Footnotes to the Gospels

S. Kent Brown, C. Wilfred Griggs, and Thomas W. Mackay

The Prophet Joseph Smith said that "we believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly." Since the 1611 A.D. publication of the King James version, many documents of biblical books have been found. Occasionally, these texts or newly discovered background information shed different meanings on selected passages or words than the language provided by the King James translation.

The Church is fortunate in having Brigham Young University scholars who have specialized in comparing the various texts and languages. The ENSIGN has invited Brothers Brown, Griggs, and Mackay to share background data where such information might be stimulating and informative for readers of the New Testament. (Since it doesn't deal with Christ's birth, Mark's account is not included.)


chapters 1 and 2

Matt. 1:18—24—the prophecy of the Savior's birth

Matthew's treatment of the events surrounding the birth of the Lord is unique in that he continually focuses his attention on Joseph and, like Joseph of old, he received divine communication in the form of dreams. It is Matthew who notes that these divine instructions came directly to Joseph (instead of through Mary). Thus, the angel informs Joseph that he is to name the child Jesus, "for he shall save his people from their sins." (See Al. 11:34, 36—37; Hel. 5:10—11.) Matthew then quotes the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) version of Isaiah 7:14, adding the explanation of the title Immanuel from Isaiah 8:8, 10. This is the first of numerous scriptural citations that Matthew will make as he demonstrates that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the rightful King, the Holy One of Israel.

Matt. 2: 1—"there came wise men from the east"

In this context, it seems that, like Simeon, Anna, and the shepherds, these wise men were righteous followers of truth endeavoring to live in accordance with the statutes of God, as did Zachariah and Elizabeth. There is no indication whatsoever as to the number or national origin of the magi, but it is important to note that many Jews remained behind at Babylon after the end of the captivity. Also, from time to time, religious groups fled to the eastern deserts to escape the wrath of leaders and proponents of rabbinical or orthodox Judaism in Palestine.

Matt. 2:2—"his star in the east"

It does not seem to have been widely recognized for its import, yet there was visible in America a new star. (See 3 Ne. 1:21; Hel 14:5.)

Matt. 2:3—"he was troubled"

The Greek in this text means to be "extremely upset, thoroughly frightened. "

Matt. 2:6—"that shall rule my people'

The Greek means to tend, protect, and nurture, as a shepherd tends his flock. This part of the quotation comes from 2 Samuel 5:2 and 1 Chronicles 11:2, and it refers to the fact that Israel's true king would be like a shepherd. (Ezek. 34.)


chapter 1

Luke 1:1—"many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration"

Other accounts of Jesus' life and teachings, known to Luke, must already have been written and were being used by Christians. We can infer from Luke's introduction (Luke 1:1—4) that among these other accounts were some which had begun to modify the true understanding of Jesus' mission by making him simply a great teacher or a miracle worker. These tendencies can be seen in the later apocryphal gospels in which the emphasis shifted from the notion of salvation coming through Jesus'suffering and resurrection either to the idea that it comes through an understanding of his teachings or that redemption is a product of Jesus' power to perform miracles and do awesome works.

Luke 1:3—"Theophilus"

It is difficult to know whether a specific person is being addressed here (see also Acts 1:1). The name Theophilus means "friend of God" and consequently could refer to any person who seeks after divine truth. However, the honorific description, "most Excellent," is also used in Acts 23:26 of the Roman-appointed Felix, procurator of Judea. (See Acts 24:3; 26:25.) Many scholars conclude, therefore, that Luke is dedicating his work to a high-ranking Roman official who is at least marginally interested in the Christian religion.

Luke 1:5—"the course of Abia"

See 2 Chronicles 24:10; there were 24 "courses" or families of priests, all descendants of Aaron, who took their turns officiating at the temple. According to Ezra 2:36—39, only four "courses" of priests initially returned to Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile.

Luke 1:15—"shall drink neither wine nor strong drink"

This resembles the Nazarite vow that a person took to show he had dedicated himself to God (Num. 6:1—21.) The persons whom Paul took to the temple were under a similar vow. (Acts 21:23—26.) Samuel lived according to part of the regulations of the Nazarite vow (1 Sam. 1:11), and Samson was to have been a Nazarite from birth (Judg. 13:5, 7).

