It is Perfectly Finished, part II

[On 05/08/17 an addendum was appended (9:25pm). See part I]

28 After this, knowing that now everything was completed, Jesus said—so that Scripture might be perfected—“I’m thirsty.” 29 A container was lying there full of wine vinegar; so, affixing a sponge soaked with the wine vinegar to some hyssop, they brought it to His mouth. 30 After Jesus received the wine vinegar He said, “It is finished.” Then He bowed His head and handed over His the spirit (John 19:28-30)

He Handed Over His Spirit

Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh’s Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John has some relevant insights into Jesus’ final human act:

Simultaneous with these words [“It is finished”], Jesus bows his head and gives up his spirit . . . literally “he handed over the spirit” . . . Yet for those who believe in Jesus, something quite other happened. When human beings die, while struggling for life to the end, they stop breathing and then their head drops. But here Jesus first bows his head, and only then does he give up his spirit. As a king who was lifted up, he “gives the nod.” The act of sanctioning by a king was indicated by movement of the head; approbation is declared by a sign of the god’s head . . . “Zeus gave a sign with his head and ratified his wish” (Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, 222).

After thus ratifying that his purpose has been fully accomplished, Jesus hands over his spirit to those around the cross—the community of those who believe in him their leader, the beloved disciple and the witnessing women.33

In order to fully analyze their words, a few points of grammar need to be addressed. First, it can be argued that “It is finished” precedes the bowing of His head. The Greek word in between the two—kai—is a conjunction, a connective, with a host of meanings such as and, also, but, and yet, then, even, among others. It seems more likely that Jesus would utter His final words using the remaining strength He possessed before He’d breathe no longer, bowing His head in death—though this is, admittedly, only one possible interpretation.

The verb for bowed, is a participle (aorist active), which is part of a dependent clause (bowed His head), the main clause on which it depends being He handed over His the spirit.34 In Greek, the participle is known as a ‘verbal adjective’, with characteristics of both a verb and an adjective. Like a finite verb, it encodes tense and voice (active, passive, or middle-passive). Like an adjective, it encodes gender, number, and case. Unlike the Greek finite verb, however, the participle does not denote mood or person—these are to be found in the main verb in the clause on which it relies. The Greek participle may function in a variety of ways; it is more diverse than the English participle.35

In the present instance, the participial phrase is acting adverbially.36 While the verbal action of the participial clause (bowed His head) could (a) antecede the final sentence (He handed over His the spirit), the action may well (b) coincide with it. The sense of the two options would be: (a) After bowing His head, He handed over His the spirit; or, (b) Bowing His head, He [simultaneously] handed over His the spirit. Statistically, when a participle precedes the main verb, as it does here, its relative time is more likely to antecede that of the main clause;37 however, “like any verb form in Greek, [time] must be determined by the larger context”.38 And since the context here provides no explicit cues, it may be one or the other.

Recent work in Discourse Analysis may be of assistance here, as, recognizing that all participles rely on the main verb with which they are associated, this subservient nature of the participle typically “has the effect of backgrounding the action of the participle, indicating that it is less important than the main verbal action”.39 In other words ‘handing over His spirit’ is more important than ‘bowing His head’. But this still does not provide a definitive answer; the translator must make an exegetical decision, or leave it sufficiently ambiguous for the interpreter (such as bowing His head, He handed over His the Spirit, or He bowed His head and handed over His the spirit).

In any case, if we accept the Malina-Rohrbaugh sequence—“It is finished” [at the same time as] He bowed His head [and after that] He handed over His the spirit—then their insight of a kingly/godly act depicted here is plausible. And it is certainly possible that the Gospel writer had contemporaneous Greco-Roman literature in mind as a background here—not to appeal to as authoritative literature, of course, but to provide yet another backdrop—assuming, perhaps, that the audience might understand this connection. This motif could also provide a point of connection with John 10:34-38.

While I agree with their translation ‘handed over his spirit’ “handed over the spirit” (the verb is in the active rather than passive voice),40 the question of who Jesus hands it over to must be addressed. However, before that can be adequately answered, “spirit”, pneuma, must be identified. In this context, is it Jesus’ human spirit, or is it the Holy Spirit, as the authors imply above?41

Brown finds it plausible that “Jesus handed over the (Holy) Spirit to those at the foot of the cross” as “a symbolic reference to the giving of the Spirit” understood proleptically, that is, prefiguring 20:22 and Pentecost (Acts 2).42 However, against Brown and Malina-Rohrbaugh, it may be best to simply understand the recipient of the pneuma as the Father (as in the Synoptic parallel in Luke 23:46), to whom the Son willingly obeyed, ‘laying down His life’ (10:17), and to whom the Son hands over His human spirit. But how does one decide which is correct?

Which Pneuma?

Comfort notes that an early Greek manuscript (P66, ca. late 2nd to 3rd  century) expresses pneuma in 19:30 as a nomen sacrum—a contraction of the word using its first, second, and last letters, with an overline atop all three (Π͞Ν͞Α)—usually a method to signify the Holy Spirit.43 Nomina sacra (plural of nomen sacrum) were also used for God, Son of God, Son of Man, Christ, Jesus, etc. in apparent reverence, this practice having begun in early antiquity.44 This indicates that the scribe either copied the nomen sacrum directly from his exemplar (the copy from which he was copying), or that he made a conscious exegetical choice to amend his document, “perhaps denoting that he considered Jesus to have been handing over the divine Spirit.”45 However, even if this particular scribe made an editorial decision to change the text, we cannot presuppose his theological motivation. Even still, this is merely one extant manuscript with this designation.

A Scriptural examination of the Gospel’s use of pneuma may be instructive.46 The term is used twenty-four times in John’s Gospel, with the overwhelming majority (17 times) in reference to the Holy Spirit (1:32, 1:33{x2}, 3:5, 3:6{contrasted with human spirit spirit in a general sense}, 3:8{x2—first occurrence a double entendre of wind/Spirit}, 3:34, 6:63{x2}, 7:39{x2}, 14:17, 14:26, 15:26, 16:13, 20:22). Excluding 19:30, the remainder represent: the human spirit in a general sense (3:6—contrasted with the Holy Spirit), Jesus’ human spirit (11:33, 13:21) being unsettled (tarassō), God’s identity/ontology (4:23—pneuma ho theos, “God is spirit”), and the manner in which God is to be worshiped (4:23, 4:24—“in spirit and truth”). It is possible, though, that the first instance in 3:6 could be “spirit” in a general sense, as in: ‘flesh gives birth to flesh, spirit gives birth to spirit’.

One may be inclined to align with the statistical evidence such that, since the referent is most often the Holy Spirit, the referent in 19:30 must be, or is most likely to be, the Holy Spirit—just as one might wish to choose (a) in the previous section in regard to the participle—but this would fall prey to a logical fallacy. In 19:30 the choice is between either the (Holy) Spirit or Jesus’ (human) spirit. Hence, the choice is one out of two, and this is irrespective of the number of other occurrences of one against the other. Essentially, the analysis of pneuma above serves to illustrate that there are two possibilities (the others clearly do not apply). This means we are back to the context—though we will find out below that this exercise was not in vain.

Intertextual clues may be of assistance. Parallel passages seem to suggest that pneuma could be construed as Jesus’ human spirit. Matthew 27:50 contains language similar to John here, using a synonymous verb, also in the active voice: “He gave up His pneuma.” However, note that the Suffering Servant passage of Isaiah 53:12 (LXX) uses psychē (soul)—rather than pneuma—though with the same verb as John’s Gospel (paradidōmi, “handed over”) but in the passive voice: “His psychē was handed over to death.” Could this be harmonized such that when Jesus, of His own volition (10:18: “No one takes it [psychē] from Me”), handed over His pneuma this necessarily corresponded with His psychē being handed over to death?

A quick investigation of psychē in John’s Gospel seems to confirm this. Psychē is found ten times, with four in reference to Jesus laying down His life (10:11, 10:15, 10:17, 15:13), two referring to Peter’s claim that he’d lay down his life for Jesus (13:37, 13:38), two refer to life in a general sense (12:25{x2}), one for the Jews’ plea to Jesus to make His Messianic identity known (10:24), and the final one references Jesus’ psychē being unsettled (12:27). This last instance uses the same verb (tarassō) as employed in combination with pneuma in 11:33 and 13:21, thus providing a direct connection. In other words, John records Jesus’ use of psychē in 12:27 in perfect synonymous parallel with pneuma in 11:33 and 13:21. Stated yet another way, pneuma and psychē are interchangeable when referring to Jesus’ humanity, His spirit/soul (at least when used in combination with the verb tarassō), in John’s Gospel.

With this point of connection between pneuma and psychē established, compare 19:30 to Gen. 2:7 (LXX), in which God breathed the “pnoē of life”, “breath of life” (pnoē being a cognate of pneuma), into Adam, after which he became a “living psychē.” In other words, taking all this together, in 19:30 when Jesus volitionally handed over His pneuma (the pnoē of life) this coincided with His psychē being handed over to death, His psychē now devoid of the pnoē of life. This would be in harmony with Jesus’ words in 10:17: “I lay down my psychē”. In other words, handing over His pneuma is tantamount to laying down His psychē.

See also Mark 15:37 and Luke 23:46 in which the verb ekpneō (“breathe out”) is used in the active voice. Ekpneō is a compound word, with the verb pneō (breathe) prefixed by the preposition ek, (out of, from), the word meaning breathe one’s last, expire.47 Pneō is the verb form of the noun pnoē, both cognates of pneuma. Thus, in the Markan and Lukan parallels, if this analysis is correct, the authors depict Gen. 2:7 ‘in reverse’, so to speak, being more direct than John or Matthew. That is, Mark’s and Luke’s ekpneō more pointedly express that Jesus was now devoid of the pnoē of life, having “breathed out” God’s “breath of life” which had been bestowed at conception.48 This verb is only found three times in the entire NT, the remaining instance in the immediate context of Mark’s account (15:39).

Excursus on Psychē in John 10:24

A brief excursus is in order regarding the use of psychē in 10:24. Here John likely employs a play on words, in using a rather humorous idiomatic phrase, not found anywhere else in Scripture. The words rendered in most translations “How long will you keep us in suspense?” are more literally How long will you take up the psychē? (heōs pote tēn psychēn hēmōn aireis?).49 The verb here (airō) has a range of meanings, such as take away, lift up, carry away, remove, withdraw, depart.50 While the idiom is clearly not meant to be taken literally, Brown opines that the biblical author may intend a double meaning in that, though Jesus lays down His psychē for His followers, He brings judgment against His foes, ironically taking away the psychē of those rejecting Him.51 To clarify, the biblical author had just used this same verb in 10:18 in the context of Jesus’ statement that “no one takes (airō) it [psychē] from Me”, so the astute reader could make the connection.

My own opinion—a variation on the above—is that John is being quite purposeful here: though the Jews (hoi Ioudaioi) are using a metaphorical expression, at the same time their literal intent is to take away (airō) Jesus’ psychē, but Jesus himself ironically takes that goal away from them by ‘laying down His own psychē’ (10:17), because “no one takes (airō) it [psychē] from Me” (10:18). Furthermore (in agreement with Brown, though rephrasing a bit), subsequently, their own psychēs will be taken away from them in their eschatological judgment as a result of their unbelief in Jesus, in the aftermath of His death and resurrection.


In some philosophical circles of the time the Greek word nous, which means mind, thought, etc., is a part of the psychē, soul. In Scripture nous is used mostly by Paul, it is found once in Luke’s Gospel (24:45), while John the Revelator employs it twice (Rev. 13:18; 17:9). John’s Gospel does not utilize the term; however, nous could be conceived as subsumed under psychē in both 12:27 and in the idiom in 10:24. Would this change the analyses?

As regards 10:24, this would strengthen the word play, making it more overtly a pun. That is, the idiom would be understood “How long will you ‘take up’ the psychē [mind]?” which would then be juxtaposed with Jesus’ words “I lay down my psychē [life]…no one takes it from Me”. This would constitute an instance of paronomasia—a linguistic device the Gospel writer employs somewhat frequently—in which the quote by “the Jews” can be construed as either mind, or life, the latter in view of its meaning in 10:17-18. Not explicitly stated earlier, it is also possible that the verb airō in the idiomatic phrase intends something different than the meaning of the same verb in 10:17-18; if that is the case, it would further strengthen the paronomasia.

The understanding of psychē, as mind appears to have no effect on 12:27. For this understanding to go against the analysis above, one would have to argue that “mind” is not as all-encompassing as psychē, and from this contend that the context of 12:27 indicates a less intensive ‘troubling’ than the respective contexts of 11:33 and 13:21, the latter two verses referring to the Holy Spirit rather than Jesus’ human spirit. In assessing the contexts, that argument would be difficult to sustain, for 11:33 is most likely referring to Jesus’ human emotions, not the Holy Spirit, as He subsequently weeps. More damaging—though the analysis above did not explicate this—the contexts of 12:27 and 13:21 both refer to Jesus’ ‘troubling’ regarding His impending death. Could one relate to Jesus’ human seat of emotions with the other to the move of the Spirit? That is possible, though improbable, as it would appear difficult to explain why this would be so.


33 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998), p 271. The bracketed editorial note “It is finished” is in place of the authors’ questionable translation “has been fully accomplished” (as seen in the second paragraph of the quotation). More on this below.

34 This is stated as somewhat of a concession to English, as the Greek participle should not be viewed as a dependent clause per se; see Stanley E. Porter, Idioms of the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. ((Biblical Languages: Greek 2), Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1994), pp 190-191.

35 See Porter, Idioms, pp 181-193.

36 But it also functions adjectivally, as it modifies the subject encoded in the main verb paradidōmi and implied by the context (Jesus).

37 Stanley E. Porter, Jeffrey T. Reed, and Matthew Brook O’Donnell, Fundamentals of New Testament Greek (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), p 110. This generality only applies to adverbial participles, as in the present example.

38 Ibid. Decker recognizes this (Rodney J. Decker, Reading Koine Greek: An Introduction and Integrated Workbook [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2014], p 397), though he stresses that one should “[t]ake all such claims [regarding word order] with caution”, for “context is a more reliable guide than any rule” (p 397).

39 Stephen E. Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, © 2010 Logos Bible Software), p 249; cf. pp 249-268.

40 The passive voice of this same verb (paradidōmi) is used in describing the death of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53:12: “His soul [psychē] was handed over to death . . . .” See Andreas J. Köstenberger, John, BECNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), p 551 nt 60.

