Posted by: mattcolvin | January 30, 2012

Was Barabbas really named “Jesus”?


Tuesday of the Fourth Week after Epiphany: Matthew 27:11-26.

Matthew 27:15-16 contains one of the most interesting textual problems in the New Testament: Was Barabbas’ first name really “Jesus”? There are some manuscripts without that first name. Origen was familiar with the problem: “In many copies it is not stated that Barabbas was also called Jesus, and perhaps rightly.” He goes on to argue that it cannot have been Barabbas’ name, for “in the whole of the Scriptures we know that no one who is a sinner is called Jesus”.

One possibility is that the word Ἰησοῦν could have been accidentally added or deleted by scribes by dittography or haplography, since the immediately preceding word in 27:17 is ὑμῖν, so that in maiuscule Greek it would have appeared as ΥΜΙΝΙΝ, with perhaps a line over the last two letters to mark them as an abbreviation for Ἰησοῦν.

Nestle-Aland chose to go with keeping the name as “Jesus Barabbas” because this is the lectio difficilior, theologically speaking, even though there is a better explanation for its addition by dittography in 27:17.

A theological consideration: Pilate is offering the people their choice of two different ways of salvation: the way of the brigands and rebels who would ultimately lead to the Jewish War and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, or the way of Jesus. This reading of the passage is underscored if Barabbas shared the name “Jesus”.


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