Luke 1:19—"stand in the presence of God…sent to speak…and to shew"

Gabriel bears a message from the divine council whose proceedings many of the prophets were permitted to see and hear. (Isa. 6:1, 8; 1 Ne. 1:8; Jer. 23:18, 21—22; Ps. 82.) The translated word "secret" in Amos 3:7 means that which has been decided in council. The notion of a divine council, of course, recalls the preexistent council. (Abr. 3:22—23, 27.)

Luke 1:32—"God shall give unto him the throne of…David"

The royal or kingly aspect of the Messiah, mentioned here by Gabriel, fulfills a host of Old Testament prophecies. (Isa. 9:6—7; 11:1—9; Mic. 5:2—5; Zech. 14:9; Hag. 2:23.) Jesus' royal status appears, for example, in such elements as his entry into Jerusalem (Luke 19:36—38, Zech. 9:9) and, ironically, the crown of thorns he was forced to wear. Herod's attempt to kill the infant Jesus should be viewed as the start of a contest between kings and between kingdoms, the usurper versus the rightful heir. (Matt. 2:1—16.) Herod's attempt also recalls Pharaoh's attempt to kill all the young Israelite boys, which would have included Moses, had he not been spared (Exod 1:22—25.).

Luke 1:65—"these sayings were noised abroad"

Literally, "these things"; Luke indicates here the source for the story he has been narrating concerning the birth of John and its circumstances: it came from those who knew John and his parents, dwellers in "the hill country of Judea." (Luke 1:65.)

Luke 1:69—"horn of salvation"

The "horn" is a metaphor commonly employed in the Old Testament for strength (see 1 Sam. 2:10; Ps. 92:10, Jer. 48:25; Dan. 7:7; Mic. 4:13). As indicated in Psalm 18:2, "horn of salvation" means something like "a mighty Savior."

Luke 1:78—"the day—spring"

The Greek word can connote both the rising of the sun and the easterly direction. Malachi calls the one who comes to heal "the Sun of righteousness" (Mal. 4:2), and the ancients commonly employed the East as a symbol for light that not only lightens the eyes but also enlightens the mind The same Greek word is translated "day star" and "morning star" in 1 Peter 1:19 and in Revelations 2:28 and 22:16. In the last passage Jesus is identified as this "morning star."


chapter 2

Luke 2:1—"decree"

Mention of this decree poses one of the most difficult historical problems in the New Testament. No decree of general taxation in this period is known from any contemporary Roman or Jewish source. Josephus, the Jewish historian who was born within six years of Jesus' death, does record that an enrollment for the purpose of taxation was conducted in the province of Syria in A.D. 6 or 7 when Cyrenius was governor. (Jewish War LL. 8.1; VII. 8.1.) Jesus would already have been a young lad by this time. One solution does present itself. Tertullian, an early Christian author who was converted to the Church about 193 A.D., places the "decree" under Saturninus who was governor Syria from 9—6 B.C. (Against Marcion IV.19). This would fit, since King Herod, who had the children killed in the region around Bethlehem, himself died in 4 B.C., just a couple of years following Saturninus' term of office.

Luke 2:11—"Christ the Lord"

Translating this back into Hebrew or Aramaic, we have "the Messiah Jehovah."

Luke 2:21—"Jesus"

The naming of the child fulfills Gabriel's instruction to Mary. (Luke 1:31.) The name of Jesus comes from the Hebrew root which means "salvation," and it is related to other Old Testament names derived from this root such as Isaiah, Hosea, Joshua, and Oshea (Num. 13:16.)

Luke 2:26—"Lord's Christ"

The Aramaic behind this would be "Jehovah's Messiah." How is this possible? Is not Jehovah the Messiah (Luke 2:11)? The thing one must realize is that Israelites, or the scribes who copied the scriptures in later times, did not rigidly distinguish between names for Deity. The names Jehovah and Elohim could be used in the same breath and still refer to the same God in the mind of both speaker and hearer. Compare the incident of Moses at the burning bush, in which the term for angel as well as the names Jehovah and Elohim are all used for the person who converses with Moses. (Exod. 3:2—6.)

