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JRP's Exegetical Compilation: Matthew 26:24

This is part of my Exegetical Compilation Project, which can be found here.

Matthew 26:24: this verse (which is identical to Mark 14:21 except GosMark doesn’t include a verb for the sentence) is often appealed to as testimony against the salvation of Judas.

In order to understand it, first we must figure out who the pronouns in the verse refer to, which turns out to be somewhat difficult (even though I’m going to end up with the traditional interpretation for reasons I’ll explain below).

kalon (en) aut(i)o ei ouk egennethe ho anthropos ekeinos

kalon = good

(en) = was (found in GosMatt’s text, omitted from GosMark’s)

aut(i)o = a prepositional third person pronoun, but in a weird case: “him” with a preposition implied. Most translations go with “for” as the equivalent English preposition, but to be blunt that’s kind of a guess, as exemplified by Green who in his literal translation took the standard “for” but in his super-literal translation he didn’t bother even trying to supply a preposition!–but placed the implied “it” there instead.

ei = if

ouk = not

egennethe = was conceived

ho anthropos = the person

ekeinos = this is an odd reflexive term in Greek; it’s built from a word for “there” but is used for emphasis in regard to the noun it modifies (sometimes with its own direct article, though not this time). We would say in English “that there one”! Or “that selfsame one”.

The final clause certainly reads then: “if not was conceived that there person” or “that selfsame person” or “that very same person”.

The implication from the emphasis at the end is that the speaker is talking about a person he just recently referenced. By context, this can only mean Jesus or Judas; and almost certainly means the person being talked about in the first clause.

So if the “him” in the first clause is Judas, the second clause’s person is also (almost certainly) Judas. If the “him” in the first clause is Jesus, the second clause’s person is (almost certainly) Jesus.

Now however we get to another related use of {ekeinos}: a tool for helping authors distinguish between men when talking about two of them (especially in relation to each other). Is there another nearby use of “that very man”? Yes there is, back in the previous sentence (both in GosMatt and GosMark; also GosLuke for what it is worth although GosLuke doesn’t have either of the two clauses of the ending sentence.) “But woe to that-very man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.”

By grammatic implication, the two “that-very” men are the same man, namely the one who betrays the Son of Man. So was the Son of Man betraying the Son of Man?! Matt 26:25, “And Judas, who was betraying Him…” starts the next sentence. (Also the preceding context reads, “One of you will betray Me”.)

This however opens back up the possibility that the “him” in the first clause of the final sentence does not refer to “that-very man”, since the term is definitely used for another purpose. It could of course be used for both purposes; but since “him” has already been used once in this statement and only for the Son of Man, then the parallels of usage would suggest that “him” refers to “Him” rather than to “that-very man”.

In the final analysis the grammar could be used either way: “him” in verse 24c (and its Markan parallel) could still be Jesus or Judas, although Judas is definitely “that-very man” at the end of 24c (and GosMark’s parallel).

Fortunately all this can be settled by cultural context much more easily–and, in passing, also lends weight to an interpretation of what we ought to be expecting from Christ in regard to Judas: the saying elsewhere (such as in Job) is a call for pity for that man of whom it would have been better had he not been born. (For the purpose of the saying, it is irrelevant whether the term is “born” or “conceived”; Job wished he had died in the womb after conception.) And that fits the term being used for “wail” or “woe” in all three Synoptics here: it means “lament” in pity.

That means the saying is in fact about Judas in both its clauses. But it isn’t a curse of hopelessness for Judas: it’s a cry for pity for Judas, expressing a wish that his situation would be mended. Jesus instructs His other disciples (and us too by extension) to be sorrowing in pity for Judas; to be hopefully loving him even in our grief for him.

(Compare also with comments to John 15:1-7, and its contexts, set a few minutes later in the same incident.)

Members are encouraged to add further discussion below, and especially links (both off-site and to threads on the forum) where these verses are being discussed elsewhere.

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That’s great Jason :smiley: IT make complete sense to me of the ‘data’ that this is a cry of pity rather than a curse :smiley:

I’ve been talking to the guys over at Concordant Publishings concerning this passage and they’ve given me something to ponder. Also I didn’t notice this or if I did I didn’t pay attention but if modern translations have It would have been good for that man first then it seems odd that Matthew would have ο ανθρωπος εκεινος at the end of the passage. Even though Greek order is not important ο ανθρωπος εκεινος is still far away from καλον and I wonder why modern scholarship didn’t catch that? As a beginning self study Greek student I’m starting to wonder if modern Greek scholarship can be trusted?

Thoughts [tag]JasonPratt[/tag] and anyone else?

