Jude 5 in the NA28

By Olive Tree Staff: Matt Jonas

Olive Tree recently released the NA28 for the Bible Study App and some of you may be wondering “why all the fuss”?  I wrote a blog post covering some of the major differences between the NA28 and the previous edition.  However, there was one very specific change that I didn’t mention in that article that is of great significance to me and all other Bible-believing Christians.  It is a change in Jude 5 that has great implications for the current discussion regarding the “historical Jesus” and the early church’s views on the divinity of Christ.

The Greek text of Jude 5 in the NA27 reads as follows:
“ Ὑπομνῆσαι δὲ ὑμᾶς βούλομαι, εἰδότας [ὑμᾶς] πάντα ὅτι [ὁ] κύριος ἅπαξ λαὸν ἐκ γῆς Αἰγύπτου σώσας τὸ δεύτερον τοὺς μὴ πιστεύσαντας ἀπώλεσεν,”

Here’s how the NRSV translates this verse into English:

“Now I desire to remind you, though you are fully informed, that the Lord, who once for all saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.”

The NA28, however, has  Ἰησοῦς (Jesus) in place of κύριος (Lord).  Here’s the same passage from the NA28:

“ Ὑπομνῆσαι δὲ ὑμᾶς βούλομαι, εἰδότας [ὑμᾶς] ἅπαξ πάντα ὅτι  Ἰησοῦς λαὸν ἐκ γῆς Αἰγύπτου σώσας τὸ δεύτερον τοὺς μὴ πιστεύσαντας ἀπώλεσεν,”

Interestingly, the ESV already translated the passage this way on the basis of the better manuscript evidence for the reading used by the NA28.  I believe this is the only place where the ESV translators departed from the main text of the NA27 and used a “variant” reading instead.  It is a little ironic, in my opinion, that the “variant” reading they chose is now in the main text of the NA28.

Here’s how the ESV translates Jude 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.”

In the book of Exodus, it was the Lord (YHWH) who led the Israelites out of Egypt.  If Jude is claiming that it was Jesus who led the Israelites out of captivity, then he is apparently identifying Jesus with the Lord.

It is interesting to note that this change was made because it is the” best attested reading” for this passage.  Bruce Metzger even said as much in his Textual Commentary, but regardless, the editors of the NA27 still chose the reading “Lord” rather than “Jesus”.

Here are Metzger’s own words:

“Critical principles seem to require the adoption of Ἰησοῦς, which admittedly is the best attested reading among Greek and versional witnesses…” (Metzger, 657).

At the beginning of the same note, Metzger explained the reading used in the main text of the NA27 in this way:

“Despite the weighty attestation supporting  Ἰησοῦς … a majority of the Committee was of the opinion that this reading was difficult to the point of impossibility, and explained its origin in terms of transcriptional oversight…”(Metzger, 657).

The NA28 has reversed this decision, going with the “best attested reading” even though it might be theologically objectionable to those who wish to claim that Christ’s divinity was not a belief held by the early church and was instead a later invention.

This view even became a part of our popular culture recently due to Dan Brown’s novel “The Da Vinci Code.”  Among other things, the novel claims that Emperor Constantine I suppressed Gnosticism and promoted the deity of Christ for political reasons.  Brown’s view is presented as fiction (which it clearly is due to the numerous historical inaccuracies), but there have been other more scholarly attempts to support similar claims.

Thomas Jefferson famously cut-and-pasted pieces from his collection of Bibles to create “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazereth,” better known as the Jefferson Bible.  In this harmony of the gospels, he complete eliminated all references to Christ’s divinity and his miracles (including, of course, his resurrection).

More recently, the Jesus Seminar did something similar, voting on whether they believed that the words attributed to Jesus by the Gospels were authentic.  Not surprisingly, passages in which Jesus claims divinity (such as John 14), didn’t make the cut.

In his recent book Misquoting Jesus, Bart Ehrman even claims that early Christian scribes altered the text of the New Testament to support their views, such as the deity of Christ.  Ironically, Jude 5 (in the NA27) may be an example of the opposite phenomenon, in which modern “scribes” altered the text in a way that deemphasized this doctrine.  It’s refreshing to see that the editors of the NA28 have corrected this bias and have ruled simply in favor of the textual evidence, even though the resulting reading may be troubling to some.

Hopefully, the choice to include this reading marks the beginning of a trend against the bias that I mentioned above.  In his talk on the NA28 at the 2012 SBL national conference in Chicago, Klaus Wachtel noted that the NA27 showed bias against the Byzantine tradition. He also claimed that NA28 by contrast recognizes the reliability of the mainstream tradition.  This respect for the mainstream tradition is evident in how the editors of the NA28 chose to handle Jude 5.  The textual evidence has always been on the side of the reading that was chosen, and yet previous editions used a less well attested variant instead because of the theological implications.  How the NA28 handles Jude 5 may not “disprove” the claims of Dan Brown, or Thomas Jefferson, the Jesus Seminar, or Bart Ehrman, but  it is still a step in the right direction.