ve not yet covered for the aorist tense-form is present time (though, of course, omnitemporal actions necessarily include present time, and timeless actions may). We’ll list just a few examples: Luke 8:52 (she is not dead but sleeping); 1 Corinthians 4:18 (some are arrogant/puffed up); 2 Corinthians 5:13 (if we are out of our minds).55

All the preceding examples displaying the various temporal references used of the aorist tense-term aptly illustrate that the verb itself does not encode time. It is the context that is the determining factor.

The next installment, part 3, covers the imperfective aspect.

 

22   To be more technical: “Synthetic verbal aspect [is] a morphologically-based semantic category which grammaticalizes the author/speaker’s reasoned subjective choice of conception of a process” (Porter, VAGNT, pp xi, 1). Or: “Greek verbal aspect is a synthetic semantic category (realized in the forms of verbs) used of meaningful oppositions in a network of tense systems to grammaticalize the author’s reasoned subjective choice of a process” (Porter, VAGNT, p 88).

This is excepting the future and future perfect tense-forms, anomalies in the Koine Greek aspectual system, which are “not fully aspectual,” or “aspectually vague,” encoding “+expectation,” according to Porter (Porter, VAGNT, p 403-439; cf. Porter, Idioms, pp 43-44). Contra Campbell (Verbal Aspect, pp 127-160, esp. 139-151; Basics, pp 39, 83-102) who claims the future encodes perfective aspect. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the future tense-form at any length.

Other exceptions include some specific verbs, such as all -mi verbs, which are “aspectually vague” because there is not a full range of tense-forms, and hence aspects, from which to choose (Porter, VAGNT, p 442-447; cf. Porter, Idioms, pp 24-25). Porter helpfully distinguishes between words which are ambiguous, having more than one meaning, determined by context (the particle δὲ (de) being a good example of one that “it is possible for one interpretation to be true simultaneous with, or to the exclusion of others” (VAGNT, p 442)) , as compared to those which are vague: “Essentially, if an item realizes or is capable of realizing more than one set of meaning choices, i.e. more than one selection expression from a network, then it is ambiguous, if not, then any doubts about its interpretation may be put down to vagueness” (VAGNT, pp 442ff). In periphrastic constructions the form of εἰμί (eimi – be, exist) expresses mood, number, and person, while it is the participle that encodes verbal aspect and voice (Idioms, pp 25, 45-49; VAGNT, pp 440-486).

23   Porter, VAGNT, pp 15-16; cf. Porter, “In Defense of Verbal Aspect”, p 37 n 54. While aspect is the semantic value of the verb’s morphological form, pragmatics are derived from the overall context. Cf. Campbell, Basics, pp 22-25. The beginning point for Aktionsart – which comes after determining aspect – is lexis (the verb’s root), followed by context; time is found by contextual indicators, though sometimes in combination with the verb’s lexical (dictionary) meaning.

24   See Porter, “Linguistic Issues in New Testament Lexicography,” in Porter, Studies in the GNT, p 66.

25   Ibid, pp 66-67.

26   Porter, Idioms, p 21, italics in original. Porter notes elsewhere: “[V]erbal aspect [is] not simply Aktionsart in new clothing, or not simply another way of formulating the same temporal perspective on verbs” (Porter, “In Defense of Verbal Aspect,” p 37).

27   Since the NT writer has already made a (most likely subconscious) choice of verbal aspect (viewpoint, perspective) from the available choices by the use of a specific morphological form, the exegete should consider why the particular aspect was chosen over other possibilities (cf. Porter, VAGNT, p 13). For example, when a verb with imperfective aspect is placed amongst other verbs of perfective aspect, the imperfective verb stands out in comparison.

However, this necessarily excludes εἰμί, and other “aspectually vague” verbs, since εἰμί is available in neither the aorist (perfective aspect) nor the perfect (stative aspect) tense-form, and therefore provides no aspectual choice for these forms.

28   K. L. McKay, “The Use of the Ancient Greek Perfect Down to the Second Century A.D.” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, 12-1 (1965), p 4, emphasis added; cf. p 5. Doi: 10.1111/j.2041-5370.1965.tb00014.x.

29   Peter Cotterell & Max Turner, Linguistics & Biblical Interpretation, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989, pp 234-236, 239; Porter, VAGNT, pp 101, 98-101; Decker, Temporal Deixis, pp 52-59.

30   Cotterell & Turner, Linguistics, pp 236, 236-240; Porter, VAGNT, pp 98-102; Decker, Temporal Deixis, p 55; Jeffrey T. Reed, “The Cohesiveness of Discourse,” pp 38-40.

31   Picirilli, (“The Meaning of the Tenses,” p 543), suggests changing the perfective and imperfective to, respectively, “wholistic” and “progressive” (he proposes no improvement on the stative), in order to standardize the terms, while simultaneously making their meanings more self-evident to students. While initially this may appear helpful, the terms perfective and imperfective are from the discipline of linguistics (See Decker, Temporal Deixis, p 17), and are applied to other languages that are aspectually-based; so, it seems proper to retain this nomenclature. Decker (“Poor Man’s Porter,” p 29) cites the International Encyclopedia of Linguistics (William Bright, ed., 4 vols. (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1992)) definition of Aspect: [D]esignates the internal temporal organization of the situation described by the verb. The most common possibilities are PERFECTIVE, which indicates that the situation is to be viewed as a bounded whole, and IMPERFECTIVE, which in one way or another looks inside the temporal boundaries of the situation… (4.145).

The stative aspect is not as well accepted in Koine Greek circles, with McKay (though he calls it “perfect aspect”; see McKay New Syntax, pp 27, 31, 49), Porter, and Decker among the few affirming this as a third aspect in NT Greek; contra Campbell, e.g., who rejects stativity as strictly an Aktionsart category (Campbell, Verbal Aspect, pp 172-173, citing Fanning and others). The perfect tense-form is the subject of much debate; see below.

32   Porter, VAGNT, p 198; Decker, Temporal Deixis, pp 106-107; Campbell, Verbal Aspect, pp 48-53; Campbell, Basics, pp 60-68.

33   In fact, it appears quite possible these terms were imported from the English. It would seem like a good idea to change the terminology; however, these terms are so well entrenched that it would be very difficult at this juncture, for, in a general sense, “[w]e do not care for people messing with our paradigms” (Guthrie, “Boats in the Bay”, p 27).

34   Particularly the so-called “historical present” (HP) in which pragmatics indicates that the present tense-form verb is functioning in past time in narratives. Some, however, construe that these are instead reflecting present time in order to heighten this part of the context (and there are other explanations; cf. Porter Idioms, pp 30-31). This seems to be a case of viewing the Greek through an English lens. An example of English usage follows: I went to the store yesterday. On the way, I hear this loud bang, and immediately feel the front passenger side sink down; so, I get out of my car, and I see that I have a flat tire. This entire event happened yesterday, but in relating the incident, the speaker only uses past tense once to indicate when the event occurred (went…yesterday) in order to set the stage, and then proceeds to heighten the flat tire incident by using the simple present tense-form for all the verbs associated with it. Some assume this is how the NT Greek is using the Greek present tense-form when used in past time contexts, but a proper understanding of, and reading with, verbal aspect instead seems to make better sense of its usage, providing a universal explanation without exceptions. See Porter, VAGNT, pp 189-198; cf. Decker, Temporal Deixis, pp 101-104; Campbell, Verbal Aspect, pp 57-76; Campbell, Basics, pp 43, 66-68; Leung “The Narrative Function and Verbal Aspect of the Historical Present in the Fourth Gospel”, pp 703-720, though the author of the latter apparently inadvertently omitted a portion of a quote from VAGNT, specifically, in footnote 24. Leung wrote the piece in support of Porter’s position, yet her footnote reads, “In a past-time situation, ‘the historic present has either altered or neutralized its verbal aspect’ (Porter, Verbal Aspect 196),” which does not reflect Porter’s position. It should read, “In a past-time situation, ‘there is no compelling reason to believe that the historic present has either altered or neutralized its verbal aspect,’” with the page reference 195-196 instead.

Steven E. Runge’s mostly excellent Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, © 2010 Logos Bible Software), well explains how the HP can signal a change in the narrative (pp 125-142); however, the author confuses semantics (aspect) with pragmatics (time), as evidenced by the following: “I contend that the present [tense-] form is the most viable option for marking prominence in a past-time setting. Think about what it is that makes it stand out; the name associated with it says it all. It is a present verb, normally associated with present time, being used in a past-tense context” (p 130, emphasis added). As asserted above, the (unfortunately named) present tense-form encodes imperfective aspect, which does not include temporal reference at all, as time is determined by context (pragmatics), though it is many times reflecting present time in the various contexts. However, it’s the fact that it is imperfective in aspect that makes it stand out amongst perfective (aorist) verbs – not that it is ‘supposed’ to signal present time.

Even more concerning is the summary at the end of the book: “Historical Present: Discourse Principle: Marked usage: mismatch of verbal aspect (imperfective aspect verb for perfective action) [?!; cf. pp 128-129], mismatch of temporal association (imperfect associated with past time, present with nonpast)” (p 386, italics in original, other emphasis added, brackets mine). Runge appears to follow Wallace (Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996, pp 504-512, 526-532.) here who, in turn, follows Fanning with regard to time being implicit in the tense-forms. (Wallace wrote the Foreword to Runge’s book; however, Wallace does not necessarily agree with all Runge’s material (see p xvi).) See McKay, New Syntax, pp 36-37, for his critique of Fanning in this regard; cf. Porter, “In Defense of Verbal Aspect”, pp 30-32.