I’m not sure what you’re asking about. I did talk in eyenumbing detail :wink: about the ekeinos on the end and what it grammatically implies, taking everything else into account: it must refer (using a common Aramaic reflexive-for-emphasis form) to Judas. The distance between ekeinos and the prior use of ekeinos is irrelevant – it isn’t ridiculously far away, it’s still in topical range for reference, and much of the point to using the term at all would be to connect topics about who was being spoken of: Judas for sure in the first ekeinos reference, and Judas for sure in the second ekeinos reference. (Greek authors often use tools like this to help readers not get lost in the pronoun trails while they’re fronting other parts of the clauses or sentences for emphasis.)

Normally this would mean the reference to the man for whom (or more literally to whom) it would be better for Judas not to be born, to also be Judas, although I allowed that the difference in the pronoun markers itself might point to Jesus being the {auto(i)} (I’ve since learned that the dative subscripted iota should be considered as following the vowel, not proceeding it, silently either way) with Judas the ekeinos by grammatic comparison.

But following the form of the cry for pity, which form this is surely an example of, topically it would be Judas there, too: Jesus is grieving for Judas and calling for pity on him which He expects to be granted.

Which is very much not a problem for universal salvation. :sunglasses:

(But the whole case for Iscariot depends on a much larger discussion, hinging I’d argue on GosJohn’s Final Discourse. That will be one of the last video lectures I do from the Gospel material, sometime this year I hope, but these exegetical comments are meant to be more bite-sized.)

Edited to add: but as I said, I’m not sure what you’re asking about. If it wasn’t about this, then never mind; but I’ll need more information. :slight_smile:

That’s interesting, Jason. Is the passage in Job referred to any of these:

Job 3:11

New American Standard Bible
"Why did I not die at birth, Come forth from the womb and expire?

King James Bible
Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly?

JPS Tanakh 1917
Why died I not from the womb? Why did I not perish at birth?

Job 10:18
'Why then have You brought me out of the womb? Would that I had died and no eye had seen me!

Job 10:19
‘I should have been as though I had not been, Carried from womb to tomb.’

Young’s Literal Translation
As I had not been, I am, From the belly to the grave I am brought,

Thayer says the word “woe” in Jesus’ remark about Judas (Mt.26:24) can be a lament or a denunciation:

woe 3759

“οὐαί, an interjection of grief or of denunciation; the Sept. chiefly for הוי and אוי; “Alas! Woe!” with a dat of person added,” (Thayer’s Lexicon).

Is your argument that the Judas & Job accounts both refer to a death prior to birth (en utero), so that’s how Jesus’ listeners should have understood His remarks re Judas, that of a lament? In Job he is lamenting he was ever born, because of the horrible sufferings he was enduring at the moment. So is Jesus likewise indicating a lamentation for the sufferings for Judas, but in his case sufferings yet to come in the afterlife? Yet not necessarily endless, which is a question that would have to be decided by other contexts & passages of Scripture?

Logically speaking a reference to “it is better if he were never born” could be a denunciation rather than a lamentation. ECTers might see a parallel of the Judas’ accounts with the denunciation in Mt.18:6-7, both of which use the words “it would be better for them”/him & “woe”:

If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
7 Woe to the world for the causes of sin. These stumbling blocks must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! (Mt.18:6-7)

Here is their response to me:

Hi James,
Thanks for writing. Here are some thoughts on this issue from our material:

“Matt.26:24 The case of Judas has an important bearing on the ultimate
destiny of the human race and all creation. If it were well for Judas if
he had not been born, then there can be no justification of all mankind
(Rom 5:18) or reconciliation of all creation (Col 1:20). If he is
ultimately justified and reconciled it is well that he has been born. The
solution of this difficulty will help us to see the bias which pervades
our translations. They deliberately recast the sentence and give it a
meaning quite foreign to the text. The Lord speaks of Himself as “Him”,
and of Judas as “that man”. It were ideal for the Lord if Judas were not
born. The Lord’s impending suffering is in view, not the punishment of
Judas, whose ultimate destiny is not under consideration” (A.E. Knoch,
Concordant Commentary).
Please also see the attachment taken from my website at:

From Unsearchable Riches volume 34:


  1. Misleading and erroneous renderings. Many of the
    preceding examples are not only absurd but also
    misleading. But we desire to point out a few renderings
    that are particularly so.

Mark 14:21: “Ideal were it for Him (note the capital,
i.e. , Jesus) if that man were not born.” Exactly the
same words occur in Matt.26:24. Such a thought as this
is absolutely foreign to the context.

The “context” referred to is, we fear, the “doctrinal
presuppositions” of the critic. It needs no Greek scholarship,

p65 Ideal for Christ if Judas Not Born

but only a snip of sanctified sense to connect “that man” (too anthroopoo
ekeinoo to-THE human that) in one sentence with "that man ([h]o anthroopos
ekeinos THE human that) in the next. Translators who have been caught off
their guard have rendered it correctly. Luther actually translates it one
way in Matthew and the other in Mark! So do Schlachter (Miniatur Bibel),
and Van Ess, the first a continental Protestant and the other a Roman
Catholic. Elberfeld, representing “Brethren” theology, and Menge, for the
state church, change to suit their confessions. Schmoller, the compiler of
a Greek concordance and the Parallel Bible, gives it “Good were it for Him
if that man were not born,” practically as in the C.V.

