Posted by: mattcolvin | January 16, 2019

Jesus’ words to Judas


The Taking of Christ, Caravaggio, c. 1602.

Jesus’ utterance to Judas at his arrest in Matthew 26:50, ἑταῖρε, ἐφ’ ὃ πάρει does not appear to me to be a well-formed sentence. It is translated “Friend, wherefore art thou come?” in the KJV. Yet it contains no interrogative, since ὃ is a relative pronoun. Worse, its verb πάρει is thus subsumed within a relative clause, leaving the sentence without a predicate. As G. Stählin notes, “this hardly does justice to the relative pronoun.”[1] The best we can do is an aposiopesis: “Friend, that for which you are here —” This leaves the main clause a mystery and open for conjectures.

Most more modern English versions supply a main clause verb: “Friend, (do) what you came to do.” (ESV, similarly NASB: “do what you have come for”; NIV: “do what you came for”). If one must supplement, then “do” is probably the verb to use. But it may be better not to supply any main verb, and to leave the utterance as an incomplete sentence. We may see it as a harking back to the last words Jesus spoke to Judas before this: “What you are doing, do quickly.” (John 13:27, ὃ ποιεῖς ποίησον τάχιον), which also begins with a relative clause.

It is consistent with the gospels’ emphasis on Jesus’ foreknowledge of, and control over, his impending betrayal — which are also reasons not to adopt the question, unless it is seen as rhetorical. Taking ἐφ’ ὃ πάρει as a relative clause is not only good Greek grammar, but also suitably vague. It is a circumlocution. As such, it is consistent with Jesus’ approach to the identification of Judas and of himself as Messiah to the other disciples. Just as Jesus does not verbally identify himself as the Messiah to his disciples in so many words, but uses roundabout locutions (“the Son of Man”) until the night when he can use the bread of Passover to identify himself as the Messiah clearly but indirectly, so he also refuses to name Judas as the betrayer even when the other disciples ask him, instead using a coded action with bread to enable them to identify him.

After reading a lot of Maurice Casey of late, I also wonder whether it is an Aramaicism. Luke changes the utterance to something far more straightforward to a Greek reader: “Ἰο­υδα, φιλήματι τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου παραδίδως;” — “Judas, are you betraying the son of man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48) Casey goes out of his way to reconstruct an Aramaic original for this: יהודה, נשׁק לבר אנשׁ שתמסרנה – “Judah, kissing a/the son of man and you betray him!”, which he sees as “expressing horror at this way of betraying him.” [2]  But Casey does not attempt to find any Aramaic behind Matthew 26:50’s awkward and incomplete Greek. Luke is far more often the evangelist who smooths out the linguistic interference of Aramaic in Mark, while Matthew occupies a somewhat intermediate linguistic position, being less likely to edit Mark for Greek idiom. Mark’s gospel entirely omits Jesus’ words on this occasion, swiftly moving from Judas’ pre-arrangement of the kiss as a signal to his address of Jesus as “Rabbi” and the planting of the kiss. Thus, if we are to investigate possible Aramaic vorlage behind Jesus’ words on this occasion, it will need to be either Matthew 26:50 or Luke 22:48. Of the two, it is far more likely that Matthew’s difficult and puzzling Greek expression is an (unsuccessful?) effort to translate an original Aramaic utterance. The only point in Luke’s favour is the use of the title “son of man” (the Aramaic בר אנשׁ, on which Casey has written much), but since this title had long since been taken over by Luke from Mark as Jesus’ preferred self-reference, I do not think it can be taken as any compelling trace of an Aramaic original.


[1] Gustav Stählin, φιλέω in G. Friedrich, ed. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament IX (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 140 n. 241

[2] Maurice Casey, The Solution to the Son of Man Problem (London: T&T Clark, 2009), 198.


  1. Matt: In a previous post you identified your preferred commentary on John’s gospel. Could I trouble you, please, to send my that ref at In respect of the authenticity of the reporting of Jesus’ words in the synoptics, I like Gerhardson’s treatment of the formal oral tradition and Bailey’s of the informal, but I still haven’t reconciled their explanations with what I find in John. I got the impression that your source may have some answers. Tks, Robert

    • Dear Robert,

      I actually don’t recall having a favourite commentary on John. I have thus far been disappointed with most treatments, and the academic fashion is currently to dismiss the fourth gospel as late, Hellenized, anti-Jewish, and remote from the historical Jesus. Richard Bauckham has two books that you would likely find very helpful. One is Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, in which he argues that John was written by an eyewitness of Jesus (though not by the son of Zebedee); the other is Gospel of Glory, a collection of essays on Johannine topics.

      I am currently rather enthused by Maurice Casey’s work on Aramaic background of the Synoptics, but he was violently against John, and wrote a book called “Is John’s Gospel True?”, with the answer in the negative. I think there are least as many verifiable Aramaisms and other Jewish features marking John as historically authentic as there are for Mark. But Casey won’t have it.

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