35   Porter, VAGNT, pp 90, 90-95, 178-181. Markedness is a linguistics term, which Decker defines in “Poor Man’s Porter” (p 29), using the International Encyclopedia of Linguistics: the concept by which a particular quality is regarded as neutral or expected, i.e., ‘unmarked’, whereas an alternative, more unusual quality is considered ‘marked’ (2:390). In English, it is the present tense-form which is the least heavily marked, the default (see Porter, VAGNT, p 222; cf. Decker, “Poor Man’s Porter,” p 20, n 1), illustrating yet another possible place for confusion between the languages.

36   Porter, Idioms, p 35.

37   Porter, VAGNT, pp 102-108; cf. Decker, “Poor Man’s Porter,” p 13; cf. Campbell, Basics, pp 38-39.

38   Porter, VAGNT, pp 225-230; cf. Decker, “Poor Man’s Porter,” pp 6-8.

39   Porter, VAGNT, pp 232-233; cf. Decker, “Poor Man’s Porter,” pp 6-8.

40   This example is taken from Campbell, Basics, p 35, though the editor there neglects to use elision at the end of ἀλλὰ (deleting {eliding} the final vowel {ὰ}, replacing it with an apostrophe {‘}, because the next word begins with a vowel also). Translation is Campbell’s; the parenthetical clause here is not in parentheses in his book.

41   This example found in Porter, VAGNT, p 233. Translation is Porter’s. Porter lists this verse as one of “a few possible instances” of future referring aorists. While I may not be persuaded with all his other possibilities, I view this one as a certainty, as I argue here; Decker does as well (see note 45).

42   Campbell (Basics, p 89) also identifies this as present temporal reference.

43   George H. Guthrie, “Discourse Analysis” in David Alan Black & David S. Dockery, eds. Interpreting the New Testament: Essays on Methods and Issues, Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2001, p 255.

44   Guthrie (“Discourse Analysis”) states: “In longer discourses…strategic organization of linguistic elements and context are vital for communication. Strategically organized words build phrases and clauses; phrases and clauses form sentences; sentences form paragraphs; and paragraphs are grouped to build articles, research papers, whole speeches, or chapters in a book…[W]ords and sentences only have meaning as they are grouped appropriately and given their places in context” (p 254).

For a more technical look at sentence structure, see Reed, “The Cohesiveness of Discourse”, pp 28-46. Reed here focuses on the “semantic and grammatical symmetry within a text” rather than “thematic structure” (p 30).

45   See Decker, Temporal Deixis, pp 50, 194 n 125; cf. Decker “The Semantic Range of νῦν in the Gospels as Related to Temporal Deixis” (Trinity Journal 16 (Fall 1995), pp 203-204): “The language must refer forward: νῦν here is best understood as ‘is about to be’” (p 204). Cf. D. A. Carson, (The Gospel According to John (PNTC), Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991, pp 482-483, 486-487): “…[I]t can easily be shown that verbs in the aorist tense, even when in the indicative mood, can be past-referring, present-referring, and even future-referring…A consistent aspect-theory of the Greek verb finds little difficulty here” (p 487).

46   Disappointingly, Campbell cites the aorist here as merely present-referring: Campbell, Basics, p 89 for Mark 1:11; Campbell, Verbal Aspect, pp 120-121 for Luke 3:22. This seems deficient, as is argued below.

47   Martin M. Culy, Mikeal C. Parsons, and Joshua J. Stigall, Luke: A Handbook on the Greek Text, Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2010, p 119 (Parentheses in original). The parenthetical remark “cf. McKay, 27” is referencing New Syntax, as we’ve referenced here.

47   Porter, VAGNT, p 128.

49   Porter, VAGNT, pp 126-129, 233-234. Cf. Decker, Temporal Deixis, p 98.

50   Porter, Idioms, p 314. Decker uses this mathematical example in “Poor Man’s Porter,” p 15.

51   Porter, VAGNT, pp 182, 218. Cf. Porter, Idioms, pp 311, 312, 314. Decker prefers not to differentiate between these two, adopting instead “temporally unrestricted” for both (Temporal Deixis, p 30). I much prefer “temporally unrestricted” to “timeless”, as the latter could be misconstrued as eternal – even if a thing is temporally always true, it may not necessarily be eternally true. Perhaps only eternal truths should be considered “timeless”, i.e., they are outside time being in the eternal realm, e.g. “God is Love.”

52   Porter, VAGNT, p 182. I find Porter’s delineation between omnitemporal and timeless a useful distinction.

53   I’m using ‘temporally’ as opposed to ‘eternally’ true, though Porter does not appear to make this distinction; see note 51.

54   Both the examples of 1 Peter 1:24 and James 1:11 found in Porter, VAGNT, p 223.

55   These examples found in Porter, VAGNT, pp 227-228.

A Somewhat Brief Explanation of Verbal Aspect Theory as it Pertains to Koine (NT) Greek, with Focus on Temporal Reference (pt 1)

 The theory of verbal aspect, though not necessarily difficult in and of itself, is so foreign to native English speakers that it can be a challenge to grasp initially. My humble goal here is to present this concept in a way that individuals with no training whatsoever in NT Greek can understand the essentials, while simultaneously posing it in such a fashion that those with some schooling in Koine Greek who may have some difficulty in grasping the basics of the theory will reach a fuller comprehension (though this is not to suggest that the material will be easily apprehended with merely a cursory reading). Any failure in that objective, as well as any errors, rests with this writer and not the work of those upon whom I’ve relied.

Most of the technical information, as well as tangential remarks, have been placed in the footnotes to make the body of the article more accessible; nevertheless, occasionally it has been necessary to bring some technical jargon and related explanation into the main text. For the novice, I’ve done my best to define those terms and concepts specific to the theory, as well as the Greek, in a comprehendible manner. As stated, the intent is pedagogical – as researching this theory has been to this writer, for, to paraphrase another, I didn’t start writing because I had something to say, but because I had something I wished to learn.1 Consequently, this work is the product of countless hours of research, the writing itself having been reshaped numerous times. My sincere desire is that fruit will be borne in the form of educated readers.

Introduction

Though I have only sporadically studied Koine (NT) Greek (informally, and not systematically – not something to be recommended), I have focused much of that effort on the Koine Greek verbal system, for “the verb lies at the heart of serious analysis of the Greek language.”2 This resulted from my attempts at comprehending the function of the NT Greek perfect tense-form and subsequently finding some disparity among Koine Greek scholars on its usage. This, in turn, led to a study of what is termed verbal aspect, a relatively new theory with respect to Koine Greek, but not new in general, as verbal aspect is an integral part of other languages.3 Assuming this new conception presented in the following is true for Koine Greek, “[t]he implications of these theoretical conceptions of grammar are far-reaching, particularly for exegesis of the New Testament,”4 which would, consequently, bear upon translation into receptor languages (English Bibles, Spanish Bibles, etc.), associated commentary, the classroom, and even the pulpit.

Drawing on various works by Kenneth L. McKay, a specific book by Bernard Comrie, and other material, Stanley E. Porter produced his hefty tome Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood5– a monograph as daunting as it is important. Without a firm grasp of the discipline of linguistics and its associated terminology the average reader is bewildered – even those with formal schooling in NT Greek may find it challenging.6 Thankfully, some have critiqued and referenced Porter’s book, making it a bit more comprehensible to the non-specialist.7

Rodney J. Decker, who largely follows Porter, has done a favor for most everyone interested in the subject by producing “The Poor Man’s Porter”: A condensation and summarization of Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood by Stanley E. Porter.8 Though very helpful, this explanation of Porter’s work is still a bit challenging to the non-scholar. Constantine R. Campbell has written the more layman-friendly Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek,9 designed as an introduction to verbal aspect to those with at least some Koine Greek training, making this perhaps the best place to start, though with a few caveats.10

Porter, Decker, and Campbell all agree that, according to verbal aspect theory, temporal (time) reference is not an intrinsic part of the Koine Greek verb form.11 Campbell, though, departs from Porter and Decker in his treatment of the perfect tense-form12(not to be confused with perfective aspect below). While there are varying opinions, with differing associated terminology, as regards verbal aspect, for the purposes of this article the Porter/Decker/Campbell view of no temporal reference within the verb forms of NT Greek has been adopted, along with the Porter/Decker stance on the perfect tense-form, and Porter’s terminology.

But, what is verbal aspect? To explain, its usage in English will be illustrated first (though this is not 100% correlative to Koine Greek13). To alleviate potential confusion, the word “tense” will not be used either as a synonym for “time” or for a verb’s form in this article, whether English or Greek. This is because, in the English language, the word “tense” most always conveys both verbal form and temporal (time) reference.14 Instead, the more descriptive “tense-form” will be utilized for a verb’s form, while “time” or “temporal reference” will be used for temporal function. Using the example of the English past tense, when the form of the verb is the subject of discussion “English past tense-form” will be used; when its temporal function is being discussed “past time” or “past temporal reference” will be used.15 It is important to distinguish the form of the verb from its temporal function, as this is how the NT Greek verbal system operates, with the tense-forms encoding aspect but without any specific time element attached, as shall be illustrated below.

Verbal Aspect in English

As stated, the English language features verbal aspect; however, time is (most always) attached to the verb’s form, as this section will show.16 In comparing the two pairs of sentences below, observe how each one differs from the one with which it is paired (1A compared to 1B, and 2A compared to 2B), and how each is similar to the other. Also, note how each pair is both similar to and different from the other (1A & 1B compared to 2A & 2B).

1A) I released.
1B) I was releasing.

2A) Peter comes.
2B) Peter is coming.

