A funny thing happened along the way in the transmission of the text of Jude 5. According to most English bibles, the author wants to remind his readers that “the Lord, who ... saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe” (NRSV, and so also KJV, REB, NASB, NIV, TNIV). But some translations say, instead, that it is “Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe” (ESV, so also NET, NLT). Who exactly saved the people out of Egypt:? Was it “the Lord” or “Jesus”? Why is there this difference in the translations?
As with all good investigators – and this is so whether you are investigating a dead body as a “CSI” or an ancient text as a reader – we start with the hard data, the manuscript evidence. In this case, the hard data tells us that while the reading “the Lord” is found in the majority of manuscripts, the reading “Jesus” appears in many of the oldest and best manuscripts, the Latin, Coptic and Ethiopic translations, and quotations from some early church fathers. In addition to these manuscripts that have “Lord” or “Jesus,” some other manuscripts have “God,” and one intriguing one has “God Christ”! To quote from the “CSI” TV show: “Follow the evidence. Where does the evidence lead?” Well, if we go by the hard data, it would seem that “Jesus” is the best reading.
Explanation 1: “Lord” is original
However, some interpreters/translators think that the reading “Jesus” is so difficult that it cannot be original since it involves the idea that Jesus had dealings with historic Israel. Nowhere else in Jude does the author mention “Jesus.” It is always “Jesus Christ” elsewhere. The reading “Jesus” probably arose because an early scribe mistook KC (a common abbreviation for “Lord”) for IC (“Jesus”) in his exemplar (the text he was copying from). Therefore, “Lord” is the original reading (so NRSV, KJV, REB, NASB, NIV, TNIV).
Explanation 2: “Jesus” is original
But is the reading “Jesus” really so difficult that it cannot be original? After all, different NT authors do variously speak of the second person of the Trinity being active from the beginning of creation (John 1.3; 8.56-8; Col. 1.16; Heb. 11.26). Especially relevant is 1 Cor. 10.4, where Paul speaks of Christ as being present in some way with historic Israel during the wilderness wanderings. The epistle of Jude is one of the last books in the NT to be completed, so these ideas of the Son’s pre-incarnate activity were already “in the air” by the time Jude wrote. Furthermore, the reading, “Jesus,” accords with v. 4 which ends with a reference to the only “Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Finally, although the concept of the Son’s pre-incarnate activity may be found in the NT, the use of the name “Jesus” in the context of the Exodus redemption has no parallel (cf. 1 Cor 10.4, which has “Christ”). This explains why some scribes may have found the reading “Jesus” odd and substituted “Lord” or “God” instead, giving rise to those readings in the other manuscripts. Therefore, “Jesus” is the original reading (so ESV, NET, NLT).
What do you think? Which explanation do you find more convincing? Or perhaps you have another one (maybe “Jesus” here = “Joshua,” successor to Moses)? How would deciding one way or another in this case affect your understanding of God or Jesus? Or does it? Is your confidence in God’s Word shaken? Why or why not?
If you are interested in these issues and in learning to be a “CSI” for texts such as Jude 5, do consider taking the course BG253 New Testament Textual Criticism (1.5 credits, Group Tutorial, with Lecturer Dr Quek Swee Hwa and Tutor Mr Quek Tze-Ming) which will commence on 4th October 2010 (Mon). Please refer to this link on our website for further information.