It is Perfectly Finished, part I

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

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

Jesus’ Last Testament

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

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

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

Which Scripture “Perfected”?

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

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

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

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

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

More investigation is needed.

The Fullness of Perfection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on teleioō will be forthcoming.

Wine Vinegar, a Sponge, and Hyssop

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

5 Blomberg, Historical Reliability, p 252.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

32 Keener, John, p 1147.

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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


1 The information here is, as is most of the technical information contained in this article, culled from Philip W. Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2008); Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: United Bible Societies, 1994); B. Aland, K. Aland, J. Karavidopoulos, et. al. eds. The Greek New Testament, 4th rev. ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft (German Bible Society), 2004), hereafter UBS4; and Eberhard and Erwin Nestle Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th rev. ed., B. Aland, K. Aland, J. Karavidopoulos, et. al. eds. (Münster: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft (German Bible Society), 2012), hereafter NA28.
Information of a more general nature relies in part on J. Harold Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, rev. ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995) and idem. The Text of the New Testament: From Manuscript to Modern Edition (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2008).
2 This includes the uncials (majuscules) K (018) and L (020), both dated 9th c., mss identified specifically in the UBS4 but not listed in the NA28. Majuscules were eventually superseded by miniscules – scripted, lower-case writing. Majuscules (uncials) are weighted more heavily than miniscules in TC due to their earlier provenance. It’s important to note that about 80% of the Byz text mss are miniscules dated later than the 11th century, of course, well after – over 1000 years after – the initial transmission of the NT documents. This 80% figure is found in Maurice A. Robinson, “Rule 9, Isolated Variants, and the ‘Test Tube’ Nature of NA27/UBS4 Text: A Byzantine-Priority Perspective,” in Translating the New Testament: Text, Translation, Theology, Stanley E. Porter and Mark J. Boda, eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), p 57 n 102.
3 An example of this preference may be found in what seems to be a general rather than specific statement, at least with respect to the Gospels, by Barbara Aland (“The Text of Luke 16” in Translating the New Testament): “…the Byzantine text is…a good old text, but it has a number of bad readings and we have to eliminate them and then the text is a good old text. That means that if the Byzantine text agrees with P75 and Vaticanus, then it’s a trustworthy witness. That’s my position” (p 93). Of course, P75 does not include our selection in Jude, or anything in this epistle, as it contains solely portions of the Gospels.
4 Though one must be careful not to put too much weight on patristic sources, since all extant mss are themselves copies of copies. In addition, we do not know if the patristic writer had an actual NT Greek mss in front of him, or if he was quoting from memory (correctly or not), loosely translating, paraphrasing, etc. Moreover, it’s more probable (as compared to NT scribes) that copyists of patristic exemplars made changes to the documents in Scriptural passages, conforming them to the individual copyist’s perspective of what the NT text should be. In short, until the patristic sources themselves have been submitted to the tenets of TC, they should only be used for NT TC with an appropriate amount of caution. See Greenlee Introduction, pp 46-47; cf. idem. Text of the New Testament, pp 34-35. However, the UBS4 claims to have been careful in this area, including only those fulfilling qualifying criteria: “…The citation must be capable of verification…” and it “must relate clearly to a specific passage in the New Testament…” (p 30*). Cf. pp 30* – 38*.
5 The most notable text critic adhering to this position is Maurice A. Robinson, who would certainly assert that the evidence for ὁ κύριοϛ is stronger. Robinson goes so far as to argue for Byzantine priority, i.e., that the Byz is superior to the Alexandrine, with the Byz more likely closer to the original text. See Robinson, “The Case for Byzantine Priority” in Rethinking New Testament Textual Criticism, David Alan Black, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002), pp 125-139; idem. “Rule 9, Isolated Variants, and the ‘Test Tube’ Nature of NA27/UBS4 Text,” pp 27-61.
6 Metzger, TCGNT, p 657. Parenthetical remark added for clarity. For one example of a position against such conjecturing, specifically addressing Matthew but which can be applied more broadly, see David Alan Black, “Conjectural Emendations in the Gospel of Matthew,” Novum Testamentum XXXI (1989), pp 1-15.
7 Here the article takes on a pronoun function. See Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), pp 231, 233-234. Cf. David Alan Black, It’s Still Greek To Me (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), pp 76-79, esp. 79, item 8; Wallace, GGBTB, pp 211-213.
8 One such example of NT usage of an article with the subject assumed anaphorically (from a previous reference) is in Matthew 24, verses 17 and 18, in which the referent is verse 16’s οἱ ἐν τῇ Ἰουδαίᾳ (those who are in Judea, more literally, the ones in (the) Judea). In addition, all three (vv 16, 17, & 18) are examples of nominalizing prepositional phrases; see Wallace, GGBTB, p 236. Many thanks are due to Jacob Cerone, Dr. David Alan Black’s assistant, for finding this.
9 Ironically, Hort’s conjecture here militates against his own assertion (with Westcott) that the Alexandrian text is the “Neutral text” (a position that is claimed to have been abandoned by modern text critics), given that the article is missing in all the Alexandrian witnesses above.
10 See the following for an example of a ‘split K’ (ms X, aka 033, 10th c.) – this will take a long time (10± minutes) to download, as the file is very large:
Scroll to page 7, to find the English cursive handwriting “Joh. Cp. 1”. To the left of that English is John 1:1 written in majuscule (uncial) – though most of the accompanying text is in miniscule. In this first line (and also the second) of John 1 is “KAI” (and, in this context) with a disconnected “K” (there is a dot just before this split “K”), appearing like “IC” instead. The line reads:
which, separated into words is:
en archē ēn ho logos kai ho logos ēn
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.