The first sentence of the first pair (1A) reflects simple past time, with the verb release in the English past tense-form (released). It merely states that an event happened at some point in the past (I released) without any further reference, such as how long the event lasted, when it took place (was it yesterday or last week?), etc. This particular event is depicted in its complete form, as a whole, in summary. This is known as perfective aspect.17

The verb in the first of the second pair of sentences (2A) reflects simple present time, with come in the English present tense-form (comes). All we are told in this sentence is that at the present moment Peter comes; we’ve no idea the duration, speed, etc. Simply, at the present time, Peter comes. Like the previous example, this is illustrating the event in its complete form (note: not completed), as a whole, which is, once again, perfective aspect.

In the second sentence of each pair (1B & 2B), a process, or progression, is depicted. In each one, an auxiliary (“helping”) verb is placed in front of the main verb, with the suffix -ing attached to the main verb itself to create a participle. In the first instance (1B), the auxiliary verb was is used to illustrate past time (was releasing = English past continuous tense-form, aka past progressive tense-form). In the second (2B), is is used to illustrate present time (is coming = present continuous tense-form, or present progressive tense-form). Yet, again, in both instances a process is pictured, an event was taking place (was releasing), or is taking place (is coming), over a period of time (though we still don’t know the duration, speed, etc.). Each event is viewed incompletely, rather than as a complete, whole event. This view of continuous action is illustrating imperfective aspect.18

Just as the first sentence in each pair above (1A & 2A) is expressing perfective aspect, the second sentence in each pair (1B & 2B) is expressing imperfective aspect. Yet the first pair (1A & 1B) is set in past time, while the second pair (2A & 2B) is set in present time. However, each individual pair (1A & 1B; 2A & 2B) may actually be speaking of the same exact event. The only difference is the particular perspective with which a speaker chooses to convey the information – either from a remote point of view of the event, expressing perfective aspect (1A & 2A), or one of proximity to it, expressing imperfective aspect (1B & 2B). This is a choice of verbal aspect.

To help explain, we could use the analogy of a newscaster reporting a parade.19 If the newscaster is in a helicopter, she reports the parade perfectively.  If the newscaster is at street level reporting the parade as it unfolds in front of her, she is reporting it imperfectively.  In the pair of sentences reflecting perfective aspect (1A & 2A), the view is from the outside, seeing the event as a whole, undifferentiated, from a distance – a remote perspective – “without reference to its internal structure.”20 This is the view from the helicopter, from a position remote from the event.  Alternatively, in the pair reflecting imperfective aspect (1B & 2B), the view is from the ‘inside’, one of nearness – a proximate perspective –viewed such that “its internal structure is…unfolding.”21 This is the view at street level, from a position very near, in close proximity, or ‘within’ the event.

Regrouping the sentences above by verbal aspect:

Perfective aspect:

1A) I released. (past time)
2A) Peter comes. (present time)

Imperfective aspect:

1B) I was releasing. (past time)
2B) Peter is coming. (present time)

It is important to stress that both imperfective aspect and perfective aspect can be used for either present time or past time events (or even future). Continuing with our parade analogy, the parade itself may have occurred yesterday, but it can still be described imperfectively – as a process. That is, though the parade is no longer in progress, it can still be described as a progression or process, from street level:

I was watching the parade. (past time event reported using imperfective aspect)

Conversely, even if the parade is currently in progress, it may be viewed perfectively, as a complete event (not completed), from the helicopter:

I watch the parade. (present time event reported using perfective aspect)

So, to recap, today I may see the parade, describing it either perfectively (I watch the parade) or imperfectively (I am watching the parade); yet, if tomorrow I wish to tell someone else about it, I can still describe it either perfectively (I watched the parade) or imperfectively (I was watching the parade). To provide a summary report of an event or situation, i.e., from a remote viewpoint, the perfective aspect is used. On the other hand, if the desire is to provide more details in order to draw the reader into the event or situation – a proximate, up-close perspective – the imperfective aspect is employed.

Part 2 will provide an explanation of verbal aspect in NT Greek, then proceed to a discussion of the perfective aspect, exhibited solely by the aorist tense-form, illustrating the diversity of temporal references of the form in various NT contexts.

 

1   Marianne Meye Thompson, The God in the Gospel of John, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001, p vii.

2   Stanley E. Porter, “Greek Language and Linguistics,” in Porter, Studies in the Greek New Testament: Theory and Practice (Studies in Biblical Greek 6), New York: Peter Lang, 1996, p 12. This essay originally appeared in The Expository Times 103 (1991-92), T & T Clark, pp 202-208. The self-study on the part of this writer should not be confused with anything approaching competency.

3   With respect to work in NT Koine Greek, verbal aspect here is new in the sense that it understands aspect as the sole property encoded in a verb’s morphological form (semantics), with Aktionsart not intrinsic to the verbal form but instead a pragmatic function determined by the lexical meaning of the verb in a particular context in conjunction with its morphological form; however, the most important distinction is the understanding that temporal reference is not intrinsic to the verbal form, time being yet another pragmatic function determined by lexical features and context (see below). As to the validity of adopting new approaches to NT Greek study Porter states (“Greek Language and Linguistics”), “Just because the languages are called ancient does not mean that the methods for studying them must be ancient also” (p 18). And, quoting A. T. Robertson (A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 4th ed., Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1934 (1914)): “It is not possible…to write the final grammar of Greek either ancient or modern. The modern is constantly changing and we are ever learning more of the old” (p 32). Porter further comments, lamenting that (“In Defense of Verbal Aspect” in Porter, Studies in the GNT), “For whatever reason…the discipline of biblical studies hesitates to appropriate fully developments in other related and potentially productive areas of knowledge. These include…modern linguistics” (pp 22-23). [The latter first appeared as an essay in Biblical Greek Language and Linguistics: Open Questions in Current Research, JSNTS, Sup 80, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993.] In addition, George H. Guthrie observes (“Boats in the Bay: Reflections on the Use of Linguistics and Literary Analysis in Biblical Studies,” in Stanley E. Porter & D. A. Carson, eds. Linguistics and the New Testament: Critical Junctures, {Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 168: Studies in New Testament Greek, 5} Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), “It does not take a tremendous amount of perception to recognize the fragmented nature of current New Testament studies” (p 25); and he later asserts, “We must continue to ask questions of our methodologies as well as of the text” (p 32).

4   Rodney J. Decker, “Verbal Aspect in Recent Debate: Objections to Porter’s Non-Temporal View of the Verb,” a paper presented at the Evangelical Theological Society, March 30, 2001, hosted by Philadelphia Biblical University, Langhorne, PA, p 1; emphasis added. This paper is an adaptation of a section of Decker’s Temporal Deixis of the Greek Verb in the Gospel of Mark with Reference to Verbal Aspect, (Studies in Biblical Greek 10), New York: Peter Lang, 2001, pp 38-49. Decker similarly states in the Peter Lang work: “The implications of adopting Porter’s approach to aspect are significant and far-reaching in light of the fact that it affects the exegesis of the text…especially true for arguments based on the assumed temporal reference of the verb forms” (p 2).

5    Stanley E. Porter, Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood, (Studies in Biblical Greek 1), New York: Peter Lang, 1993 (1989). Hereafter: Porter, VAGNT. Porter draws from various journal articles by K. L. McKay, as well as his full-length grammar: K. L. McKay, Greek Grammar for Students: A Concise Grammar of Classical Attic with Special Reference to Aspect in the Verb, Canberra: Australian National University, 1974. The Bernard Comrie book noted as influential to Porter is Aspect: An Introduction to the Study of Verbal Aspect and Related Problems, (Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976 – see Porter, VAGNT, pp 39-65.

6   Robert E. Picirilli, former academic dean at Free Will Bible College, Nashville, TN, critiqued Porter’s volume (“The Meaning of the Tenses in New Testament Greek: Where Are We?” in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS), 48-3 (September 2005)) as “extremely tough reading”, opining that Porter is “too much controlled by technical linguistic terminology”, noting that such “insider vocabulary” is a pedagogical impediment (p 541).

7   These include the various works by Rodney J. Decker cited throughout this current article, especially “Poor Man’s Porter” (full citation just below); the Picirilli work cited just above; Kenneth L. McKay, A New Syntax of the Verb in the New Greek New Testament: An Aspectual Approach, (Studies in Biblical Greek 5), New York: Peter Lang, 1994, pp 35-38 (he critiques Buist M. Fanning’s work in this area as well); Dave Mathewson, “Rethinking Greek Verb Tenses in Light of Verbal Aspect: How Much Do Our Modern Labels Really Mean?”, a paper from Gordon College, Wenham, MA, Spring 2006; and, Porter himself who defends and explains his work while critiquing Fanning and McKay, “In Defense of Verbal Aspect,” pp 21-38.

8   Rodney J. Decker, “The Poor Man’s Porter”: A condensation and summarization of Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood by Stanley E. Porter (New York: Peter Lang, 1993), a paper written while Decker was Asst. Prof of NT Studies, Calvary Theological Seminary, Kansas City, MO, October 1994. In this work Decker goes through VAGNT section by section, summarizing yet presenting the material in more reader-friendly language (to those with some Greek studies under their belt), while more clearly defining linguistic terminology, and providing specific examples from the work (focusing only on the NT, though Porter also looks to non-biblical literature for more illustration of his concepts).

9   Constantine R. Campbell, Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.   Campbell here provides helpful graphics to assist in comprehension, using numerous Biblical examples, translating all the Greek, while highlighting the specific verbs to which he refers, providing easy reference for the novice or struggling student.

