Jesus Christ: The Lord God Who Saved and Punished Israel During the Exodus

Variant Readings that Essentially Say the Same Thing

In this post, I am going to focus on one of the most explicit witnesses to the essential Deity and eternal prehuman existence of Christ, namely, Jude 1:4-5. The reason why I chose this particular text is because of the variant readings that we find among the extant textual witnesses, and the significance they have concerning the Person of the Lord Jesus.

Here is the passage in question:

“For there are certain men who crept in secretly, even those who were long ago written about for this condemnation: ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into indecency, and denying our only Master, God, and Lord, Jesus Christ (ton monon Despoten Theon kai Kyrion hemon Iesoun Christon). Now I desire to remind you, though you already know this, that the Lord, having saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who didn’t believe.” World English Bible (WEB)

The foregoing is based on the reading found in the majority of the Greek manuscripts. The phrase “our only Master, God, and Lord, Jesus Christ,” is what NT scholars call a Granville Sharp construction, a rule of Greek grammar which essentially affirms that this text basically describes Jesus as our Master, God, and Lord. More on this point below.

The context further makes it clear that the Lord who saved and punished a people during the time of the Exodus was none other than Jesus Christ since he is the Lord who is mentioned in the preceding verse. This in turn shows that Jude believed in the eternal prehuman existence of Christ, since this means that Jesus is the Yahweh who saved Israel out of Egypt and then punished them in the desert for their rebellion.

The following version is based on the earliest Greek witnesses to Jude:

“For certain men have secretly slipped in among you—men who long ago were marked out for the condemnation I am about to describe—ungodly men who have turned the grace of our God into a license for evil and who deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (ton monon Despoten kai Kyrion hemon Iesoun Christon). Now I desire to remind you (even though you have been fully informed of these facts once for all) that JESUS, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, later destroyed those who did not believe.”

20 tc Most later witnesses (P Ψ Ï sy) have θεόν (qeon, “God”) after δεσπότην (despothn, “master”), which appears to be a motivated reading in that it explicitly links “Master” to “God” in keeping with the normal NT pattern (see Luke 2:29; Acts 4:24; 2 Tim 2:21; Rev 6:10). In patristic Greek, δεσπότης (despoth”) was used especially of God (cf. BDAG 220 s.v. 1.b.). The earlier and better witnesses (Ì72,78 א A B C 0251 33 81 323 1241 1739 al co) lack θεόν; the shorter reading is thus preferred on both internal and external grounds.

sn The Greek term for Master (δεσπότης, despoths) is the same term the author of 2 Peter used (2 Pet 2:1) to describe his Lord when he prophesied about these false teachers. Since δεσπότης is used only ten times in the NT, the verbal connection between these two books at this juncture is striking. This is especially so since both Peter and Jude speak of these false teachers as denying the Master (both using the same verb). The basic difference is that Peter is looking to the future, while Jude is arguing that these false teachers are here now.

21 tn The terms “Master and Lord” both refer to the same person. The construction in Greek is known as the Granville Sharp rule, named after the English philanthropist-linguist who first clearly articulated the rule in 1798. Sharp pointed out that in the construction article-noun-καί-noun (where καί [kai] = “and”), when two nouns are singular, personal, and common (i.e., not proper names), they ALWAYS had the same referent. Illustrations such as “the friend and brother,” “the God and Father,” etc. abound in the NT to prove Sharp’s point. For more discussion see ExSyn 270-78. See also Titus 2:13 and 2 Pet 1:1…

24 tc ‡ The reading ᾿Ιησοῦς (Ihsous, “Jesus”) is deemed too hard by several scholars, since it involves the notion of Jesus acting in the early history of the nation Israel. However, not only does this reading enjoy THE STRONGEST SUPPORT FROM A VARIETY OF EARLY WITNESSES (e.g., A B 33 81 1241 1739 1881 2344 pc vg co Or1739mg), but the plethora of variants demonstrate that scribes were uncomfortable with it, for they seemed to exchange κύριος (kurios, “Lord”) or θεός (qeos, “God”) for ᾿Ιησοῦς (though Ì72 has the intriguing reading θεὸς Χριστός [qeos Cristos, “God Christ”] for ᾿Ιησοῦς). In addition to the evidence supplied in NA27 for this reading, note also {88 322 323 424c 665 915 2298 eth Cyr Hier Bede}. As difficult as the reading ᾿Ιησοῦς is, in light of v. 4 and in light of the progress of revelation (Jude being one of the last books in the NT to be composed), it is wholly appropriate.