Charismatic Ramifications on the “Long Ending” of Mark’s Gospel

Most modern Bible translations include a note expressing serious doubt about the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20.  Individuals who do accept these final verses as part of Mark’s Gospel, however, are committed to an extreme view of the signs listed in verses 17 and 18, to include the explicit ability to drink poison with no ill effects.  If the Greek text in this “long ending” is taken seriously, understood, and translated in proper context, then all five signs are for all those who believe – excepting those actively preaching the Gospel message – at the point of initial conversion and continuing on thereafter.  That is, upon hearing and believing in the Gospel message, newly regenerate believers, without exception, will exhibit all the signs listed in Mark 16:17-18, as accompaniment to the Gospel.  Moreover, these five should be evident among all believers, past, present and yet future, upon initial acceptance of the Gospel and thereafter – at the least, whenever the Gospel is being actively preached.

The Long and the Short of It

For quite some time, it has been the scholarly consensus that the “long ending” of the Gospel of Mark, i.e., the last 12 verses (16:9-20), is not original to the Gospel, even though there are many manuscripts that include this text.1  While there are those who assert that the long ending is indeed original, they are well within the minority among NT scholars and textual critics.  The vocabulary and style of the Greek in the long ending is substantially different than the remainder of Mark’s Gospel.2  In addition, the associated manuscript evidence points rather decisively to the inauthenticity of these verses.3

There is even a so-called “short ending” in one extant Old Latin manuscript.  This short ending consists of a small amount of text following verse 8, about the equivalent of one long Biblical verse or two shorter ones.  While this is found as the ending to Mark’s Gospel in only one manuscript, there is yet another variation in which the long ending is appended to the short ending.4  All three – the predominant long ending, the lone short ending, and the combination of short ending followed by long ending – are almost universally rejected, and identified as spurious.

Some are of the opinion that the Gospel of Mark simply concludes at verse 8.  However, in view of the fact that verse 8 ends rather abruptly with frightened women at the tomb, and, secondarily, that the very last word is a conjunction (the word γάρ, transliterated gar, meaning for, since, or because), others believe the original ending has been lost, or that the Gospel writer just did not finish the work for some unknown reason.5  These may well be factors that influenced the writer of the long ending (assumed to be one lone author by the internal consistency of the text).

Excluding the long ending from Scripture necessarily negates any need to discuss cessationism (the belief that the ‘sign gifts’ have ceased with the Apostolic era and the closing of the Biblical canon) or continuationism (the belief that all the spiritual gifts continue to this day) by appealing to these verses.  Dr. Rodney J. Decker, Th.D., has recently written a paper on this subject, titled Mark and Miracle (Mark 16:17-18), with an emphasis on what the longer ending means in its own context and how it relates to the rest of the New Testament, and posted it on his blog.  This particular work of Decker (see hyperlink at title above, pdf here) will be relied on for portions of the remainder of this article; general references and specific quotes from it will be followed by applicable page number in brackets, e.g.: {p 3}.