10   One caveat is his claim that the future tense-form encodes perfective aspect (pp 39, 83-102); see notes 12 and 22 below. Another caveat is Campbell’s view of the Koine Greek perfect tense-form as encoding imperfective aspect (pp 32, 103-117); though see note 12 below.

11   C. R. Smith, (“Errant Aorist Interpreters”, Grace Theological Journal (GTJ) 2.2 (Fall 1981)), who investigated the aorist tense-form more than 30 years ago, states, “Even in the indicative, time is not intrinsic to the aorist tense” (p 208). And time is also not intrinsic to the other tense-forms (and moods) as well. Jeffrey T. Reed (“The Cohesiveness of Discourse: Towards a Model of Linguistic Criteria for Analyzing New Testament Discourse” in Stanley E. Porter & Jeffrey T. Reed, eds. Discourse Analysis and the New Testament: Approaches and Results, { Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 170: Studies in New Testament Greek, 4} Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999) is not quite as forceful as some: “…Recent research in Greek verbal aspect either abandons or significantly dilutes the idea of time in the verbal tense-forms” (p 39). However, the following works make the explicit claim that temporal reference is not intrinsic to the tense-forms, including the indicative: Porter, VAGNT, especially pp 75-109; Porter Idioms of the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. ((Biblical Languages: Greek 2), Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1994), pp 25, 29-42; Decker, “Poor Man’s Porter,” pp 8, 12-13; Decker, Temporal Deixis, especially pp 29-59; Decker “Verbal Aspect in Recent Debate”; McKay New Syntax, p 39; D. A. Carson Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996) pp 67-73; Mavis M. Leung, “The Narrative Function and Verbal Aspect of the Historical Present in the Fourth Gospel” in Journal of Evangelical Theological Society (JETS), 51-4 (December 2008), pp 704-708; Constantine R. Campbell, Verbal Aspect, the Indicative Mood, and Narrative: Soundings in the Greek New Testament ((Studies in Biblical Greek, 13), New York: Peter Lang, 2007), especially pp 14-16. In Campbell Basics, the author states forthrightly, “I follow Porter and Decker on the issue of tense [time]: it is not regarded as a semantic value of verbs in the indicative mood” (p 32). In Porter’s newest grammar (Stanley E. Porter, Jeffrey T. Reed, and Matthew Brook O’Donnell, Fundamentals of New Testament Greek, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), it is concisely stated that, “Verbal aspect, not time, is the fundamental meaning expressed by the Greek tense-forms” (p xix; italics in orig.).

This article will focus on verbs in the indicative mood, or, as Porter calls it, the assertive mood (VAGNT, pp 163-167; cf. Idioms, pp 50-51) – a redefinition I find very helpful.

12   To include the pluperfect: Campbell, Verbal Aspect, pp 161-237; Campbell, Basics, pp 32, 103-117. Decker reviewed Campbell’s more detailed Verbal Aspect, which serves as the basis for his Basics. This review, which is posted on Decker’s own blog, provides an overview of the work, while specifically addressing Campbell’s unique position on the plu/perfect tense-forms (as well as Campbell’s assertion that the future is perfective in aspect – also see note 22 below): http://ntresources.com/blog/?p=35.

13   Stanley E. Porter, “Tense Terminology and Greek Language Study: A Linguistic Re-Evaluation”, in Porter, Studies in the GNT: “…English is really quite different from Greek, with English using primarily periphrastic tense-forms [ED: using auxiliary verbs in conjunction with participles], having analytic rather than synthetic aspect (that is, aspect is not tied to morphology), and maintaining temporal reference in most moods” (p 42; parenthetical note Porter’s, brackets mine). In other words, analytic aspect = derived from syntax rather than morphology; synthetic aspect = derived from morphology. Porter’s work here first appeared in Sheffield Working Papers in Language and Linguistics 3 (1986), pp 77-86.

14   An example of an exception to the English forms always conveying specific time reference follows: I am going to the mall tomorrow. Here the present continuous tense-form is used for a future event; cf. Porter “Tense Terminology and Greek Language Study,” p 39. This well illustrates the importance of looking to context as a final determining factor for temporal reference, even in English. However, it must be conceded that the following is more accurate: I will be going to the mall tomorrow.

15   Of course, there’s still no escaping the fact that English tense-forms predominantly convey specific temporal reference. I’m hopeful the illustrations in the next section will add clarity.

16   This section is indebted to Decker’s class notes that both readapt and replace sections of chapter 15 of Mounce (Basics of Biblical Greek, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan) with his own material, which better explains verbal aspect to English-speaking beginning NT Greek students. See here: http://ntresources.com/blog/documents/MounceCh15rev.pdf.

17   Porter, VAGNT, p 91; Porter, Idioms, p 21; Decker, Temporal Deixis, p 26; Campbell, Basics, p 19; McKay New Syntax, pp 30-31, though McKay calls it “aorist aspect.”

18   Porter, VAGNT, p 91; Porter, Idioms, p 21; Decker, Temporal Deixis, p 26; Campbell, Basics, p 19; McKay New Syntax, pp 29-30.

19   See Porter, VAGNT, p 91; Porter, “Greek Language and Linguistics,” p 16; Porter, Idioms, p 24; cf. Campbell, Basics, pp 19-20.

20   Buist M. Fanning, Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek, (Oxford Theological Monographs), Oxford: Clarendon, 1990, p 27, as cited in Campbell, Basics, p 19. Cf. Porter, Idioms, p 21.

21   Porter, Idioms, p 21.

 

Who Led the Exodus? – A Text Critical Study in Jude 5

18 So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle.
19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.”
20 After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert 21 By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. [Exodus 13:18-22, NIV]

In reading the Scripture above, it is clear that it was God / the LORD (YHWH) who led the nation Israel out of Egypt “in a pillar of a cloud” by day and “in a pillar of fire” by night. The New Testament book of Jude makes reference to this same event, with the author using it to make his own theological point in his short epistle:

5 Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe. [NIV]

5 But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. [NKJV]

5 Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe. [NASB]

These translations all vary a bit but are consistent in their use of “the Lord.” Here “the Lord” is (seemingly) used just like it is in Exodus 13:21 above as another designation for God / YHWH. But let’s look at this same verse in Jude in the English Standard Version (ESV):

5 Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.

How can it be that Jesus led the Exodus? He wasn’t even to be incarnated/born until many years later! The ESV (as well as NLT and NET) must be wrong, right? Not necessarily. This is where the discipline of NT textual criticism (TC) comes into play.

Noted in a few other articles on this site is the fact that there are upwards of 6000 extant NT manuscripts (hereafter mss for plural; ms for singular), from scraps to complete New Testaments. Yet there are some variations due to scribal error or well-meaning “corrections.” We must keep in mind that up until the advent of the printing press in the mid-15th century the only way to copy any document was by hand, and this is where variations have occurred (not that even modern day printing processes are immune from errors, of course).

Following is a brief investigation of this variant in Jude 5. First we’ll assess the external evidence, the task of comparing extant mss with each other, with a focus on date, character and text-type. Then we’ll proceed to the internal evidence – (1) looking at transcriptional probabilities related to scribes, endeavoring to determine the reading most likely original, and (2) assessing the feasibility of the chosen variant’s originality in view of its suitability with the author of Jude’s style, the context, etc.

External Evidence

While there are other textual variations within this same verse (as one can see from the four different translations cited above which vary at points), of more importance theologically is the focus of this current article, namely the main subject of this verse. Following is a brief rundown of the known variants:1

ὁ κύριος (ho kyrios), the Lord (two mss delete the article ὁ)

Ἰησοῦς (Iēsous), Jesus (two mss include ὁ)

ὁ θεός (ho Theos), {the} God

θεὸς Χριστός (Theos Christos), God Christ/Messiah, or Christ/Messiah God (which may have been intended as θεοῦ χριστός (Theou Christos), God’s anointed one)

How does the text critic choose? We’ll perform an abbreviated investigation by looking at some of the more important mss. In general, earlier mss are to be preferred over later ones within a given text-type, though there are many other factors too numerous to enumerate for our limited purposes here.

The mss reflecting ὁ κύριος (the Lord) are the most numerous. The large majority of mss evidencing this reading is from what is known as the Byzantine (Byz) text-type, dated 5th century and later, though here none are earlier than the 9th century.2 The relative consistency in this particular text-type, especially later mss, however, may well be attributed to copyists being more careful in their transcriptional habits during the Byzantine era, replicating more faithfully both presumably correct readings and earlier errors. Another characteristic of the Byz is a smoother text grammatically (presumed purposefully amended by scribes, according to some text critics). There are two mss omitting the article (the) in front of κύριος, both of which are of the Alexandrian text-type, the one typically asserted to be superior to the other texts by NT textual critics (rightly or wrongly). One of these is the ms designated (Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet), aka Sinaiticus (01), dated to the 4th century (perhaps approx. 325 – 375). The other is Ψ (044) from the 9th c. A reading including ℵ (01) is generally considered to be reliable by many text critics. In addition, there is one extant Syriac version (translation from the Greek) with this reading (7th c.). Overall, this is good, or very good evidence.

The mss with the reading of Ἰησοῦς (Jesus) include A (02), aka Alexandrinus (5th c.), B (03), aka Vaticanus (4th c., perhaps 325 – 375), 33 (9th c.), 1739 (10th c.), 1881 (14th c.). These five are Alexandrian, with B considered by many to be superior to all or most other extant mss.3 Two readings in the Western text-type are extant, though both include the article (88, 12th c.; 915, undated). Importantly, Ἰησοῦς is also included in Coptic versions dated to the 4th – 5th and 9th centuries, and this reading is included in the Latin Vulgate as well. There are also a few early church figures whose works include this reading: Origen, Cyril, Jerome, and Bede.4 This is very good evidence, and arguably stronger than the evidence for κύριος by most standards of TC, in view of its multiple Alexandrian mss support, particularly B (02) and A (01), early versional evidence, and its more diverse geographical distribution.

