Matthew 27:16,17 Was Barabbas Called ‘Jesus Barabbas’?

Variants in the Passion Narrative (1)

This is the first of a series of blog posts on some of the textual variants found in the Passion narratives. We will discuss the rationale behind the text adopted in the Greek New Testament as Produced at Tyndale House in (1) Mt 27:16,17, (2) Mt 27:49, (3) Mk 14:30, 49, 72a, 72b, (4) Lk 22:31, (5) Lk 22:43-44, (6) Lk 23:34.

Only in Matthew is there some confusion about the exact form of the name Barabbas, as a small section of the evidence has Jesus Barabbas instead of just Barabbas. The variant is interesting as it may have been discussed explicitly by Origen, back in the first half of the third century.

16  εἶχον δὲ τότε δέσμιον ἐπίσημον λεγόμενον Βαραββᾶν. 17  συνηγμένων οὖν αὐτῶν εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Πειλᾶτος· τίνα θέλετε ἀπολύσω ὑμῖν; Βαραββᾶν ἢ Ἰησοῦν τὸν λεγόμενον χριστόν;

The two readings are visible in two popular modern translations:

ESV: 16 And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”

NIV  16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

The manuscript support:

Jesus Barabbas

v16      ιησουν βαραββαν Θ f1 700* l844, Sinaitic Syriac

v17      ιησουν τον βαραββαν f1, Sinaitic Syriac

ιησουν βαραββαν Θ 700* l844



v16      βαραββαν ℵ A B D K L W Γ Δ f13 all other minuscules, Latin, Syriac – Peshitta and Harkleian, Coptic

v17      βαραββαν ℵ A D K L W Γ Δ f13 all other minuscules, Latin, Syriac – Peshitta and Harkleian, Coptic

τον βαραββαν B 1010 1012

I do not think that the Latin is of much help to decide between βαραββαν and τον βαραββαν in v17, but at least the Latin is helpful in that it does not have ‘Jesus Barabbas’.

The external evidence for (16) ιησουν βαραββαν and (17) ιησουν τον βαραββαν is limited, though this is the text given in NA26 – NA28, yet with the first part in brackets.

In Metzger’s commentary, the longer reading is granted much weight because of the supposed discussion in Origen. Having read what Donaldson has written on this Origen (387-90), I am much less sure that we have Origen’s words in the discussion. According to Donaldson (388 FN 28) there is only one manuscript that attributes the relevant scholion to Origen. Of course, it may still be by him as his star fell rather dramatically in later centuries, but there is a serious question mark about the attribution. There is also an interesting difference between the Latin and Greek version of the scholion in question. The Latin states that ‘in many copies it is not included that Barabbas is also called Jesus’, whilst the Greek says, ‘But in many old copies I have encountered, I found also Barabbas himself called Jesus’. There is a difference in perspective, in the Latin the reading assumed is Jesus Barabbas with the alternative being just Barabbas, in the Greek it is the other way around (incidentally, Streeter in his The Four Gospels, 94-95 knows only the Latin version – and yes, Jesus Barabbas is of course a ‘Caesarean reading’ in his eyes).


Are there any scribal explanations for the rise of the two readings?

  • The omission of ιησουν in ιησουν βαραββαν can be explained as ridding the text of a confusing repetition of the name Jesus. The same name cannot be used for the Saviour and for the murderer.
  • Metzger points to the second of this pair of variants and notes the sequence υμιντονβαραββαν. The nomen sacrum for Jesus would be ι̅ν, which is the same as the final letters of υμιν. If this is indeed the origin of the longer reading, then the first instance was corrected to bring it in line with the accidentally longer second instance. Alternatively, of course, a haplography of -ιν- within υμινι̅ντονβαραββαν would be an argument the other way around.