Interpreting the Text of the Long Ending

Decker notes that, in academic settings, those who argue for continuationism by and large do not do so by appealing to the Markan long ending.  On the other hand, it is used quite frequently as a basis for argumentation “in non-academic discussions and among poorly trained advocates.  That is perhaps not surprising since even in cessationist circles the authenticity of the Long Ending is commonly assumed since it is in the KJV without note or comment” {p 2, n 11}.  I’ll add that it seems many readers of modern Bible versions pay little mind to the notes, further contributing to ignorance about the legitimacy of the long ending.6  Philip Comfort provides a blanket caution against the lay or academic use of these verses:

…Christians need to be warned against using this text for Christian doctrine because it is not on the same par as verifiable New Testament Scripture.  Nothing in it should be used to establish Christian doctrine or practice.  Unfortunately, certain churches have used Mark 16:16 to affirm dogmatically that one must believe and be baptized to be saved, and other churches have used Mark 16:18 to promote the practice of snake-handling…The writer of the longer ending also emphasized what we would call charismatic experiences – speaking in tongues, performing healings, protection from snakes and poison.  Although the book of Acts affirms these experiences for certain believers, they are not necessarily the norm for all.7

Bill Johnson, Senior Pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, CA, is just one example (and there are many others within the so-called New Apostolic Reformation, aka NAR) of a hyper-charismatic (my term for those who go well beyond more conservative Pentecostal/charismatic theology and practice) who frequently cites Mark 16:15 and Mark 16:20 as base texts for the Great Commission, while selectively using only portions of verses 17-18 (healing the sick, casting out demons, and speaking in new tongues, yet omitting snake handling and drinking poison) for his continuationist stance.8  As but one example, here’s a selection in which Johnson specifically cites Mark 16:20 in the footnote reference to this passage:

…While healing is seldom the subject we teach on, it is one of the most common results.  As we proclaim the message of the Kingdom of God, people get well.  The Father seems to say Amen! to His own message by confirming the word with power….9

In reading Johnson’s quote, observe that the claim is that “people get well” as a result of the proclamation of “the message of the Kingdom of God”.  This passive “people get well” stands in stark contrast to the long ending’s explicitly active “they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover”.  In other words, according to verse 18, those who believe will actively lay on hands, resulting in the sick recovering; the sick don’t just “get well”.  We could give Johnson the benefit of the doubt and just assume he was imprecise with his wording, but what of the other signs that should accompany the message according to the context of the long ending of Mark?:

15 And He said to them [the Eleven], “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will follow [accompany] those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

19 So then, after the Lord had spoken to them [the Eleven], He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs [by those who believe]. Amen. [Mark 16:15-20, NKJV (emphasis and explanatory notes in brackets added)]

The text is book-ended with the preaching of the Gospel (vv 15, 20) by the Eleven (vv 14, 15, 19), but note that signs (σημεῖα, sēmeia) will follow/accompany those who believe (vv 16, 17), to exclude those preaching (the Eleven) {pp 3-5}.  The context specifies that it is regenerate believers – those receiving the preaching of the Gospel (by the Eleven; v 15) and reaching a saving faith (v 16) – who will cast out demons, speak with new languages, pick up snakes, etc.  Following are the five signs that will be exhibited by these believers:

  • Performing exorcisms
  • Speaking in new languages
  • Picking up snakes (presumably without harm)
  • Drinking poison without harm
  • Healing the sick by the laying on of hands

Note that, by the context, the snakes are not specifically identified as venomous (or not), and it’s not specified if those picking up the snakes will remain unharmed; it merely states “they will take up serpents” (some manuscripts add “with their hands”).  Some may appeal to the next point – “if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them” – but these two are not connected grammatically {p 3}.  Also, since all five, as Decker observes, “are listed in parallel with no indication otherwise, it would be precarious to suggest that one (or more) is to be taken metaphorically if the others are not” {pp 3-4, 4 n 15}.  By the context, the statement attributed to Jesus (vv 15-18), as well as the narration in verse 20 (“…the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.”) is clearly meant in a literal sense; therefore, all five should be taken literally.

The text explicitly states that all five signs above will accompany the collective of those who believe {p 8}, as a sign of the Gospel, “whenever they believe” {p 4}.  Moreover, according to Decker, as indicated by the Greek grammar, each believer should perform all five {pp 4, 4 n 19-20}.  Further, this implies that each time the Eleven preached the Gospel there would always be demon-possessed individuals, snakes, poisonous drink, and persons afflicted with ailments in their midst.