41 Malina-Rohrbaugh (Social-Science Commentary, p 271) do not capitalize “spirit”; however, the context makes it plain that the authors intend the Holy Spirit.

42 Brown, John XIII-XXI, p 931.

43 Comfort, New Testament Text, pp 319-320. Though most date this manuscript late 2nd to 3rd century, Brent Nongbri suggests a later date, based on his own findings (“The Limits of Palaeographic Dating of Literary Papyri: Some Observations on the Date and Provenance of P.Bodmer II [P66],” Museum Helveticum 71 [2014], p 1-35.)

44 This practice may be in imitation of the use of YHWH (the tetragrammaton) for the Divine Name in the OT, though there are notable differences between the Jewish and Christian traditions. See Larry W. Hurtado, Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, (Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2016), pp 138-141 (and related footnotes).

45 Comfort, New Testament Text, p 320.

46 The impetus to perform this particular investigation came from Jaime Clark-Soles’ essay “‘I Will Raise [Whom?] Up on the Last Day’: Anthropology as a Feature of Johannine Eschatology” in New Currents through John: A Global Perspective, eds. Francisco Lozada, Jr. & Tom Thatcher (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006), pp 29-53. However, I depart from some of the author’s conclusions. E.g., she asserts that pneuma is “[c]learly . . .  not a natural, normal part of a person’s constitution” (p 36) in John’s Gospel, but I’m not so sure can one make such a definitive claim. Moreover, the author doesn’t expand on the interrelationship of 11:33 and 13:21 and their relationship with 12:27 (see below).

In 3:6 I see the two instances of pneuma as possibly distinct from one another: the first could be the Holy Spirit, while the second could be either the human spirit or spirit in a general sense. Of course, the Holy Spirit clearly does not beget Holy Spirit offspring! The Johannine Jesus employs word play here. The point of the statement in 3:6 is to define what it means to be born anōthen (3:3; 3:7), this latter term possessing the dual meaning of “from above” and/or “again”—in other words a spiritual rebirth for humans (3:5; 3:8). With this in mind, I understand 3:6 to possibly mean ‘the Spirit “gennaō” (“begets”) spirit’ in a figurative sense (cf. 1:13). But what does that entail? Other Scriptures indicate that the Holy Spirit will be (figuratively?) deposited (2 Cor. 1:21-22; Eph. 1:13-14; cf. Ezek. 36:2627). Ezekiel 36:26-27 does not necessarily imply that the existing human spirit is to be supplanted. Applying this to John’s Gospel, does this potentially indicate a relationship between the Holy Spirit and one’s human spirit—if there is a literal human spirit separate from the body in John’s Gospel?  Assuming humans do possess a human spirit, this does not mean I would see a sharp dichotomy (a la Gnosticism) between flesh (sarx, this term used wholistically yet non-specifically in John at times—cf. 1:14; 3:6; 17:2) and spirit. It is plausible that John portrays Jesus’ spirit as an integral though ultimately ‘detachable’ ‘part’ of his flesh (though see analysis below). In this Gospel sōma only refers to Jesus, specifically to His dead body (19:31, 19:38, 19:40, 20:12) or to His body generally (2:21). Hence, if one interprets that Jesus has ‘detachable pneuma’, and that this spirit was ‘handed over’ in 19:30, one could state this mathematically (In John’s Gospel) as: sarxpneuma = sōma. Consequently, assuming this implicitly applies equally to all humans, then it could follow that the Holy Spirit ‘unites’ with the human spirit upon belief, i.e., being born anōthen.

Comfort, NT Text and Translation, notes that the P66 scribe differentiated between the two instances by use of the nomen sacrum in the first instance (in English translation) but not the second (p 263).

47 Danker, Concise Lexicon, p 119.

48 One must be cautious not to read too much into this in one’s philosophical musings.

49 Barrett (According to St. John), notes a similarity to Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex 914 and Euripedes’ Hecuba 69f. (p 380).

50 BDAG, p 29.

51 Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII, The Anchor Yale Bible; (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), p 403.

It is Perfectly Finished, part I

[See part II]

28 After this, knowing that now everything was completed, Jesus said—so that Scripture might be perfected—“I’m thirsty.” 29 A container was lying there full of wine vinegar; so, affixing a sponge soaked with the wine vinegar to some hyssop, they brought it to His mouth. 30 After Jesus received the wine vinegar He said, “It is finished.” Then He bowed His head and handed over His the spirit (John 19:28-30).1

John records Jesus’ last word on the cross as tetelestai, “It is finished,”2 choosing to narrate Jesus’ handing over of His spirit rather than quoting His words as Luke prefers (23:46: “Father, into your hands I commit My spirit”), thus highlighting tetelestai Here. This article will discuss the significance of this one-word statement—including the implication of the perfect tense-form—and, along the way, comment on some other aspects of these three verses.

Jesus’ Last Testament

The two words beginning this selection, after this, refer back to 19:2627 (“Here is your son”, “here is your mother”), as does knowing that now everything was completed. This indicates that Jesus’ words to Mary and John (19:26-17) completes the work He came to do in this regard. The implication in this exchange here is that Joseph is deceased, and Jesus’ desire is for His earthly mother to be cared for—as He Himself had apparently been doing.

Evidence suggests that Jewish custom allowed “a dying man . . . to settle the legal status of the women for whom  he was responsible.”3 This appears to be what Jesus is doing in 19:26-27—legally appointing John to His former position as the person responsible for His mother, a widow.4 Common practice required that Jesus would ensure that His mother Mary be “adequately cared for by a male head of household in the patriarchal culture of first-century Israel.”5 Apparently, in doing so, Jesus proclaimed what would be akin to His last will and testament.6 Importantly, rather than a sibling, Jesus entrusts a disciple to the care of His mother, in accordance with the Jewish custom of “the believing community [being] stronger than natural familial bonds,”7 for not even His own brothers believed in Him (John 7.5).  “When Jesus entrusted His mother to the Beloved Disciple, He established a new household centered on a common relationship with Jesus”8

Christ’s earthly ministry to others had come to a close:9 “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1).

Which Scripture “Perfected”?

There is some ambiguity in the grammar of verse 28: (a) does the clause so that Scripture might be perfected refer to knowing that now everything was completed, in turn referring to Jesus’ words to Mary and John (19:26-27); or, alternatively, (b) does so that Scripture might be perfected point to Jesus’ thirst and, ultimately, His final words “It is finished”?10 The former (a) seems unlikely, for one would have to account for Jesus expressing his thirst, and this would seem better suited to the context if the “perfected” clause refers to what follows it.  However, another option to consider is that one could assume (a), but look even further back to 19:24, in which Psalm 22:18 (“They divided my garments among them . . .”) had just been quoted, and apply “I’m thirsty” to verse 15 of the same Psalm. In this scenario, Jesus is reminded again of Psalm 22 and, recalling “my tongue cleaves . . .” of verse 15, in His humanity, He realizes that He is thirsty.11

Nonetheless, given the three-fold use of wine vinegar (oxos) here and Jesus’ final words “It is finished” upon receiving it, (b) appears most likely to be the author’s intent.12 If so, any or all of the following events must perfect Scripture in some way: Jesus’ statement of thirst, His subsequent receiving of the wine vinegar, His final statement, the handing over of His spirit.

Assuming the translation and the interpretation above are correct—option (b) above—to which Scripture does so that Scripture might be perfected refer? The two best candidates are Psalm 69:21 (LXX 68:22) and Psalm 22:15 (LXX 21:16). Each, however, has its own problems as a contender. On the former, the wine vinegar is offered with apparent malicious intent, while here in verse 29 it appears to be given without malice.13 On the latter (22:15), there’s no mention of a drink being offered. On the other hand, Psalm 69:21 specifically mentions oxos, wine vinegar, like here in our subject verses, and the noun form of the verb used here for thirst (dipsaō) is in this psalm as well, while Psalm 22:15 specifically mentions both extreme thirst and death. It should be noted that John’s Gospel elsewhere references Psalm 69 (2:17; 15:25) and Psalm 22 (19:24—right in the Passion narrative, as noted just above). Carson’s concise yet complete manner of describing one interpretation is worth quoting:

If we grant that Jesus knew he was fulfilling this Scripture [Ps. 69:21], presumably he knew that by verbally confessing his thirst he would precipitate the soldiers’ effort to give him some wine vinegar. In that case, the fulfillment clause could be rendered: ‘Jesus, knowing that all things had been accomplished, in order to fulfil [the] Scripture [which says “They . . . gave me vinegar for my thirst”] said “I thirst”’.14

But, could the clause refer and/or allude to both?15 Though graphē, “Scripture”, is in the singular here, this does not necessarily restrict its reference to only one Scripture. For comparison, even though graphē in John 20:9 is in the singular, it very likely refers to more than one single referent or section of Scripture.16 The same could apply here.

More investigation is needed.

The Fullness of Perfection

Notably, the common word used in reference to the fulfilling of Scripture, the verb plēroō (see Matthew 1:22; 5:17, etc.), is not used in 19:28, but rather teleioō—here specifically as teleiōthȩ̄ (an aorist passive subjunctive)—which is a cognate of teleō, the root of tetelestai. In other words, teleioō, the lexical form (dictionary word) of teleiōthȩ̄, is directly related to teleō, the lexical form of tetelestai. While some claim that plēroō and teleioō are perfectly synonymous,17 others assert that each has a slightly different connotation.18 Westcott makes a strong statement, perceiving a distinction between the two:

The word used (τελειωθῇ [teleiōthȩ̄] . . . for which some [manuscripts] substitute the usual word πληρωθῇ [plērōthȩ̄]) is very remarkable. It appears to mark not the isolated fulfilling of a particular trait in the scriptural picture, but the perfect completion of the whole prophetic image. This utterance of physical suffering was the last thing required that Messiah might be “made perfect” (Heb. 2:10, 5:7ff.), and so the ideal of prophecy “made perfect” in Him. Or, to express the same thought otherwise, that “work” which Christ came to “make perfect” (John 4:34, 17:4) was written in Scripture, and by the realisation of the work the Scripture was “perfected.” Thus under different aspects of this word [teleioō and teleō] and of that which it implies, prophecy, the earthly work of Christ, and Christ Himself were “made perfect.”19

Stated another way, Westcott sees a deliberate connection between John’s usage of teleioō in 19:28 and his use of teleō in 19:30, believing the Gospel writer chose teleioō over plēroō for an express theological purpose.20 It may be significant that plēroō is employed in 19:24 (as plērōthȩ̄, an aorist passive subjunctive—the same verbal form in 19:28), just a few verses prior to the use of teleioō (teleiōthȩ̄) in 19:28.

Bultmann opposes this view: “This [use of teleiōthȩ̄ instead of plērōthȩ̄] is repeatedly understood . . . as if it were intended to signify the conclusive fulfillment of the entire Scriptures. Nevertheless it seems, as in 13:18, that the fulfillment of a particular passage is meant.”21 So, who’s correct? Does the use of this verb (teleiōthȩ̄) over the other (plērōthȩ̄) indicate a fulfillment of all Scripture, or does it simply express the fulfillment of one specific passage?

An investigation finds John using teleioō a scant four times in his Gospel—three in reference to the Father’s work (4:34; 5:36; 17:4) and one in relation to the “perfecting” of believers into one (17:23).22 Comparatively, John’s Gospel employs plēroō fifteen times, five of which refer to the fulfillment of a particular passage (12:38; 13:18; 15:25; 19:24; 19:36),23 another three the fulfillment of words of Jesus in John’s Gospel (17:12; 18:9; 18:32), with the others in reference to either joy (3:29; 15:11; 16:24; 17:13), time (7:8), fragrance of perfume (12:3), or grief (16:6).24 Thus, as we can see, plēroō has a range of uses, but, when used of Scripture, it references either a specific OT verse or a particular prophecy of Jesus; whereas, teleioō is utilized much more sparingly, with the majority in reference to the Father’s work that Jesus was to “perfect.”

The evidence supports Westcott. Adopting this view, so that Scripture might be perfected prefigures the events following up to and including Jesus’ climactic words and handing over of His spirit, resulting in the  “perfecting” of all Scriptures related to the ‘work’ of the Father.25

As mentioned earlier, given that the singular graphē in John 20:9 most likely refers to more than one Scripture, the same may well prevail in 19:28. Accepting this is the case, we’ll assume that 19:28 fulfills both Psa. 69:21 and Psa. 22:15. In this way,  the former’s oxos (wine vinegar) and dipsaō (noun form of the verb here for “I’m thirsty”) are fulfilled, while the latter’s extreme thirst and death are fulfilled as well. However, more broadly, when a portion of Scripture is quoted, those Jews in the audience would mentally fill in the remainder of the book from which the quote was taken (though this does not mean they necessarily understood the significance). For example, in both Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 the very first verse of Psa. 22 is quoted (“why have you forsaken me!”), yet the entire psalm should be understood as in mind. In light of this, Blomberg observes, “The view that Jesus’ quotation of Psa. 22 anticipates the vindication found in the larger context of the psalm stresses what does not appear in the text at the expense of what does.”26 In other words, Jesus’ quotation of Psa. 22:1 is intended to refer to the entire psalm, thus prefiguring His resurrection (Psa. 22:22-24).

More on teleioō will be forthcoming.

Wine Vinegar, a Sponge, and Hyssop

The physical elements of 19:29 and their interrelationships are variously understood. The wine vinegar, oxos, is not to be confused with the wine mixed with myrrh (oinos) offered but refused by Jesus in Mark 15:23.  It was most likely a common drink of the Roman soldiers to quench thirst, called posca, which would have been readily available at the scene.27 This would mean “they” here refers to members of the Roman army.