Luke 2:30—"salvation"

In Aramaic, this is a play on the name Jesus.

Luke 2:40 —"the child grew"

The textual structure of Luke's summary of Jesus' youth recalls what was said of the young boy Samuel. (1 Sam. 2:26.) This is no idle borrowing, since Samuel was known as one of the two greatest intercessors with the Lord in Israel's behalf (Jer. 15:1.) Luke thus brings his readers to the point at which he can introduce the greatest Intercessor of all.

Luke 2:29 —"about my Father's business"

Although this phrase is very difficult to translate from the Greek, this rendition is not improbable. It may also bear the sense of location: "in my Father's place"—that is, the temple.


chapter 1

John 1:1 —"In the beginning"

John chooses to begin his Gospel in a different manner than the other Gospel writers. In Mark, "the beginning of the gospel" occurs with the appearance of John the Baptist in the wilderness. (Mark 1:1—4.) In Matthew, the "beginning" of the gospel story comes at the betrothal of Mary to Joseph. (Matt. 1:18.) In Luke, the "beginning" starts with the story of the birth of John the Baptist. (Luke 1:5—6.) By opening his gospel with the opening words of Genesis, John stresses the "beginning" to have taken place even before the creation of the earth.

John 1:1 —"the Word was God"

The absence of the definite article "the" in the Greek text indicates that the Word is a God, but not the only person for whom this is true. This statement sets the tone for John's entire testimony in his gospel: the words and acts of Jesus are those of God.

John 1:3 —"that was made"

Depending on how the Greek text is punctuated, the ending of verse 3 and opening of verse 4 can be translated as they appear in the King James version, or as follows: "and without him was not any thing made; that which was made by him was life."

John 1:14 —"dwelt among us"

Literally, "tented among us" or "pitched his tent among us. " This recalls the time when God dwelt in Zion, the City of Enoch (Moses 7:16), and the exodus when Jehovah "tabernacled" among the wandering Israelites. Compare Peter's response in the presence of heavenly messengers on the Mount of Transfiguration. (Matt. 17:4; Mark 9:5; Luke 9:33.)

John 1:19 —"the Jews"

This language is to designate the "authorities, " especially in Jerusalem who came to oppose Jesus. Interestingly, Nephi makes use of this designation in a similar way. (1 Ne. 1:19—20; 2:13.)

John 1:20 —"I am not"

John the Baptist's statements about himself (John 1:21, 23, 27) may be compared to the "I am" affirmations by Jesus. (John 8:12, 18, 23—24, 28, 58.)

John 1:42 —"Cephas"

Cephas is the Aramaic word for stone and is roughly equivalent to the Greek word petros, i.e., Peter. The translated word "stone" in this verse is petros.

Chapter 6

Matt. 6:2 —"hypocrites"

This is a Greek word primarily meaning "play-actor" in the New Testament era. The word implies, just as in modern times, only little correspondence between what such a person is and what he appears to be.

Matt. 6:13 —"And lead us not into temptation"

The Syriac reads: "And do not let us enter into temptation."

Matt. 6:16 —"disfigure their faces"

The Greek means "to render one's face either invisible by covering the head or unrecognizable through neglect of cleanliness."

Matt. 6:19 —"where moth and rust doth corrupt"

The Greek means "where worm and insect destroy."

Chapter 7

Matt. 7:3 —"mote…beam"

Here is a contrast exaggerated beyond reality to prove a point. The word "mote" translated denotes any small or insignificant speck or chip, while the word rendered "beam " refers to a wooden beam used in constructing houses.

Matt. 7:11 —''being evil"

This is better stated, "although you are wicked."

Matt. 7:17 —"every good tree bringeth forth good fruit"

There are different words translated as "good" in this verse, and the passage should read: "Every noble [upright] tree bears precious [unblemished] fruit."

Matt. 7:29 —"as one having authority, and not as the scribes"

Among the Jews of the New Testament period, the Scribes were the legal experts, men who were versed in the law. Their strength derived from citing precedent and appealing to former authorities when making a legal point. In contrast, Jesus speaks with the authority of the lawgiver and does not rely on tradition or precedent to pronounce the law in this sermon.