Yet, by the context, this is not limited to the Apostolic era, the time period when the Eleven were still living {p 5}.  Since the function of these signs is in conjunction with the preaching of the Gospel – and, of course, the Great Commission is an ongoing command to all Christians (cf. Matthew 28:18-20) – these signs must continue as well {pp 4-5}.  Therefore, those who accept the long ending as part of the canonical Gospel of Mark are committed to the belief that all five signs above are applicable to every single believer, at the point of their conversion and forward.  The only limitation is imposed on those believers who are actively preaching the Gospel.  In other words, by the context provided by the author of the long ending, those who believe will perform the five signs above, which necessarily include all the regenerate – past, present, and yet future – except when they themselves are in the act of preaching the Gospel message {pp 4-5}.

It could be construed that one of the implicit points made by the author of the long ending regarding “confirming the word through the accompanying signs” is that others in the audience who may have been unpersuaded by the Gospel message itself may become convinced by the attendant display of signs.  In fact, there are three pieces of extra-Biblical, apocryphal literature depicting the Apostle John drinking poison for the express purpose of converting others.  These are: Virtutes Iohannis (Miracles of John, circa 5th or 6th century AD), Passio Iohannis (Passion of John, ca. late 6th c.) {p 10},10 and Acts of John in Rome (ca. 4th to 6th c.11), with the latter finding its writer portraying John as explicitly quoting the words of Mark 16:18b (“and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them”) {p. 10}.   With this in mind, would Bill Johnson, or any of the other self-appointed “Apostles” of the New Apostolic Reformation (or any follower of the NAR) who affirm Mark 16:9-20, like to drink from the poisoned cup, toward this same goal?

It seems one could understand this passage a bit more narrowly, interpreting “confirming the word through the accompanying signs” (v 20) as a limitation on those who believe.  That is, these signs will only accompany those who believe during the proclamation of the Gospel, thereby limiting the ‘shelf-life’ of these signs.  In other words, these five signs would be manifested each time the Gospel message is preached until Jesus Christ returns, but only for the duration of the preaching at each particular place and time.12

But note that even this more narrow view would only limit the time at which these signs are made manifest and not their actual expression.  With this limitation in mind, we’ll pose the question above a bit differently: With another actively preaching “the message of the Kingdom of God”, would Bill Johnson, or any of the other self-appointed “Apostles” of the New Apostolic Reformation (or any disciple of the NAR) who affirm Mark 16:9-20, like to drink from the poisoned chalice in order to win others to Christ?

Given his interpretation of Jesus’ promise in John 14:12, Johnson may even desire to identify such acts of ‘poison-bibbing’ {p 10} as manifest evidence of “greater works”, since it is not recorded in Scripture that Jesus Himself drank poison without harm:

Jesus’ prophecy of us doing greater works than He did has stirred the Church to look for some abstract meaning to this very simple statement…And, the works He referred to are signs and wonders.  It will not be a disservice to Him to have a generation obey Him, and go beyond His own high-water mark.  He showed us what one person could do who has the Spirit without measure.  What could millions do?  That was His point, and it became His prophecy.

This verse is often explained away by saying it refers to quantity of works, not quality…But that waters down the intent of His statement.  The word greater is mizon [sic] in the Greek…It is always used to describe “quality,” not quantity.13

But, I’m unpersuaded that even such a charismatic display of imbibing venomous drink without harm would be greater than Jesus’ dying on the Cross for the sins of the world and subsequently raising Himself from the dead (John 2:19-22, 10:17-18).

Nonetheless, as per the context provided by the author of the long ending, poison-bibbing is a requirement of all believers – at least those who accept Mark 16:9-20 as part of sacred Scripture.


Those who consider the long ending of Mark must understand that it’s an all or nothing proposition.  If one is inclined to accept it as authentic, then, in all intellectual honesty, one is forced to conform to a radical form of continuationism – one that must accept that all five signs enumerated in verses 17 and 18, without exception, will be exhibited by those who believe.  To explicitly or implicitly reject any of these five will not do.  On the other hand, to agree with the scholarly consensus that the long ending is not original to the Gospel of Mark means that no portion of it can be referenced for doctrine or practice.