In this case, perhaps, the origin should be sought in manuscript tendencies. There is a cluster of readings that show up in a select group of manuscripts. Though I would not talk about Caesarean manuscripts or a Caesarean text, this group of readings found in a specific part of the tradition can be called ‘Caesarean readings’. Please note that I am more interested in the set of readings than in the question what the appropriate label should be. Our variant is one of these readings and should be studied as part of the whole cluster of Caesarean readings. We might then learn more about what these readings have in common and possible even find a historical context. For the sake of the argument here it suffices to acknowledge that this group of readings exists and that there is no strong argument to accept any of their unique readings as original. So in this case the main argument for rejecting the readings ‘Jesus Barabbas’ is that it is found mainly in a small group of witnesses that have a shared set of unique, but suspect readings.

Metzger notes that the decision to accept [ιησουν] βαραββαν was a majority decision. I think that the majority of the committee was mistaken.


Donaldson, Amy M. “Explicit References to New Testament Variant Readings among Greek and Latin Church Fathers.” Dissertation, Notre Dame 2009.

Streeter, B.H. The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins. 4th ed.  London: Macmillan, 1930.



Errata List for the THGNT

Despite our best efforts in preparing The Greek New Testament, we are aware that errors are part and parcel of any work of such complexity and with this many data points. Every error, though, is one too many. Therefore we invite anyone who spots a factual error to send us a note at To celebrate the community effort, we will send a gift to a randomly chosen contributor after every 25 new entries.

Errata List (as per 9th Feb 2018)

Matthew 8:28, apparatus: Δ appears supporting both the text and the variant. It should be listed just in support of the text:
Γαδαρηνῶν] B C Δ(γαραδ-) Θ; γαζαρηνων ℵ*; ♦ γεργεσηνων ℵ2 K L(-σινον) W 1424

Matthew 24:36, text:  a breathing needs to be added to the second instance of ουδε: ουδὲ should be οὐδὲ.

Mark 2:17, apparatus: D should be listed under omit, with W, not in support of the text:
αὐτοῖς] ℵ A C K L 69 1424; add οτι P88(omit αυτοις) B Δ Θ; omit D W

Mark 4:26, text: ἑὰν (rough breathing) should be ἐὰν (smooth breathing).

Luke 3:5, text: εὐθείαν should be εὐθεῖαν.

Luke 22:43, apparatus: missing manuscript. Include in support of the text between Ψ and 1424:
0171(vid  ]θρον[…]ς κα̣τ̣[.]βαι[…]π̣ι την γην).

John 8:38, punctuation. The comma after ἠκούσατε needs to be removed.

Acts 25:22, apparatus: ℵ2a(only ε) should be ℵ2a(vid only ε)

Rom 16:12, paragraphing.. ἀσπάσασθε Περσίδα should start a new paragraph and therefore the initial α needs to be capitalised.

Colossians 2:2, text: πάτρος should be πατρὸς.

Revelation 21:17 apparatus: remove ‘]’ after ‘144)’

Witness list for 0171 needs to be amended to include verse Lk 22:43.



Should I buy the Tyndale House Edition of the Greek New Testament?

A lot has happened over the last 5 weeks or so since the launch of the THGNT. We have received some very friendly and encouraging feedback, but also a good number of questions. Thanks for all of those, they are much appreciated.

The one question that is asked perhaps most frequently is this one, ‘I already have X, should I also buy the Tyndale House Edition?’ Allow me to give you a few thoughts – you can decide for yourself afterwards.