The other two readings are not well attested and will not be specifically delineated. The θεὸς Χριστός (God Christ) variant is an anomaly, an obvious blunder, extant solely in one ms, while ὁ θεός (God) is found only in a relative few mss, most of which are late.

As stated, on the whole, the mss evidence slightly favors Ἰησοῦς as original. However, it needs to be mentioned that many would find an agreement of the Alexandrian B (03) with (01) by itself fully persuasive (rightly or wrongly), and obviously the two have contradictory readings here. Moreover, there’s a very small minority of NT text critics who place a greater value on the Byz mss than the generally more highly lauded Alexandrine, and with the split readings of Ἰησοῦς and κύριος within the Alexandrian mss, one with this view may well favor ὁ κύριος instead.5

This concludes our brief survey of the external evidence, now we’ll turn to the internal evidence, first investigating how nomina sacra, Latin for sacred names (singular nomen sacrum), may have influenced copyists in our chosen passage.

Internal Evidence: Habits of Scribes

Nomina sacra were used for certain names or epithets such as God, Jesus, Christ, Lord, etc. A typical practice was to take the first letter of the word reflecting the sacred name, pair it with the last letter or the second letter of the word (and sometimes more than two characters were used), and add a straight line over the resulting contractions. This practice began in the early church, adopted when the Greek text was written in majuscule – essentially all capital letters. The text itself was handwritten in block letters with no breaks between words, sentences, or even paragraphs. This would provide a real challenge for the copyist (and the reader)!

However, though NT mss are in evidence with nomina sacra, we’ve no basis to assert with any certitude that the original NT text actually contained these designations. It could be that these iconic contractions were in fact original to the NT text, or it could be that the nomina sacra were introduced by later copyists, perhaps as a way of displaying reverence.

Following are the relevant nomina sacra for our chosen text in Jude 5:

Jesus: Ίησου̃ϛ, ΊΗCΟΥC = Ι͞C

Lord: κύριοϛ, ΚΥΡΙΟC = K͞C

God: θεός, ΘΕΟC = Θ͞C

As Metzger notes, F. J. A. Hort (of Westcott and Hort fame) hypothesized that “the original text had only ὁ (the article, the), and that OTIO was read as OTIΙ͞C and perhaps as OTIK͞C…”6 To explain, ὅτι (OTI) is the Greek word translated that (or because), which precedes the article ὁ (O) in this context, and Hort conjectured that the article was alone in the original text either as a substantive (with the verb σώσας, sosas, from sozo, as in “He who redeems”7), or with the subject assumed given the context (with the referent going back to Jude 4’s κύριοϛ / Ίησου̃ϛ Χριστός8).9 Let’s try to work out Hort’s hypothesis:

• OTIO {OTI | O } (that the) was misread as OTII̅C̅ {OTI | Ι͞C}, with the combination “IO” (the “I” being the last letter of “OTI” in combination with the following “O,” the article) read as “IIC” as a result of dittography – the error of reading an extra character through duplication – in which an extra “I” was placed between “I” and “O” and with the final “O” mistaken for a “C,” resulting in OTI + I + C = OTIIC, transcribed as OTIΙ͞C, thereby erroneously dropping the original O (article) by replacing it with Ι͞C.

• OTIO {OTI | O} was misread as OTIK͞C {OTI | K͞C}, perhaps with the following or similar scenario: the combination “IO” was read with an extra “I” in the middle through dittography (OTIIO) (or a previous copyist had already inadvertently added the “I”) while assuming, in addition, that this second “I” was the vertical portion of a split “K” and the following “O” read as the remainder of this split “K”10 plus a “C” was also added in a second mistake of dittography (OTI + K + C). In other words, OTI + O was read with an extra “I” in the middle resulting in OTI + I + O plus an extra C was added at the end resulting OTI + I + O + C, which was read as OTI + (I+C) + C = OTI + K + C, resulting in OTIKC, and then transcribed as OTIK͞C, thereby erroneously dropping the O (article) by replacing it with K͞C. [WHEW!]

Of the two, the first of these seems more plausible, for it requires a lesser amount of mistakes (the addition of one “I” through dittography while mistaking the article “O” for a “C”). The second appears to require quite a ‘comedy of errors’ in order achieve the result; however, this second scenario could more easily arise from the error of the first, with a subsequent copyist mistaking OTIΙ͞C for OTIK͞C (seeing “IC” as a “K”, then the “C” duplicated through dittography), resulting in a compounding of mistakes.

Of course, the much less complex, and more likely argument could be made that a copyist simply erroneously or purposely substituted the Ι͞C in his exemplar (the ms from which he was copying) for K͞C, or the reverse of K͞C for Ι͞C, whether or not the article (O) was preceding the nomen sacrum. (The O could have been inadvertently added or deleted, or purposely added in any of the variants above – scribes were less likely to purposely delete the article.) This then would more easily account for the variant readings of Ίησου̃ϛ and κύριοϛ. A similar error can account for the reading of θεὸς (Θ͞C), with Θ͞C substituted for either Ι͞C or K͞C (and Θ͞C could feasibly be factored into Hort’s conjecturing above).

As for determining which individual reading is likely original, there are a few tenets in TC such that the text critic should prefer:

(a) the more ‘difficult’ reading
(b) shorter readings over longer ones, except in the case of presumed or obvious intentional or unintentional omission (and, possibly, unless the longer is more difficult)
(c) a verbally dissident reading (one not harmonizing well with other associated text) as compared to a verbally consonant one
(d) the reading which most likely accounts for the arising of the others.

Clearly Ίησου̃ϛ (Ι͞C) is the more difficult reading, i.e., the harder reading from the scribe’s perspective, as the more natural reading would be either κύριοϛ (K͞C) or θεός (Θ͞C). With Ίησου̃ϛ in the text, we have Jesus leading the Exodus – a ‘difficult’ reading, most certainly.

One variant is not demonstrably longer or shorter than another (save the longer θεὸς Χριστός, which is an obvious anomaly), so this tenet does not come into play. We’ve covered some potential omissions and/or additions, but nothing seems to present itself as more obvious than another, including the presence or absence of the article, which is not an uncommon variant in general. Item (c) is much like (a) here, as Jude 5 is, as mentioned just above, an obvious paraphrasing of the Exodus, and Ίησου̃ϛ (Ι͞C) is clearly a verbally dissident reading.

If the difficult reading of Ίησου̃ϛ (Ι͞C) is original, it is easy to conceive of subsequent copyists amending the text to something more ‘probable,’ assuming their exemplar was in error, thereby accounting for κύριοϛ and θεός cropping into the text (and even θεὸς Χριστός). It is much less probable for a scribe to change either κύριοϛ (K͞C) or θεός (Θ͞C) to Ίησου̃ϛ (Ι͞C), because Ίησου̃ϛ (Ι͞C) would be perceived as too difficult, unless it was changed due to a very thoughtless transcriptional error. Therefore, Ίησου̃ϛ is most likely the reading from which the others arose (d).

However, the UBS (United Bible Society) committee – the committee which determines the text of the UBS, the Greek text underlying most modern Bible translations (though translation committees can and do override some selections) – largely felt that Ίησου̃ϛ, though well attested externally, was “difficult to the point of impossibility,” explaining that K͞C must have been misread as Ι͞C.11 But this begs the question: Wouldn’t a scribe most likely have been taken aback by the difficult reading of Ι͞C, and, hence, double-checked his exemplar before placing it into his copy? In fact, two (Bruce Metzger and Alan Wikgren) of the five members dissented from the majority opinion regarding this variant, stating in a bracketed note in the associated commentary:

Critical principles seem to require the adoption of Ίησου̃ϛ, which admittedly is the best attested reading among Greek and versional witnesses…Struck by the strange and unparalleled mention of Jesus in a statement about the redemption out of Egypt (yet compare Paul’s use of Χριστός in 1 Cor 10.4), copyists would have substituted (ὁ) κύριος or ὁ θεός12

This lack of agreement among the committee members resulted in a “D” rating given for the variant, meaning “that the Committee had great difficulty in arriving at a decision” over which reading should be placed into the text.13

On the other hand, one may argue that it is possible that a scribe had amended a reading to reflect his own theological view. For example, upon seeing K͞C in the text, the scribe could have changed it to Ι͞C in order to promote a higher Christology, perhaps, e.g., due to a then-current heresy denying Jesus Christ’s preexistence. However, it would seem that if a scribe were inclined to take this sort of liberty he may well place the complete Ι͞CΧ͞C (Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Jesus Christ) in the text instead, in order to increase the likelihood that his change would continue on, rather than leaving open the possibility of a future scribal error of confusing Ι͞C for K͞C, thus reverting back to the reading initially found in his exemplar.14 In any case, though this scenario is possible it is not likely, as most text critics have found that deliberate emendations were well-meaning “corrections,” not purposeful distortions to further individual agendas.15 Generally, as noted above, most agree that scribes were not likely to place more difficult readings into the text.

Considering all the mss evidence, particularly scribal transcriptional probabilities, Ἰησοῦς (Ι͞C) is most likely the original reading for Jude 5.

