Escorting the King of Kings?

In the previous article (Rapture Ready?) on the pre-tribulation ‘Rapture’ (PTR) we looked at, among other things, the primary passage used to support the doctrine, namely 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17. Parallel and similarly-themed passages to these Thessalonian verses—ones mentioning a “trumpet” in the context of the gathering of believers (both dead and alive)—were shown not to support the PTR. In fact, these parallel passages suggest a completely different understanding, which in turn suggests a non-PTR interpretation in the Thessalonian passage.

In this post we will more closely analyze this same passage. Understanding Paul’s primary and secondary purposes in preparing this passage will further support our non-PTR position. At the same time, this may provoke other intriguing lines of inquiry.

Additional Revelation

Before proceeding further, however, I shall provide two additional passages relating to Jesus’ Parousia. These were left off the preceding article due to length. They are presented here as further evidence for the previous article’s stance as well as background for the current one. Both are from Revelation. The first is the seventh of seven trumpets (cf. Rev 10:7), which is the last trumpet of all:

11:15 Then the seventh angel trumpeted, and [then] there were loud voices in heaven, saying: The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. 16 Then the twenty-four elders, who sit upon their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God 17 saying: We give you thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and reign. 18 The nations/people were enraged, but then came your wrath and the time for the dead to be judged—and to reward your bond-servants: the prophets, the saints, and those who fear your name, the small and the great—and to destroy those who destroy the earth.

The above passage has its own focal points, yet this last of seven trumpets is certainly the same as the “last trumpet” of 1Corinthians 15:52—and, as pointed out in the previous article, the Corinthian passage is a parallel to 1Thess 4:15–17. Though the Parousia and the gathering of the saints are not explicitly mentioned, both are implied, given the other similarly-themed passages which do mention them. That is, the Parousia and gathering are assumed to be nearly coincident with the trumpet sound yet prior to he shall reign forever and ever (compare And so we shall be forever with the Lord in 1Thess 4:17). Judgment, in both its negative (“wrath”) and positive (“reward”) aspects, is one of the foci (cf. Matt 25:31–46, the sheep and goats). And judgment is the sole focus of the remaining Revelation passage we will explore:

14:14 Then I saw—behold!—a white cloud. And sitting upon this cloud was one like a son of man—upon his head a golden crown and in his hand a sharp sickle. 15 And then another angel/messenger came out of the temple crying out in a loud voice to the one sitting upon the cloud: Apply your sickle and reap! For the hour has come to reap, because ripe is the earth’s harvest. 16 And the one sitting upon the clouds thrust his sickle upon the earth and the earth was harvested.

The imagery of one like a son of man seated upon this cloud evokes both Daniel 7:13 (cf. Rev 1:7, 13–14) and Matt 24:30. One might initially mistake this passage as indicating negative judgment (cf. Joel 3:13)—perhaps especially considering the “sharp sickle” symbol—but that would misinterpret the ‘reaping of the harvest’ metaphor here and in its broader context. See Matt 3:11–12/Luke 3:16–17 and the parable of the weeds (Matt 13:24–30) for comparison. To keep in proper context, this Revelation passage (14:14–16) should be contrasted with the wrath of God expressly stated in the verses immediately following it (14:17–20;1 cf. 1Thess 5:3). Thus, Revelation 14:14–16 is the harvesting of believers—though no distinction is made between those still alive and the dead in Christ.

As Paul states in 1Thess 5:9: For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. We are saved from wrath, but not necessarily from tribulation (just ask the Thessalonians). We may suffer at the hands of our enemies (or not), but we will not suffer God’s wrath. Believers are whisked away just prior to God’s wrath pouring out upon the earth on the Day of the Lord.

A Closer Look

Now we will scrutinize the Thessalonians passage, adding verse 18 (1Thess 4:13–18):

4:13 Now brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who are sleeping, so that you will not grieve as the rest—those who have no hope. 14 For since we believe Jesus died and rose again, in this way also God will bring those who have fallen asleep through Jesus along with Him [Jesus]. 15 For this we say to you, by word of the Lord: We who are alive, those remaining until the coming [Parousia] of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 Because He, the Lord, will descend from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first; 17 then we who are alive, those remaining, shall be caught up [harpazō, ‘raptured’] together along with them, in the clouds, to meet [eis apantēsin] the Lord in the air. And so we shall be forever with the Lord. 18 So, encourage one another with these words.

Paul opens with a plea for the Thessalonians not to grieve about the dead in Christ (13–14) and closes with an exhortation to encourage each other (18). There seems to have been some mistaken notion about the ‘fate’ of the dead in Christ (13–14). The Thessalonian ekklēsia was primarily, if not exclusively, from a pagan background.2 Accordingly, they believed the dead had no positive future. Thus, Paul wanted to remind (or apprise) them of our future resurrection hope (14–17)—and the disposition of those surviving until Jesus’ Parousia. This future meeting of all believers dead and alive with Christ at the Parousia would provide the reason they could “encourage one another” (18) in the (then) present time.

So, Paul’s primary objective in this passage was to correct their misunderstanding—whatever this was exactly—regarding the dead in Christ (“those who have fallen asleep through Jesus”). And, toward this end, Paul quite likely went beyond what most English readers would perceive. That is, in his use of the verb harpazō (“caught up”) he may well have consciously repurposed this term (17) from pagan ideology, as Malherbe asserts:

Of special interest is the consolation tradition, which casts light on Paul’s use [of harpazō] and shows once more how he turns conventional expressions to a pastoral use. Epitaphs lament Fate’s snatching (harpazein) away the dead from their loved ones to Hades . . . Letters of condolence then use harpazein and its cognates in addressing or speaking of the grief stricken . . .

 . . . [Paul’s] purpose is to console . . . The dead in Christ will rise, and their separation from those who were left is overcome as, ironically, they are snatched up together with them. In a neat twist, Paul uses the conventional language of grief to comfort. He does not say who snatches them up, but v 14 would seem to indicate that it is God who gathers them together by snatching them up.3

In other words, Paul took a term (harpazō) with a negative connotation and inverted it. Instead of “Fate” ‘snatching’ all the dead to Hades forever, God will ‘snatch’ the dead in Christ together with those believers still alive at Jesus’ Parousia. We will all then meet Him “in the air”. The Apostle linguistically ties this idea together in his use of “along with Him [Jesus]” (syn autō̹) in verse 14 and “together along with them” (hama syn autois) in 17. In verse 14 God will bring/lead the dead in Christ along with Jesus, i.e., once the dead arise as Jesus had done God will snatch them (together with those yet alive) to meet Jesus in the air (17).4 As Paul states in his first Corinthian epistle, For the [last] trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed (15:52).

In service of his primary objective, Paul necessarily had to explain some end time events. However, importantly, this was subsidiary. Similarly, in the immediately following section (5:1–11), Paul’s primary purpose is again pastoral, with a brief explanation of eschatology toward that goal. As Green helpfully explains in his overview of 1Thessalonians 5:1–11,

The purpose of the whole discussion of this theme is pastoral and not speculative (v. 11; cf. 4:13, 18). Paul demonstrates no interest in fueling an apocalyptic perspective in order to hypothesize about the end or to foster escapism. The teaching about final events is meant to inform and encourage them in their daily life and conduct. Clear thinking about the end is designed to help them live as true Christians in the present.5

The Day of the Lord comes as “a thief in the night” (5:2) solely with respect to unbelievers (5:3), not to believers, who will not be caught by surprise (5:4; cf. Luke 21:29–31). Importantly, note that Paul linguistically ties this section together with the previous section (1Thess 4:13–18): “Jesus died for us, so whether awake [alive] or sleeping [dead] we will live together along with Him (hama syn autō̹)” (5:10). Following this affirmation, Paul provides his concluding exhortation (5:11).

Where Do We Go From There?

An unanswered question in the Thessalonians passage—and not explicitly answered elsewhere in Scripture—is this: Where do we go after meeting Jesus “in the air”? Clearly, at the Parousia Jesus will descend from heaven (16), while believers will be caught up with Him “in the clouds” (17). One comes down, the others up. But once we meet “in the air”, where do we believers go? Do believers and Jesus go together, or do believers continue on to one destination, while Jesus proceeds to another?