Some facts and thoughts about the author of the above referenced article (see especially last paragraph):

Dr. Rodney J. Decker is on faculty at Baptist Bible Seminary in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania.  He is the author of Temporal Deixis of the Greek Verb in the Gospel of Mark with Reference to Verbal Aspect (New York: Peter Lang, 2001) and Koine Greek Reader: Selections from the New Testament, Septuagint, and Early Christian Writers (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007), as well as other publications, with more material under contract, including his contribution to the Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament series (The Gospel of Mark).

I enjoy reading and being challenged by his works, most of which are a bit beyond my current level, some quite so.  However, it’s obvious he cares about his students’ learning, as he has even taken the time to place additional data, list errata, and translate the German and French text from the Peter Lang book mentioned above (this particular book series requires that all non-English language remain untranslated), onto his own website.  Here’s a portion of his remarks:

…Since, however, I have some hopes that students may find the work helpful, and even that some may be curious as to the content of those [untranslated] quotations (an idealistic notion, I suspect, but one which I hope to nurture for a bit longer!), I have thought it appropriate to provide a translation of many of those quotations here.

In addition, Decker has taken one of Dr. Stanley Porter’s difficult works and made it more comprehendible, providing a tremendous service to those wishing to become more conversant with Porter’s position on verbal aspect.  This is available as an online pdf (the title itself references Porter’s work): “The Poor Man’s Porter”: A condensation and summarization of Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood by Stanley E. Porter (New York: Peter Lang, 1993).

While he’s very serious about his work, he occasionally injects a bit of lightheartedness in his material and on his blog (and presumably in the classroom).  Decker is currently battling stage 4 cancer.  He has recently begun chemotherapy.  He and his wife could use our prayers.