Internal Evidence: Style of Jude and Fittingness to the Context

Now, having concluded that Ίησου̃ϛ is the most probable original reading by analyzing both the external evidence and the internal evidence of the mss, we turn to whether the writer of Jude would have used this admittedly difficult text. We’ll look at the overall context and Jude’s style to make our determination, first looking at the immediate context, going back to verse 4 and its relation to verse 5. However, there’s an important variant in Jude 4 commanding our brief attention, though it is beyond the scope of this article to conduct a full investigation.

Immediate Context

A typical reading in the Byz text in translation in verse 4 is “who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (NKJV), with “God” just after the first “Lord.” This first “Lord” is δεσπότηϛ (despotēs) in the Greek, and usually refers to God in the NT, though, importantly, 2 Peter 2:1 applies this to Jesus Christ as Redeemer, and Luke (13:25) puts the very similar οἰκοδεσπότης16 on Jesus’ lips in a parable obviously referring to Himself in a similar fashion. The second “Lord” (kύριοϛ) is the one most usually associated with Jesus in the NT, though it is also used for “God.” There are many extant Alexandrian mss containing this passage, with none evidencing the second “God” (θεός) in the text; in fact, by current TC practices the reading is overwhelmingly decisive (mss include: P78 {3rd to 4th c.} A B C Ψ 33 81 1739 + cop {Coptic}) against the Byz (with the earliest ms from the 9th c.). Most textual critics are of the opinion that the Byz text added “God” to alleviate referring to Jesus by this particular term.

A representative Alexandrian reading is reflected in the ESV: “who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” Note that in place of two separate Members of the Trinity (or the Trinity and Jesus) in the latter part of this verse as in the NKJV, the ESV associates the two epithets “Master” (δεσπότηϛ) and “Lord” (κύριοϛ) with Jesus Christ instead. The difference, then, is of significance. For our purposes here we’ll adopt the NA28/UBS4 text, as reflected in the ESV and most modern translations.

To add credence to our position that Jude ascribed δεσπότηϛ to Jesus, the term is defined in the BDAG as one who has legal control and authority over persons, such as subjects or slaves.17 Of course, the NT is abounding with references to Christians as slaves, and Jude refers to himself as a slave/servant (δοῦλος, doulos) of Jesus Christ in his introduction, as was common. Bauckham notes that the term “is appropriate to the image of Jesus as the Master of his household of slaves,” citing the 2 Peter and Luke verses above, though also noting that κύριοϛ was more numerously applied to Jesus Christ, having “acquired much broader and more exalted connotations” including possessing the authority for divine judgment.18 Applying both terms to Jesus Christ would provide a powerful means of conveying His divine power and authority as Lord/Master, Redeemer, Keeper, and Judge – all functions the author of Jude applies to Jesus, as we shall see.

With this established as our base text for verse 4, it is plausible, if not probable, that the writer of Jude was carrying over the subject – Jesus Christ – from verse 4 into verse 5. However, in verse 5 the context demands an interpretation such that the subject was present during the Exodus, meaning that placing Ίησου̃ϛ into the text would explicitly assert that the pre-incarnate Jesus was the instrument of the nation Israel’s deliverance out of Egypt. This, of course, would necessarily include the claim of Jesus’ preexistence. Is this really probable in the immediate context and the whole of Jude’s epistle? Let’s investigate further.

Verse 5’s initial subordinate clause “though you already know all this” (NIV) may refer, not just to the Exodus passage, but to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 corresponding to the Exodus passage – or at least the theology behind that passage.19 More specifically, the writer of Jude may have verse 10:4 in mind, “…for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ” (NIV).

Taking this more broadly, 1 Corinthians 10:3-4 speaks of spiritual food (manna) and spiritual drink (the water from the rock), with this sustenance provided by Christ (cf. John 6 for Jesus Himself as the manna). As Blomberg expounds, “From a Christian perspective, Paul recognizes Christ as the pre-existent Son of God, active with God the Father in creation and redemption, and hence the agent of both physical and spiritual nourishment for his people in the desert (v. 4b).”20 If this is Jude’s referent, then this correlates quite nicely with his greeting to those who “are kept by Jesus Christ”21 (v 1), as well as his closing doxology (vv 24-25) “to him who is able to keep you…through Jesus Christ our Lord” – thus bookending his epistle with an emphasis on Jesus Christ’s power, as agent, to redeem and sustain His people.

Certainly we can see a correlation between Paul’s use of Christ as Sustainer and Jude’s use of Christ as Keeper; but, does Jude expressly proclaim Jesus’ preexistence elsewhere in his epistle? Yes he does. In the doxology, we find Jude explicitly calling God “our Savior” (σωτήρ, sotēr) (v 25) with Jesus Christ the mediator of that salvation (vv 24-25) before all time. Murray J. Harris translates verse 25 as: to the only God, our Savior, is glory, majesty, power, and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all time, and now, and for ever and ever.22 Harris then adds:

“Glory, majesty, power, and authority” belonged to God through Jesus Christ “before time began”…that is, in eternity past, and these attributes belong to God at present (νῦν) and will do so “to all eternity”…/”for evermore.” This unique eternal mediatorial work of Christ in ascribing all glory, majesty, power, and authority to God implies both his preexistence and his deity.23

We’ve now established how Jude proclaims Jesus’ preexistence elsewhere in his epistle, thereby removing this particular barrier for placing Ίησου̃ϛ into Jude 5; but, if Jesus was ‘merely’ the agent of the Father in the nation Israel’s redemption (as Blomberg asserts above) as well as our own, is Ίησου̃ϛ still too strong for the context of verse 5? In other words, given that Jesus is acting as agent of the Father, is it improper to state that it was Jesus who led the Exodus? No it is not. As an analogy, under US contract law an employee given the authority to sign contracts for the business owner is acting “as agent” for the owner. Any agreement entered into by this employee is legally binding on the owner and third parties to the contract, as long as the employee is acting within the scope of authority given by the owner. The owner’s power and authority has been conferred onto the employee in such instances. Under the eyes of the law, this signor is seen as having the same authority and power as the owner, which is then binding on all parties to the contract. In the same way, Jesus Christ, as agent of the Father, has the same authority and power as the Father and is, in effect, acting as the Father.

Having illustrated that the immediate context does not preclude the use Ίησου̃ϛ in verse 5, and, in fact, can be supported by Jude’s proclamation of Jesus’ preexistence in the doxology, along with a proper understanding of Jesus’ acting “as agent” of the Father, we turn to the larger context and overall style of this epistle.

Overall Context and Style of Jude

A particularly important theme of the book of Jude is judgment, both its positive aspect of redemption, and its negative aspect of destruction. That Jesus would be portrayed as both the Redeemer and the Judge dispensing eternal judgment is consistent with NT theology (cf. Mat 24:30-31; John 5:21-22, 24-25, 27-30; etc.). As noted above, in Jude Jesus Christ is both the Redeemer and the one who keeps the redeemed (vv 1, 24-25), though some are want to rebel against His authority (v 8), mixing in with those He is ‘keeping’ (v 4). Yet Jesus Christ allows, by His mercy, through the vessels of the redeemed (v 22-23), those of these who repent to become part of the fold. This brings us to a very important point in our analysis, which is found in verse 14, for it’s those who yet continue to rebel who will reap eschatological judgment by the eternal Judge.

Jude references the well-known (at that time) pseudepigraphical work known as 1 Enoch in Jude 14-15.24 In verse 14 the text is changed from θεὸς in its source (1 Enoch 1:9) to kύριοϛ, “…the Lord is coming…”25 This is significant, as Jude uses kύριοϛ exclusively for Jesus Christ in his epistle, as opposed to God, meaning that Jude has most likely changed 1 Enoch’s eschatological Judge from a Jewish monotheistic conception of God to Jesus Christ here.26 To see how Jude reserves kύριοϛ for Jesus Christ, observe how he uses this term in conjunction with the full designation of Jesus Christ in verses 4 (along with δεσπότηϛ), 17, 21, and 25, yet in these very same verses Jude references God, but not as kύριοϛ.27 Thus, while in verse 14 kύριοϛ stands alone, almost assuredly Jesus is the intended referent.28 Given the other evidence presented above, such as Jesus being portrayed as eternal Keeper, Redeemer, etc. we’ll adopt the position that Jude’s intention was, in fact, to make this distinction, as this appears the most probable understanding, given the full context of his epistle.

Looking at verses 5 through 19 as a whole, we will see how Jude has masterfully taken OT and extra-biblical references and (re)interpreted them Christologically, i.e., Jude has changed the referent in the original works from God to Jesus Christ.29 First, it’s important to understand that, by the full context of verses 5 through 19, the main subject is Jesus Christ (carried over from verse 4). That is, the subject of verse 5 runs through the intervening context, and that subject is Jesus Christ (see v 17), as confirmed through Jude’s alteration of θεὸς in 1 Enoch to kύριοϛ in Jude 14. And, of course, we’re arguing in the current article that Jude has changed the reference in Exodus from God / the Lord / YHWH to Ίησου̃ϛ in verse 5.30 In verse 9 there is a presumed reference to an apocryphal (non-canonical) book known as The Assumption of Moses, in the words regarding the dispute between Michael the archangel and the devil over the body of Moses;31 and it stands to reason that Jude refers to Jesus in verse 9 as well with “The Lord rebuke you!”32 That is, Jude here likely means for us to understand “the Lord” as referencing Jesus, since the overall context of this section strongly implies such an interpretation.33

Having found both the immediate context of Jude 5, and the larger context of Jude’s epistle as a whole, as well as the style of the writer (his altering of “God” in OT and an extra-Biblical text to kύριοϛ, coupled with his exclusive usage of kύριοϛ for Jesus Christ, for example) consistent with a reading of Ίησου̃ϛ for verse 5, there is good reason to accept Ίησου̃ϛ as the original text.