In the PTR view, Jesus reverses course and believers continue on, escorting Him to heaven.6 But the analyses in this and the preceding article related to it have shown the PTR view to be insupportable when placed in the broader context of Scripture as a whole. Taking the similarly-themed passages as a group, the most logical movement for Jesus is to continue earthward, or, alternatively, to remain in the clouds to pour out His wrath upon the earth from there. Where, then, would believers go (or remain)? Scripture elsewhere records judgment/rewards at the end of the age (e.g., Daniel 12:1–3; John 5:28–29).

The remainder of this article will be necessarily speculative in probing for answers to this question of movement and/or destination. To be clear at the outset, I do not wish to make any firm conclusions from any of the data presented below. I am merely providing the following as intriguing [to me anyway] food for thought. That said, let’s dive into the data!

In 1Thess 4:16 the first command could be understood as a battle cry (see various English versions: “shout of command”, “cry of command”, etc.). And the “trumpet of God” could be similarly understood. Adding the “voice of the archangel”, Witherington observes, “The images are martial, as if Jesus were summoning His army.”7 These images accord well with the battle imagery of the Rider on the White Horse (Rev 19:11–16). Note that His army here includes those “wearing fine linen, pure white” (19:14; cf. 19:7–8; 7:9, 13–14). And Paul states something intriguing in 1Cor 6:2–3, almost in passing: “Do you not know that the saints/holy ones (hoi agioi) will judge the world? . . . Do you not know we will judge angels?” When are we to judge the world and the angels? Whatever the timing, this idea must be harmonized with God’s clear words, “Vengeance is mine” (Deut 32:35; Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30).

In another article on CrossWise it was noted that the term Parousia had been used in antiquity for the fanfare surrounding the arrival of a king, ruler, or dignitary (see definition A2 here). The ISBE records how parousia was found in various inscriptions, noting specifically its application to the Greek god of medicine:

In Hellenistic Greek it was used for the arrival of a ruler at a place, as is evidenced by inscriptions in Egypt, Asia Minor, etc. Indeed, in an Epidaurus inscription of the 3rd century BC…‘Parousia’ is applied to a manifestation of Aesculapius [Aσκληπιός Asklēpiós]. Consequently, the adoption of Greek-speaking Christians of a word that already contained full regal and even Divine concepts was perfectly natural.8

Considering their pagan background, surely the Thessalonians understood Paul’s intention behind his use of Parousia. Such a regal backdrop can add substance to the battle imagery noted earlier. But there is even more to consider here.

The words translated “to meet” in 1Thess 4:17 are from the Greek eis apantēsin. This is an accusative (direct object) phrase, and the infinitive “to meet” in translation is somewhat of a compromise. The Greek is actually a preposition (eis, “into”, “in”, “for”) and noun (apantēsin, “meeting”). We might think of it more along the lines of eis martyrian in John 1:7: “This man came for testimony, to witness about the Light.” As such it would be more like: “for a meeting with the Lord in the air”.9

With that background, we can proceed further. Two different Christian sources claim this noun apantēsis (in its accusative form apantēsin) carried particular significance in Hellenistic culture:

According to 1 Th. 4:17 . . . there will be a rapture eis apantēsin tou kyriou eis aera [“to meet the Lord in the air”]. The word apantēsis (also hupantēsis . . .) is to be understood as a technical term for a civic custom of antiquity whereby a public welcome was accorded by a city to important visitors. Similarly, when Christians leave the gates of the world, they will welcome Christ in the aēr [“air”], acclaiming Him as kyrios [“Lord”].10

The word seems to have been a kind of technical term for the official welcome of a newly arrived dignitary—a usage which accords excellently with its New Testament usage.11

Before exploring the New Testament (NT) examples, a selection from historian Polybius (Histories, V 26:8–9) will illustrate its usage in Hellenistic culture near-contemporaneous with Scripture. Note that Polybius also uses a verb form (apantaō) of this noun to record the escort back to Corinth:

So, with Apelles nearing Corinth, Leontius, Ptolemy and Megaleas—commanders of the foot soldiers and the other army divisions—with great urgency, spurred the young men to go for the meeting [eis tēn apantēsin] with him [Apelles]. Consequently, Apelles came [to Corinth] with great fanfare, due to the multitude of soldiers and officers who had come to meet [apantēsantōn] him, and marched directly to the royal court.12

Note that the welcoming party would first go out with the purpose of meeting the dignitary en route, and then turn back toward their own locale to accompany him for the remainder of his journey.

Backing up for a moment, it might prove beneficial to further define both apantēsis and hupantēsis. Each is a compound of a preposition + noun. The first is from the verb apantaō: apo (“from”) + antaō (from anti, meaning “against”, “opposite”, “instead of”). Danker defines the term ‘come opposite to’, hence ‘meet face to face’.13 The second is from the verb hupantaō: hupo (“under”, “below”) + antaō, defined as draw up close for encounter.14 The two are synonyms but may well have different nuances, depending on context.

The first NT passage we will explore is, appropriately, in the long discourse on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:1–25:46), which contains Jesus’ teaching on the end times. The passage in question is known as The Parable of the Ten Virgins:

25:1 “At that time the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins taking their lamps to meet [eis hupantēsin] the Bridegroom. 2 Now five of them were foolish, yet five wise. 3 For the foolish taking their lamps had not taken any oil with them, 4 but the wise had taken flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 Because of the Bridegroom’s long delay, they all became tired and fell asleep. 6 But in the middle of the night came a shout, ‘Look, the Bridegroom! Come out to meet [eis apantēsin] Him!’ 7 So all those virgins arose, and they trimmed their lamps. 8 Then the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil because our lamps are burning low.’ 9 But the wise replied, saying, ‘No, there may not be enough for both us and you. Go instead to the sellers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 But as they were leaving to buy, the Bridegroom arrived, and those who were ready entered the wedding with Him. Then the door closed. 11 Later the remaining virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us!’ 12 Replying, He said, ‘Amen, I say to you: I do not know you.’ 13 So, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

The substance of this parable does not quite fit the pattern of going out to meet the dignitary, and then accompanying him back to the originating locale. However, it does match a civic custom of antiquity whereby a public welcome was accorded by a city to important visitors. And the five wise did accompany Him to the wedding. Moreover, the content is thematically related to both 1Thess 4:13–18 and 1Thess 5:1–11. So it is useful for analysis.

As with any parable, it can be perilous to attempt to make concrete parallels to the figurative language. But it would be safe here to understand the oil as indicating degree of readiness. In this sense, the oil could signify the amount of Holy Spirit infilling (Eph 5:15–21). If so, this idea of purchasing oil could be understood as akin to Simon Magus, aka Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:9–24)—except maybe for the fact that the five wise suggested the idea to the foolish. Whatever the case, it is clear that Jesus (the Bridegroom) ‘does not know’ the foolish (cf. Matt 7:21–23). All ten desired to meet Jesus, but half were not ready, thereby missing the wedding (Rev 19:6–9; cf. 19:17–18).

The next NT selection for consideration is in Acts 28, which follows the pattern of the Polybius’ passage. While on his journey to Rome, Paul is welcomed by some brothers from Rome, and the brothers accompany him for the rest of his trip:15

28:15 After hearing the things concerning us, the brothers from there [Rome] came up to Appias’ Forum and Three Taverns to greet (eis apantēsin) us. Upon seeing them, Paul, thanking God, was encouraged. 16 So when we entered [eiserchomai] into Rome, Paul was permitted to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.

The next passage, like the first, is from Matthew’s Gospel. But it is very different in that it is regarding Jesus’ encounter with the two demon-possessed men from the land of the Gadarenes, whom he exorcises by sending the demons into nearby swine:

8:28 Upon His arrival to the other side, to the land of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs—exceedingly violent, such that no one is able to pass through that way—confronted [hupantaō] Him. 29 Excitedly they cried out, “What is it between us and you, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” 30 Off in the distance from them was a herd of many swine feeding. 31 So the demons begged Him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.” 32 And He said to them, “Go!” So, after they came out, they went into the swine. Immediately, the entire herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and died in the waters! 33 Those who were tending the pigs fled; and then, going into town, they reported all, especially concerning the two demon-possessed men. 34 Then the whole town left to confront [eis hupantēsin] Jesus. Upon seeing Him, they urged that he should turn away [metabainō] from their borders.