sn The construction our Master and Lord, Jesus Christ in v. 4 follows Granville Sharp’s rule (see note on Lord). The construction STRONGLY IMPLIES the deity of Christ. This is followed by a statement that Jesus was involved in the salvation (and later judgment) of the Hebrews. He is thus to be IDENTIFIED WITH THE LORD GOD, YAHWEH. Verse 5, then, simply fleshes out what is implicit in v. 4. New English Translation (NET; capital and underline emphasis ours)

As the NET notes indicate, instead of the word “Lord” in v. 5, a plethora of early and diverse witnesses read “Jesus,” thereby making the identity of the Lord who saved and punished Israel during the time of Moses even more explicit. The other significant variant to note is that these witnesses omit the word “God” in v. 4, which in turn means that Jesus is described as our only Master and Lord, which is still an explicit affirmation of his Deity, as the last note above explains.

Here is another translation of v. 5:

I need to remind you, even though you are familiar with it all, that the Lord Jesus[a] saved his people out of Egypt but subsequently destroyed those who were guilty of unbelief.


a. Jude 1:5 Some reliable manuscripts have “the Lord,” while other very reliable early manuscripts have “Jesus.” This translation, for the sake of clarity, includes both Lord and Jesus. This is an incredible reference of the preincarnate Jesus, who powerfully delivered the Hebrew people before he was even born. The Passion Translation (TPT; capital emphasis ours)

And here’s one more:

But I am determined to remind you–although you once knew all this–that Jesus,c having saved a people from the land of Egypt, secondly destroyed those who were faithless;

c… (Iesous): that is, “Jesus,” which is the Greek rendering of Joshua (Yeshua). Many texts, especially of the Byzantine type, have “Lord” here, and a few have “Christ God,” but the best textual evidence favors “Jesus.” Most scholars who accept this nevertheless find the verse problematic, recognizing that–even if the author might have seen Jesus as the preexistent divine Son, and seen the acts of God in Hebrew scripture as being executed through the Son–talk of Jesus acting in the events of the book of Exodus is without much precedent or analogue in early Christian literature. Alternatively, perhaps the name should be rendered “Joshua.” I have hesitated to do so only because this passage seems to be the first in a series of descriptions of episodes of divine punishment of sinners (see vv. 6-7), rather than a simple warning that the one who saves the righteous is also the one who will punish the iniquitous. And in Exodus Joshua is not explicitly involved in the liberation of Israel from Egypt–though he soon appears as Moses’ lieutenant and chief warrior. And the mention of the destruction of the faithless might refer to Joshua’s presumed participation in the slaughter of the Israelite idolaters after the fashioning of the golden calf (Exodus 32:17-35), or perhaps simply to his campaign against the Amalekites in Rephidim (Exodus 17:8-16), or even to his conquest of Canaan. (David Bentley Hart, The New Testament: A Translation [Yale University Press, 2017], pp. 492-493; bold emphasis ours)

The translator provides his own refutation to this being a reference to Joshua, since Joshua did not deliver Israel out of Egypt, nor was he the one that punished them in the desert. And even though he may have been involved in killing some of the Israelites on certain occasions when they sinned against the Lord, Joshua wasn’t the only one that the Lord used to do so. To, therefore, single him out at this point in Jude’s polemic makes no contextual sense whatsoever.

We’ve saved the best for last. The earliest extant witness to the Epistle of Jude is P72, which is a papyrus that scholars believe comes from the third century. This textual witness contains a rather interesting and astonishing reading in v. 5:

“But I want to remind you about what you have always known, namely, that the GOD CHRIST (or God, who is Christ [Theos Christos]), saved people out of Egypt, but then he destroyed those who did not believe.”

