Who Saved the People Out of Egypt: Ιησους or κυριος

Out of the several interesting textual variants present in Jude, there is one which stands out as a significant one with quite a significant impact on the text. I am, of course, talking about whether the subject of απωλεσεν is κυριος or Ιησους.

The majority of English Bible translations have opted to place κυριος in the text instead of Ιησους (e.g. NASB, NIV, KJV, HCSB), whereas only a few of the more recent translations have chosen Ιησους (e.g. NET, ESV, NLT). The Greek text of the UBS4/NA27 editions had [o] κυριος, though thanks to the Editio Critica Maior this has changed to Ιησους in UBS5/NA28.

A Brief Critical Apparatus

The following list is the textual variants together with a few of the more important manuscripts that attest to them:

  • o κυριος — 018, 020, 049, 056, 0142, 18, 35, 1175, 1836, 1837, Majority Text
  • κυριος — 01, 044, 1875
  • o Ιησους — 88, 915 (the only witnesses to the articular)
  • Ιησους — 02, 03, 33C, 81, 322, 323, 665, 1739, 1881
  • o θεος — 04C2V (original reading illegible), 442, 621, 623T, 1845
  • o θεος χριστος — P72 (a singular reading in the manuscript tradition)
  • κυριος Ιησους — 1735 and a few lectionaries

The unique reading of P72 is undoubtedly not original. It is not a conflation of θεος and χριστος as no manuscript witnesses to the latter. Due to the other “orthodox corruptions” made elsewhere by the scribe of P72 (e.g. 1 Pet 2:3), it is perhaps safe to say that the reading of o θεος χριστος was also a deliberate alteration by the scribe (perhaps his exemplar read θεος and he added χριστος to it).

Interestingly, the apparatuses of both NA27 and ECM have Ιησους as the reading for manuscript 33, yet it is actually 33C which has that reading (the original reading is o […] according to Wasserman).

The Patristic and versional evidence is as follows:

  • [o] Ιησους – Vulgate, Coptic (Sa, Bo), Ethiopic, Cyril of Alexandria (†ca. 444), Jerome (†ca. 420), Didymus (†ca. 395), Bede (ca. 735), and Origen [(ca. 235) according to the 1739mg]
  • [o] κυριος – Syriac (Ha), Pseudo-Oecumenius (ca. VI), Ephraem (†ca. 373), Theolphylus (†ca. 412)
  • o θεος – Syriac (Ph), Clement (†ca. 215)

A Survey of the Literature on Jude 5

Jarl Fossum asserts that the subject of απωλεσεν is Ιησους who is acting as the “deputy of God possessing the Divine Name”,[1] and is “an intermediary figure whose basic constituent is the Angel of the Lord.”[2] Whereas, Wikgren and Osburn have proposed that ιησους is actually meant as a referent to Joshua (the same name in Greek),[3] though this idea fails considering that the action of v. 7 is also ascribed to the same subject of v. 5, and so while it could be possible to attribute the saving of the people out of Egypt to Joshua,[4] it is impossible to attribute the imprisonment of the angels to him as well. In fact, Bauckham believes that the popular use of the Joshua–Jesus typology in the early church writings is what led to the introduction of Ιησους in the textual tradition of Jude.[5] That is to say, a scribe replaced κυριος with Ιησους due to seeing the Joshua–Jesus typology in v. 5 but did not notice that the typology failed to work in vv. 6–7. Yet, I think that a scribe who is attentive enough to spot the opportunity to use the Jesus–Joshua typology in v. 5 would certainly notice that it doesn’t work in vv. 6–7.

In Bruce Metzger’s popular textual commentary, he says that the reading of Ιησους “is deemed too hard by several scholars, since it involves the notion of Jesus acting in the early history of the nation Israel.”[6] Metzger preferred ιησους over κυριος, but the committee of the NA27 ended up choosing [o] κυριος (Metzger and Wikgren voted for ιησους). The uncertainty of the original reading, however, is noted by the D-rating the committee placed upon the variant.