Conclusion

The mss evidence indicates that either Ίησου̃ϛ or kύριοϛ is original to the text of Jude 5, with Ίησου̃ϛ slightly favored. However, by our analysis, employing common principles of TC, the internal evidence of the mss points rather decisively to Ίησου̃ϛ as the original reading. Taking the immediate and larger context of Jude’s epistle, it’s clear that Jesus is the subject of verse 5; hence, we could conclude that Ίησου̃ϛ is most likely the original reading.

On the other hand, Jude also uses kύριοϛ exclusively for Jesus; in fact, as noted above, in four separate contexts the terms kύριοϛ and Ἰησοῦς Χριστός are used together (vv 4, 17, 21, 25), underscoring this. This means that either Ίησου̃ϛ or kύριοϛ would be appropriate in the context. Moreover, kύριοϛ is employed in two other instances as a stand-alone term for Jesus (v 14 assuredly and v 9 presumably). If we accept our conclusion above that Ίησου̃ϛ is original, this would leave only one instance of Jude’s usage of Ίησου̃ϛ as a stand-alone. While this is certainly possible, as one cannot dogmatically assert that Jude could not have done so, the aforementioned can cast a bit of doubt over just which term Jude placed in the text originally.34 Thus, while we’ve argued here for the originality of Ίησου̃ϛ for Jude 5, it seems that others could argue for kύριοϛ, based on different TC practices,35 and on the presumed difficulty of placing Ίησου̃ϛ in the text,36 as evidenced by the split in the UBS committee above.

However, F. F. Bruce puts everything in proper perspective, so we’ll quote him at some length:

…[S]ome authorities read “the Lord”, others “God” and yet others, giving us no name at all, read “he who saved….”…But the principle that the more difficult reading is to be preferred points to “Jesus” as the original, and indeed the variety of other readings can best be explained as substitutions for “Jesus”…It was Moses who led his people out of Egypt, but Moses did so under superior leadership. It was the Lord who “brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their host”, it was the Lord who “went before them”, and it was by the decree of the Lord that the “evil generation” that came out of Egypt died in the wilderness. While Yahweh stands in the Hebrew text, the Greek version used by Jude, as by other New Testament writers, had Kyrios in its place, and for Greek-speaking Christians to whom Jesus was the kyrios or Lord par excellence it was an easy matter to understand Kyrios in the Greek Old Testament to refer to Him…37

Ίησου̃ϛ IS the Kύριοϛ and the Kύριοϛ IS Ίησου̃ϛ! Also, in the relevant Exodus passages, the original Hebrew alternated between Elohim and YHWH, with the LXX (Septuagint, Greek translation of the OT) alternating between Kύριοϛ and θεὸς θεὸς and Kύριοϛ; therefore, it could well be that Jude used Ίησου̃ϛ in order to alleviate any ambiguity that kύριοϛ may have caused, especially among his Jewish readers and congregants.

In conclusion, had the UBS committee been consistent in employing its own tenets of TC, their “great difficulty in arriving at a decision” would have been alleviated, and Ίησου̃ϛ would have been firmly placed into the text.38

– “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4 / Mark 12:29)