     1 This merely illustrates that subsequent copyists faithfully reproduced (more or less) this long ending once it was introduced into the Gospel of Mark, though many manuscripts have markings suggesting its inauthenticity.
     2 Here I’m referring to what is known as the internal evidence of NT textual criticism: assessing authorial and scribal peculiarities such as style (vocabulary, grammar) and doctrine.
     3 This sentence refers primarily to what is termed external evidence in NT textual criticism: assessing all known variants of a given section of Scripture by focusing on such factors as age, similar readings among manuscripts, and geographic distribution, and then comparing with each other to determine which verbiage is likely original.
     4 The following English translation of the “short ending” is taken from Roger L. Omanson, A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament: An Adaptation of Bruce M. Metzger’s Textual Commentary for the Needs of Translators (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft (German Bible Society), 2006), p 104.  Note that the first sentence is a continuation of 16:8, for the obvious purpose of not leaving the verse ending with the women fearful: But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told.  And after these things Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.  Amen.  Manuscripts which append the “long ending” to the “short ending” omit the final “Amen” of the “short ending” (Omanson, p 104).
     5 For more on the textual evidence consult Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart: United Bible Societies, 1994); Roger L. Omanson’s adaptation of Metzger noted above; Philip W. Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2008); Craig A. Evans, Word Biblical Commentary: Mark 8:27 – 16:20 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001); Joel Marcus, The Anchor Yale Bible: Mark 8 – 16 (New Haven: Yale, 2009), etc.
     6 This is based on my own admittedly very limited experience.
     7 Comfort, p 161.
     8 This is evident throughout his books, sermons and other materials.  Of the many works I’ve studied/surveyed, none promote snake handling or the drinking of poison.
     9 Bill Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth: A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles, (Shippensburg: Destiny Image, 2003 (first edition)), p 89; emphasis in original.   I’m giving Johnson the benefit of the doubt that he’s speaking of the true Gospel, and not the differentiated “Gospel of the Kingdom” of some New Order of the Latter Rain and/or New Apostolic Reformation teachers and adherents, though the context strongly implies the latter, and he specifically uses the latter term in many places throughout the book.  Probably the best place to find the delineation of the two terms is found in the glossary of Earl Paulk’s Ultimate Kingdom (Atlanta: K Dimension, 1984, p 335), in which “Gospel” is defined as [t]he good news of God’s redemption to man. [Luke 4:18, 9:6; Romans 1:16; Ephesians 6:15]; whereas, “Gospel of the Kingdom” is defined [t]he good news principles of daily life taught by Jesus that the Church must demonstrate as a witness to the world in order to return the rule of the earth to God.  [Matthew 4:23, 9:35, 24:14] – in other words: Dominionism.  Also, one must keep in mind that Johnson equates such signs as part of the “greater works” in John 14:12.  See below.
     10 Here Decker quotes from (as he cites quite a bit in his paper) James Kelhoffer (Miracle and Mission: The Authentication of Missionaries and Their Message in the Longer Ending of Mark, WUNT 2.112, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000, p 450); Decker notes (p  10 n 42) that dates of 3rd to 6th century have been proposed for these two works.  Claudio Moreschini and Enrico Norelli, (Early Christian Greek and Latin Literature, A Literary History, Volume Two: From the Council of Nicea to the Beginning of the Medieval Period, Peabody: Hendrickson, 2005; English transl. Matthew J. O’Connell), claim “perhaps” 5th or 6th c. for Passion of John (“by Pseudo-Melito”) and “end of 6th c.” for Miracles of John (“included in the collection of Pseudo-Abdias”) [pp 221-222].  Both of these works apparently draw from the 3rd c. apocryphal work Acts of John, as Knut Schäferdiek (“The Acts of John”) in Wilhelm Schneemelcher (transl. R. McL. Wilson New Testament Apocrypha: Volume One: Gospels and Related Writings. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1990, English transl. James Clarke & Co. Ltd, Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1991) notes, specifying that the Passio Iohannis “has taken up several narratives from the Acts of John in a considerably revised form” [p 154, cf. p 155].  Schäferdiek also largely agrees with Moreschini/Norelli regarding dates for Passion “which scarcely came into being before the middle of the 5th century” [p 154] and Miracles “which probably came into being in the late 6th century” [p 155].
     11 Schäferdiek in Schneemelcher, p 172.  The Acts of John in Rome is a recension of Acts of John.  The first 17 chapters of Acts of John are lost; the Acts of John in Rome has a total 14 chapters, in two recensions, written “not before the 4th century” [p 172].
     12 This further nuanced interpretation seems to be implied by Decker, but is not explicit – at least as I read him.  Therefore, I take full responsibility; any errors in understanding Decker or in my exegesis are fully my own!  But, note that the three apocryphal works referenced earlier do not seem to have another preaching the Gospel while John drank the poison.
     13 Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth, p 185; all emphasis in original (for those with later editions with different pagination, this is found in the chapter titled “This Present Revival” under the bolded heading GREATER WORKS).   The Greek word is actually (transliterated) meizon, not mizon.  Johnson prefaces this statement with a direct citation of John 14:12. Decker notes that some are of the opinion that the long ending can be paralleled with John 14:12, but he opines differently {pp 10-11}.  For an in-depth look at Jesus’ words in this passage of Scripture, see CrossWise article Greater Works Shall You Do.

Biblical Inerrancy

Is the Bible, the Christian Holy Scriptures, infallible?  That is, is the Bible we take to church, read, and study free from all error?  Some claim it isn’t.

From my perspective, I believe that all Scripture is “God-breathed” [2 Tim 3:16] and is, hence, inerrant.  My Statement of Faith expounds on this:

The Holy Bible, in its original form, is the Holy Spirit-inspired [2 Tim 3:16], inerrant, and infallible Word of God [Prov 30:5; 2 Peter 1:20-21], complete unto itself. The Bible will never be superseded or supplemented by any other teaching [Prov 30:6] and nothing should be subtracted from it [Deut 4:2; Matt 5:17; Rev 22:18-19]. Its full counsel provides the way to live a complete Christian life [2 Tim 3:16-17]. [Emphasis added.]

However, I submit the following for consideration. Craig A. Evans’ book Fabricating Jesus [2006, InterVarsity, Downers Grove, IL] is an apologetic against those who would claim the Gnostic “Gospels” (so-called) are a (or THE) form of authentic Christianity. Evans notes that Bart Ehrman, a ‘former Christian’, became an agnostic and somewhat amenable to the Gnostic position, thinking Christianity merely won out over Gnosticism by political wrangling, in part because Ehrman lost faith in the inerrancy of Scripture by studying the text of Mark 2:25-26 (among others).

Here’s the passage in the NASB:

25 And He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; 26 how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?”