Given the context, I decided to translate to the stronger “confronted”/“to confront” instead of simply “meeting”. The recurrence of the two words (verb in 28, noun in 34) may have been intended as a linguistic framing device to tie the story together. The final verse (34) is the primary one to analyze here, for it begins with the accusative eis hupantēsin and ends with the verb “turn away” (metabainō). I perceive the townspeople’s message here as one of ‘go away and don’t come back!’ Accordingly, I interpret this passage: After Jesus drove the demons out of the two men and into the herd of pigs, the townspeople drove Jesus from their town to any other!

In any case, verse 34 at least partly follows the pattern— it does not specify whether or not they escorted Jesus back to the shoreline—though in a negative way. That is, Jesus is not considered a dignitary by the townspeople. However, this could be a case of irony. That is, though the townspeople saw Jesus as villainous, the fact that they intercepted Him and essentially drove Him out of town, follows this pattern as if He were the dignitary He really is!

Tangentially, though still relatedly, observe the demons’ question to Jesus regarding “the appointed time”. Is this the time believers will “judge angels”?

The final passage to consider is The Triumphal Entry in John’s Gospel (John 12:12–15):

12:12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast, after hearing Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 took palm branches and came to welcome [eis hupantēsin] Him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD: the King of Israel!” 14 Then Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat upon it, as it is written: 15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter of Zion. Behold! Your King is coming, sitting upon a donkey’s colt!”

 . . . 17 Now the crowd—those who were with Him when He called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead—continued bearing testimony. 18 Because of this also, the crowd greeted [hupantaō] Him—for they heard He had performed that miracle.

Though not explicit, it is strongly implied that those who went out with palm branches to welcome Jesus also escorted Him into Jerusalem. This, then, fits the Polybius pattern.

Verses 17–18 may not be directly related to The Triumphal Entry, but they do exhibit a similar pattern to the Polybius passage. The difference is that a verbal form is used instead of the accusative phrase.

What Can Be Concluded?

Having provided the applicable Hellenistic background and all the NT examples corresponding to or approximating this background, what, if anything, can we make of the data? Can any of this be used in attempting to determine where believers go immediately after our meeting in the air with Jesus?

What do you think?

____________________________

1 Note that these clusters of grapes are from the vine of the earth, that is, they get their sustenance from the earth as opposed to from the Lord (cf. John 15:1–17).

2 See 1Thess 1:9 how you turned from idols to serve the living and true God.

3 Abraham J. Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, The Anchor Yale Bible; Accordance electronic ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), p 276. Emphasis added.

4 “Those who have fallen asleep through Jesus” will rise from the dead first, then both the newly-arisen/formerly-‘sleeping’ in Christ and believers yet still alive will be ‘snatched’ up together. This sequence is the most faithful to the text. It is probably only a nanosecond after the dead arise that both these newly-arisen and the remaining believers are ‘snatched’ up together by God to meet Jesus in the air. In this way, all believers will be ‘snatched’ up together simultaneously in order to have one single meeting “in the clouds” with Jesus. This concurs with Paul’s statement that those remaining (those alive) when Jesus comes “will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep”—the living will not precede the dead in Christ, but the dead in Christ will not precede those yet alive either, with respect to the meeting in the clouds. Put simply, we are all ‘snatched’ together (hama) “to meet the Lord in the air”.  Accordingly, the ‘Rapture’ is a ‘snatching’ of both the newly-raised-formerly-‘sleeping’and those still alive in Christ at His Parousia. This, then, conforms to the one gathering of believers in Matthew 24:31 and the one harvesting of believers in Rev 14:14–16. This also concurs with 1Cor 15:51–52: Take note! I tell you a mystery: Not all will sleep, but all will be changed—in an instant, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we [those yet living] will be changed. Paul then refers to the living as “the mortal”, which will be changed to “immortality” (15:53). In other words, Paul makes a distinction between the two groups and always places the dead before the living in the texts. Thus, all these passages easily harmonize by judiciously employing Occam’s razor.

5 Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC); Accordance electronic ed., OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.5 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), p 230. Emphasis added.

6 Very likely due to a committed PTR stance, Robert L. Thomas (“1 Thessalonians”, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians – Philemon, rev. ed., Tremper Longman III & David E. Garland, gen. eds. [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006]) states: Since God the Father is in heaven, the verb ά̓ξεί (axei, “will bring” . . .) indicates that the destination of the movement of Jesus and those with him in this verse is upward, not downward. At this moment of Jesus’ return in the air, the company named will not move back to the earth but toward the Father’s presence in heaven . . . (p 418). But this does not necessarily follow.

7 Ben Witherington III, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), p 138.

8 Burton Scott Easton, “Parousia”, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, Gen Ed., 1st Ed. (1915), prepared by Accordance/Oak Tree Software, Inc. Version 2.4, para 43388

9 I retained “to meet” in my translation above because no other English version translated it “for a meeting” and I did not wish to cause any initial confusion. It was decided to leave the explanation of “for a meeting” for later—here—when explaining this speculative portion.

10 Erik Peterson, “ἀπάντησις”, in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), G. Kittel & G. Friedrich, eds.; transl. G. W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–76), p 1:380; Greek transliterated, bold added.

11 J.H. Moulton & G. Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985), p 53.

12 Polybius, Histories, V.26.8–9 [Book 5, Chapter 26, section 8–9] (my transl.); Greek text [transliterated above] Theodorus Büttner-Wobst after L. Dindorf, 1893, courtesy Perseus Digital Library, Tufts University, specifically  here.

13 Frederick W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009), p 40. Danker is the “D” in BDAG and the older BAGD.

14 Danker, Concise Lexicon, p 361.

15 Without a firm grasp of ancient geography—and Luke’s rather confusing narration in this part—it is difficult to follow Paul’s journey and that of the brothers who wish to welcome him; so, I’ll rely on the almost always reliable F. F. Bruce (1 & 2 Thessalonians, Word Biblical Commentary [Waco, TX: Word Books, 1982]): Cf. . . . Acts 28:15, where the Christians from Rome walk south along the Appian Way to meet Paul and his company (eis apantēsin hēmin) and escort them on the remainder of their journey to Rome (pp 102–103).

Jesus’ Kingly Appearance

What did Jesus look like? We have no portrait of his likeness. We have no bust showing his facial features.1

What we know is that Jesus was born in a manger—that it was as a baby he came into our world. Though we don’t know much about his childhood, we can read about him as a twelve-year-old in the Temple (Luke   2:41-52), providing amazement to the teachers there (Luke 2:47). But, again, we don’t know what he looked like: his facial features, build, etc.

Yet we can state with some confidence what Jesus didn’t look like. Almost certainly, he resembled nothing like some images of Him, portrayed as a fair-skinned, fair-featured European. On the contrary, Jesus had Middle Eastern Jewish ancestry. Accordingly, he was likely olive-skinned with dark or brown hair, in keeping with others hailing from the Judean area. But as regards any specific physical characteristics, the New Testament (NT) is silent.

We might be able to infer that Jesus was an average looking man by analyzing some NT scenes. For example, Judas Iscariot pointed Jesus out to the soldiers marshalled to arrest him (Matt 26:47-49; Mark 14:43-45; Luke 22:47-49).2 This might suggest Jesus had no special physical qualities to make him stand out amongst the others. But, then again, it was dark, and the light from the torches may have distorted the faces of Jesus and the disciples such that an insider like Judas could more easily identify him. Or, it could be that at least some in the group were in the dark as to what Jesus looked like in the first place.

This Jesus a King?

Perhaps more compelling, Pilate showed apparent surprise upon meeting Jesus. Was he expecting someone more kingly, more ‘regal’ looking? All four Gospels are unanimous in how they record Pilate’s question, which can be phrased either “You are the king of the Jews?” or “Are you the king of the Jews?” (Matt 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3; John 18:33). By the phraseology (syntax) of the Greek, emphasis seems to be on “you” here.3 But there is no specific wording in the context with which to find a substantive answer as to what exactly provoked Pilate’s response.