_____________________________________

1 The information here is, as is most of the technical information contained in this article, culled from Philip W. Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2008); Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: United Bible Societies, 1994); B. Aland, K. Aland, J. Karavidopoulos, et. al. eds. The Greek New Testament, 4th rev. ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft (German Bible Society), 2004), hereafter UBS4; and Eberhard and Erwin Nestle Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th rev. ed., B. Aland, K. Aland, J. Karavidopoulos, et. al. eds. (Münster: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft (German Bible Society), 2012), hereafter NA28.
Information of a more general nature relies in part on J. Harold Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, rev. ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995) and idem. The Text of the New Testament: From Manuscript to Modern Edition (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2008).
2 This includes the uncials (majuscules) K (018) and L (020), both dated 9th c., mss identified specifically in the UBS4 but not listed in the NA28. Majuscules were eventually superseded by miniscules – scripted, lower-case writing. Majuscules (uncials) are weighted more heavily than miniscules in TC due to their earlier provenance. It’s important to note that about 80% of the Byz text mss are miniscules dated later than the 11th century, of course, well after – over 1000 years after – the initial transmission of the NT documents. This 80% figure is found in Maurice A. Robinson, “Rule 9, Isolated Variants, and the ‘Test Tube’ Nature of NA27/UBS4 Text: A Byzantine-Priority Perspective,” in Translating the New Testament: Text, Translation, Theology, Stanley E. Porter and Mark J. Boda, eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), p 57 n 102.
3 An example of this preference may be found in what seems to be a general rather than specific statement, at least with respect to the Gospels, by Barbara Aland (“The Text of Luke 16” in Translating the New Testament): “…the Byzantine text is…a good old text, but it has a number of bad readings and we have to eliminate them and then the text is a good old text. That means that if the Byzantine text agrees with P75 and Vaticanus, then it’s a trustworthy witness. That’s my position” (p 93). Of course, P75 does not include our selection in Jude, or anything in this epistle, as it contains solely portions of the Gospels.
4 Though one must be careful not to put too much weight on patristic sources, since all extant mss are themselves copies of copies. In addition, we do not know if the patristic writer had an actual NT Greek mss in front of him, or if he was quoting from memory (correctly or not), loosely translating, paraphrasing, etc. Moreover, it’s more probable (as compared to NT scribes) that copyists of patristic exemplars made changes to the documents in Scriptural passages, conforming them to the individual copyist’s perspective of what the NT text should be. In short, until the patristic sources themselves have been submitted to the tenets of TC, they should only be used for NT TC with an appropriate amount of caution. See Greenlee Introduction, pp 46-47; cf. idem. Text of the New Testament, pp 34-35. However, the UBS4 claims to have been careful in this area, including only those fulfilling qualifying criteria: “…The citation must be capable of verification…” and it “must relate clearly to a specific passage in the New Testament…” (p 30*). Cf. pp 30* – 38*.
5 The most notable text critic adhering to this position is Maurice A. Robinson, who would certainly assert that the evidence for ὁ κύριοϛ is stronger. Robinson goes so far as to argue for Byzantine priority, i.e., that the Byz is superior to the Alexandrine, with the Byz more likely closer to the original text. See Robinson, “The Case for Byzantine Priority” in Rethinking New Testament Textual Criticism, David Alan Black, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002), pp 125-139; idem. “Rule 9, Isolated Variants, and the ‘Test Tube’ Nature of NA27/UBS4 Text,” pp 27-61.
6 Metzger, TCGNT, p 657. Parenthetical remark added for clarity. For one example of a position against such conjecturing, specifically addressing Matthew but which can be applied more broadly, see David Alan Black, “Conjectural Emendations in the Gospel of Matthew,” Novum Testamentum XXXI (1989), pp 1-15.
7 Here the article takes on a pronoun function. See Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), pp 231, 233-234. Cf. David Alan Black, It’s Still Greek To Me (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), pp 76-79, esp. 79, item 8; Wallace, GGBTB, pp 211-213.
8 One such example of NT usage of an article with the subject assumed anaphorically (from a previous reference) is in Matthew 24, verses 17 and 18, in which the referent is verse 16’s οἱ ἐν τῇ Ἰουδαίᾳ (those who are in Judea, more literally, the ones in (the) Judea). In addition, all three (vv 16, 17, & 18) are examples of nominalizing prepositional phrases; see Wallace, GGBTB, p 236. Many thanks are due to Jacob Cerone, Dr. David Alan Black’s assistant, for finding this.
9 Ironically, Hort’s conjecture here militates against his own assertion (with Westcott) that the Alexandrian text is the “Neutral text” (a position that is claimed to have been abandoned by modern text critics), given that the article is missing in all the Alexandrian witnesses above.
10 See the following for an example of a ‘split K’ (ms X, aka 033, 10th c.) – this will take a long time (10± minutes) to download, as the file is very large: http://images.csntm.org/Manuscripts/GA_033/GA_033.pdf
Scroll to page 7, to find the English cursive handwriting “Joh. Cp. 1”. To the left of that English is John 1:1 written in majuscule (uncial) – though most of the accompanying text is in miniscule. In this first line (and also the second) of John 1 is “KAI” (and, in this context) with a disconnected “K” (there is a dot just before this split “K”), appearing like “IC” instead. The line reads:
ΕΝΑΡΧΗΗΝΟΛΟΓΟCΚΑΙΟΛΟΓΟCHN
which, separated into words is:
ΕΝ ΑΡΧΗ ΗΝ Ο ΛΟΓΟC ΚΑΙ Ο ΛΟΓΟC HN
Transliterated:
en archē ēn ho logos kai ho logos ēn
Translated:
In (the) beginning was the Word and the Word was
In addition, the second line illustrates examples of nomina sacra for θεὸς: Θ͞N (θεόν, the accusative / direct object case) and Θ͞C (the nominative / subject case).
11 Metzger, TCGNT, p 657
12 Ibid.
13 Ibid, p 14*. It should be noted that in the first edition of TCGNT (London/New York: United Bible Societies, 1971 (corrected ed. 1975)) the D rating is the stronger: “that there is a very high degree of doubt concerning the reading selected for the text” (p xxviii). While this rating system had changed from the first to the second edition, the commentary itself regarding Jude 5 (and others) is identical.
14 Note the θεὸς Χριστός variant above, plus there is one ms which reads κύριος Ἰησοῦς, though this is likely an amalgamation of the two prominent readings.
15 Bauckham (Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter: Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 1983), p 43) opines that a 2nd century scribe could have changed κύριοϛ to Ίησου̃ϛ because of a then-present prevalent Jesus/Joshua typology, with the scribe presumably assuming his exemplar contained a mistake.
16 The term δεσπότηϛ is prefixed by οἰκοϛ (“house”/”dwelling”) here. Early 3rd c. ms p75 reads δεσπότηϛ instead in the Luke passage. See Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, p 39. This variant is not annotated in the UBS4 or the Comfort, but only in the NA28. Matthew 10:25 uses οἰκοδεσπότης similarly, with Jesus applying the term somewhat obliquely to Himself.
17 A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, (rev. and ed. F. W. Danker; Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2000), (3rd ed.), based on W. Bauer’s Griechisch-deutsches Wörterbuch (6th ed.) and on previous English editions by W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. W. Danker, p 220. Commonly known as “BDAG.”
18 Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, p 39.
19 Though Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthian church was specific to the church at Corinth, it seems possible that the letter was circulated; but, even if not, it’s entirely plausible that Paul’s teaching on this matter was known to Jude and his audience. Part of this may hinge on how one views the relationship of Jude to 2 Peter, as Peter makes specific mention of Paul’s letters in 2 Peter 3:15-16, though it’s unclear to which letters (all?) Peter refers. However, accepting that all Scripture is “God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16 – though the specific context here may strictly be OT, certainly this can be applied more broadly to the NT), we cannot discount the Holy Spirit’s role in Jude’s epistle.
F. F. Bruce (The New Testament Development of Old Testament Themes (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2004, © 1968 Paternoster; formerly This Is That), pp 34-36) recognizes Ίησου̃ϛ as being original to Jude 5; yet, while understanding the importance of these verses in 1 Corinthians 10 as applying to Jesus Christ’s preexistence, he does not explicitly relate Jude 5 to the Corinthian passage directly, though this can be inferred from the context.  However, in another work of Bruce (1 and 2 Corinthians: The New Century Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990, © 1971 Marshall, Morgan & Scott), p 91), he comes closer yet, explaining that the Hebrew (not LXX) has YHWH as ‘The Rock,’ with Christ identified as such in 1 Cor 10:4, and “if not indeed with ‘the Lord’ (LXX kyrios) who went before his people, rescued them from their enemies and healed them in the wilderness…” (p 91).
20 Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians: The NIV Application Commentary, Terry Muck, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), pp 191-92. Cf. Gordon D. Fee (The First Epistle to the Corinthians: NICNT, Ned. B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, & idem., gen. eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), pp 443-451.
21 The perfect participle τετηρημένοις (kept) indicates a continuous keeping, being kept. The NIV 1984 interprets this as a dative of agency (by Jesus Christ); however, the NIV 2011 changes it to a dative of advantage (for Jesus Christ, i.e., for the advantage of “those who have been called”), with the dative of agency interpretation relegated to a footnote (along with the possible interpretation as a dative of instrumentality (in)), thereby corresponding to the general consensus among translators/translations; cf. Daniel B. Wallace, GGBTB, pp 144, 165; Peter H. Davids, II Peter and Jude: A Handbook on the Greek Text, (Waco, TX: Baylor Univ. Pr., 2011), pp 1, 2. However, the interpretation as a dative of agency (which is closely related to instrumentality) in v 1 (Wallace recognizes this possibility) seems to correspond better with διὰ (through) in v 25: “to him who is able to keep you…through Jesus Christ our Lord…”
22 Murray J. Harris, Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament: An Essential Reference Resource for Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), p 96. Emphasis added.
23 Ibid, p 97. Bauckham (Jude, 2 Peter, pp 123-124) is more tentative, viewing the context, as with doxologies in general, as possibly, if not likely, “deliberately ambiguous” in this regard.
24 The Pseudepigrapha is a collection of individual works circa 2nd century BC to 2nd century AD, with each falsely attributed to various important Biblical figures. The work 1 Enoch is also known as “the Book of Enoch,” but there are two other pseudepigraphical works attributed to Enoch, hence, they are differentiated thusly: 1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, and 3 Enoch. 1 Enoch is the one with which most are familiar, and the one Jude is referencing here.
25 See Bauckham (Jude, 2 Peter), p 94. Verification of the Greek text (θεὸς as opposed to κύριος) for 1 Enoch sourced from Accordance software (Version 5.2), Pseudepigrapha Tagged: The Greek Pseudepigrapha (PSEUD-T), © 2013 by OakTree Software, Inc. (Electronic text entered by Craig A. Evans, Acadia Divinity College, Wolfville, Nova Scotia CANADA; Morphologically tagged by Rex A. Koivisto, Multnomah University, Portland, Oregon USA with the assistance of Marco V. Fabbri, Pontificia Università della S. Croce, Rome, Italy (Sibyllines tagged by Marco V. Fabbri; 3 and 4 Maccabees entered and tagged by Rex A. Koivisto).
26 Bauckham (Jude, 2 Peter) notes that this is “probably…a Christological interpretation” (p 94).
27 Credit for this insight must be given to Risto Saarinen, The Pastoral Epistles with Philemon & Jude (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos/Baker, 2008), p 218. Bauckham (Jude, 2 Peter) is more tentative here noting that the evidence “may not be sufficient” (p 49).
28 See Bauckham (Jude, 2 Peter), pp 94, 96-97.
29 Cf. ibid, pp 3-8.
30 Bauckham (Jude, 2 Peter) agrees that the reference is to Jesus Christ, but only in a typological sense, as in the Lord Jesus will be the future Judge of the apostates (p 49). Therefore, his opinion is that the text should be κύριος instead because “it is not likely that Jude would have used Ίησου̃ϛ of the preexistent Christ” because “…other NT examples…have the Incarnation directly in view” (p 43); yet Bauckham cites only strictly incarnational Scriptures which specify Ίησου̃ϛ (2 Cor 8:9; Philippians 2:5-6) as opposed to Χριστός, thereby omitting 1 Cor 10:4. Reading between the lines, it seems Bauckham may be less reluctant if the choices were between Χριστός and kύριοϛ instead. However, see F. F. Bruce, New Testament Development, pp 35-36. Also see Murray J. Harris’ exegesis and exposition of the doxology above for an understanding of Jesus Christ as preexistent, as well as our mediator during the entire temporal realm. Though see also note 23 above.
31 Michael Green (2 Peter & Jude (Tyndale New Testament Commentary, gen. ed. Leon Morris: Downers Grove, IL: IVP Press, 1987), pp 57, 183-184) is sure of the reference, noting it is “openly asserted by Origen, Clement and Didymus” (p 57). However, there are no extant mss of the text, though parts may exist as fragments. Some think this text was conflated or made into a recension with the pseudepigraphical Testament of Moses (see Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, pp 7, 59-64). Cf. J. Priest “Testament of Moses,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature & Testaments (ed. James H. Charlesworth, New York: Anchor Bible/Doubleday, 1983), pp 924-925. Also, of great assistance is Steve Delamarter A Scripture Index to Charlesworth’s The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (New York: Sheffield, 2002), p 47. Delamarter’s work is a cross-reference for all quotes and allusions from the works contained in Charlesworth’s two-volume set to Biblical texts.
32 It is reasonable to assume that the original author of the extra-biblical work The Assumption of Moses had Elohim or YHWH in mind, just as in I Enoch. The words “The Lord rebuke you!” are then apparently appropriated from Zechariah 3:2 in The Assumption of Moses, with Jude, in turn, re-appropriating them in yet another way. However, it must be understood that Jude’s other purpose here, which could well be his main purpose (vv 8-9), is to illustrate that even Michael appealed to the higher authority of the Lord, as opposed to the apostates who “slander celestial beings” on their own authority.
33 Saarinen (Pastoral Epistles, p 215) seems to affirm this, but the context is ambiguous; Bauckham (Jude, 2 Peter) is clearer, stating “it is probable that Jude interpreted the term as a reference to Jesus…” (pp 62, cf. 49).
34 There is also the matter of Hort’s conjecture that the original text merely contained the article, ὁ, with neither Ίησου̃ϛ nor kύριοϛ following, with the subject either substantivized (“He who redeemed”), or assumed from earlier usage (see notes 7 and 8 above). However, this is doubtful, as this would allow too much ambiguity (was it YHWH from Exodus, or is the referent from verse 4?). This is especially so given that Jude purposely changed the OT and an extra-Biblical reference of God to kύριοϛ or Ίησου̃ϛ instead. However, that aside, my personal position is that such conjecturing as Hort’s, being arguments from silence, should never be undertaken, for it can lead to a lack of confidence in any and all Scripture. In TC we must always take the extant evidence and work from there.
35 See H. A. G. Houghton, preprint version of “Recent Developments in New Testament Textual Criticism” (Early Christianity 2.2 (2011)), pp 1-10. There are a number of different methods mentioned including the “Coherence Based Genealogical Method (CBGM).” Tommy Wasserman’s monograph on Jude is noted (The Epistle of Jude: Its Text and Transmission (ConBNT 43: Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 2006) which is a continuous text of all the known variants in Jude’s epistle, providing an “interesting comparison with the ECM (Editio Critica Maior),” with the ECM purporting to contain a “fuller critical apparatus than any previous editions” (p 7).
36 However, see notes 21, 22, and 29 above and the associated texts.
37 F. F. Bruce, New Testament Development, pp 35-36. Italics in original, bold added for emphasis.
38 While the NA27 had text identical with the UBS4 (together known as “NU” for shorthand), the NA28 includes the reading of Ίησου̃ϛ, while the UBS4 contains kύριοϛ. It seems likely that the forthcoming UBS5 will conform to the NA28, to include amending this particular variant.