There is some question as to whether hyssop, hyssōpos, was the actual implement that the wine vinegar-soaked sponge was affixed to. A branch of hyssop would be too flimsy to support the weight of the sponge, and so various theories have been proffered.28 F. F. Bruce opines:

A sprig of hyssop seems an unsuitable instrument for the purpose, but John’s wording may be influenced by the symbolic use of hyssop in the Old Testament (Num. 19:6; Ps. 51:7). The death of Jesus is the true Passover and the effective means of inward cleansing. Another possibility is that the sponge soaked in sour vinegar, with some hyssop thrust into it, was stretched to Jesus’ mouth on the end of a reed or the like, in order that the cooling effect of the hyssop leaves might enhance the refreshing property of the sour wine.29

The latter possibility could explain the passage, harmonizing it with Mark 15:36. However it seems that the connection between the use of hyssop for ritual cleansing, and King David’s use of it as a metonymy for the cleansing of sin, as compared to its use here seems a bit tenuous, though Comfort opines that the “hyssop in the crucifixion scene reminds readers of their need for spiritual cleansing.”30 But Brown, after mentioning that hyssop was used to sprinkle the paschal lamb’s blood on the doorposts at the original Passover (Ex. 12.22), helpfully, offers additional insight:

Of course, there is a difference between using hyssop to sprinkle blood and using hyssop to support a sponge full of wine, but John shows considerable imagination in the adaptation of symbols. (In a way it is just as imaginative to see a reference to the paschal lamb in the fact that Jesus’ bones were not broken, but John 19:36 does not hesitate to make the connection.) It is difficult to apply rigorous logic to symbolism.31

Keener adds, “The very implausibility of the literal portrait reinforces the probability that John intended his audience to envision the symbolic allusion to Passover”32 (cf. John 1:29; Heb. 9:19ff). If this explains the significance of the hyssop in the Passion narrative—and it well may—this would be akin to the remez (deep meaning), or the sod (hidden meaning) in the Jewish midrashic approach to Scripture interpretation. Of course, in Paul’s writings especially, the Apostle describes Christ as the mystery, mystērion, now revealed (e.g., 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:9; Col. 1:26).

part II

1 My own translation in which I try to strike a balance between formal equivalency (“literal”, or ‘wooden’) and functional (dynamic) equivalency.  As a self-studying layman, I’ve relied on Accordance / OakTree Software (Version using the NA28 text, various grammars, lexicons—including the BDAG (W. Bauer, F. W. Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd. ed. (Chicago, IL: Chicago, 2000) and F. W. Danker’s The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: Chicago, 2009)—and, as a final check, English translations. As an example of my methodology, for dipsō a formal equivalency would be I thirst, but of course this is not idiomatic English, which would instead be I am thirsty; however, considering the context, it would be improbable that Jesus would be even that ‘formal’, as He’d be more likely to speak colloquially, therefore, I’m thirsty is a more realistic functional equivalent. After arriving at this tentative conclusion, I checked some English versions finding a few with this rendering (ISV, Holman, GOD’s WORD).

2 Greek finite verbs encode person and number, and in this case it’s in the 3rd person singular, “it”, forming the complete sentence “It is finished.”

3 Craig Keener, The Gospel of John (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), p 1144.

4 See Keener, John, pp 1144-1145; cf. Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), p 252.

5 Blomberg, Historical Reliability, p 252.

6 See George R. Beasley-Murray, John, WBC (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987), p 349; Keener, John, p 1144.

7 Keener, John, p 1145. The phraseology used by Jesus in 19:26-27 is reminiscent of adoption language: See Beasley-Murray, John, p 349; cf. Craig Koester, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1995), pp 214-216.

8 Koester, Symbolism, p 254; cf. pp 215-216.

9 See B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John, Westcott’s Commentaries on the Gospel of John, Ephesians, Hebrews, and the Epistles of John; Accordance electronic ed. (Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2006), paragraph 5364-5 (John 19:28); cf. 4080 (13:1): Compare verse 28’s εἰδὼς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὅτι with 13:1. Westcott’s commentary was originally written ca. late 1800s.

10 See Roger L. Omanson, A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart, Germany: German Bible Society, 2006), p 209.

11 While not enumerated as a plausible understanding within his work, this possibility came to me while reading D. A. Carson’s The Gospel According to John, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), p 619.

12 Given perceived theological importance concerning so that Scripture might be perfected, the translation here employs em dashes before and after the clause, in order to draw more attention to it, as compared to using parentheses, which tend to make parenthetical content more subdued.

13 Marianne Meye Thompson, John: A Commentary, The New Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2015) states that the oxos here is “probably the drink known in Latin as posca . . . a common drink of the Roman army”, which “served to slake thirst, not exacerbate it” (p 401). Cf. Keener, John, p 1147.

14 Carson, According to John, p 619 (brackets in original, except “Ps. 69:21”).

15 C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1978) asserts: “There can be little doubt that [Ps. 69.21 (LXX 68:22)] is the γραφή [graphē] in mind” (p 553).

16 See, e.g., Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, The Anchor Yale Bible; (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), pp 987-988.

17 E.g., Rudolf Bultmann, The Gospel of John, transl. G. R. Beasley-Murray, Gen Ed., R. W. N. Hoare & J. K. Riches (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1971), p 674.

18 E.g., Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary, transl. J. Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), p 616.

19 Westcott, According to St. John, paragraph 5369; bracketed statements added. An editorial decision was made here in the last sentence of this quote. In its original form it reads: Thus under different aspects of this word and of that which it implies, prophecy, and the earthly work of Christ, and Christ Himself, were “made perfect.” The “and” preceding the earthly work of Christ was stricken, and the comma following Christ Himself was deleted for the sake of readability. This is not to slight Westcott, his editor(s), or the publisher—with modern word processors, it is much easier to edit today.

20 In the Westcott quote just above, the author notes that some manuscripts substitute plērōthȩ̄. While there are more than just a few ( Ds Θ ƒ1.13 (565) it), the evidence is decisively against its originality.

21 Bultmann, John, p 674; cf. Beasley-Murray, John, p 351.

22 John also uses the term four times in his first epistle, each time related to God’s love “perfecting” the believer (2:5, 4:12, 4:17; 4:18).

23 Respectively, Isa. 53:1; Ps. 41:9; Ps. 69:4 (cf. 35:19; 109.3); Ps. 22:18; Ps. 34:20.

24 There is also a reference to joy in John’s first epistle (1:4), another in 2 John (12); and, there are two additional references in Revelation: deeds (3:2) and number killed (6:11).

25 Not Bultmann’s “conclusive fulfillment of the entire Scriptures”, though the author may have meant to limit his statement to those referencing the cross. Relatedly, Luke (3:32) records Jesus’ words, “On the third day I will be ‘perfected’.”

26 Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, New American Commentary 22; Gen. Ed. David S. Dockery (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1992), p 419.

27 See note 13 above. Cf. Brown, According to John XIII-XXI, p 909.

28 See Brown, According to John XIII-XXI, pp 909-910; F. F. Bruce, The Gospel & Epistles of John, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), p 373; Carson, John, pp 620-621.

29 Bruce, Gospel & Epistles of John, p 373.

30 Philip W. Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2008), p 319

31 Brown, According to John XIII-XXI, p 930.

32 Keener, John, p 1147.

Enriching Life

I want to challenge readers to step outside the box a bit – outside your comfort zone. You’ll never know what lies beyond your safe little bubble, until you do. Whatever that may mean for you, as it is likely different for everyone. I say this for my benefit too.

I’m not suggesting engaging in really risky things, necessarily. It could be something as simple as stepping outside your musical box, trying out some different music. Music is the universal language! It can build bridges.

I have a lot of music that I’ve acquired over the years. A LOT. Since my childhood, I’d try out different types of music – some I’d like right away, others would grow on me fairly quickly, and yet others would take years to appreciate, if at all. Yesterday evening, as it was cold here – too cold for me to want to venture out anywhere – I pulled out a cd I’d not listened to in a while. I knew I liked it, but, as I recalled, it wasn’t on my top tier. Well, I had a very delightful listening session! My opinion – or my recollection of my opinion – changed.

It was a disc by Brazilian Egberto Gismonti, titled Infância, which, in Portuguese means “childhood”. As I heard it afresh, and as I perceive the artist’s conception for the album, the music was intended to evoke the emotions of childhood and adolescence.

In any case, I was struck by a poem in the accompanying notes. I bought this particular album before my journey as a Christian began, so the poem would have meant little to me at that time; the message would have gone over my head. Not this time. It’s quite powerful poetry.

Appropriately, the poem was originally written in Portuguese, as that’s the primary language of Brazil. There’s an accompanying English translation; however, with my theological background and my rudimentary (very rudimentary) knowledge of Spanish, I had a feeling the translation didn’t quite capture the author’s intent. So, along with the aforementioned, as well as the limited help of Google Translate and other online sources, I translated the poem to English. If there are any readers who are well-versed in Portuguese, or who knows someone who is, I’d appreciate any correction or improvement (OK, I know of at least one reader who belongs in one or both these categories).

Without further ado, here is the poem in Portuguese and English:

Mensagem The Message
(by Fernando Pessoa)
O mytho é o nada que é tudo The myth is the nothing that is everything.
O mesmo sol que abre os céus The very Sun that opens the heavens
É um mytho brilhante e mudo – Is a myth brilliant yet muted –
O corpo morto de Deus, The dead body of God,
Vivo e desnudo. Alive and yet bare.
Este, que aqui aportou, He, who transmigrated here,
Foi por na͂o ser existindo, For He was – having not existed.
Sem existir nos bastou. His not existing was sufficient for us,
Por na͂o ter vindo foi vindo For having not yet come, He had come
E nos creou. And created us.
Assim a lenda se escorre Thus the legend descends,
A entrar na realidade, To enter into reality
E a fecundal-a decorre. And to duly enrich it.
Em baixo, a vida, metade The life below – half
De nada, morre. Is nothing, is dead.
Todo começo é  involuntario, Every beginning is involuntary,
Deus é o agente. God is the cause.
O heroe a si assiste, vario The Hero Himself witnesses, various types
E inconsciente Unaware
A espada em tuas ma͂os achada To the sword in your hands –
Teu olhar desce. Your gaze falls to it.
˵Que farei eu com esta espada?˶ What shall I do with this sword?
Ergueste-a, e fez-se You raised it, and it was done.
As naço͂es todas sa͂o mysterios. The nations are all mysteries.

The Son of God Given Authority to Judge Because He is ‘Human’: A Study in John 5:27, pt 6, Conclusion

[This is part 6 of a multi-part article. See part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5.]

Comparison with John 1:1c and 1:14a

Comparing 5:27b with other theologically similar anarthrous PN-CV constructions in John’s Gospel, specifically 1:1c and 1:14a, may reinforce the stance adopted here.

In the verse which begins John’s Gospel the author describes the same subject – ὁ λόγος (ho logos), the Word – using the same verb in the same tense-form (ἦν, ēn; was, existed) in three separate clauses with three different nuances: existence, association, and essence, respectively.123  This threefold repetition of subject-verb exemplifies merely one portrayal of John’s predilection for poetic expression.  While it’s the third clause with the same syntactical construction as 5:27b, it will prove helpful to briefly investigate the first two as well.

The first clause (1:1a), Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, translates In the beginning was the Word or, better, In the beginning the Word existed.  In its immediate context, taking into consideration verses 2-3, this declares the Word’s pre-existence with respect to creation, i.e., the Word’s eternality.  The second clause (1:1b), καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, is best rendered and the Word was with God.  This second clause, when taken in conjunction with the first, describes the eternal relationship between the Word and (the) God, logically indicating that (the) God is other than, and in distinction from, the Word.  While the direct object τὸν θεόν, (the) God, could be understood as the Trinitarian Godhead, for our purposes here we assume the referent is God the Father.124

This brings us to the third clause, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος, which is an anarthrous PN-CV-SN construction.  Most English translations render it and the Word was God.  While the PN could be deemed either definite or qualitative, an indefinite rendering (a god) is rejected from the outset for rather obvious exegetical and theological reasons.125

Colwell deems the usage in 1:1c definite by asserting the converse of his own rule; i.e., he presupposes definiteness unless “the context demands” indefiniteness or qualitativeness:

The absence of the article does not make the predicate indefinite or qualitative when it precedes the verb, it is indefinite in this position only when the context demands it.  The context makes no such demand in the Gospel of John, for this statement cannot be regarded as strange in the prologue of the gospel which reaches its climax in the confession of Thomas (20:28).126

Moreover, Colwell wishes to impose definiteness on 1:1c because of the definite, articular use of theos in another context (20:28)127 – precisely the same reasoning he used in 5:27b.  But, as we noted earlier, definite usage in one context does not necessitate definiteness in another.  In fact, if definiteness is pressed too hard, taking 1:1b in conjunction with 1:1c, modalism may obtain; i.e., the Word was God the Father.128

A better solution is to view the PN in 1:1c as (primarily) qualitative.129  Westcott understands 1:1c as qualitative, describing the divine nature of the Word, with 5:27b its converse, depicting the Word’s human nature:

The predicate (θεός) stands emphatically first . . . It is necessarily without the article (θεός, not ὁ θεός), inasmuch as it describes the nature of the Word and does not identify His Person . . . No idea of inferiority of nature is suggested by the form of expression, which simply affirms the true deity of the Word.  Compare for the converse statement of the true humanity of Christ 5:27.130

Harner, Dixon and Wallace view 1:1c as qualitative, as well.131  In addition, Barrett understands theos in 1c as describing the nature of the Word, hence, qualitativeness.132  Beasley-Murray seems to imply qualitative-definiteness in this context.133  Bruce also seems to imply qualitative-definiteness in 1c.134

The predominant English rendering and the Word was God seems fine, as long as the reader understands that it describes the essence of the Word.  Harner thinks it could be translated and the Word has the same nature as God.135  We prefer And the Word was by nature God.

Next we’ll discuss John 1:14a: Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο.  Here we have the subject nominative (ὁ λόγος) preceding the anarthrous PN-CV construction (σὰρξ ἐγένετο, sarx egeneto; “flesh became”).  This is probably best rendered [And] the Word became flesh.

The analysis of the anarthrous PN-CV construction in 1:14a is more straightforward than either 1:1c or 5:27b.  It is clearly not indefinite, as we wouldn’t say the Word became a flesh.136  In a similar way, it would be difficult to state that the Word became the flesh, as this would mean that the Word took on a particular flesh, in which case a form of adoptionism would be implied: the divine Word ‘adopted’ a particular person, Jesus.137  No; the Word assumed another nature (human) when He became flesh, not another person, and this assumption of human nature resulted in the divine-human Person of Christ Jesus.  Hence, a qualitative understanding is the only possibility: [And] the Word became flesh – flesh consistent with that of every other human.