However, viewing the description of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 may provide a glimpse. Of Isaiah 53:2 J. Alec Motyer observes and opines:

[H]e looked unimpressive (no beauty . . . to attract). To such an extent was he but a man among men that the ordinary tests of beauty (‘looks’), majesty (‘unimpressiveness’) and appearance could be applied—with negative results.4

From this we might conclude that the earthly Jesus was an average looking man. No striking features. But it is possible the physical description here strictly relates to Jesus’ battered body hanging on the cross.5 Yet, even if Isaiah 53 is specifically about the Atonement, the description in verse 2 cannot be ruled out as simultaneously providing a description of the earthly Jesus in a general sense.  Whichever the case, this passage, on its face, cannot be used to definitively determine Jesus’ physical features.

Motyer’s statement above may prompt another possible avenue for inquiry. If we consider the example of Saul’s selection as king, we may find a more solid basis upon which to accept Isaiah 53:2 as providing a description of the earthly Jesus. This, in turn, may provide some substantiation for understanding Pilate’s surprise as pertaining to Jesus’ physical characteristics.

To be more specific, recall that one of the apparent reasons Saul was selected king was because he was tall and handsome (1 Sam 9:2; 10:1,23-24). In other words, the Jews seemed to have selected Saul, at least partly, because he ‘looked like’ a king, in their eyes. In comparison, using the same criteria, the Suffering Servant described in Isaiah did not ‘look like’ a king. Thus, if Isaiah 53:2 describes Jesus, Pilate may have been bewildered upon seeing him, for he may have been expecting someone more ‘regal’ in appearance.

A basis for such thought finds itself in the pseudo-science of physiognomy, as detailed in the work of Mikeal C. Parsons.6 This term reflects the idea in the idiom ‘judging a book by its cover’. To some even the converse is true: judging a cover by its book. In this latter view, by knowing a person’s character, one can determine corresponding physical characteristics even before first sight.

Returning again to Motyer’s statement, observe his final words, “with negative results.”  It appears the author here understands some sort of physiognomic connection.

Parsons notes the presence—and the possible presence7—of the practice of physiognomy in the Old Testament (OT), using the selection of King Saul as but one example. 8 Extra-biblical Jewish texts from this time period evidence this same outward/inward connection.9 All this could point to the lack of physical descriptions of Jesus in the NT—if indeed he was an average man in terms of earthly physical characteristics, such as the description in Isaiah 53:2.

In other words, the Gospel writers’ silence on this issue may be quite purposeful. Knowing the contemporary tendency towards judging outward characteristics as the bases for determining inner qualities, the writers may have been dissuaded from describing Jesus’ physical form in any way. They may have been concerned that readers might make a caricature of him.

A stronger connection of this practice of physiognomy rears its ugly head in contemporary Hellenistic (Greek) culture.10 It “permeated the Greco-Roman thought world.”11 This thought may have emanated from the prominent anthropological and philosophical notions centering on a separate soul and body:

[S]oul and body react on each other; when the character of the soul changes, it changes also the body, and conversely, when the form of the body changes, it changes the character of the soul.12

The Hellenistic version of physiognomy encompassed a wide range of criteria, differing a bit according to the eye of the beholder. These include color of hair, eyes and skin; shape and size of forehead, nose, ears, cheeks, hands, etc.; size of head; sizes of features relative to others; asymmetry/symmetry; size of physique generally; as well as gait and other movements.13

An example of a negative imagining of Jesus’ physical features based on this pseudo-science is found in Cook’s The Interpretation of the New Testament in Greco-Roman Paganism.14 In this work Celsus described Jesus as “small and ugly and ignoble”.15 Celsus apparently arrives at his conclusions on Jesus’ physical features based on distorted understandings of Jesus’ incarnation, death and resurrection, which thereby informed Celsus’ view of Jesus’ morality.16 Since the crucifixion was reserved for criminals, Jesus’ death ‘confirmed’ his supposed “base origins and unworthy character”.17 In other words, a person of such ‘lowly’ character—according to Celsus’ misconstruals—surely was correspondingly “small and ugly”.18

Celsus sarcastically critiques Jesus in his mock-questioning of an imagined Jesus: Upon learning of the child king Jesus, Herod slaughtered innocent children (Matthew 2:3-16),

“lest you should reign instead of him after you were grown. Why then, when you were grown did you not reign? But you, ‘child of God’, ignobly beg in this manner [cf. Matt 10:9-11], poking about in fear and wandering up and down in ruin.”19

Celsus’ apparent awareness of the Gospel accounts of Jesus carrying neither food nor money20 likely contributed to his scathing judgment as “ignoble”.21 In accordance with such a view,

‘Evangelical poverty’ was unimpressive to Celsus. The title ‘king’ for such an impoverished individual is ridiculous to Celsus. Jesus never became a ‘king’ in the sense of the word that Celsus takes for granted.22

Considering all the above, isn’t it possible, perhaps even probable, the silence in the NT regarding Jesus’ earthly physical form is, in fact, by design? And could this account for why there are no direct NT quotations of the physical features portion of Isaiah 53:2?

Appropriating Jesus’ words in John 8:15, “You judge according to the flesh” (cf. 7:24).

Yes, Jesus is King!

Some use Psalm 45:2 to support the idea of a handsome Jesus. But this is probably best understood—if applicable to Jesus at all—as reflective of the post-earthly Jesus, his glorified form.23 And while the NT is silent regarding Jesus’ physical features during his earthly ministry, a few NT texts feature descriptions of a post-glorified Jesus.

We catch a glimpse of Jesus’ glory in the Transfiguration scene (Matt 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36). But John the Revelator describes Jesus in his post-earthly glory. In the first chapter of Revelation, John witnesses:

13 someone like a son of man, dressed in a foot-length robe and girded with a golden wrap around his chest, 14 his head and hair white like wool—white as snow—and his eyes like flames of fire, 15 his feet similar to fine bronze polished in a furnace, and his voice as vibrant as voluminous waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth a sharp double-edged sword proceeds. His face shines like the sun in its full force.

What a description!

With the words “like a son of man” (homoios huios anthrōpou), John evokes the human-like figure in Daniel 7:13 (hōs huios anthrōpou).24 To explain, “son of man” is a rendering of the Hebrew idiom ben Adam, which translates as son of Adam, and is understood to mean human.25 Thus, “son of man” also means human. Comparatively, the particularized the Son of Man, used by Jesus in self-reference throughout the Gospels, refers solely to him. Accordingly, without the attached to “son of man” in both Rev 1:13 and Daniel 7:13,26 this conveys that the figure coming on the clouds (Dan 7:13; Rev 1:7) is human-like in appearance—though, of course this figure is King Jesus at the Second Coming, the parousia. In other words, in Rev 1:13 John is not using the Son of Man, because this term represents Jesus in his earthly ministry. Therefore, the context here (and Dan 7:13) is best understood as referring to King Jesus in his suprahuman, glorified form—like a human.

John provides another magnificent description of King Jesus in Revelation 19:

11 Then I saw heaven standing open, and behold! A white horse! The one riding it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like flames of fire, and on his head are many diadems. A name has been written upon him, which no one knows except him. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and he has named himself THE WORD OF GOD. 14 The armies in heaven follow him on white horses, wearing pure white linen. 15 Out of his mouth proceeds a sharp sword with which he may strike the nations/people. He will shepherd them with an iron staff. And he tramples the winepress of the furious wrath of Almighty God. 16 And upon this robe, where it rests on his thigh, a name is inscribed: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

To use a term that has been diluted in popular culture due to persistent misuse, but here meant in all its original splendor: AWESOME! The verbiage appears to be figurative to some degree, yet we can see points of contact with 2Thessalonians 2:8:

And then the lawless one will be revealed—whom the Lord Jesus will cast away with the breath of His mouth and extinguish by the radiance of his coming/arrival (parousia).

The “breath of his mouth” seems to be a rephrasing of both Rev 1:16 and Rev 19:15 (cf. Isaiah 11:4). The “radiance of his coming” is similar to the final portion of 1:16, though it is implied in the whole context of 19:11-16.27

Come soon King Jesus!