  • The THGNT is designed for reading. ‘Of course,’ you would say, ‘every book is.’ True, but a good old-fashioned encyclopedia does not invite the reader to keep on reading. Form is part of the message, and the THGNT is not an encyclopedia and it does not present encyclopedic knowledge of the Greek textual transmission, even though there is a lot of knowledge behind it. The THGNT presents the text with as few interruptions as possible, helping you concentrate on what the text is about – to be read and to be understood. And it does so without ignoring the textual transmission, on the contrary.
  • The THGNT is beautiful. To a large degree this is due to the publisher’s effort and their final designs. But simple beauty in printing does something: you get that moment of pleasure when you pick it up. It attracts rather than radiates functionalism. Tolle lege.
  • The THGNT surprises. This is what Scripture does in general, yet it is remarkable how details such as a different paragraphing allows us to see things in a new light. I have seen comments where a non-standard spelling led someone on a fruitful train of thought. And instead of ‘switching off’ when any NT author is citing the OT, we actually read what is quoted since there is no visual separation between citation and the story or the argument. And this brings us to the next point.
  • The THGNT is a tool, just as the ‘X’ you already have. Every tool is designed for a particular job (have you ever seen a carpenter with only a single hammer?) We all know that Swiss Army knives are a great idea and at times quite handy when travelling, but despite their name, you could not defend the country with them. For many students, teachers, and scholars, the printed text of Scripture is one of the basic ‘tools’; is it asking too much asking to invest in a good set of tools? Or is this the one area where we are reluctant to put our money where our mouth is?
  • The THGNT is gentle (yes, a very bad pun on the text of 1 Thes 2:7). There is an educational benefit in reading the text on a page where almost all of the information on display can be understood with just a little effort. We want to take people by the hand and rediscover the joy of reading the NT in its original language. Too often students give up their Greek at about the point when it becomes fun and beneficial. Why? Perhaps in part because they are intimidated by their editions which tell them implicitly, ‘There is too much here for you to understand’. Sometimes less is more, and this is a case in point.

I have not gone into any of the scholarly reasons for using the Tyndale House Edition, there are those as well (and they stand at the very heart of the project). But the reasons above you can all test for yourself.




One of the claims we’re making in the THGNT is that at the time of the New Testament there was a distinction (or at least a partially preserved distinction) between short and long [i], with the latter sometimes represented by ει. In due time we’ll publish more data backing up this claim. Here I’ll just start with the spelling of the word γίνομαι which in Luke we believe should be spelled γεινομαι, or blending later accent with earlier letters (we explain how accents and letters are separate ‘layers’ in our edition) γείνομαι. Here are some data on early spelling.

Luke 6:36 γειν P75 01 02 03 05 but γιγν 032
Luke 9:7 γειν P75(vid) 01 03 05 032 but γιν 04
Luke 11:26 γειν P75 02 03 05 032 but γιν 01
Luke 12:40 γειν P75 02 03 05 032 but γιν 01
Luke 12:54 γειν P45 P75 01 02 03 05 032
Luke 12:55 γειν P45 P75 01 02 03 05 032
Luke 13:17 γειν P45 P75 02 05 032 (03’s reading γεν- better explained from γειν- than γιν)
Luke 15:10 γειν P75 01 02 03 032
Luke 19:19 γειν 01 02 03 05
Luke 20:33 γειν 02 03 032
Luke 21:7 γειν 01 02 03 032
Luke 21:28 γειν 01 02 03 04 05 032
Luke 21:31 γειν 01 02 03 032 but γιν 04
Luke 21:36 γειν 01 02 03 05 but γιν 04 032
Luke 22:26 γειν 01 03 05 (γεν P75 02 032)
Luke 22:42 γειν P75 01 02 03 but γιν 032 (γεν 05)
Luke 23:8 γειν P75 01 02 03 05 032
  • The earliest witnesses P45 and P75 always support γειν
  • γιν is only supported by 01 04 032, of which we know that 01 has an overwhelming preference for iota in many instances where other mss have epsilon-iota. 04 is fifth century and sometimes supports epsilon iota and 032 may not be as early as the rest and still favours γειν more often than γιν.
  • Against the 3 relatively weak witnesses for γιν we have 7 for γειν.
  • In only 6 of the 17 occurrences in Luke is there earlyish support for γιν. In the rest there is none.
γεινομαι was the normal spelling in Luke. It’s not a misspelling, but a prestigious koine spelling used by careful scribes to bring out the long vowel which arose when the second gamma of the Classical form γιγνομαι was dropped. You can call it a ‘historic spelling’ if you like and claim it has nothing to do with pronunciation, but that just makes the scribes smarter that they were able to preserve into the fourth and fifth centuries spellings representing pronunciations which were no longer current.
And finally
There is one incredibly overused word in this context, which is the word itacism. We can only claim that such has occurred when we understand the standard and conventions which scribes were seeking to attain and are able to demonstrate that they missed it. Itacism certainly occurs often enough in some mss, e.g. 01, but many instances when this is claimed are nothing of the sort.