Wallace states that many commentaries prior to Colwell’s ‘rule’ noted a parallel between 1:1c and 1:14a because of the common anarthrous PN-CV constructions, with both clauses construed as qualitative.138  Westcott is but one example.139  In addition, as noted above, Westcott sees 5:27b as the converse of 1:1c.  Hence, these three qualitative PN-CV constructions can be viewed as forming a triad.  The Word was by nature God (1:1c).  Then, the divine Word became flesh, assuming flesh common to all humanity (1:14a), thus becoming the divine-human Person of Jesus.  This Jesus, the divine Son of God the Father (5:19-26), declared that the reason He was given authority to judge is because He is (also) human (5:27b).  In other words, though maintaining all the attributes of Deity (1:1c), the enfleshed Word is also human (1:14a), concurrently possessing all the qualities and characteristics consistent with being human, and it is the fact that the Word possesses human nature, in conjunction with His intrinsic divine nature, that enables Him to be Judge of all humankind (5:27b).

His incarnational humanity would remain a part of His Person – even after His “glorification,” which commenced at His death on the cross – as He, the divine yet human God-man, will be the future eschatological Judge of all humankind (5:28-30).  So, to reiterate, since the eternal Word is by nature God (1:1c), He possesses the divine capacity to judge humanity; however, it is only because He became flesh (1:14c) and is, hence, human that He cannot be seen as anything but a fair judge of humanity (5:27b) both during His earthly ministry (5:24-25) and at the eschaton (5:28-30).  For, like humankind, He suffered in His temptations (Heb 2:17-18; cf. Heb 5:2) and was tempted in all ways (Heb 4:15a-b); yet, unlike humanity, He remained unblemished, without sin (Heb 4:15c).

A contrarian may argue that John the Gospel writer could simply have used the adjectival forms (θεῖος, theios = divine; ἀνθρώπινος, anthrōpinos = human) instead of the nominal to make his intention clear in 1:1c and 5:27b.  However, using adjectives would have lessened the explanatory force, making these passages a bit ambiguous.  Was the Word simply another god, i.e. possessing the quality of divinity (1:1c), alongside God the Father?  Was Jesus merely human (5:27b)?  Moreover, these forms are infrequently used in the NT generally and, more importantly, completely absent in the Johannine corpus.140  Furthermore, it seems that the anarthrous PN-CV construction lends itself well to accentuating a particular quality of the subject nominative.  First, this is via the non-use of the article in the predicate nominative, which allows for a qualitative understanding, yet with an underlying definiteness.  Secondly, by placing the PN ahead of the CV – a linguistic device called fronting – the PN is necessarily emphasized.141  And the Gospel writer seems to have specifically intended this dual function in these contexts, just as he does predominately in the rest of his Gospel.


We have argued that John the Gospel writer, in making son of man anarthrous in 5:27b, wished to provide a distinction between this context and all other occurrences of the arthrous the Son of Man, while yet alluding to the latter.

It was shown that in the LXX the son of man idiom is always anarthrous, with the intended meaning mankind/humanity, or, human.  In the NT, the arthrous form is apparently a term specifically coined by Jesus, though it is used predominantly as a third person reference by Him.  Following Hurtado, we find that the articular ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου does not characterize or define “the Son of Man;” instead the individual contexts refer to the Person of Jesus Christ.  Moreover, “the Son of Man” does not refer solely to Jesus’ human nature, and, therefore, the term cannot be said to denote His humanity as opposed to His divinity.

A point of connection was found in the context of the anarthrous υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου in John 5:27b, specifically in regards to judgment, with both Rev 1:13 and 14:14, each of these verses in the Apocalypse alluding to the figure like a son of man in Daniel 7:13.  It was argued that in John 5:27b the Gospel writer also intended an allusion to Daniel 7:13-14, by both the use of the anarthrous huios anthrōpou and the larger context (which also points to Daniel 12:1-2).  This point of contact is argued as specifically evocative of the eschatological human-like figure in Daniel, making it clear that Jesus is the one spoken of by the Prophet.

Colwell’s ‘rule’ was found to be largely unhelpful in exegeting 5:27b.  However, the specific syntactical construction Colwell investigated, with the anarthrous predicate nominative preceding its copulative verb – which Wallace helpfully terms “Colwell’s Construction” – was shown to be primarily qualitative in the Gospel According to John.  John 5:27b was argued as having a qualitative force and an underlying definiteness.

This same construction is found in 1:1c and 1:14a, and along with 5:27b, these verses form a sort of triad.  In 1:1c the eternal Word was (ἦν, en) {by nature} God. In 1:14a the divine Word became (ἐγένετο, egeneto) flesh, taking on human nature; in 5:27b the Son of God is (ἐστίν) human, the abiding result of the former: the preexistent, eternal divine Son dwells in human form among humankind.  Jesus fully participates in humanity because He is fully human; however, He is not merely human, as He’s the Son of God.  His incarnational humanity remains into the eschaton where He will be eschatological judge (5:28-30).  For it is because the eternal Word is by nature God (1:1c) that He possesses the divine capacity to judge mankind; however, it is only because He became flesh (1:14c) and is, hence, human (5:27b) that he cannot be seen as anything but a fair judge of humanity.

It is the Word’s pre-incarnational, eternal intrinsic divinity (1:1c) coupled with his incarnational humanity (1:14a) that makes Him the perfect Judge (5:27b) for humankind (5:24-25; 5:28-30):

And he (the Father) has given Him (Jesus, the Son of God) authority to judge because He is (also) human.

In this view, the reason that the Son of God is given authority to judge is because He is also human.  This provides the basis for which He can be a fair judge of all, saved and unsaved, at the eschaton.


123 See Westcott, Gospel According to St. John, V1, p 2; cf. Brown, John I-XXI, p 4.

124 Thompson, God of Gospel of John, p 57, observes that there are 108 occurrences of θεός (God) in the fourth Gospel, as compared to “Father” which appears 120 times. God is first explicitly referenced as the Father of the μονογενὴς (monogenēs) Son in 1:14 (μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός), when considered in its full context to include 1:18 (μονογενὴς θεός/υἱός).  The large majority of times in John’s Gospel “Father” is in a context of relationship with Jesus as his Son, and what the Father does through the Son (pp 57-58, 69-72).  This leaves open the possibility that θεός in 1b refers to the entire Godhead rather than merely the Father.

David Alan Black, It’s Still Greek to Me, p 79, understands the Trinity as the referent, more clearly differentiating the Trinitarian Godhead from the Logos as God (1c) in its micro-context by paraphrasing the verse: In the beginning the Word existed, and the Word was with the Deity [τὸν θεόν], and the Word was Deity [θεός] (emphasis in original).  (Here Black seems to construe the PN of 1:1c as qualitative-definite (pp 77, 79).)  Carson, Gospel According to John, pp 116-118, also asserts 1b as a referent to the Trinitarian Godhead.

On the other hand, Brown, John I-XXI, notes that in contexts in which at least two members of the Trinity are expressed ho theos is “frequently used for God the Father” (p 5).  Moreover, in 57 of 58 appearances of ὁ θεός in John the referent is God the Father (See Dixon, p 36).  While Thompson, God of Gospel of John, observes that “God” is not used as a referent for the incarnate Word in the Gospel according to John, but that “God” is used for the preincarnate Word (1:1c) as well as the glorified Jesus (20:28), the author, though not explicit, strongly implies that τὸν θεόν in 1:1b denotes the Father (pp 233, 234).

Many modern commentaries assert the referent as the Father, e.g., Brown, John I-XXI, p 5, 24; Keener, Gospel of John: One, pp 369-374; Kostenberger, John, pp 27-29.  Ridderbos, Gospel of John, implies 1b as a referent to the Father, as he states that 1:1 “is explained, at the deepest level, by the absoluteness of the historic self-disclosure of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God” (p 35).  Martin Hengel, “The Prologue of the Gospel of John as the Gateway to Christological Truth” (in Bauckham, Mosser, Gospel of John and Christian Theology) sees John 1:1 as corresponding with 10:30: “I and the Father are one” (pp 272-273); cf. Paul N. Anderson, “On Guessing Points and Naming Stars” (in Bauckham, Mosser, Gospel of John and Christian Theology) who, similarly, equates 1:1 with 10:30 (p 314).  In addition, one may infer that Barrett, Gospel According to St. John, p 156, understands 1b as a reference to God the Father; Bruce, Gospel & Epistles of John, pp 30-31, also appears to imply the Father as the referent for 1b.

Moreover, a sampling of Patristic literature indicates a strong belief that τὸν θεόν in 1b is in reference to the Father: Elowsky, Ancient Christian Commentary: John 1-10, pp 8, 9, 10, 11, 12-15.  This includes Hilary of Poitiers, Origen, Augustine, Tertullian, Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, Chrysostom, Ambrose, and Methodius.

125 See Wallace, Grammar, pp 266-267.  Also, as noted earlier, an indefinite rendering of an anarthrous PN-CV is “the most poorly attested” of the three choices (Wallace, Grammar, p 267).

126 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 21.  Emphasis added.

127 In the lone use of ho theos as a reference to the Son (20:28), this is in conjunction with a possessive pronoun, which may well make the presence of the article insignificant (see Wallace, Grammar, p 239), though this does not negate the fact that the usage here is definite.

128 See Wallace, Grammar, p 268.

129 Wallace, Grammar, notes that commentators before Colwell viewed the usage here as qualitative (p 268 n30).

130 Westcott, Gospel According to St. John, V1, p 6; bold added for emphasis.  See quote at note 119 above for Westcott on 5:27b.

131 Harner, pp 84-87; Dixon, pp 35-40; Wallace, Grammar, p 269.

132 Barrett, Gospel According to St. John, p 156.

133 Beasley-Murray, John, pp 10-11.

134 Bruce, Gospel & Epistles of John, pp 30-31.

135 Harner, p 87.

136 See Wallace, Grammar, p 264.

137 See Oliver D. Crisp, Divinity and Humanity: The Incarnation Reconsidered (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp 34-71.

138 See Wallace, Grammar, p 264.

139 Westcott, Gospel According to St. John, V1, p 19.

140 Θεῖος is only used in Acts 17:29; 2 Pet 1:3, 1:4 (Titus 1:9 in a variant), ἀνθρώπινος in Acts 17:25; Rom 6:19; 1 Cor 2:13, 4:13, 10:13; James 3:7; 1 Pet 2:13.

141 In Koine Greek, most usually, the verb is placed first in a sentence, and by placing the PN in front of the verb the PN is emphasized.  For fronting see Martin M. Culy, I, II, III John: A Handbook on the Greek Text (Baylor Handbook of the Greek New Testament series, Martin M. Culy, gen. ed. (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2004)), “Placing a constituent earlier in the sentence than its default order, most commonly in a pre-verbal position” (p 170).  Cf. Wallace, Grammar, p 269, nt 32.

The Son of God Given Authority to Judge Because He is ‘Human’: A Study in John 5:27, pt 5

[This is part 5 of a multi-part article.  See part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 6, conclusion.]

Grammatical-Syntactical Analysis of John 5:27b

We now turn specifically to the anarthrous PN-CV construction in 5:27b:

ὅτι υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου ἐστίν
ὅτι [PN:] υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου [CV:] ἐστίν
hoti [PN:] huios anthrōpou [CV:] estin
because huios anthrōpou He [the Son of God] is

It will be necessary to begin the discussion with a ‘rule’ put forth by E. C. Colwell, since it tends to be misapplied, even partly by Colwell himself in the establishment of his own rule.87 Knowing Colwell’s methodology will prove helpful in determining how to properly implement his findings.

Colwell surveyed NT syntactical constructions in which the predicate nominative is without the article and precedes its copulative verb (anarthrous PN-CV constructions) in which the PN was, by his estimation, “indubitably definite.”88 Importantly, Colwell did not consider either indefinite or qualitative PNs as part of his final analysis. In his study, he barely mentions indefinite PN-CVs at all; however, he specifically excludes all qualitative PNs because they are “not definite” and declares that the total amount in the NT is “small” anyway.89 Yet, as noted above, definite and indefinite nouns can sometimes be simultaneously qualitative.

Colwell also considered anarthrous CV-PN constructions. Of the 123 total “indubitably definite” anarthrous PNs he counted in the NT,90 97 were PN-CV (79%), while 26 were CV-PN (21%).91 What we do not know via Colwell is: (a) how many total anarthrous PN-CV constructions there are in the NT;92 (b) of this total how many were determined to be (primarily) qualitative or indefinite as opposed to definite; and, (c) the relative distribution of the three compared to each other.

Colwell also noted that there are incidences of arthrous PN-CV constructions. Recall that all arthrous nouns are definite, no matter the context. Colwell added these 15 arthrous PN-CV constructions to his 97 “indubitably definite” anarthrous PN-CVs, concluding that 87% of the time a definite PN does not have the article when it precedes the CV,93 thus resulting in his general rule: A definite predicate nominative has the article when it follows the verb, it does not have the article when it precedes the verb.94 Of course, this percentage is only valid to the extent of Colwell’s accuracy in predetermining definite anarthrous PN-CV constructions. He concedes this point, though he explains that he endeavored “to exclude all nouns as to whose definiteness there could be any doubt.”95 From his analysis Colwell claims that, with respect to translation and interpretation, he has

show[n] that a predicate nominative which precedes the verb cannot be translated as an indefinite or a “qualitative” noun solely because of the absence of the article if the context suggests that the predicate is definite, it should be translated as a definite noun in spite of the absence of the article.96

This statement is not untrue considering his important conditional clause “if the context suggests that the predicate is definite.” Yet, in building his case for the incidences of definite anarthrous PN-CV constructions, he compared the arthrous – and hence, definite – the Son of Man (ho huios tou anthrōpou) in the CV-PN construction of Matthew 13:37 to the anarthrous PN-CV huios anthrōpou of John 5:27b, ‘proving’ that John 5:27b is definite.97 This exemplifies at least one methodological error. Colwell assumed that the definite usage of a PN in one context necessarily renders that same PN definite in another, in this case partially upon his presumption that the expression in both texts is a “title.”98 Moreover, it may be that he presupposed definiteness because of the anarthrous PN-CV construction (and perhaps because of the myriad instances of the Son of Man in the Gospels). That is, he may not have adequately assessed the context, merely imposing his hypothesis upon the text, for, on the surface, it does not appear he could declare John 5:27b “indubitably definite.” If true, he would have been assuming the converse of his own rule in determining definiteness, a practice found elsewhere in his work.99 Many others have done this very thing, citing Colwell and erroneously presuming that ‘an anarthrous PN is definite when it precedes the CV’100 – even though Colwell did not examine all such NT constructions. But, as Dixon points out, this is demonstrably false:

[T]he converse of Colwell’s rule . . . is not a valid inference . . . From the statement “Articular nouns are definite,” it is not valid to infer “Definite nouns are articular.” Likewise, from the statement “Definite predicate nominatives preceding the verb are anarthrous,” it is not valid to infer “Anarthrous predicate nominatives preceding the verb are definite.”101

To rephrase, as we noted above, sometimes definite nouns lack the article, so it would be fallacious to state ‘definite nouns are arthrous.’ Similarly, sometimes when a PN precedes its CV the noun is other than definite. The point here is that Colwell’s findings merely allow the possibility that an anarthrous PN-CV construction be definite. ‘Colwell’s rule’ states “nothing about the probability of definiteness.”102 Hence, context must be the first consideration. If the context suggests definiteness, then it is grammatically permissible to render it definite, per a proper interpretation of Colwell’s work.