_________________________

1 For possible reasons why, see the section titled Use of ΙΧΘΥΣ in early Christianity in Fishers of Persons article.
2 John’s Gospel portrays this scene a bit differently (John 18:3-5).
3 The Gospels are uniform here, to include word order: Σὺ εἶ ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων, Su ei ho basileus tōn Ioudaiōn, You are the king of the Jews? This would be the word-for-word rendering, and the one I prefer here. Since Greek finite verbs encode person and number, a pronoun is not necessary unless the subject is unclear in the context. In this case the referent is obvious: the 2nd person singular encoded in the present tense-form “are” (εἰ̑, ei) can only refer to Jesus. Thus, the presence of the Greek pronoun “you” (σὺ, su) here is unnecessary, for the question can just as easily stand without it: Εἶ ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων (You are the king of the Jews?). The reading of the text per all four Gospels could even possibly be rendered: You? You are king of the Jews? (see Bernard and Evans just below). This would be in keeping with the context. For these reasons, I deem the use here emphatic.

Though not the consensus, this view of su as emphatic is far from rare. Cf. Charles L. Quarles, Matthew, EGGNT, Andreas J. Köstenberger & Robert W. Yarbrough, gen. eds. (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2017), p 333: Σύ is emphatic and may imply a mocking tone . . .; Joel Marcus, Mark 8—16, The Yale Anchor Bible (New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2009), p 1033: . . . the sarcastic tone of Pilate’s initial question . . . [is] because the Jewish authorities have reported his royal pretensions and/or reputation…however, such pretensions seem outlandish, since . . . Jesus’ bound condition is the opposite of the unfettered power associated with kingship; Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27—16:20, Word Biblical Commentary [WBC] (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2001), p 478: The emphatic pronoun carries with it a touch of mockery, perhaps suggesting Pilate had anticipated meeting someone more impressive (i.e., “You? You must be kidding!”); 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. version 2.8 (Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2006), para 5147: The form of the sentence . . . suggests a feeling of surprise in the questioner: “Art thou, poor, and bound, and wearied, the King of whom men have spoken?”; J.H. Bernard, The Gospel According to St. John, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary; ed. Samuel Rolles Driver, Alfred Plummer, and Charles A. Briggs; Accordance electronic ed. version 2.8 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1928), para 15345: “Thou! (σύ is emphatic) art Thou the King of the Jews?” Evidently Pilate did not believe that Jesus was a revolutionary leader . . . There was nothing in His appearance or His demeanor to make such a charge plausible.; Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, The Anchor Yale Bible; (New Haven: Yale UP, 1974), p 2.851: In the question Pilate asks, it is possible the ‘you’ is emphatic . . . expressing incredulity. Pilate . . . may have been amazed at the mien of Jesus who has been accused of claiming the title.; Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971), p 768: “Thou” is emphatic. “Art thou the King of the Jews?”; Murray J. Harris, John, EGGNT (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2015), p 305:If Pilate’s question is formal, σύ will be without emphasis…but if he is being sarcastic, σύ will have the sense, “Are you, of all people, the king of the Jews?”

Some commentators supporting no emphasis tend to see a direct parallel between Pilate’s question (Su ei . . . ) and Jesus’ response (Su legeis . . . ), therefore construing that if emphasis (“You!”) is understood with Pilate, then Jesus was similarly snarky in return, which is then deemed untenable; however, as Lidija Novakovic remarks (John 11—21: A Handbook on the Greek Text, BHGNT [Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2020]) regarding Jesus’ response: σὺ [su] is contrastive, distinguishing Pilate from others . . . (p 239).  (Novakovic is non-committal regarding su in John 18:33 [p 238], though.) In all those supporting emphasis there are slight variations as to the reasoning, but most agree Pilate’s surprise relates to fathoming Jesus as king. There is the possibility that Pilate was expecting—at least in part—an individual with more striking physical features, such as being taller in height, handsomer, etc., which then elicited his surprise. See below.
4 J. Alec Motyer, Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary, TOTC (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), p 377.
5 That is, the description here could provide a graphic description of the ‘slain Lamb’ of Revelation 5:6 (cf. John 1:29) instead of the earthly Jesus in his usual appearance. See, e.g., G. K. Beale & Sean M. McDonough, “Revelation” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, G. K. Beale & D. A. Carson, eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007): The Isa. 53 background especially highlights the atoning aspect of the lamb’s sacrificial death and also applies the metaphor’s “root” (cf. Rev. 5:5) and “lamb” to the sacrificial victim. In fact, “root” also occurs in Isa. 11:1, 10 (alluded to in Rev. 5:5), which may have inspired attraction to the same metaphor in 53:2 (p 1101). Cf. Craig L. Blomberg, “Matthew” in Beale & Carson, who describes, the servant’s disfigured appearance (p 31).
6 Mikeal C. Parsons, Body and Character in Luke and Acts: The Subversion of Physiognomy in Early Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006 / Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2011). The Baylor appears to be a straight reissue of the Baker. All references below will refer to the original Baker issue. (See my review of this work here.) Parsons’ main thesis is that Luke/Acts illustrates the reversal of physiognomic thought as “Luke presumes physiognomic principles only to overturn them by story’s end” (p 15).
7 Here Parsons references Lev 21 and its requirements for both sacrifice and priest (p 40), noting how some construe the lack of corresponding moral requirements to go with the physical in Lev 21:16-18 as implying “a connection between the outward and the inward” (p 41).
8 Parsons, pp 39-40. The author also uses King David (1 Sam 16:12) and Absalom (2 Sam 14:25) as examples (p 40).
9 Parsons, pp 42-45.
10 Parsons, pp 17-37.
11 Parsons, p 17.
12 Parsons, p 14. I note that this is not foreign to modern culture, as evidenced, e.g., in the band Talking Heads’ track “Seen and Not Seen” (from the 1980 Remain in Light), in which the narrator wishes to change his facial features by consciously adapting his thoughts, assuming others shared this same ability.
13 Parsons, 18-37.
14 John Granger Cook, The Interpretation of the New Testament in Greco-Roman Paganism (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002).
15 Cook, p 35.
16 I draw these inferences from the way Cook frames some of his statements (p 35, 48), but particularly his quote of Celsus—which follows in the main text above—as viewed through the lens of the pervasive influence of physiognomy.
17 Eugene V. Gallagher, Divine Man or Magician: Celsus and Origen on Jesus (Chico, CA: Publishers Press, 1982), p 122, as cited in Cook, p 48.
18 See the corresponding verbiage in the main text of note 15, and see note 16 and its corresponding text.
19 Cook, p 35. Though Cook does not place child of God in quotes, I understand Celsus’ use here as sarcasm, since it is obvious he deemed Jesus unworthy to be a son of god or a king; and, therefore, my quotes are to indicate this cynicism. See also the comments relating to Origen’s Against Celsus in Claudio Moreschini and Enrico Norelli’s Early Christian Greek and Latin Literature: A Literary History: Volume One (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005): Celsus . . . criticized the idea of a descent (future for Jews, past for Christians) of a Son of God to earth, for this contradicts the very nature of God by attributing a change to him (p 291). Given such an a priori view (mistaken as it is), Celsus clearly does not grant ‘Son of God’ status to Jesus.
20 Cook, p 35.
21 This is my extrapolation of Cook (p 35) here given his earlier quote of Celsus’ “ . . . and ignoble” (see content referenced at note 15 above).
22 Cook, p 35.
23 Psalm 45:2 is variously translated in the English versions; however, the first part of the verse, which includes “handsome” in some versions, is not quoted or alluded to in the NT—as far as I’ve determined. The latter part of the verse (with “grace” or “gracious”) may be alluded to in Luke 4:22, though. Thus, I infer the possibility of this pertaining to Jesus only insofar as the citing/allusion to other verses in Psalm 45 (6-7) in the context of Hebrews 1:8-9 (See George H. Guthrie, “Hebrews” in Beale & Carson, pp 937, 939). And even if it does apply to Jesus, then it must be post-resurrection, as per the Hebrews context (1:3ff).
24 The words homoios and hōs are synonymous; in fact John uses the latter quite a bit in vv 13-16. John also uses homoios huios anthrōpou in Rev 14:14.
25 For more explanation on this, see ‘Son of Man’ in the LXX here.
26 In other words, these lack both Greek articles—one before huios (“son”) and one before anthrōpou (“man”), in comparison with the other occurrences in the NT where Jesus self-references as the Son of [the] Man during his earthly ministry. Relatedly, I have argued extensively that this same non-particularized huios anthrōpou in John 5:27 is meant to indicate “son of man”, aka “human” in that context in order to tie it to Daniel 7:13 and Rev 1:13; 14:14: see The Son of God Given Authority to Judge Because He is ‘Human’: A Study in John 5:27, pt 4 and pt 5.
27 And the latter part of 19:16 is parallel to 14:14, and 19:11-16 has other points of contact with 14:14-20.