Philip Comfort discusses the variant in his textual commentary. He asserts that ιησους is easier to argue for because “scribes were not known for fabricating difficult readings.”[7] Furthermore, he claims that “Jesus is here being seen as Yahweh the Savior.”[8] While ιησους is undoubtedly the harder reading, I do not think it is merely a matter of whether scribes were in the habit of making the text more difficult; instead, it is whether they were also in the habit of making the text conform to a desired theological view (in this case, to a higher Christology by unambiguously attributing the salvation of the Israelites from Egypt to the pre-existent Jesus).[9]

Charles Landon favored κυριος in his monograph on Jude from a rigorous eclectic method.[10] Likewise, in his magisterial monograph on Jude done from the reasoned eclectic method, Tommy Wasserman also preferred κυριος.[11] One reason as to why Landon believes κυριος to be original is that the author of Jude never uses ιησους as a stand alone name but always adds χριστος and/or κυριος to it (see vv. 1, 4, 17, 21, 25). An original and more compelling internal reason for κυριος is provided by Wasserman. He explains that in quoting 1 Enoch 1.9 in Jude 14–15, the author of Jude changes the subject of the quotation from θεος to κυριος. This is quite significant considering that no other witness to 1 Enoch 1.9 has κυριος as the subject, thus giving a strong precedent for Jude having used the anarthrous κυριος again in verse 5 which is similarly set in a context of judgment like vv. 14–15.

Alternatively, Klaus Watchel, using the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method, analyzed the manuscripts and variants at Jude 5 and determined ιησους to be the original reading.[12] On top of that, two recent articles both argue for ιησους. The first article is by Philipp Bartholomä.[13] He approaches the variant from a reasoned eclectic viewpoint and finds the external evidence favoring Ιησους and that the internal evidence “in no way precludes” it. In the second article, Timo Flink argues that while the internal evidence does favor κυριος, the external evidence “overrules” that and so the reading should be Ιησους.[14] Interestingly, Flink asserts that there is a geographical distinction between κυριος and Ιησους, with the former being an almost exclusive Eastern reading and the latter being a predominantly Western one. For Flink, the widespread geographical occurrence of Ιησους (Egypt, Rome, Ethiopia) is what gives it the “slight edge” over κυριος (Egypt and Syria) as being the better reading (externally speaking).

κυριος or Ιησους

In summary, while the reading of Ιησους does have slightly better external manuscript support, considering that two early and important witnesses to Jude have different readings (01, 03) the corruption to the text must have occurred quite early in the manuscript tradition, thus making internal evidence a more decisive factor. The internal evidence persuasively points towards κυριος. This reading was perhaps ambiguous enough to induce the need for a scribe to elucidate it further, thus the two main variants to it (ιησους and θεος) demonstrate that some scribes believed κυριος to be in reference to God, while others thought it was describing the pre-existent activity of Jesus.[15] How was ιησους introduced into the manuscript tradition? Perhaps its was through a scribe who wanted to use a Joshua–Jesus typology, or it may have been an attempt to unambiguously attribute pre-existence to Jesus; or it may simply have been a case of transcriptional oversight which mistook a nomina sacra KC for IC. Regardless, there are miniscules (e.g. 93, 1501) which have ιησους despite the fact that none of their closest ancestors contain that reading, thus showing that ιησους could have emerged independently throughout the manuscript tradition.


[1] Jarl Fossum, ‘Kyrios Jesus as the Angel of the Lord in Jude 5-7′, New Testament Studies 33 (1987): 226–43.

[2] Ibid., 237.

[3] See A. Wikgren, ‘Some Problems in Jude 5′, in B.L. Daniels and M.J. Suggs (eds.), Studies in the History and Text of the New Testament in Honour of K.W. Clark (Salt Lake City, UT: Utah University Press, 1967), 147–52; Carroll Osburn, ‘The Text of Jude 5′, Biblica 62 (1981): 107–15

[4] Ibid., 148

[5] Richard Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1990), 309

[6] Bruce Metzger, Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd edition (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994), 657

[7] Philip Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (Tyndale House, 2008), 802

[8] Ibid.

[9] Surprisingly, Bart Ehrman only briefly skims over Jude 5 in his book, The Orthodox Corruption of Scriptures (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 85–86

[10] Charles Landon, A Text-Critical Study of the Epistle of Jude (Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series, 35; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), 70–75

[11] Tommy Wasserman, The Epistle of Jude: Its Text and Transmission (Coniectanea Biblica New Testament, 43; Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 2006), 262–66

[12] See his essay in Hugh Houghton and D.C. Parker (eds), Textual Variation: Theological and Social Tendencies? (Texts and Studies, Third Series, vol. 6; Gorgias Press, 2008), 109–27

[13] Philipp F. Bartholomä, ‘Did Jesus Save the People Out of Egypt? A Re-examination of a Textual Problem in Jude 5′, Novum Testamentum 50 (2008): 143–58.

[14] Timo Flink, ‘Rethinking the Text of Jude 5, 13, 15 and 18’, Filologia Neotestamentaria 20 (2007): 95–125

[15] 1 Cor 10:4 and 10:9 are often cited as New Testament parallels which also ascribe activity to a pre-existent Jesus.

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