Yet, according to the analysis of Harner and Dixon, in the Gospel according to John, an anarthrous PN is most times qualitative when it precedes its CV.103 Specifically, Harner interprets these constructions as primarily qualitative, and this qualitativeness “may be more important than the question whether the predicate noun itself should be regarded as definite or indefinite.”104 In his article he concludes:

. . . [A]narthrous predicate nouns preceding the verb may be primarily qualitative in force yet may also have some connotation of definiteness. The categories of qualitativeness and definiteness, that is, are not mutually exclusive, and frequently it is a delicate exegetical issue for the interpreter to decide which emphasis a Greek writer had in mind.105

In fact, of the 53 occurrences of anarthrous PN-CV constructions in John’s Gospel, Harner found 40 primarily qualitative in force.106 Dixon, on the other hand, deemed 45 of the 53 to be with a qualitative emphasis,107 with another five “probably qualitative.”108 While Harner does not count John 5:27b as qualitative,109 this clause is specifically identified by Dixon as “probably qualitative, but could be definite.”110 Assessing the work of Harner and Dixon along with his own analysis, Wallace states a general rule, thus revising Colwell: “An anarthrous pre-verbal PN is normally qualitative, sometimes definite, and only rarely indefinite.”111

Given the exegetical findings of the previous section in conjunction with syntactical probabilities, the position taken here is that υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου in John 5:27b is primarily qualitative and secondarily definite, revealing the μονογενὴς (monogenēs, unique, one-of-a-kind; 1:14, 18) Son of God’s incarnational status. Rather than making a one-to-one correspondence (because He [the Son of God] is the Son of Man), the focus in this verse is upon His incarnational humanity over against His deity.112 Thus, it should be interpreted: because the Son of God is son of man, i.e. because the Son of God is human. In other words, this clause should be understood: ‘because the Son of God (also) possesses all the qualities and characteristics consistent with being human.’ This seems the best way to understand John 5:27b in view of its immediate context, its contrast with yet connection to ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου throughout John’s Gospel as illustrated in the previous sections above, its agreement with parts of the larger Johannine corpus (Revelation 1:13 and 14:14), and its allusions and references to the OT (especially in relation to Daniel 7:13-14, 7:26, 12:1c-2, but also to include general usage of υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου in the LXX113).

Some commentators perceive the qualitative force in John 5:27b. Barrett, e.g., recognizes the qualitative emphasis here, with an underlying definiteness,114 quoting Schlatter in agreement in this regard:

It is unnecessary here to use the articles because ‘in this context his uniqueness is perfectly clear. It arises out of the uniqueness of his status as Son of God . . . But here the emphasis lies upon the fact that he belongs to humanity as he who took the measure of life appointed to men.’115

Hare, also, seems to affirm a qualitative-definite force noting, importantly, that while the anarthrous form is “not identical” to the arthrous, he sees the expression in 5:27 as combining both:

[H]uios anthrōpou does not serve as a name but expresses a quality or status, yet its connotative force appears to be the same as that of the fuller appellative. Both forms of the phrase can refer to the humanity of the Word that became flesh for our salvation.116

Aune, following Hare, also asserts that the anarthrous υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου in 5:27 “expresses a quality or status, i.e., the incarnate status of the Son.”117 Additionally, Augustine affirms the view adopted here, as “[h]e is the one who will come and it is in the form [of man] that he will come [to judge].”118 As well, Westcott construes a qualitative-definite rendering, with the understanding that this is due to Christ’s role as Judge:

The prerogative of judgement is connected with the true humanity of Christ (Son of man), and not with the fact that He is the representative of humanity (the Son of man). The Judge, even as the Advocate (Heb. 2:18), must share the nature of those who are brought before Him. The omission of the article concentrates attention upon the nature and not upon the personality of Christ.119

Similarly, Godet recognizes that it’s necessarily from Christ’s humanity that He judges mankind, asserting a qualitative priority in John 5:27b:

It emphasizes the relation between the character of judge and that of Son of man. What is this relation? . . . The term, Son of man, without the article sets forth simply the quality of man which He shares with all other men . . . The quality of man is made prominent here for the purpose of explaining, not the dignity of Saviour, but that of judge. The judgment of humanity is a homage rendered to the holiness of God; but this homage, in order really to make reparation for the outrage committed, must proceed from the [human] race itself which has committed the offense. Judgment, in this view, is exactly on the same line with expiation, of which it serves as the complement. Expiation is the reparation freely offered believing humanity; judgment is the satisfaction which God takes from humanity which has refused Him this reparation. In the one, as in the other, of these acts, a man must preside.120

As evidenced by the foregoing, our position that John 5:27b should be understood as qualitative-definite finds theological and contextual validity, syntactical grounding, and support from some commentators. Strict definiteness, while viable, seems outweighed by contextual and theological considerations. Moreover, if the Gospel writer wished to make it clear that his intention in 5:27b was to indicate definiteness he could simply have utilized both articles and/or placed an arthrous PN after the CV – the latter construction used 66 times in his Gospel.121 Indefiniteness, though grammatically possible, is “the most poorly attested” of the three options involving a PN-CV construction,122 and seems unlikely in this context, for it could imply that a mere man is qualified to be eschatological judge.

Go to part 6, conclusion.


87 E. C. Colwell, “A Definite Rule for the Use of the Article in the Greek New Testament,” Journal of Biblical Literature 52 (1933): 12-21. See Wallace, Grammar, on how Colwell himself erroneously applied his own ‘rule’ (pp 258-259; cf. 259-262).

88 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 17. As Dixon, “Anarthrous Predicate Nominative in John,” observes: “Thus, what is to be asserted is not definiteness, but articularity” (p 13). Cf. Wallace, Grammar, p 262.

89 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 17.

90 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 17. Colwell also specifically excludes relative clauses (pp 16-17). He states that this 123 total is not necessarily 100% accurate – he may have missed a few – and this fact does not necessarily materially affect his results (“Definite Rule,” p 16 nt 10). I’ll agree that if the total were actually, say, 125 as opposed to his 123 that this would not detract from his analysis on this particular point. It’s what he concludes with this data that is problematic, as we will see.

91 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 17.

92 Philip B. Harner, “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1” (Journal of Biblical Literature 92 (1973): 75-87) counts 53 such constructions in John’s Gospel alone, with another eight in Mark (p 82). However, Harner construed most of these as emphasizing a qualitative force. More on this below.

93 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 17.

94 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 13. Emphasis added.

95 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 17.

96 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 20. Emphasis added

97 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 14.

98 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 14. Dixon, “Anarthrous Predicate Nominative in John,” identifies this sort of error (pp 19-22). Moreover, as Hare, Son of Man, illustrates, Matthew 13:37 is the only CV-PN construction of the expression in the entire NT, and the context is within a parable, which, given its allegorical nature, necessitates this form, in his opinion; cf. Gal 4:24f (p 151).

99 See Colwell’s (“Definite Rule”) exegesis of John 1:1c (p 21), which is discussed specifically below (see note 126 and corresponding text). Wallace (Grammar) recounts how he learned that Colwell considered the converse of his rule as valid as the rule itself (p 259, esp. ftnt 11).

100 As but one example, in an effort to refute the Arianism inherent in the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation rendering of John 1:1c (“and the Word was a god”), Walter Martin [The Kingdom of the Cults: The Definitive Work on the Subject, Revised, Updated, and Expanded Edition, gen. ed. R. Zacharias (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2003)] misapplied Colwell’s Rule, which, ironically, resulted in his implied support of Sabellianism (modalism) – a heresy he had staunchly opposed. Citing Colwell, Martin dogmatically declared: “the Greek grammatical construction leaves no doubt whatsoever that this [and the Word was God] is the only possible rendering . . . Colwell formulated a rule that clearly states that a definite predicate nominative (in this case theos – God) never takes an article when it precedes the verb (was), as we find in John 1:1[c] . . . [T]herefore . . . no article is needed . . . and to translate it ‘a god’ is both incorrect grammar and poor Greek” (p 108). The reason this can support Sabellianism is that in John 1:1b (and the Word was with [the] God (ho theos)) God (ho theos) can be understood contextually as the Father, and by claiming that the PN is definite in which “no article is needed” Martin affirmed – whether intentional or not – a fully convertible A = B / B = A proposition: the Word = God (the Father) and God (the Father) = the Word. See A. T. Robertson, [A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 4th ed. (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1934 (1914)), pp 767-768] who references this very clause, adding: “[W]hen the article occurs with the subject . . . and predicate, both are definite, treated as identical, one and the same, and interchangeable” (p 768). Cf. Wallace, Grammar, pp 258, 268. [More on John 1:1c in the next section.]

Martin went further astray in his statement that a definite noun in a PN-CV construction “never takes an article,” for, per Colwell, 15 out of 112 are arthrous (Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 17). Hence, not only did Martin erroneously affirm the converse of Colwell’s rule, he mistakenly asserted that there can never be an articular PN-CV construction.

101 Dixon, “Anarthrous Predicate Nominative in John,” (hereafter simply “Dixon”) pp 11-12.

102 Dixon, p 18.

103 Harner, “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns,” pp 75-87 (hereafter simply “Harner”); Dixon, pp 1-61.

104 Harner, p 75.

105 Harner, p 87. Emphasis added.

106 Harner, pp 82-83.

107 Dixon, p 32.

108 Dixon, p 34. These are identified as 1:49, 5:27, 9:5, 17:17, and 19:21.

109 This verse is not enumerated in his list of 40 in which “the qualitative force of the predicate is more prominent than its definiteness or indefiniteness” (Harner, pp 83, 83 nt 20). While Harner specifically engages some anarthrous PN-CV constructions in John, 5:27b is not one of them, and no specific reason was given for the non-inclusion of this verse in his list of 40. However, he does state: “Some degree of subjectivity is unavoidable . . . and the interpretation of some examples is uncertain” (p 83). Perhaps this means John 5:27b is, in his opinion, one of those that are “uncertain.”

110 Dixon, p 33; cf. 56.

111 Wallace, Grammar, p 262. Italics in original, bold added.

112 It is the surrounding context that is expressing Jesus’ deity via His divine functioning, not the Son of God idiom itself, as discussed above.

113 To include especially Psalm 8:4, 80:17, and 144:3 in their larger contexts. Leung, Kingship-Cross Interplay, states that “Son of Man” in Psalms 8:4, 80:17, and 144:3 are referenced in the post-NT Targums as “evidently messianic” (p 70). Yet the author includes John 5:27 among these “son of man” references, assuming it is definite along with all 12 other particularized usages of the term in John’s Gospel. This illustrates (a) the very point we’ve been making here that the understanding of a messianic the Son of Man only came after the NT had been written; and, (b) that this author, like many others, imposes particularity and definiteness upon 5:27b.

114 Barrett, Gospel According to St. John, p 262. The commentator also states: “Everywhere else in John both articles are used . . . because the phrase is here anarthrous it has been suggested that its meaning is not ‘the Son of man’; Jesus is qualified and authorized to judge because he has shared the experiences of men as one of themselves” (p 262).

115 Barrett, Gospel According to St. John, p 262 (emphasis added), who cites Adolf Schlatter, Der Evangelist Johannes, wie er spricht denkt und glaubt: Ein Kommentar zum vierten Evangelium (Stuttgart: Calwer, (1930) 1958), p 152. [Translation: John the Evangelist, As He Speaks, Thinks, and Believes: A Commentary on the Fourth Gospel.]

116 Hare, Son of Man, p 96; cf. pp 90-96.

117 Aune, Revelation 1-5, p 90.

118 Augustine of Hippo, “Sermon 127.10,” in Joel C. Elowsky, ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament, IVa: John 1-10, Thomas Oden, gen. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006), p 199. Brackets in original.

119 Westcott, Gospel According to St. John, 1, p 194; parentheses in original.

120 Godet, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Vol. 1, pp 477-478; italics in original.

121 For this quantity, see Harner (p 82) and Dixon (p 24). Delbert R. Burkett [The Son of the Man in the Gospel of John, (JSNTSup, 56; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991)], who claims the usage here is indefinite (p 43), asserts that there are two other syntactical choices the Gospel writer could have used to mark the appellative as definite – though he also calls it a title – structures the biblical author utilized elsewhere in the Gospel, as “[t]he second article in [PN-CV] constructions is regularly retained . . .” (p 42). These two options are: (a) employing an anarthrous υἱός before the CV and τοῦ ἀνθρώπου after; (b) placing υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου before the CV (p 42). For (a) he appeals to 1:49, 9:5, 10:2, 12:31, and 19:21; for (b) he compares to 8:39 and 10:36. Regarding Burkett’s supporting texts for (b), both Dixon (p 56) and Harner (p 83 ftnt 20), in contrast to Burkett, find the two to be primarily qualitative. I’m inclined to agree.

As to the supporting verses for (a), Harner explicitly agrees with the position taken by Burkett regarding 1:49 and 9:5 (pp 83-84) and implicitly agrees regarding 19:21 (p 83); however, Dixon finds these three verses “probably qualitative, but, possibly definite” (pp 19-22, cf. 41-44). 10:2 is determined to be qualitative by both Dixon (p 56) and Harner (p 83 ftnt 20). 12:31 does not appear to fit the pattern and is not assessed by either Harner or Dixon. Regarding 10:2, we concur with Harner and Dixon. On the other three verses we remain ambivalent: we can see the argument of Harner, and we can sympathize with the position of Dixon.