John, Chapter 5

John 5:4 —

Many ancient texts omit the last phrase of verse 3 and all of verse 4. See also the commentary on this passage by Elder Bruce R. McConkie (New Testament Commentary, vol. 1, p. 188.) Raymond Brown (The Gospel of John, 1:207) notes that the bubbling of water may have been caused by an intermittent spring and "was thought to have healing power."

John 5:10 —"it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed"

In the Mishnah (Sabbath 7:2) one is forbidden to carry anything from one house to another; later in the same tractate (10:5) there is a prohibition against carrying a bed with a dead man upon it, with the implication that carrying an empty bed is also forbidden.

John 5:14 —"sin no more"

On one occasion Jesus disallowed an attempt to connect sin and illness (John 9:3), but in another instance such a connection is implied (James 5:14—15). Many of the miracles of Jesus are, in fact, directed against the kingdom of Satan. (See Mark 5:1—16; Luke 4:33—35.)

John 5:18 —"making himself equal with God"

Some scholars (The Gospel of John 1:216—19) have observed how the Jewish rabbis reasoned that God continued to work on the Sabbath, notably in giving life and receiving the dead, and in other divine activities. Such Sabbath activity was thought to be limited to God, however, and Jesus was claiming "divine prerogative" to work on the Sabbath as his father worked. It should be noted, however, that Jesus makes no claim of independent equality: the Son does not act on his own but does the will of the one who sent him. (John 5:19, 30.)

John 5:32 —"There is another that beareth witness of me"

After Jesus' statement that he does the work of his Father, he gives four different witnesses to support his claim to be the Son of God. These witnesses are John the Baptist (John 5:32—33), the works (miracles) which Jesus has performed (John 5:36), the Father himself (John 5:37—38) and the scriptures (John 5:39).

John 5:39 —"Search the scriptures"

Although Jesus might be commanding the Jews to search the scriptures ("Search the scriptures, since you think you have eternal life through them—even they are witnesses of me"), the Greek favors the following translation: "You are searching the scriptures because in them you think you have eternal life: even they are witnesses of me."

Chapter 6

John 6:7—"Two hundred pennyworth of bread"

Literally, "200 denarii." A denarius is a day's wages, usually said to be worth 18 cents (without taking inflation into account). Thus, Philip is saying that not even 200 days' wages would buy bread sufficient to give everybody even a little bit.

John 6:9—"barley loaves"

Wheat bread was quite common, but barley loaves were cheaper and used chiefly by the poor.

John 6:10 —"sit down"

Literally, it means "lie down, recline."

"in number about five thousand"

It should be noted that although this miracle is usually referred to as the feeding of the 5,000, John, Mark, and Luke state that there are about 5,000 men. Matthew makes it explicit that this number does not include the women and children (Matt. 14:21) and thus the miracle should be thought of as the feeding of the 10,000—15,000. It has often been observed that this is the only miracle of Jesus' mortal ministry recorded in all four Gospels.

John 6:27 —"meat"

The Greek means "food" (nourishment).

"God the Father sealed"

The Greek means "God the Father has marked with a seal (or endued with power from heaven)."

John 6:59 —"These things said he in the synagogue"

There is ample evidence of Jesus teaching in synagogues: Matt. 4:23, 9:35; 12:9; 13:54. For Jesus teaching in Capernaum and the synagogue there, see Luke 4:31 and 7:5.

The Prophet Joseph Smith said that "W e believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly." Since the 1611 A.D. publication of the King James version, many documents of biblical books have been found. Occasionally, this new background information sheds different meaning on selected passages or words than does the language provided by the King James translation.

The Church is fortunate to have Brigham Young University scholars who specialize in comparing various texts and languages. The ENSIGN has invited Brothers Brown, Griggs, and Mackay to share background data where such information might be stimulating and informative for readers of the New Testament.

Footnotes to the Gospels

S. Kent Brown, C. Wilfred Griggs, and Thomas W. Mackay


Chapter 10

Matt. 10:27 —"What ye hear in the ear"

The Greek strangely uses the singular "in the ear" where a plural form would be expected. Parallel passages in early Christian literature suggest that what one hears in one ear is for public dissemination; the sacred—and private—material spoken to the other ear is not for the public. Here, Jesus was directing his listeners to share their information with others.