While each translation/version of the Bible differs a bit (naturally, as some are more literal, such as the NASB and ESV, while others are more dynamic, such as the NIV), each one contains the essence of the above.  Evans comments:

Jesus has alluded to the story of David’s receiving consecrated bread…from Ahimelech the priest (1 Sam 21:1-10). David was fleeing from Saul, and when Saul learned that Ahimelech had assisted David and his men, he murdered Ahimelech and most of his family. Abiathar escaped and eventually succeeded his father as priest (1 Sam 22:1-10). Because Ahimelech – not his son Abiathar – was the priest when David and his men ate the consecrated bread, we have a mistake, technically speaking, either made by Jesus himself or by Mark (or perhaps by someone who passed on the story). [p 31]

Now let me state quite clearly that I don’t think for a nanosecond that Jesus made a mistake! And, I don’t think Evans does either. Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe [Making Sense of Bible Difficulties 2009 (1992), Baker, Grand Rapids, MI] explain how to understand this passage in the following:

First Samuel is correct in stating that the high priest was Ahimelech. On the other hand, neither was Jesus wrong. When we take a close look at Christ’s words, we notice that He used the phrase “in the days of Abiathar” (v. 26), which does not necessarily imply that Abiathar was high priest at the time David ate the bread. After David met Ahimelech and at the bread, King Saul had Ahimelech killed…Abiathar escaped and went to David (v. 20) and later took the place of high priest. So even though Abiathar was made high priest after David ate the bread, it is still correct to speak in this manner. After all, Abiathar was alive when David did this, and soon following he became the high priest after his father’s death. Thus, it was during the time of Abiathar, but not during his tenure in office. [Pp 175-176.  All emphasis in original.]

I don’t know about you dear reader, but this explanation does not seem satisfactory to me. This would be akin to saying “in the days of Herod Antipas” while referring to a particular time, say 10BC, which was actually during the reign of his father Herod the Great. Sure Antipas was alive, but he was not yet Herod.

In any case, this does not destroy my faith in Holy Writ as my faith is in Jesus Christ and His Atoning death, burial and Resurrection, which are verifiable historical facts (just ask former skeptic Lee Strobel). I can only guess why the Markan account is written as such. Perhaps it is a scribal error which was replicated in both the Textus Receptus (Latin for “received text”, the Greek text undergirding the KJV and the NKJV) and the Critical Text (the Greek text from which most, if not all, other modern Bible versions are largely based), which has been carried forth to this day?

We do not have any of the original NT documents.  We do not have any of Paul’s original letters from his pen (or the pen of any of those who acted as a scribe for Paul from his dictation) or any of the original Gospels from the Gospel writer’s own hand.  Consequently, we have copies – hand-scribed copies – of these precious documents.  We have copies of copies, thus increasing the likelihood of changes from the original texts due to copyist error or even by a scribe’s misguided attempts at “correcting” the original.  It is for all these reasons that my Statement of Faith has the qualifying phrase “…in its original form…” in the selected portion used above, referring to the inerrancy of Scripture.

However, rest assured; we have more copies and fragments of the New Testament than any other literary work from this period.  In fact, many more.  This is where the importance of the ongoing research known as NT Textual Criticism1 – an art as much as a science – comes into play.  These multitudes of NT documents enable the textual critic to arrive at what is most likely the original text in the large majority of cases.  However, there are differences of opinions as to just what is the original text among textual critics on some Biblical passages.  A basic overview of the process of textual criticism and its ramifications will be discussed in future articles here on CrossWise.

1 J. Harold Greenlee [Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism (Revised Edition). 2010, sixth prtng (© 1964 Eerdmans; © 1995 Hendrickson), Hendrickson Publishing, Peabody, MA] defines textual criticism as, “the study of copies of any written work of which the autograph (the original) is unknown, with the purpose of ascertaining the original text” [p 1].  An easier read as an introduction to NT Textual Criticism is Greenlee’s The Text of the New Testament: From Manuscript to Modern Edition [2008, Hendrickson Publishing, Peabody, MA].

Book Review: Roger Omanson’s ‘A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament’

[Roger L. Omanson A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament: An Adaptation of Bruce M. Metzger’s Textual Commentary for the Needs of Translators. 2006, German Bible Society, Stuttgart, Germany]

For those who’ve wondered about those footnotes in modern Bible versions and the reasons why some passages are shortened (e.g. Matthew 6:13) while others are omitted entirely (e.g. Acts 8:37), Roger Omanson’s work can provide assistance.  Ideally suited as a companion to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (Fourth Revised Edition) [yes, it’s all in Greek], better known as UBS4, Omanson’s work (like the Metzger version upon which his book is based) explains why some passages have been amended or taken out entirely based on the discipline known as textual criticism.