While it may be true that the Gospel writer would retain the second article in such constructions, given the evidence, to include sample size, I’m not so sure we can make any definitive conclusions as to the biblical author’s intentions regarding in/definiteness or qualitativeness, contra Burkett. In fact, it seems likely that Burkett deems these constructions definite on their face merely because he presupposes they are all titles.

122 Wallace, Grammar, p 267.

The Son of God Given Authority to Judge Because He is ‘Human’: A Study in John 5:27, pt 4

[This is part 4 of a multi-part article.  See part 1, part 2, part 3, part 5 and part 6, conclusion.]

Immediate and Larger Context of John 5:27b

Chapter 5 of John’s Gospel begins with Jesus healing the man at the pool of Bethesda. Jesus’ Jewish adversaries took exception to His healing on the Sabbath, and then commanding the now-healed man to ‘work’ – as per their much exaggerated extrapolation of Mosaic Law – in His instruction to the man to pick up his mat and walk (8-15).60 Verse 16 begins Jesus’ interaction with His interlocutors (16-18), and His monologue in response to them follows (19-47).

Jesus’ reaction to their concern of Him doing “these things” on the Sabbath (16) was to explain that He always works, along with His Father (17). His antagonists were even more zealous to kill Him, as they understood that He was making Himself equal with God (18). This was two-fold: (a) Jesus claimed to always work, to include the Sabbath and, (b) Jesus called God His own Father (ὁ πατήρ μου, ho Patēr Mou – My Father). On the former (a) Brown notes the following, pertaining to rabbinic understanding of God as related to the Sabbath:

In particular, as regards men, divine activity was visible in two ways: men were born and men died on the Sabbath. Since only God could give life (2 Kings 5:7; 2 Macc 7:22–23) and only God could deal with the fate of the dead in judgment, this meant God was active on the Sabbath . . . God has kept in His hand three keys that He entrusts to no agent: the key of the rain, the key of birth (Gen 30:22), and the key of the resurrection of the dead (Ezek 37:13). And it was obvious to the rabbis that God used these keys even on the Sabbath.61

Death itself was seen as “judgment.” Further explaining Jewish understanding regarding the Sabbath, Pryor observes that inherent in the Jews’ anger against Jesus was “the rabbinic awareness that since people are born and die on the Sabbath, God cannot be said to be idle on any day, for the gift of life and the work of judgment are divine prerogatives.”62 Thus, in the minds of Jesus’ antagonists, His claim of working as His Father works on the Sabbath strongly implied equality with God, with this ‘work’ understood potentially as ‘giving life’ (births) and ‘judgment’ (death). In response to His adversaries’ outward intent to take His life, Jesus commences to further confirm their suspicions by making explicit claims of possessing the ability to give life and exercise judgment (18-29), as we will see.63

After Jesus identifies Himself as the Son in relation to “My Father” (17), He continues this theme throughout His monologue, being more specific later that He indeed is the Son of God (25). This implies that all other mentions of ὁ υἱός (ho huios), the Son (19, 20, 21, 22, 23, and 26), in this pericope are references to Jesus as the Son of God. Given this, we may identify the pronouns in 5:27 thusly: And he [the Father] has given Him [the Son of God] authority to judge because He [the Son of God] is υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου.

The Son of God makes various claims of sharing in divine functions with the Father: The Son indicates that His works are performed through His dependence on the Father,64 as He “sees” His Father,65 and “whatever the Father does the Son does also” (19). This implies a unity between Father and Son.66 The Father shows the Son “even greater works” (20), to include the ability to raise the dead and give life (21). The Son of God has been entrusted with judgment (22), to include salvation unto eternal life for those who “hear” His words (24-25), both contemporaneous with his interlocutors (24-25) and in the future, eschatological resurrection-judgment (28-29). That is, Jesus’ words are describing both inaugurated eschatology (24-25)67 and consummated eschatology (28-29).68 The former centers on earthly belief or non-belief in Jesus in response to His words, the latter the eternal consequences – positive or negative – of this temporal choice (cf. 3:15, 17-18, 12:47-48).69 In the Gospel according to John “Christology is the root of eschatology; eschatology is the outworking of the Christology of the Son of the Father.”70

An important question to answer en route to exegeting 5:27b is this: What does the initial independent clause of verse 28 – Do not be amazed at this – refer to? Specifically, does this correspond to the words preceding it or those following? Certainly, the entire pericope proved ‘amazing’ to the perturbed Jews here, as they “were trying even harder to kill Him” even before Jesus began His monologue. Given that Jesus had already stated that hearing His words would bring about eternal life in the here and now, why would the statement following about the future resurrection be ‘amazing,’ especially in view of the rabbinic understanding of the reality of future eschatological judgment (Daniel 12:2)? Does this mean we should understand this in 28a as pertaining to Jesus’ previous words to the exclusion of the words that follow?

Yet it is conceivable that this in 5:28a (Do not be amazed at this) refers, in some way, to the description of eschatological judgment that follows. Moreover, it is plausible that this in context refers to both that which precedes it and that which follows. Commentaries are somewhat divided on this issue. Some opine that this refers solely to the preceding.71 Others posit that it pertains to what follows.72 Many others construe the meaning as referring to Jesus’ words both before and after this.73 The position adopted here – which we’ll unpack as we move along – comports with the latter, though the analysis is grounded in a particular understanding of the meaning and function of huios anthrōpou in 5:27b.

More specifically, the stance here is such that Jesus is telling His interlocutors to not be amazed that the basis upon which the Son of God is granted authority to judge is that He is huios anthrōpou. The Son of God, as huios anthrōpou, not only has been given authority for the present granting of life (24-25), He will also have future authority to judge at the eschatological resurrection-judgment, as it will be His (human) voice heard by both those who have “done good” (28-29a), and those who have “done evil” (28, 29b).74 Those who have “done good” are those who believed in Him during their earthly life, and they will hear the voice of the Son of God as υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου and will “rise to live,” thus fulfilling the Son of Man’s promise to “raise him up on the last day” (6:39-40, 44, 54). Those who have “done evil” are those who rejected the Son of God and His words, and hence rejected the Father who sent Him (3:18b [cf. 3:17a], 12:47-49; cf. 3:19b-20, 5:23), and they will hear the voice of the Son of God as υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου and then “rise to be condemned,” thus fulfilling the promise that “the very word I [the Son of God] spoke will condemn him at the last day” (12:48).75

A linguistic device used by the Gospel writer in this pericope may lend credence to our position. The verb in verse 28a – (θαυμάζετε, thaumadzete) be amazed, marvel – is the same as the one in v 20, though in a slightly different form (θαυμάζητε, thaumadzēte; may be amazed, may marvel). Taken together, these function akin to an inclusio,76 with each referring to the Son providing “greater works” in the form of judgment (positively and negatively), as illustrated by the intervening context, as well as 28b-29. Given our position here, θαυμάζετε in 28a (Do not be amazed at this) primarily refers to the just-stated fact (27b) that it is, and will be, the Son of God as υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου functioning as the vehicle by which these “greater works” are (24-25) and will be (28-29) effected.77 Similarly, the noun “works” (ἔργα, erga) in v 20 is a rephrasing of, and thus an allusion to, both uses of its verbal form “is/am working” in 17 (ἐργάζομαι, ergadzomai and ἐργάζεται, ergadzetai), with Jesus indicating that not only is He “working” on the Sabbath, along with His Father (17), He is and will be doing even “greater works” (20).

The subsequent use of “works” and “marvel” has the effect of not only linking each one with its previous usage, but of providing a cumulative, intensifying force as well. Jesus, the Son of God, not only is working (along with His Father) on the Sabbath, thereby alluding that He is possibly functioning divinely as contemporaneous Life Giver and Judge in earthly births and deaths, respectively (17), He does greater works in the form of explicitly providing eternal life (20-25). While His antagonists will marvel about these “greater works” of the Son of God in inaugurating eternal life in the present (20-25), even more marvelous is the fact that He, as υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου, will be the voice which will be heard at the consummation of salvation and the ultimate condemnation at the eschatological resurrection-judgment (27-30).78

That the voice (…because a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice…) of a ‘mere’ huios anthrōpou, son of man, would be the impetus for the final, resurrection-judgment would indeed be cause for his antagonists to marvel! That this Jesus – by all appearances to His interlocutors a mere man – would claim filial relationship to God (as the Son of God) as one who provides eternal life to those who hear His voice in the then-present age would surely be scandalous; but, for this Jesus to pronounce that the authority granted Him for all judgment, to include the final judgment, is because He is (also) huios anthrōpou would be quite another matter. To His antagonists, this would indicate, among other things, that this man Jesus not only claims direct familial relationship with God but is also claiming He would be alive as the final resurrection-judgment commences; and that it would be His (human) voice heard by all those in their graves, who would then arise to face judgment for either life or condemnation at the eschaton.79 Additionally, His adversaries may think that Jesus is implicitly stating that He would never see death, perhaps as per Enoch (Gen 5:23) or Elijah (2 Kings 2:11)

Quite plausibly, Jesus’ referring to Himself as the anarthrous υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου in the context of yet-future resurrection-judgment as described in 5:27-29 may prompt His hearers to recall the figure ὡς υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου (like a son of man) in Daniel 7:13-14, as well as the description of final judgment in Daniel 12:2.80 In fact, the similar phraseology of he has given Him authority (ἐξουσίαν ἔδωκεν αὐτῷ) in 5:27 (inaugurated eschatology) and to him was given authority (ἐδόθη αὐτῷ ἐξουσία) in Daniel 7:14 (yet-future prophetic reference) may provide further cause for his antagonists to connect the two. In addition, His audience could be inclined to recall the court scene depicted in Daniel 7:26-27, perhaps with the understanding that Jesus was implying He’d be presiding Judge. All this may account for why Jesus’ words in 5:27b were not the arthrous ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου but, rather, the anarthrous form of the idiom; i.e. the intent was to specifically evoke the eschatological human-like figure in Daniel. In other words, since Daniel 7:13 does not refer to the figure coming with the clouds as one ‘like the Son of Man,’ but instead one like a son of man, like a human, the articles may have been purposely omitted in 5:27b.81 If so, the use of the anarthrous construction (υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου) in 5:27b in this context functioned to illustrate that the Prophet Daniel’s words were about Him. This is the stance taken here.

This position is bolstered by John’s use of similar language in the similarly-themed material in Revelation 1:13 and 14:14, as noted earlier.82 In fact, it may well be that the hyper-anthropic (super-human) description of Jesus in His post-earthly appearance in Revelation 1:7-18 (especially 14-16) and the depiction of Him as the eschatological reaper of 14:14-16 provides the very reason for the use of one like a huios anthrōpou in the Apocalypse, in contradistinction to the not-yet-glorified huios anthrōpou in John 5:27b. Stated another way, the appearance of the post-earthly Jesus is described as ὅμοιος υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου (homoios huios anthrōpou),83 like a son of man, in Rev 1:13 and 14:14 specifically because of His hyper-anthropic features, in order to distinguish it from, while yet retaining a connection to, his former earthly ministerial appearance as υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου (huios anthrōpou), son of man, human, in John 5:27b.84

Perhaps also of significance, as illustrated above, John the Gospel writer nowhere else uses the arthrous ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου (ho huios tou anthrōpou) in a context of eschatological condemnation-judgment as found in John 5:29b. However, as noted above, Hurtado seems to be right in that the articular the Son of Man idiom functions only to refer to Jesus, not to define Him. But, then again, all contexts reflecting the negative aspect of judgment specify that it’s the individual’s rejection of Jesus in their earthly life that condemns them, not Jesus’ active condemnation of them, and these do not directly reference the eschaton. John 5:29b is, then, the only context of eschatological condemnation-judgment in the Gospel, and this includes the anarthrous υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου of 5:27b as part of its larger context.

The overarching point we are driving at here is that the Biblical author in John 5:27b seems to be emphasizing qualitativeness: And the Father has given the Son of God authority to judge because He is human. In other words, the function of the expression here appears best understood as taking on a strong adjectival force. The reason the divine Son of God has been granted authority to judge is due to His incarnational status of being fully human, sharing humanity with all humankind. If the Gospel writer intended an allusion or even a more direct reference to Daniel 7:13, as we’ve argued above, then it seems logical that the author would use the same non-particularized form of the term that the Prophet used, which, as we argued earlier, is best understood like a human. That is, the Daniel verse and the two in the Apocalypse which allude to Daniel are best construed as qualitative-indefinite, while John 5:27b seems best understood as emphasizing qualitativeness over definiteness. Assuming so, John 5:27 powerfully proclaims the hypostatic union – the unity of divinity and humanity in the Person of Jesus Christ.

The definiteness included in the qualitative-definite assessment of 5:27b should be understood as providing an implicit link to the other arthrous sayings of the idiom, as it’s, e.g., the Son of Man who will ‘raise up’ believers “at the last day” (6:39-40, 44, 54). However, this does not mean that the articular form of the idiom should be understood as strictly indicating Jesus’ humanity, as illustrated above. Thompson, agreeing with this position, also notes that both the Son of Man and the Son of God refer to Jesus as the Word-become-flesh in the Gospel of John:

In spite of the fact that in biblical usage “son of man” connotes humankind, it is too neat, even misleading, to say that [the] “Son of Man” refers to Jesus in his humanity, while “Son of God” denotes his divinity . . . [A]ll three designations – Son, Son of Man, and Son of God – refer to the same person, Jesus of Nazareth, who is Word-made-flesh. From his identity as the Word who was with God and who was God, who became flesh, and who in his vocation as the Messiah gives his flesh for the life of the world – from that identity these diverse filial forms derive their meaning.85

Accepting Thompson’s position, and given that in Jesus’ monologue here (5:19ff) He identifies Himself specifically as the Son of God (5:25), would it not seem superfluous for Jesus to state that the reason He, the Son of God, was granted authority to judge was because He, the Son of God, is the Son of Man? In addition, if we were to assume for the moment that the Gospel writer intended a definite understanding (the Son of Man) for the anarthrous huios anthrōpou here, this would be the only occurrence of a direct correspondence between the two idioms in Johannine literature.