Chapter 1l

Matt. 11:6 —"be offended in me"

This is better translated "take offense at me" or stumble over me."

Matt. 11:12 —"the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force"

The meaning is best rendered "violent men are seizing control of it, are plundering it."

Matt. 11:20 —"the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done"

We have no scriptural account of Jesus' miracles (mighty works, wonders) or teachings at Chorazin, one of the three cities "wherein most of his mighty works were done." (See Matt. 11:21.)

Matt. 11:26 —"for so it seemed good in thy sight"

This is the equivalent of "so your will decreed it."

Matt. 11:27 —"neither knoweth any man the Father"

The Greek verb translated "knoweth " should better be rendered "fully knows."

Chapter 12

Matt. 12:1 —"began to pluck the ears of corn"

Corn here means not corn on the cob or maize, which was unknown in the ancient world, but merely "grain"; the "ears of corn" are "heads of grain." (See Luke 6:1.)

Matt. 12:19 —"Ye shall not strive"

This means "contend," "dispute"; "or cry" means "shout for help."

Matt. 12:21 —"shall the Gentiles trust"

This means "nations shall hope" (i.e., firmly expect).

Matt. 12:29 —"spoil," and "will spoil"

This means "to plunder," "plunder thoroughly," a reference to Isa. 49:24—26, a Messianic prophecy.

Chapter 13

Matt. 13:15 —"For this people's heart is waxed gross"

This means to make fat, hard, thick, or impervious.

Matt. 13:25 —"his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat"

Tares or darnel are troublesome weeds which resemble wheat. Thus, the tares are persons who resemble Saints but who are not.

Matt. 13:52 —"every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom"

This means "everyone versed or expert in the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom.

Chapter 15

Matt. 15:19 —"evil thoughts"

The Greek means "wicked arguments, disputations."

Chapter 16

Matt. 16:4 —"sign of the prophet Jonas"

This sign was that Christ was "swallowed up" in the earth for three days and then came forth. Early Christian art greatly favored the stories of Jonah and of Daniel in the lions' den as prefiguring the resurrection.

Matt. 16:17 —"for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee"

This is better translated, "it is my Father who is in heaven, and not a mortal, who has revealed this knowledge to you."

Matt. 16:18 —"thou art Peter, and upon this rock"

In Greek this is a subtle word-play between "Peter" (petros—small rock, pebble) and "rock" (petra—huge rock, bed rock). Christ is the stone of Israel (Acts 4:10—12; 1 Cor. 10:4; Matt. 21:42—44), the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20; Ps. 118:22) on which the righteous build (Matt. 7:24) but the wicked stumble (1 Pet. 2:7—8, Isa. 8:14—15), for he is the source of revelation to his church.

Matt. 16:19 —"I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom"

The promise of the keys of the kingdom was made good on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17: see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 158).

Matt. 16:21 —"began Jesus to shew unto his disciples"

Now that the apostles recognize him as the Messiah, Jesus openly explains just what he must do.

Chapter 17

Matt. 17:4 —"let us make here three tabernacles"

In Greek this would read, "if you so desire I will make here three tents," i.e., a temple. (See following note on Mark 9:5.)

Matt. 17:20 —"unbelief"

Several good manuscripts instead give "little faith."

Matt. 17:25 —"Jesus prevented him, saying"

In Greek, "Jesus spoke to him first."


Chapter 6

Mark 6:3 —"Joses"

This is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joseph.

Mark 6:8 —"scrip"

A scrip is a knapsack or, more likely, a begging bag. The disciples were not allowed to beg on the way.

Mark 6:9 —"two coats"

The Greek word translated here as "coat" refers to the garment worn next to the skin.

"he did many things"

The notion is that Herod used to ask many questions of John whenever John spoke to him

Mark 6:21 —"chief estates of Galilee"

A clearer translation would be "leading men of Galilee." (Revised Standard Version.)

Mark 6:25 —"by and by"

The Greek word means "immediately."

"in a charger"

This phrase is better translated "on a platter." (See also Mark 6:28.)