The words Theos Christos are written as nomina sacra (θς χρς), i.e., a practice where scribes would abbreviate the names and titles of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, out of reverence and recognition of their essential Deity.

What this reading shows is that the context is crystal clear that Jude is describing Jesus as God Almighty in the flesh, since this is the only way the inspired writer could say that it was Christ who personally delivered Israel from Egypt and punished some of them in the desert for sinning against him.

Thus, no matter what variant one accepts as reliable, Jude’s inspired message remains the same. The Lord Jesus is the God who, in his prehuman existence, personally delivered his people Israel from Egypt and then subsequently punished many of them in the desert for their sins. He is also the divine Lord that condemned the rebellious angels and Sodom and Gomorrah for their rebellion and transgressions:

“For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, HE has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” Jude 1:4-7 English Standard Version (ESV)

We conclude with the words of two renowned Evangelical scholars who do a fine job of explaining how the variant readings and the context of Jude identifies Jesus as the Lord Yahweh who saved Israel at the time of Moses:

“After speaking of Jesus Christ as ‘our only Master and Lord,’ Jude could hardly have proceeded in the very next sentence to refer to someone other than Jesus as ‘the Lord.’ The Lord who delivered his people out of Egypt, then, must be the Lord Jesus.

“In fact, this is probably what the original text of Jude explicitly said. Many of the earliest manuscripts actually say ‘Jesus’ instead of ‘the Lord’ in verse 5, and this is most likely the original reading. There are three principles of the discipline of textual criticism that, when considered together, point to this conclusion.

“The first principle concerns the external evidence of the origins of the manuscripts. All other things being equal, the earlier and more widely attested reading is to be preferred. In this case both ‘Lord’ and ‘Jesus’ are among the earliest readings, but ‘Jesus’ is more widely attested. The Vaticanus and Alexandrinus uncials (fourth and fifth centuries, respectively) both have ‘Jesus,’ while the Sinaiticus and C uncials (also of the fourth and fifth centuries) are the major witnesses for ‘Lord.’ The reading ‘Jesus,’ though, has much greater support from the early translations of the New Testament into other languages (such as Coptic, Ethiopic, and Latin) and better support from the early church’s leading biblical scholars, including Jerome (early fifth century) and possibly the third-century Origen. The reading ‘Jesus,’ then, clearly has the edge in terms of external evidence.

“The second principle is that, all other things being equal, the harder or more difficult reading – the one that sounds the strangest, to put it crudely – is more likely to be original (since a scribe is more likely to change a text from something that sounds strange to something that doesn’t, rather than the other way around). Here, the reading ‘Jesus’ obviously has the edge. Three of the five members of the editorial committee for the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament thought, in fact, ‘that the reading was difficult to the point of impossibility.’ The other two committee members, Bruce Metzger and Allen Wikgren, agreed it was difficult but not impossible, and concluded that it was the correct reading.

“The third and most general principle is that whatever reading is more likely to have given rise to the others as alterations is probably the original reading. The answer to this question is much disputed, but we agree with those who argue that ‘Jesus’ is probably original because it is more likely that scribes would change ‘Jesus’ (the admittedly harder reading) to ‘Lord’ (or, in a few other manuscripts, ‘God’) but not vice versa.

“Whichever reading we follow, though, Jude’s immediately preceding reference to Jesus as ‘Lord’ at the end of verse 4 makes it clear that he is the subject of verse 5. According to Jude, the Lord Jesus not only existed during the time of the Exodus but was the one who both delivered Israel from Egypt and then destroyed the unbelieving Israelites in the wilderness.” (Robert M. Bowman Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place –The Case for the deity of Christ [Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI 2007], Chapter 8. Jesus Has Always Been There, pp. 98-99; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Jesus Christ is Yahweh to the glory of God the Father! Come, Lord Jesus, come! Amen!

Further Reading

Yes, Jesus Saved and Destroyed the Israelites (



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