With all the preceding in mind, for contextual and theological reasons we will tentatively reject a strictly definite (when at the expense of a qualitative) the Son of Man as the authorial intention for John 5:27b. Assuredly, had the Gospel writer wished, he could have simply added both articles to the expression in order to make certain his intention for definiteness, rather than leaving it (seemingly) ambiguous. However, we will withhold a final conclusion on this until the grammatical-syntactical argument is engaged.

While we have been contending for a qualitative-definite authorial intent, we have not specifically investigated indefiniteness, which, on the surface, seems to be a viable option.86 This possibility will be explored briefly in our grammatical investigation below.

[Go to part 5.]


60 For some detail on the violations to the Mishna see Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII, 2nd ed. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1966), p 208.

61 Brown, John I-XXI, p 217. Emphasis added. The archaic rendering of Scripture (e.g. “Gen xxx 22”) has been changed to common usage. This practice continues throughout.

62 John W. Pryor, John, Evangelist of the Covenant People (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992), pp 26-27, as cited in Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), p 111. Emphasis added.

63 See Blomberg, Historical Reliability, pp 110-111, 114-115.

64 See brief discussion in Marianne Meye Thompson, The God of the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), p 234.

65 Note that no one can see God (John 1:18; cf. 5:37, 6:46) and live (Ex 33:20), a point that would not have been lost on Jesus’ Jewish antagonists.

66 See Thompson, The God of the Gospel of John, pp 231-235.

67 Jesus’ words in verse 25 that “a time is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live” should be understood as contemporaneous (νῦν ἐστιν, now is), with the dead understood as the spiritually dead.   That is, the ζωὴν αἰώνιον, eternal life, of v 24 should be seen as inaugurated eschatology and not consummated eschatology. This is known usually as the already but not yet. Eternal life is secured in the temporal life through belief in Christ, yet its consummation comes at the eschaton.

68 For a lengthy discussion on the contrast between inaugurated eschatology and consummated eschatology, with respect to eternal life here in John’s Gospel, see Thompson, The God of the Gospel of John, pp 80-87, though Thompson uses “realized eschatology” rather than “inaugurated eschatology.”

69 Miroslav Volf, “Johannine Dualism and Contemporary Pluralism” [in The Gospel of John and Christian Theology, R. Bauckham and C. Mosser, eds. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008)], delineates the difference between the two judgments well: “The theme of divine judgment is present. Jesus spoke of God’s wrath against unbelievers (3:36) and understood himself as the executioner of that judgment in the endtime (5:27-29). But he stated repeatedly and emphatically that he has not come into the world to judge it but to save it (3:17; 12:47). True, his coming in the world effected judgment, depending on how people responded to it (3:17-21). But that is precisely the point: He does not actively judge, his words and actions judge, depending on how people respond to them . . .” (p 43; italics in original).

70 George R. Beasley-Murray, John, Word Biblical Commentary, D. Hubbard, G. Barker, gen. eds. (Waco, TX: Word, 1987), p 80.

71 E.g., D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, Pillar New Testament Commentary, D. A. Carson, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), p 258; Andreas J. Kostenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Moises Silva, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002), p 189, though the author thinks it possible that it could refer to both the preceding and the following.

72 E. g., Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume One (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, (2003) 2010 (1st softcover ed.)), p 651.

73 C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978), p 263; Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary, trans. J. Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, (1987) 1997), pp 200-201; Beasley-Murray, John, p 77; B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John, Vol. 1 (London: John Murray, 1908), p 192 [;view=1up;seq=210;size=125].  Brown, John I-XXI, opines that the author may have “the whole complex of ideas” in view (p 215).

74 If the Gospel of John is in any way polemical against a proto-Gnosticism, our interpretation of this statement may be seen as negating a supposed spirit/matter dualism in Jesus – i.e., that Jesus is a mere man with a divine spark/seed relying on external ‘gnosis’ for guidance (some Gnostics charged that John’s Gospel was promoting Gnosticism). In other words, since Jesus is making the claim that He is the Son of God, working in dependence on the Father – as opposed to some sort of external ‘gnosis’ – to effect judgment/salvation for humanity, and that He, as huios anthrōpou (according to the understanding adopted here), is that Judge, then Jesus is, in effect, affirming the unity of His divine-human Person, a position incongruent with Gnosticism.

75 See note 47 above.

76 For an example of the multitude use of this device in Philippians see Black, Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek, pp 181-188.

77 Cf. Westcott, Gospel According to John, V. 1, p 192.

78 The ISBE notes that it was thought that it would be God who would judge: “As a general rule, the intertestamental literature considers God rather than the Messiah the one who ushers in the cosmic transformation;” however, one notable exception is in Psalms of Solomon (18:4-9), which “installs the Messiah as the ideal judge and ruler” (O. A. Piper, “Messiah,” in G. W. Bromiley, gen. ed. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988, p 3.333). The point is that, in a general sense, there was not an expectation that the Messiah would be the earthly Judge, let alone the eschatological Judge; and, hence, Jesus’ claims – even if the antagonists were to briefly consider Him a contender for Messiahship – may prove to be too ‘amazing.’

79 Godet [Frederick L. Godet, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Vol. 1, trans. Timothy Dwight (London/Toronto: Funk & Wagnalls, 1886)] comes to a similar conclusion: “There is great force in the words: shall hear His voice. ‘This voice which sounds in your ears at this moment, will be the one that shall awake you from the sleep of death and cause you to come forth from the tomb. Marvel not, therefore, that I claim to possess both the authority to judge and the power to raise from the dead spiritually.’ Thus the last convulsion of the physical world, the universal resurrection, will be the work of that same human will which shall have renewed the moral world—that of the Son of Man. ‘Since death came by man,’ says St. Paul with precisely the same meaning, ‘the resurrection of the dead comes also by man’ (1 Cor. 15:21)” (p 479). We cannot help but note, however, that Godet, following Gess, advocated an ontological kenosis so extreme as to involve the complete metamorphosis of the Logos upon becoming flesh, such that the Word was effectively transformed from Deity into man [see L. S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1993), p 380]. This absolute depotentiation of the Logos was somewhat amusingly referred to as “incarnation by divine suicide” by La Touche [Everard Digges La Touche, “The Unity of Person,” in The Person of Christ in Modern Thought, p 355].

80 See Brown, John I-XXI, p 220.

81 Bauckham, Gospel of Glory, asserts that the Gospel writer purposefully alludes to Daniel 7:13 here: “Only in one instance in John is there an allusion to Dan. 7:13, and in that case (5:27) John indicates this by using the anarthrous form of the expression (huios anthrōpou), which is not his usage in the twelve other occurrences of ‘the Son of Man’ in the Gospel but which corresponds literally to Dan. 7:13” (p 178).

82 See notes 57 and 58 and corresponding text. Also note the words of 5:29 indicating that both the saved (those who have done good) and the unsaved (those who have done evil) will experience ἀνάστασις, resurrection, the former to “life,” the latter to “condemnation.” Certainly, as observed just above, 5:28-29 seems likely intended to evoke Daniel 12:2 (note the similar ἀνίστημι, here as the future middle verb ἀναστήσονται, will awaken); cf. Rev 20:5, 6 (ἀνάστασις). 5:29 is clearly a reference to the ‘white throne judgment,’ which includes the opening of ‘the book of life’ (Rev 20:11-15; cf. Daniel 12:1-2).

83 See note 56 above for a possible reason for John’s slightly different rendering than the LXX of Daniel 7:13.

84 We must bear in mind that, though the Incarnation began when the Word ‘became flesh,’ it continues on as the Word’s new mode of existence. In other words, the Second Person of the Trinity remains a divine-human entity.

85 Marianne Meye Thompson, John: A Commentary, New Testament Library, C. Clifton Black, et al eds. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2015), p 58. It must be noted, however, that Thompson construes 5:27b as the definite the Son of Man (pp 56, 58, 131).

86 Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, opines that υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου “should probably” be rendered a son of man (i.e. indefinite) here, specifically over against the definite (p 291 ftnt 78). Hurtado’s rejection of a definite understanding of the term is due, rightly, to: (a) his demonstration that the expression was not an established title at the time (as noted above), and (b) the fact that the form here is expressly anarthrous, and thereby not in keeping with the usual NT pattern. However, Hurtado seems not to have investigated the possibility of a qualitative force here.

The Son of God Given Authority to Judge Because He is ‘Human’: A Study in John 5:27, pt 3

[This is part 3 of a multi-part article.  See part 1, part 2, part 4, part 5 and part 6, conclusion.]

NT Usage of ‘(the) Son of Man’

In the NT the idiom is most often arthrous, with only four instances of anarthrous constructions, with John 5:27b included in the latter. We’ll briefly discuss the use of the articular form of the expression in the Synoptic Gospels, and then we’ll go into a bit more detail on the usage in John’s Gospel given our subject verse, John 5:27,32 before examining the remaining uses of the expression in the NT.

As implied above, regarding the arthrous, particularized the Son of Man ( υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, ho huios tou anthrōpou), Jesus Himself appears to have coined this self-referential term as part of his own idiolect, His own “style” of speaking.33 Predominately, this expression is on Jesus’ lips, and as He used it, it was as an implied reference to Himself in the third person.34 Moreover, the Son of Man “is never used as a confessional title for Jesus,” i.e. “the phrase never functions itself to express an honorific claim made about Jesus.”35 In other words, no one else referred to Jesus as the Son of Man as if it were some sort of recognized title perhaps of christological significance, such as, for example, the Son of God (John 1:49, 11:27).36 This does not mean that the way in which Jesus used this self-reference was not in messianic contexts. This merely indicates that His audience did not recognize the articular expression as having any sort of prehistory or significance beyond Jesus’ own self-usage – though the anarthrous form of the expression would likely have been understood by both Jesus’ protagonists and antagonists, given OT usage. Suffice to say that it is recorded as Jesus’ favorite self-designation, especially in the Synoptic Gospels in which the arthrous form of the idiom is used 69 times.37

There are myriad uses of the Son of Man in the Synoptics – some of divine functions or messianic themes, others more mundane. He has the authority to forgive sins (Mt 9:6; Mk 2:5; Lk 5:24), and He is “Lord of the Sabbath” (Mt 12:8; Mk 2:28; Lk 6:5). Yet Jesus uses this term as a self-reference in His accusation of being a glutton and a drunkard (Mt 11:19; Lk 7:34). The Son of Man foretells his resurrection (Mt 17:9; Mk 9:9), and He provides salvation (Lk 19:9-10) as the One “who gives His life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28, Mk 10:45). He is “the one who sows the good seed” (Mt 13:37).38 He will “suffer many things” (Mk 9:12; Lk 9:22), and He will be delivered up in death (Mt 17:22; Mk 9:31; Lk 9:44, etc.).  The Son of Man is the subject of the OT prophets (Lk 18:31). He mentions His return (Mt 16:28, 24:27, 30, 37, 39, 44; Mk 13:26; Lk 18:8, 21:27, etc.) and how the Son of Man will be coming in full glory (Mt 24:31, 25:31; Mk 14:62; Lk 21:27) at the eschatological judgment (Mt 25:31ff; Mk 13:26), gathering His “elect” (Mt 24:31, 25:31-33; Mk 13:27); however, the actual judging He will do as “King,” both in a positive sense (Mt 25:31-40, 46b) and a negative sense (Mt 25:31-33, 41-46a).

This definite form of the expression, the Son of Man, the doubly arthrous υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου (ho huios tou anthrōpou),39 is found another dozen times in the Gospel according to John and possibly one other as the truncated the Son, given its immediate context (6:40).40 However, the functions of these statements are somewhat different and somewhat more narrowly focused in comparison with Synoptic usage. In the following the specific verses containing the Son of Man are bolded, while the others, which consist of implied references within contexts containing and immediately surrounding the term, are not.

The first occurs in 1:51 in reference to an ‘opened heaven’, with angels descending and ascending upon Him. This is clearly a reference to Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28, but scholars are divided on how to interpret it.41 The next reference is in 3:13 in which He is the one who descended from heaven.42 This motif is also found in 6:27 (and following) as “the food that endures,” i.e. the “true bread from heaven” (6:32), “the bread of life” (6:48, 51, 58; cf. 6:53), which is found in “He who comes down from heaven” (6:33, 46, 50-51; cf. 6:27) in order “to do the will of the Father” (6:38; 6:40the Son43). This “bread” is identified as His “flesh” (σάρξ, sarx: 6:51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56), which is linked to His “blood” (6:53, 54, 55, 56), with both bringing eternal life (6:51, 53-54; cf. 6:27, 6:40) to those who believe in Him (6:47; cf. 3:15, 6:29, 35, 40), and it is these believers whom He will raise up “at the last day” (6:39-40, 44, 54). He will also “ascend to where He was before” (6:62; cf. 3:13). In another context, there is the account of Jesus asking the formerly-blind-but-now-healed man if he believes in the Son of Man, with the larger context about ‘spiritual blindness’ and then-present judgment/salvation (9:35; cf. 6:40).

Overall, the main theme in John’s Gospel is Christ’s glorification (δοξάζω, doxadz), and the Son of Man is found in some of these contexts (12:23, 28, 13:31-32 [cf. 7:39, 8:54, 11:4, 12:16, 14:13, 17:4, 10]). He is ‘glorified’ through being “lifted up” (8:28, 12:32), with the metaphor of Moses’ bronze snake of Numbers 21:8-9 underlying (3:14-15). Verse 12:31, which points to the Cross itself as judgment, is contained in the larger context of the Son of Man’s glorification in 12:23.

The final two appearances, both in 12:34, also refer to Jesus’ being “lifted up;” however, the context is unique in the Gospel according to John in that these words are not on Jesus’ own lips. The first is the crowd paraphrasing Jesus (conflating 12:23 and 12:32), while the second is the crowd then asking Jesus, “Who is this ‘ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου’?” This passage, in context, indicates that they thought Jesus was, or could be the Christ/Messiah, yet they were confounded by His statement that He, as the Son of Man, would be “lifted up” – i.e. He was to die – for they understood that the Christ would “remain forever.” This illustrates that the crowd did not associate the Son of Man directly as a messianic title, but as Jesus’ own self-designation, whatever its meaning. Hare explains by paraphrasing the questions posed by the crowd, If we have been mistaken in regarding you as the Messiah, what then are you? What are you telling us when you call yourself ‘the Son of Man’?”44

Assessing the usage of the articular form of the expression in John’s Gospel it becomes apparent that it is only in the context of Jesus’ earthly ministry, most often for His ‘lifting up,’ or ‘glorification,’ and in contemporaneous salvation-judgment, as well as the implied future salvation for those who will ‘eat His flesh and drink His blood,’ i.e. those believing in Him,45 whom He will ‘raise up’ “at the last day.” Conspicuously absent, however, is any use of the Son of Man in reference to His eschatological return, in contrast to the Synoptics. In fact, the Gospel according to John barely mentions Jesus’ return at all, and even then the context is ambiguous with regard to timing (21:22-23). Yet, like the Synoptics, the Son of Man is found in references regarding the eschatological consummation of salvation, though John prefers ‘raising on the last day’ as compared to the ‘gathering’ of His “elect” in the Synoptics.46 However, while Matthew utilizes ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου specifically in reference to the negative aspect of eschatological judgment, i.e. final condemnation-judgment, John does not.47 This latter point will be considered in our contextual analysis of 5:27b.