Passing the Examination

In a bygone era, far removed from today, I served a brief stint in the US military. No regrets, but with the time to reenlist approaching, I had already made up my mind to separate from service rather than continue. It simply wasn’t the life and career for me.

With a few months remaining in my service commitment, I was also approaching the time to take a test for promotion to the next grade. This exam was scheduled before my upcoming separation. Passing the exam would provide a salary increase along with the promotion. A wage increase would be great; however, should I pass, the grade would not be awarded until after my intended separation from service. Thus, to my mind, it made little sense to take the test. So, I asked to be excused.

Yet I was told I must take the examination. “What if you pass?” I was asked. That would make no difference to me, for I was firm in my decision. I was definitely going to separate, no matter the outcome.

So, on the morning it was scheduled, I took the test. In record time. I simply took the Scantron and penciled in a next to the first question, b for the second, and so forth, till I got to the fifth question in which I penciled e. I repeated this pattern until I was finished. Then I handed it to the surprised facilitator and walked out of the room.

I had to sit for the test. But I didn’t have to test well. I didn’t have to pass the exam, but I couldn’t pass on sitting for the exam.

I have no idea how I scored. Given my methodology, it would have been pure luck had I actually qualified for the promotion.

Qualifying for a Higher Grade

Much later, after accepting Jesus Christ as Savior, I discovered that, as Christians, there’s an exam we must take. Similar to my earlier test, it is not optional. Yet the stakes are much higher. This is one we must pass. Continually:

2Corinthians 13:5—6:

5 Examine yourselves if you be in the faith. Approve yourselves! Or do you not discover for yourselves that Jesus Christ is in youunless you be unapproved? 6 Yet I trust that you will realize that we are not unapproved.1

For background, the Apostle Paul is frustrated with the ekklēsia (“church”) in Corinth. The words above should be seen as the culmination of what Paul stated in 2Corinthians 10:7. Paul implies that the congregation(s) had been seduced by other “super-apostles” (11:5) who had been preaching “another Jesus”, as received by “a different spirit”, and that they accepted this “different gospel” (11:4). Paul goes on to describe these seducers as “false apostles…disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (11:13), suggesting they are servants of Satan himself (11:14—15). Apparently, these “super-apostles” spoke disparagingly about Paul (12:11), contributing to the Corinthians’ doubt about Paul’s Apostleship (13:3—4). And even doubting Paul’s own faith.2

In response, Paul instructed them to examine themselves to determine if they were really in the faith. In the first two sentences of verse 5 “yourselves” is italicized to match the emphasis implied in the Greek text. Paul truly is concerned that some had apostatized, that they had fallen away from the faith. So, his words are a call to repentance for those needing it. But he provides encouragement: surely they will find out they are true Christ-followers—or they will be convicted of their fallen state and repent. Yet at the same time they will realize that Paul really is in the faith and truly is an Apostle.

Paul’s concluding sentence (v 6) magnificently puts all his thoughts together. In it, he uses three different pronouns to great effect. The “I” speaks of his authority, yet the verb associated with it shows his empathy, his desire (“I trust”). The “you”, of course, is the Corinthians, who, after their individual self-investigations (v 5), should either: (a) be further encouraged in their faith, or (b) be persuaded to repent. His final “we” indicates both: (a) his desire for their further encouragement or their repentance (accordingly), and (b) his implied assertion of his own status in the faith, along with the newly-repentants’ realization of Paul’s true faith—“we” (the Corinthians and Paul) are “not unqualified”.

All this provides an object-lesson for subsequent readers, for us. Are we really in the faith? Continual self-assessment is not optional (Matthew 24:13).

Elsewhere Paul provides means for self-testing, using the example of Timothy:

2Timothy 2:15:

Strive to present yourself approved to God, an unashamed laborer correctly applying the word of truth.

The verb for “approved” here is the same as the one used in 2Corinthians 13:5. The only way you can know for certain you are in the faith is to have a good knowledge of the truths of the faith (John 8:31—32)! And this requires obedience, which is made evident by your fruit. A great self-check for fruit-bearing is found in Paul’s words to the Galatian ekklēsia. The passage compares living by the Spirit to living according to the flesh:

Galatians 5:16—25:

16 I say then, walk by the Spirit, so you shall not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh has desires contrary to the Spirit, the Spirit contrary to the flesh. For these oppose one another, so that you may not do as you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious, which are: sexual immorality, moral impurity, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, rivalries, dissensions, discriminations, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousals, and such things similar to these. All these I tell you to forewarn you as before: All those who engage in such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, patience, generosity, goodness, faith, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such things, there is no law. 24 And those belonging to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, to the Spirit we should also conform.

We cannot just pass on this. Each must habitually ask himself or herself, “Am I really in the faith?”

Do I meet the qualifications? Am I approved?

____________________

1 In my translation here, I aimed for functional equivalency to the extent possible (nouns for nouns, similar verb types for similar verb types, etc.), leaving out as many English helping words as possible (e.g. “to see if you be in the faith”). With this goal in mind, I sought to retain Paul’s words as I think he intended to his original audience, thereby showing his exceptional rhetorical skills. All negatives are translated as per the Greek text, including words negated by an a– prefix. In this way, the reader can see his dichotomies, his juxtapositions, as well as his plays on words (“approve” > “unapproved” > “not unapproved”). Otherwise, in my opinion, his tone is smoothed over. This includes the italicizing of “unless” since εἰ μήτι is stronger than εἰ μή.  In similar fashion, “yourselves” is twice italicized, since it has emphatic placement in the Greek (first in the sentences). The overall intent is to make the parallels and contrasts a bit easier for the English reader to perceive.

2 Most of this entire paragraph sounds eerily similar to the leaders and individuals within the so-called New Apostolic Reformation.

Fishers of Persons

Now as He was walking along the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers—Simon (the one called Peter) and his brother Andrew—casting nets into the lake, for they were fishers. And He said to them, “Come follow Me, and I will make you fishers of persons1” (Matthew 4:18-19).

Our subject verses, Matthew 4:18-19, along with the parallels Mark 1:16-17 and Luke 5:1-11 (cf. John 1:35-42), are among the number of New Testament (NT) references to fishing. Most Christians (and non-Christians) in the West are aware of the fish symbol used to signify Christianity. Nowadays it can be found on cars, various kinds of jewelry, etc. But what does the “Jesus fish”, the ichthys (or ichthus) symbolize exactly? Why and when was it first used?

fish_plain

credit: Wikimedia Commons

Possible OT and Jewish Background

While Jesus may have seized the opportunity to use the “fishers of persons” comparison simply because Simon Peter and Andrew were fishermen, it seems probable that this metaphor was also chosen to counter contemporary negative Jewish fishing metaphors. If so, the effect would have been to contrast those metaphors of God’s judgment with these fishers who will “pluck human beings out of the net of Satan and transfer them securely into the net of God”2 (cf. Matthew 13:47-48).

The Old Testament (OT) provides a number of metaphorical references to fishing, the majority relating to judgment:

  • The LORD (YHWH) sending ‘fishermen’ to catch the wicked Israelites (Jeremiah 16:16)
  • YHWH using the Babylonians to capture wayward Israel by ‘hook’ and ‘net’ (Hab. 1:14-15)
  • God threatening to take away the unrighteous of Israel via ‘fishhook’ (Amos 4:2)
  • YHWH equating Pharaoh and his people to fish who will be hooked (Ezek. 29:3-5; cf. 38:4)
  • Various peoples being caught by ‘fishnet’, symbolizing God’s judgment (Ps. 66:11; Ezek. 32:3).