Mark 6:37 —"two hundred pennyworth"

The name of the Roman coin referred to here is denarius. The denarius was worth about 20 cents.

Mark 6:46 —"sent them away"

The Greek words convey a notion of a friendlier parting: "said farewell to them."

Mark 6:50 —"were troubled"

The Revised Standard Version makes the intended meaning clearer: "were terrified."

Mark 6:52 —"they considered not"

A better translation is "they did not understand."

Chapter 7

Mark 7:5 —"unwashen hands"

The intent is to say that Jesus' disciples ate with "defiled" hands. (See Mark 7:2.) The defilement referred to was a breach of ritual nature rather than a breach of ethics. However, one who flaunted laws of ritual purification was thereby guilty in an ethical sense. We should note that this sort of ritual washing which Jesus condemns was not prescribed in the law of Moses, but as an innovation of Jewish traditions.

Mark 7:24 —"Tyre and Sidon"

This is the first time Jesus went into Gentile territory during his ministry, clearly foreshadowing the universal spread of the gospel message. That Jesus, a Jew from Galilee, performed miracles among the Gentiles must have made a significant impact on the minds and hearts of those who witnessed. It was a common notion in antiquity that divine power did not extend beyond the territorial boundaries of the people who worshiped the divinity. Compare Naaman taking soil from Israelite territoriy so that he could worship Jehovah in his native Syria. (2 Kings 5:17.)

Mark 7:26 —"a Greek"

This term has religious rather than ethnic meaning since the woman's nationality is mentioned immediately after this, "a Syro—phenician by nation." The word "Greek" here is roughly equivalent to the notion "pagan."

Mark 7:31 —"coasts"

The word is better translated as "boundaries."

Chapter 8

Mark 8:17 —"have ye your heart yet hardened"

The sentence is "Do you still have hardened hearts?"

Mark 8:22 —"he cometh"

The Greek reads "they came."

Mark 8:23 —"if he saw ought"

A better rendition is "if he saw anything."

Mark 8:28 —"Elias"

This is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name Elijah, (See note on Matt. 11:14.)

Mark 8:33 —"thou savourest not"

The phrase is more accurately translated, "you are not concerned about."

Mark 8:34 —"whosoever will come after me"

This is better translated "whosoever desires to come after me."

"take up his cross"

Jesus' use of the word "cross" takes on important meaning when we recall that the ensign Isaiah mentions frequently was made of a long pole with a crossbar near the top. (See Isa. 5:26; 11:10, 12; 18:3; etc.) Such a pole was carried at the head of an army entering battle, the pennants that hung from the crossbar serving to identify the soldiers' tribe or people. Its lofty position in a town or camp would signal a place of safety and refreshment to the weary traveler or warrior. The Hebrew word for "ensign" is the same term which is translated as the "pole" upon which Moses fashioned the brass serpent. (Num. 21:9.) This brass serpent, Nephi tells us, pointed forward to the Messiah. (Hel. 8:14—15.) In Exod. 17:15, Moses, using the same Hebrew word, names a sacrificial altar "Jehovah, my Banner."

Chapter 9

Mark 9:3 —"fuller"

This is the occupation of one who cleans or bleaches woolen cloth.

Mark 9:5 —"three tabernacles"

The mention of "tabernacles" or "tents" not only recalls the Feast of Booths which commemorated the period of Israel's wandering in the desert when the Lord had his own dwelling in their midst (Lev. 23:42—43; Exod. 25:8—9), but it also looks forward to the time when the Lord will dwell, or "tabernacle," with his people (Zech. 14:16; Rev. 7:15; 21:1—3).

Mark 9:39 —"lightly"

The Greek word means "soon afterwards" in this passage.

The Prophet Joseph Smith said that "we believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly." Since the A.D. 1611 publication of the King James version, many documents of biblical books have been found. Occasionally, this new background information sheds different meaning on selected passages or words than does the language provided by the King James translation.

The Church is fortunate to have Brigham Young University scholars who specialize in comparing various texts and languages. The ENSIGN has invited Brothers Brown, Griggs, and Mackay to share background data where such information might be stimulating and informative for readers of the New Testament.