Textual criticism, as it pertains to the New Testament, is the ongoing process (more manuscripts are unearthed every year it seems) of assessing all known manuscripts containing Biblical material with the goal of determining the original text.  All the original autographs, as they are known, are no longer in existence.   Therefore, this is important work!

Omanson adapts Bruce Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament: Second Edition [1994 German Bible Society, Stuttgart], dispensing with some of the technical jargon while adding some more verbiage for clarification, with the goal of making it easier to read for those whom English is not their primary language and for the average layperson. The Greek words remain in Greek font yet they are also translated to the English (not transliterated). Omanson’s work still requires a bit of knowledge about textual criticism; however, a primer is included in the “Introduction” which retains some of the same info as Metzger’s edition but, again, with added information and more simplified verbiage.

Omanson uses most but not all the comments on variants contained in the Metzger. Yet, given that Koine Greek (the Greek of the NT) was limited in punctuation and that the manuscripts mostly do not contain punctuation, Omanson adds what he calls “Segmentation” on some verses illustrating additional exegetical considerations (such as the difficulty in ascertaining the point at which a quoted portion ends, as well as the possibility of phrasing some discourse as questions rather than statements and vice versa), providing an added bonus.  [See what is known as the Codex Sinaiticus here (designated as א – aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet) taking notice of how all the text runs together.]

It may be helpful to provide a direct comparison between the two versions using John 7:8 as one example. First is Metzger followed by Omanson

7:8 ουκ {C}

The reading ούπω was introduced at an early date (it is attested by p66,75) in order to alleviate the inconsistency between ver. 8 and ver. 10.

7:8 ουκ (not) {C}

The reading ούπω (not yet) was introduced at an early date in order to remove the inconsistency between v. 8, in which Jesus said that he was not going to the festival in Judea, and v. 10, where it is stated that he did go. Following the variant, NIV and Seg read, “I am not yet going up to this Feast.”

[ED: “Seg” is the designation for a modern French translation  (Louis Segond).]

The bracketed “C” above corresponds to a grading system (A, B, C, or D) by the UBS4 committee designating the relative certainty of the variant chosen (according to the committee) with A being “certain”, B “nearly certain”, while C “indicates that the committee had difficulty in deciding which variant to place in the text”, with D illustrating “great difficulty” [from Metzger p 14* and UBS4 p 3*]. Unfortunately, Omanson does not include this rating system in his volume. Omanson’s edition can work as a stand-alone, i.e. one does not necessarily need the UBS4 for comparison as the layperson could use Omanson in conjunction with an English (or other language) Bible translation; however, the inclusion of the rating system would have been most helpful.

Two more comparisons: 1) while Metzger’s book is `pocket-size’ (5 X 7.5 X .75 in. – the same h X w as the UBS4), Omanson’s is larger – about the size of an average textbook (6.25 X 9.375 X 1.375 in.); 2) Omanson’s is in larger font and on thicker, whiter paper making it easier to read – especially for those of us with aging eyes.

A minor criticism: the Greek font renders the kappa ( κ ) in such a way that it resembles the English letter x which causes me pause at times. My mind’s eye initially sees this as an English transliteration of xi ( ξ – which is transliterated as the English “x”). This is especially confusing with και which I initially see as (transliterated) xai. But, I note this font is similar to the BDAG.

Bottom line: this is a great reference for expounding on some of the reasons why one variant was chosen over another (or why the committee was unsure) in the UBS4. One can use this in lieu of the Metzger. Metzger is useful for those who are more versed in textual criticism and for those, like me, who have to strain to see the info in the UBS critical apparatus (“apparatus” is essentially the footnotes detailing the variances of the manuscripts) as this is sometimes replicated in Metzger’s edition in larger font (the UBS apparatus is not necessarily small in font but rather crammed with info, and with the thin paper there’s some bleed-through). However, for those who speak English as a second language, the Omanson will likely be the better choice. For the average layperson, Omanson’s work is more useful than Metzger’s in the way it translates all the Greek words into English and with the more simplified verbiage.