As noted, the final clause in John 5:27 is the only incidence of an anarthrous son of man (υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου) in the Gospel of John – and the one and only time the idiom lacks the articles in the four canonical Gospels. Recall from above, however, that an anarthrous noun is not necessarily indefinite. We will return to this below.

Another thing becomes evident in our brief survey of the Son of Man: The expression does not point exclusively to Christ’s humanity. In the Synoptics, for example, the Son of Man is the one “who gives his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28, Mk 10:45), implying a salvific function, which is made explicit elsewhere (Lk 19:9-10) – a power reserved for deity, not a mere human. Similarly, but more convincingly, in John 9:35 a soteriological function of the Son of Man is surely implied by Jesus’ direct question to the man formerly blind: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The larger context clearly indicates inaugurated eschatology in the form of then-present judgment/salvation (9:36-41).48 Most likely, the textual variant replacing the Son of Man with the Son of God in 9:35 is attributable to copyists’ assumptions that the Son of Man was too strong here.49 Furthermore, In John 3:13 the Son of Man is described as the one who descended from heaven – a proclamation of His pre-earthly existence, thus implying His divinity.50

Hurtado asserts that “the Son of Man” has no inherent meaning in and of itself. Each individual statement says something about Jesus but does not actually define the Son of Man: “[T]he expression’s primary linguistic function is to refer, not to characterize . . . [I]t is the sentence/saying that conveys the intended claim or statement, not ‘the son of man’ expression itself”.51 Hurtado seems convincing here, given the evidence.

Outside the Gospels the occurrences of the son of man idiom are all anarthrous except Acts 7:56. The Acts verse describing Stephen’s vision of the heavenly, glorified Jesus in which Stephen, under the power of the Holy Spirit (7:55), states that he sees “the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this, the murderous throng was so incensed that individuals covered their ears, yelling as loudly as they could – in part, perhaps, to drown out Stephen’s words – and began to stone him (7:57). The reason the crowd was so infuriated at His statement is, as La Touche notes,

because it was recognized as an assertion that the crucified Galilean Carpenter was standing in the Messiah’s place. Hence the phrase [the Son of Man] (which does not seem to have been a Messianic title) must have been recognized by the Sanhedrin as a Self-applied title of the Lord Jesus Christ.52

That is, while the Sanhedrin understood Jesus as the Son of Man, they did not recognize the expression as messianic or Jesus as the Messiah.

Hebrews 2:6 is a direct quote of Psalm 8:4 (see previous section). Koester remarks, “The context of Ps 8 suggests that ‘man’ (anthrōpos) is a collective noun referring to humankind, but since the noun is singular, it can be applied to the man Jesus . . .”53 Though the expression is not particularized as the Son of Man, O’Brien observes that “the words of the psalm would have struck [early Christians] with a force that went beyond their original setting.”54

The final two appearances of the anarthrous use of the idiom are found in Revelation (1:13, 14:14), and each time there are obvious allusions to Daniel 7:13 in their respective contexts.55 Significantly, neither verse in the Apocalypse definitize the term by employing the articles, for in both contexts – using remarkably similar terminology as that found in Daniel 7:13 – one like υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου is described.56 The contexts are depicting, respectively, eschatological return with impending condemnation-judgment (1:7-18),57 and eschatological salvation-judgment (14:14-16).58 There is little doubt the figure described here is the glorified Jesus Christ at the Second Coming (cf. Dan 7:13 in previous section). Assuming John the Revelator is the same author as John’s Gospel – a position affirmed here – it is notable that the arthrous the Son of Man ( υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου) is not used. Is there a correlation between the anarthrous like a son of man in these verses in the Apocalypse and the Gospel’s anarthrous construction in John 5:27b? Applying a bit of discourse analysis and linguistics should prove insightful.59

[Go to part 4.]


32 Though all Scripture is θεόπνευστος, “God-breathed,” (from theos = God; pneō ≈ blow, breathe out, wind, spirit), inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16), the Holy Spirit worked through each human writer, resulting in vocabulary usage sometimes peculiar to the individual author. This underscores the importance of assessing each biblical book on its own, while considering the larger corpus of the biblical author, with a view towards the whole of Scripture.

33 For discussion on and definition of idiolect, see Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, p 292. Idiolect also refers to the characteristic way in which each Biblical author writes; see Constantine R. Campbell, Advances in the Study of Greek: New Insights for Reading the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), pp 134-135.

34 See Douglas R. A. Hare, The Son of Man Tradition (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1990), p 1. That is, Jesus never states something to the effect of, “I am the Son of Man.”

35 Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, p 293; italics in original. Continuing Hurtado’s thoughts: “Even within the Gospels no one ever addresses Jesus as ‘the son of man,’ proclaims him to be such, or contests his own use of the expression; and it never functions with the several other appellations bandied about as possible categories for Jesus . . .” (p 293). Cf. Hare, Son of Man, p 1.

36 It is certainly noteworthy that in both Peter’s confession (Matt 16:16; cf. John 1:41) and Nathanael’s confession (John 1:49) we find “the Son of (the living) God,” with Peter also using “Christ,” while Nathanael concomitantly affirms Jesus as “King of Israel,” yet neither call Him the Son of Man. Similarly, Martha’s confession affirms Jesus as “the Son of God” and “the Christ” (John 11:27). This underscores the likelihood that the Son of Man was not understood by 1st century hearers as messianic. Cf. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, pp 292-295.

37 For various interpretations of the arthrous form of the expression throughout history see Delbert R. Burkett, The Son of Man Debate: A History and Evaluation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

38 See Hare, Son of Man, pp 150-151 for some particulars on this specific passage.

39 For the use, and lack, of articles preceding each word of a genitive phrase (head noun + genitive noun) see Wallace, Grammar, for Apollonius’ Canon and Apollonius’ Corollary, pp 239-240, 250-252, 254; cf. 91.

40 In this verse the Son is used amidst other occurrences of the Son of Man (6:27, 53, 62) and Jesus’ alternating the expression with first and third person pronouns throughout this pericope. In addition, nowhere in the micro context does Jesus refer to Himself as the Son of God. On the other hand, in 6:40 Jesus speaks of “the Son” in relation to “My Father;” but, then again, compare to the Son of Man in 6:27 in which it is used as a third-person reference alongside “God the Father.”

41 See Hare, Son of Man, pp 82-85. Kirk (“Heaven Opened”) argues that the Johannine ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου in John 1:51 is illustrating a Jesus-Jacob nexus, with Jesus the new Jacob, i.e. the New Israel (Gen 35:10), which in turn helps identify the promised “greater things” []; Contra Mavis M. Leung, The Kingship-Cross Interplay in the Gospel of John: Jesus’ Death as Corroboration of His Royal Messiahship, (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011), pp 66; cf. 64-67. More convincing is Richard J. Bauckham, Gospel of Glory: Major Themes in Johannine Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015), pp 166-180, in which Nathanael is one example of the “renewed Israel,” while the Son of Man symbolically represents the ladder of Jacob’s dream, providing the link to heaven and earth via His being “lifted up” on the Cross.

42 And perhaps simultaneously “the one who is in heaven.” See David Alan Black, “The Text of John 3:13,” Grace Theological Journal 6.1 (1985): 49-66, in which the author argues for the originality of this final clause, a textual variant which is footnoted in most modern Bible versions.

43 See note 40 above.

44 Hare, Son of Man, pp 108-109.

45 See Benjamin E. Reynolds, “The Use of the Son of Man Idiom in the Gospel of John,” in ‘Who is This Son of Man?’, pp 116-117.

46 Though the Son of Man specifies in 6:53 that ‘unless you eat His flesh and drink His blood’ you have “no life,” it is only s/he who ‘eats His flesh and drinks His blood’ that He will ‘raise up on the last day’ (cf. 5:29a). That is, He does not speak of the resurrection of the condemned for judgment in this context (though cf. 5:29b).

47 The context of John 3:16-21, which includes the words “whoever does not believe stands condemned already” (v 18), seems to be referring to the Son as ‘the Son of God’ – the Son in relation to the Father (especially considering τὸν μονογενῆ in v 16 and τοῦ μονογενοῦς in 18; cf. 1:14, 18) – rather than ‘the Son of Man.’ With this in mind, it may be best to understand the similar passage at 12:44-50 (“the one who rejects Me . . . that very word I spoke will condemn him at the last day” in v 48) as ‘the Son of God’ as well. While there is certainly some overlap between the usage of the Son of Man and the Son of God in John’s Gospel, nevertheless, the context of both passages indicates it’s the individual’s rejection of Jesus Christ causing his own eventual self-condemnation rather than Christ’s active condemnation of him.

48 See, e.g., J. Louis Martyn, History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel, 3rd ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2003), pp 133-134.

49 See Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft/German Bible Society, 1994), p 194; cf. Benjamin E. Reynolds, “The Use of the Son of Man Idiom in the Gospel of John,” in ‘Who is This Son of Man?’, p 118; Hurtado, “Summary and Concluding Observations,” in ‘Who is This Son of Man?’, p 165.

50 See, e.g., Benjamin E. Reynolds, “The Use of the Son of Man Idiom in the Gospel of John,” in ‘Who is This Son of Man?’, pp 107-108.  Also see note 42 above.

51 “Summary and Concluding Observations,” in ‘Who is This Son of Man?’, p 167, emphasis in original; cf. pp 165-168.

52 Everard Digges La Touche, “The Person of Christ as Revealed in History,” in The Person of Christ in Modern Thought (London: James Clarke, 1912), p 259; italics and capitalization as per original, bold added, bracketed phrase mine, added for clarity. This work is a compilation of a series of lectures. []

53 Craig R. Koester, Hebrews: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Bible Commentary (New York: Doubleday, 2001), p 215, parenthesis in original. See earlier discussion on Psalm 8:4 above.

54 Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews, Pillar New Testament Commentary, D. A. Carson, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), p 95. Koester, Hebrews, further notes, regarding the anarthrous son of man, “This expression has two levels of meaning, referring both to human beings and to Christ . . . Hebrews does not refer to Jesus as ‘son of man’ outside this quotation, even though one might expect it to if it were a christological designation” (p 215).

55 Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, rightly notes that both “are simply echoes of the phrasing of Dan. 7:13, referring to a figure in a vision having a humanlike appearance” (p 293 note 83).

56 The Greek is slightly different in that the Apocalypse uses ὅμοιος (like) as compared to Daniel’s ὡς. This could have been for stylistic reasons, as John may have preferred to use a bit of alliteration and assonance (τῶν λυχνιῶν ὅμοιον υἱὸν ἀνθρώπου, tōn luchniōn homoion huion anthrōpou; καθήμενον ὅμοιον υἱὸν ἀνθρώπου, kathēmenon homoion huion anthrōpou).

57 The people will “mourn because of Him” (v 7) at the eschatological judgment, for He is “coming with the clouds” (v 7; cf. Dan 7:13; Matt 16:27, 24:30-32), and “out of His mouth proceeds a sharp double-edged sword” (v 16) with which to judge (Rev 19:15, 21; cf. Heb 4:12) , as He holds “the keys of death and Hades” (v 18; cf. 20:13-14). On the latter, see discussion in David E. Aune, Revelation 1-5 [Word Biblical Commentary, B. M. Metzger, gen. ed. (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1997)], pp 103-105.

58 Here John the Revelator uses the exact same verbiage as the LXX of Daniel 7:13 in the prepositional phrase ἐπὶ τῶν νεφελῶν, upon/with the clouds, as compared to 1:7’s μετὰ τῶν νεφελῶν, with the clouds, which, according to Aune [David E. Aune, Revelation 6-16, Word Biblical Commentary, B. M. Metzger, gen. ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998)], “suggests familiarity with the Theodotianic version of Daniel” (p 840). Clearly Rev 14:14-16 centers on eschatological salvation-judgment, in contradistinction to the condemnation-judgment in the remainder of the chapter (vv 17-20). The figure depicted here, “one like a son of man with a crown of gold on his head” and holding a sharp sickle, is differentiated from the other figure with a sickle (v 17), identified specifically as an angel, who is not wearing a crown or sitting upon the clouds. That the first figure, along with the one described in Rev 1:13, is the same as the one of Daniel 7:13 can hardly be in doubt. And certainly this is the glorified Jesus Christ pictured in eschatological judgment. Contra Aune, Revelation 6-16, who thinks that, rather than Christ, the first reaper in 14:14 is an angel like the second one in 14:17 (pp 800-803).   Then again, see Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), who affirms the figure as Christ, while specifically disagreeing with the position that the reaper in question is an angel (pp 218-219); cf. Grant R. Osborne, Revelation [Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Moises Silva, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002)], who takes the same position as Thomas on this point (pp 550-553). Perhaps the most convincing refutation comes from Paul A. Rainbow, Johannine Theology: The Gospel, the Epistles, and the Apocalypse (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2014), who notes that Christ is described here “in terms reminiscent of Old Testament accounts of angelophanies,” but “by adapting stock [OT] imagery for manifestations of celestial beings, John indicated Christ’s appearances in the visions, not his nature” (p 158; emphasis added).

59 See, e.g., Peter Cotterell & Max Turner, Linguistics & Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989); Stephen H. Levinsohn, Discourse Features of New Testament Greek: A Coursebook on the Information Structure of New Testament Greek, 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2000); David Alan Black, Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek: A Survey of Basic Concepts and Applications (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1995); Campbell, Advances in the Study of Greek: New Insights for Reading the New Testament, pp 148-191; Steven E. Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2010).