Closer to the time of Christ, the Qumran community, via the Dead Sea Scrolls, provided commentary (pesher) on Isaiah 24:17, illustrating how YHWH judges the disobedient by sending Belial (Satan) to ensnare them:

Belial will be sent against Israel, as God has said by means of the prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz, saying: ‘Panic, pit and net against you earth-dwellers’. Its explanation: They are Belial’s three nets about which Levi, son of Jacob spoke, in which he catches Israel and makes them appear before them like three types of justice. The first is fornication; the second, wealth; the third, defilement of the Temple. He who eludes one is caught in another and he who is freed from that is caught in another (Damascus Document [CD IV:13-19]).3

Yet, amidst all the negative fishing imagery in the OT, Ezekiel 47:9-10 speaks of a new Temple (cf. Rev. 22:1-5), one with a river which will provide abundant life to fish (and all other creatures, vegetation, and trees receiving sustenance from it—Ezek. 47:11-12):

9 And it will come to be that every living creature that swarms wherever the river flows will live; and there will be a great multitude of fish, because this water will flow there, healing the seawater—making it freshwater. Everything will live where this water flows. 10 And it will come to be that fishers will stand on its banks: from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places to spread the nets. There will be many species of fish, just like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea—a multitude of many kinds of fish.

Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish Messiah, came “to preach the good news to the poor…to proclaim freedom to the captives, renewed sight for the blind, and to relieve the oppressed” (Luke 4:18), in fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1!

NT usage of ICHTHYS, Fish

The Greek word for “fish” is ιχθυς, which is transliterated—exchanging each Greek letter for corresponding English letters—ichthys or ichthus. The Greek letters in the previous sentence are in miniscule minuscule, like our lower case letters. In majuscule, akin to our capital letters, the word is ΙΧΘΥΣ—as in the figure below—or, transliterated, ICHTHYS. The earliest Greek NT manuscripts are in majuscule; the miniscule would develop later. ΙΧΘΥΣ is found twenty times in the NT. (The word for “fisher” is the unrelated ἁλιεύς, halieus.)

Since the English transliteration has seven characters to the Greek five, further explanation seems necessary. The second and third Greek letters are digraphs in English—two letters representing one sound—whereas they are indicated by one symbol in the Greek. Here are the Greek-to-English correlations:

I, ι (iota) = I, i
X, χ (chi) = CH, ch
Θ,θ (theta) = TH, th
Υ, υ (upsilon) = Y, u/y
Σ/C, σ/ς (sigma) = S, s

fish_ichthus

credit: Wikimedia Commons

While Mark 1:16-17 is nearly identical to our subject verses Matthew 4:18-19, the good doctor Luke expands the incident considerably. Luke’s Gospel records the first great catch of fish, chronologically, in the NT (Luke 5:1-10). Simon Peter, after fishing all night and coming up empty, is instructed by Jesus to go back out into the deep water. After expressing a bit of reluctance initially, Simon relents, catching so many fish that he needed another boat to help retrieve them all!

Apparently feeling ashamed for his lack of faith, Peter fell at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Away from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Sensing the feelings of awe within Peter, Andrew, James, and John, Jesus tells them to not be afraid, for they were now to catch people. Certainly, this first great catch of fish must be symbolically linked to their future great catches as “fishers of persons”.

The remaining NT passages containing ΙΧΘΥΣ are:

  • “…if he asks for a fish, will you give him a snake?” (Matthew 7:10; Luke 11:11)
  • The miraculous feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:13-22; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-13
  • The miraculous feeding of the four thousand (Matthew 15:32-29; Mark 8:1-10)
  • Paying the “Temple tax”, via the first fish Peter was to catch, in which would be a silver coin (statēr) worth four drachmae (Matthew 17:27)
  • The broiled fish that was given to the risen Jesus (Luke 24:42)
  • The account of the risen Jesus instructing the disciples to again throw out their net, a near recapitulation of the first great haul of fish, excepting their lack of hesitation this time (John 21:6-14)
  • The Apostle Paul comparing the flesh of humans with the different flesh of animals, birds, and fish as he discusses the new spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:39)

There is one more Scripture relevant here—though it does not contain ichthys, it does contain the Greek word for “dragnet”. It is the Parable of the Net (Matthew 13:47-50), which is a mixture of the negative OT judgment metaphor and a different take on the NT ‘fishers of persons’ analogy, in the form of eschatological (end times) judgment/salvation (cf. Matthew 13:30, 40-42; Revelation 14:14-20)

Use of ΙΧΘΥΣ in early Christianity

In the first century AD, many Christian converts met in private homes.4 After the Christian faith gained wider acceptance, buildings were erected specifically for worship.5 These early places of worship were unadorned and plain, for Christians were concerned about possibly falling prey to idolatry.6

In these early days, one would not find drawings or sculptures of Christ; however, eventually, symbols representing our Lord and our faith would be made.7 Rather than fashioning a likeness of Jesus’ human form, “they made a figure of a shepherd carrying a lamb on his shoulders, to signify the Good Shepherd who gave his life for his sheep”8 (John 10:11). The Messiah was also represented symbolically as a lamb.9 Other Christian symbols used were: a dove to represent the Holy Spirit; a ship, to signify the Church, the ark of salvation, sailing towards heaven; a lyre, to represent joy; an anchor, to symbolize hope; and, “a fish, which was meant to remind them of their having been born again in the water at their baptism”.10

These symbols began to be used on everyday items at home, such as lamps, vases, rings, bowls, wall-hangings and the like.11 Fish symbols were also found in the Roman catacombs in pictures with bread and wine—in some the fish is swimming in the water with a plate of bread and a cup of wine on its back, evidently alluding to the Last Supper or Eucharist.12 The oldest known ΙΧΘΥΣ-monument, the Cœmeterium Domitillae (cemetery of Flavia Domitilla) in the catacombs, is dated perhaps as early as the late first century, to the middle of the second.13 This one depicts three persons with three loaves of bread and one fish,14 a likely reference to the miraculous feedings.

It is unknown when, but someone ingeniously invented an acrostic (backronym) based on the letters of ΙΧΘΥΣ: ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΘΕΟΥ ΥΙΟΣ ΣΩΤΗΡ (IĒSOUS CHRISTOS THEOU YIOS SŌTĒR), which translates to JESUS CHRIST, GOD’S SON, SAVIOR.

ΙHΣΟΥΣ  = IĒSOUS = JESUS
ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ = CHRISTOS = CHRIST
ΘΕΟY = THEOU = GOD’S
ΥΙΟΣ = YIOS = SON
ΣΩΤΗΡ = SŌTĒR = SAVIOR

fish_table

Legend has it that during the early stages of Christianity and its attendant persecution, a Christ-follower, upon meeting someone whom they thought could be a fellow Christian, would seemingly nonchalantly draw one arc of the ΙΧΘΥΣ in the sand.

fishhalf

One arc of ΙΧΘΥΣ

 

If the other individual responded by drawing the intersecting arc, thereby completing the fish symbol, they would each know the other was a fellow sojourner in the faith.

fishhalf2

Completed ΙΧΘΥΣ

 

Conversely, if the other individual was not a Christ-follower, the gesture would be viewed as mere doodling and not reveal the faith-belief of the original drawer.15

According to Schaff, the ICHTHYS was the symbol most used.16 “It was the double symbol of the Redeemer and the redeemed”.17 Tertullian (ca. 155-225 AD), in his De Baptismo (On Baptism), makes this connection explicitly:

Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life! A treatise on this matter will not be superfluous; instructing not only such as are just becoming formed (in the faith), but them who, content with having simply believed, without full examination of the grounds of the traditions, carry (in mind), through ignorance, an untried though probable faith…But we, little fishes (pisciculi [ED: Latin]), after the example of our ΙΧΘΥΣ Jesus Christ, are born in water, nor have we safety in any other way than by permanently abiding in water…18

In the following, Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150—215 AD) instructs fellow believers to steer away from idols, as he delineates these from the symbols described earlier. Note that he alludes to the ‘fishers of persons’ analogy:

And let our seals be either a dove, or a fish, or a ship scudding before the wind, or a musical lyre, which Polycrates used, or a ship’s anchor, which Seleucus got engraved as a device; and if there be one fishing, he will remember the apostle, and the children drawn out of the water. For we are not to delineate the faces of idols, we who are prohibited to cleave to them; nor a sword, nor a bow, following as we do, peace; nor drinking-cups, being temperate.19

In a somewhat convoluted mixing of metaphors linguistic devices, Origen (ca. 185-254) takes the miracle of the fish with the coin to pay the Temple tax and turns this into an allegory of Peter as fisher of persons:

As then, having the form of that slave, He pays toll and tribute not different from that which was paid by His disciple; for the same statēr sufficed, even the one coin which was paid for Jesus and His disciple. But this coin was not in the house of Jesus, but it was in the sea, and in the mouth of a fish of the sea which, in my judgment, was benefited when it came up and was caught in the net of Peter, who became a fisher of men, in which net was that which is figuratively called a fish, in order also that the coin with the image of Caesar might be taken from it, and that it might take its place among those which were caught by them who have learned to become fishers of men…20

The following comes from an early Christian novel (ca. 3rd to 4th century AD) Acts of Xanthippe, Polyxena, and Rebecca (part of what is known as New Testament Apocrypha). Note the reference to ‘fishers of persons’, and the possible allusion to the Parable of the Net (Matthew 13:47-52):

Thou hast sought me [Xanthippe], lowly one, having the sun of righteousness in my heart. Now the poison is stayed, when I have seen thy [Paul’s] precious face. Now he that troubled me is flown away, when thy most beautiful counsel has appeared to me. Now I shall be considered worthy of repentance, when I have received the seal of the preacher of the Lord. Before now I have deemed many happy who met with you, but I say boldly that from this time forth I myself shall be called happy by others, because I have touched thy hem, because I have received thy prayers, because I have enjoyed thy sweet and honeyed teaching. Thou hast not hesitated to come to us, thou that fishest the dry land in thy course, and gatherest the fish that fall in thy way into the net of the kingdom of heaven.21

Below is an ΙΧΘΥΣ inscription found in Ephesus (modern-day Turkey). Note the 8-spoked wheel. This is made by taking the letters, one at a time, superimposing each one over the other(s). The top and bottom of the iota must be suitably curved in order to fashion the wheel.

fish_ephesus

Early Christian inscription with the Greek letters “ΙΧΘΥΣ” carved into marble in the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Ephesus at Turkey

 

In the Sibylline Oracles, Book 8, verses 284-330 (Greek text 217-250)–dated ca. 3rd to 5th century AD–an acrostic is formed from the first letter of the first word in each line, resulting in (in English): JESUS CHRIST, GOD’S SON, SAVIOR, CROSS (ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΕΣΤΟΣ ΘΕΟΥ ΥΙΟΣ ΣΩΤΗΡ ΣΤΑΥΡΟΣ [IĒSOUS CHRIESTOS THEOU YIOS SŌTĒR STAUROS]). Similarly, Augustine, in his de Civitate Dei (xviii, 123) forms an acrostic in the same manner, but without “Cross”—spelling out the ΙΧΘΥΣ (ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΘΕΟΥ ΥΙΟΣ ΣΩΤΗΡ).

Evidence seems to indicate that the ΙΧΘΥΣ-symbol fell into disuse prior to the middle of the fourth century.22 It was apparently revived on or just before 1970, during the “Jesus movement”. The ICHTHUS is quite prevalent today, at least in the West.

—————————

1 “Persons” translates the Greek ἄνθρωπος (anthrōpos), here in the plural, the word from which we get anthropology, the study of humankind.  My translation “persons”, as opposed to “people”, goes against current norms, for the term is usually confined to formal or legal contexts, such as “missing persons” or “persons of interest”. However, this is precisely, why I chose the term! Who are we to ‘fish’ for? According to Paul’s list in First Corinthians 6:9-10, we are to fish for thieves, swindlers, adulterers (yes, adultery is still on the books as a crime in some states, and it is certainly contrary to Mosaic Law), slanderers, etc., aka “persons of interest”, until they are ‘convicted’. And these were among those converted in the 1st century. Yet, I do not wish to limit the meaning in such a manner, as this term is simply a lesser used plural of “person”. Thus, consider my usage here as a synonym to “people”, but with the added underlying sense of individuals with less-than-optimum character. And who—besides Jesus—does not fit that description anyway? In the sense that “there is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:12; cf. 3:20; Psalm 14:1-3), we are all “persons of interest”! All such persons need to be ‘caught’. Moreover, the Day of the Lord will only come when all “missing persons” are ‘found’ (2 Peter 3:8-10).

2 Joel Marcus, Mark 1–8, The Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), p 184.

3 Florentino Garci̒a Marti̒nez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English, 2nd ed., transl. Wilfred G. E. Watson (Netherlands: Brill, Leiden/Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), p 35. Cf. 1QH 3:26

4 James C. Robertson, Sketches of Church History: From A.D. 33 to the Reformation, Accordance electronic ed. (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1912), p 86; Larry W. Hurtado, Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016), p 3.

5 Robertson, Sketches, p 86.

6 Ibid.; Philip Schaff, Apostolic Christianity, History of the Christian Church 1; Accordance electronic ed. 8 vols.; (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), paragraph 799  / (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2011), p 168; Philip Schaff, Ante-Nicene Christianity, History Of The Christian Church 2; Accordance electronic ed. 8 vols.; (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), paragraph 6357 / (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2011), p 267. Hereafter, references to Schaff will be dual credited as the Accordance paragraph / the Hendrickson page(s).

7 Robertson, Sketches, pp 86-87; Schaff, Ante-Nicene Christianity, para. 6358-91 / pp 267-68.

8 Robertson, Sketches, pp 86-87.

9 Schaff, Apostolic Christianity, para. 799  / p 168.

10 Robertson, Sketches, p 87.

11 Schaff, Ante-Nicene Christianity, para. 6358-59 / p 268; Cf. Schaff, Ante-Nicene Christianity, pp 267-281, 867-868; Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria, Ante-Nicene Fathers, ANF II; Accordance electronic ed. 9 vols.; (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1885), paragraph 12131 [Elucidations on Clement of Alexandria’s “The Instructor (Paedagogus)” Book II, Chapter III: On Costly Vessels].

12 Schaff, Ante-Nicene Christianity, para. 6403, 9210 / pp 279, 280 (in footnote 2).

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid.

15 “Fish Symbol”, ReligionFacts.com, 18 May, 2017, Web, as accessed 25 Aug, 2018. <www.religionfacts.com/fish>

16 Schaff, Ante-Nicene Christianity, para. 6403 / p 279.

17 Ibid.

18 Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, ANF III; Accordance electronic ed. 9 vols.; (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1885), paragraph 28175 [Tertullian “On Baptism” Chapter I. Introduction: Origin of the Treatise].

19 Roberts, Donaldson, & Coxe, eds., Fathers of the Second Century, ANF II, para. 11707 [Clement of Alexandria “The Instructor (Paedagogus)” Book III, Chapter XI: A Compendious View of the Christian Life].

20 Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., The Gospel of Peter, the Diatessaron of Tatian, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Visio Pauli, the Apocalypses of the Virgin and Sedrach, the Testament of Abraham, the Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena, the Narrative of Zosimus, the Apology of Aristides, the Epistles of Clement, Origen’s Commentary on John, Books I–x, and Commentary on Matthew, Books I, Ii, and X–xiv, ANF IX; Accordance electronic ed. 9 vols.; (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1885), paragraph 79992 [Origen “From the Second Book of the Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew”, Book XIII.10].

21 Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., The Gospel of Peter, the Diatessaron of Tatian, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Visio Pauli, the Apocalypses of the Virgin and Sedrach, the Testament of Abraham, the Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena, the Narrative of Zosimus, the Apology of Aristides, the Epistles of Clement, Origen’s Commentary on John, Books I–x, and Commentary on Matthew, Books I, Ii, and X–xiv, ANF IX; Accordance electronic ed. 9 vols.; (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1885), paragraph 77323 [“Life and Conduct of the Holy Women Xanthippe, Polyxena, and Rebecca”].

22 Schaff, Ante-Nicene Christianity, para. 6404 / p 280.

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.

Conclusion

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 redundant 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 [http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015026844228;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” [http://www.tyndalehouse.com/Bulletin/63=2012/05_Kirk-20.pdf]; 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. [https://ia801408.us.archive.org/16/items/personofchristin00latouoft/personofchristin00latouoft.pdf]

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).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

External Evidence

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

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

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

ὁ θεός (ho Theos), {the} God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Internal Evidence: Habits of Scribes

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

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

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

Jesus: Ίησου̃ϛ, ΊΗCΟΥC = Ι͞C

Lord: κύριοϛ, ΚΥΡΙΟC = K͞C

God: θεός, ΘΕΟC = Θ͞C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Internal Evidence: Style of Jude and Fittingness to the Context

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

Immediate Context

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall Context and Style of Jude

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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