The American Revision recognized this error of the A. V., but dared
not correct it in their version, for they feared to face the
consequences. Nevertheless they were courageous enough to put in
their margin, “Gr. for him if that man.” Of course for him if that
man is not Greek. It is English. In fact it is exactly like the C.
V.! The great “authority” of the American Revision Committee, which
many place above that of the British, is back of our rendering of the
Greek! They must be “misleading and erroneous!” I have no hesitancy,
therefore, on the ground taken by the critic himself (that of an
authority) in exposing him as not only erroneous and misleading, but
as a deliberate and malicious corrupter of God’s Word, who will not
have the truth when it is put before him, who misuses the confidence
of the people in order to keep them from the truth. He knows, or
ought to know, how the Greek reads.

A favorite distortion, with those versions which translate that man
correctly, is to change for Him to he. Thus the Emphatic Diaglott,
although it has an interlinear “good it was to HIM, if not was born
the man that,” changes this to “Good were it for that MAN if HE were
not born.” The Greek auto (to-Him) cannot be the subject of born. We
cannot say “to him was born.” If we do, we change the sense entirely,
as if Judas had a child. So, also, the Greek [h]o anthroopos ekeinos
(that man) must be the subject of was [not] born, for its form in
Greek demands this, being in the nominative case.

The word that alone should settle the matter, for it denotes another
person, not the same. The usual rendering demands that the Greek have
autos (SAME, or he) in place of ekeinos (that). Anyone, no matter
what his reputation for scholarship, or the number of degrees to his
name, who seeks to force this false rendering on his dupes
automatically brands himself as utterly untrustworthy and apostate.
May God deal with him in His grace!

This rendering is foreign only to the context of tradition and is a
deliberate falsification of the divine records due to the hardness of
men’s hearts. Here some of the scholars (not

p66 All Messengers are Not Angels

all) show the spirit that is in them and give us an example of those of
whom it is written: “The venom of asps is under their lips” (Rom.3:13).
They insist on kicking a man when he is down. Any “scholar” who is able to
check this by the Greek, and yet clings to the false rendering, places
himself outside the pale of humanity. This text is a test of all who claim
to believe God or the inspiration of the Scriptures. To make it as clear
as possible we repeat the facts already given, in different words. The
usual rendering reverses the grammar. It alters to Him, to he, and that
man (nominative, the subject) to for that man (the dative, or indirect
object). The Greek is very clear. Literally it reads: Ideal were it to Him
(not he) if not were generated the human that (not for that). Have, you
had a little Greek? Check it for yourself, unless you are afraid of being
cast out of the synagogue. If you are, leave it alone, and do not commit
the worst of all sins, the deliberate falsification of the divine records.
This may qualify you for a professor’s place in the theological schools of
the day—even in that of the fundamentalists—but it will go hard with you
in that day when you give account in the presence of our Lord Jesus
Christ. This passage is a test. If a translation has this wrong it trades
in tradition, and is not a transcript of the Word of the living, loving
God. We hereby implore all teachers of Greek, who have hitherto corrupted
this text in order to cater to tradition or to hold their place and
influence, to fear God, not man, and refuse to further countenance this
fearful fraud."

Yeah, adjusting for the vitriolic rhetoric (being beyond the pale of humanity etc. :open_mouth: :unamused: ), their argument is the same I made in my comments, that the dative to-him can refer to the Son of Man and that the distinction between the pronoun forms would normally be a signal linking (especially by an Aramaic figure of speech) that-very-many to that-very-man (i.e. Iscariot) in distinction from the man for whom it would have been better if that-very-man had not been born.

However, that doesn’t fit the cry for pity usage of the saying, which would have Iscariot (or perhaps Christ) as the object of the pity, not a split topic.

The wailing of the “woe”, as your source notes (the term is onamotapoeia, or however that’s spelled: it’s written to sound like a wail), can be a denunciation or a cry for pity. The two notions aren’t mutually exclusive either. Christ can be denouncing Iscariot and also bringing a cry for pity on him. (The “O Jerusalem” lament doesn’t use the term for wailing immediately, although it’s nearby in one of the reports, but it’s an example of the notion of a combined denunciation and cry for pity.)

Either way the meaning is clear enough that the object for whom the cry is made, either is suffering already or will be. That fits Iscariot fine enough; no one anywhere thinks he gets away scot-free – on the contrary, his remorse, at least, is deadly to himself. Better if he had gone to heaven directly, dying in the womb. But that doesn’t mean he won’t ever get there; no moreso than Job’s lament BY EXACTLY THE SAME FIGURE is evidence that he shall never be saved and enter into blessedness. (He recovers better than before in this life, in the epilogue!)