Footnotes to the Gospels


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.

Matthew, Chapter 18 [Matt. 18]

Matt. 18:5 “whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me” If a servant or representative is honored or mistreated, so is his master. (See also Matt. 25:31–46; Matt. 21:33–44; D&C 84:35–38.)

Matt. 18:6 “whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me” “Offend” means “to cause to stumble” (from the Greek word skandalizein); “believe” means “to exercise faith,” “be loyal” (the Greek word pisteuein).

Matt. 18:6, 10, 14 “little ones” From the context in Mark 9:42–45 and a similar statement in Matt. 19:42, we conclude that “little” refers to rank or importance, not age.

Matt. 18:7 “Woe unto the world because of offences!” There is a calamity in the world because of those who entice others to commit sin. “Offences,” then, is equivalent to creating “occasions for sin.”

Matt. 18:12 “doth he not leave the ninety and nine” The best manuscripts read, “will he not leave the ninety-nine in the mountains and go seek the one which has been led astray?” (There is a verbal reference to Isa. 53:6; see also 1 Pet. 2:25.)

Matt. 18:18 “whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” The priesthood keys promised to Peter (Matt. 16:19) were transmitted to him on the Mount of Transfiguration. We now understand that all of the apostles were to exercise that authority.

Matt. 18:21–35 “how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” Whereas Matt. 18:15–20 concerned forgiveness of the unrepentant sinner (the Babylonian Talmud notes that unconditional forgiveness should be extended only three times), Jesus now turns to the question of forgiveness in the case of the repentant transgressor, to be forgiven “seventy times seven.” (See D&C 64:8–14; D&C 98:23–48.)

Matt. 18:23 “take account of” This means “settle accounts with.”

Matt. 18:24 “ten thousand talents” Since one or two denarii per day would provide adequately for the living expenses of a man and his family (compare Matt. 20:2), 10,000 talents (6,000 denarii per talent) would be approximately equivalent to one billion dollars. The amount is, of course, a preposterous exaggeration for any personal debt.

Matthew, Chapter 19 [Matt. 19]

Matt. 19:3 “to put away his wife for every cause” The Greek word apoluein (“put away”) means both to separate and to divorce. “For every cause” means under any pretext, excuse, or reason.

Matt. 19:5 “shall cleave to his wife” The Greek this was translated from literally means “shall be joined [glued] to his wife.”

Matt. 19:8 “suffered you to put away your wives” Jesus quietly corrects his questioners by suggesting that divorce came not by commandment from the beginning of time but was “permitted” to the the children of Israel when, after rejecting the fulness of the gospel, they received the lower law of Moses.

Matt. 19:9 “except it be for fornication” The English word “fornication” derives from the Latin word fornix, or “arch”: at public gatherings at the Colosseum, the Circus, and at games under the Roman Empire, prostitutes of both sexes made themselves available underneath the arches of the stadium. The Greek word is porneia, from which we derive the word “pornography,” and it encompasses any and all immoral or improper sexual conduct outside of the legal bonds of marriage. Thus, “fornication” in the King James translation means the entire range of heterosexual and homosexual relations outside normal, discreet marital relations. Matt. 19:9, then, should be rendered: “whoever divorces his wife except for the cause of immorality [on her part] and marries another woman, commits adultery.”

Matt. 19:14 “suffer little children … to come unto me” The Greek is better translated, “permit the children to come to me and cease hindering them.”

Matt. 19:19 “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” The Greek version of this clearly draws a comparison between the feelings we should have for others and how we would feel if we were the recipient of the affection: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as if he were thyself” (in other words, love your neighbor as you would want your neighbor to love you). This, then, is a restatement of the “Golden Rule.” (See Matt. 7:12.) There is no admonition to love oneself.

Matt. 19:24 “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” Regarding this, W. F. Albright notes, “In spite of the attempts of commentators and preachers to find small gates, or even camel-hair, in this saying, it seems certain that it is simply a proverb cast in hyperbolic form.” (Matthew, “Anchor Bible,” vol. 26, p. 233.) Jesus uses “camel” in another exaggeration found in Matt. 23:24: “strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.”

Matt. 19:30 Grammatically this verse is the introduction to the parable immediately following (Matt. 20:1–6). Chapters and verses, together with marks of punctuation, were not indicated by writers in antiquity.

Mark, Chapter 10 [Mark 10]

The entire chapter gives the same stories as are found in Matt. 19–20 except the parable of the workers in the vineyard, which is unique to Matt. 19.

Mark 10:1 “coasts of Judaea” The Greek means “region,” “district.” (See also Matt. 19:1.)

Mark 10:2 “put away his wife” In Mark the question revolves around the legality of divorce; in the parallel passage, Matt. 19:1–12, the concern is not whether divorce is legal, but rather which reasons are valid.

Luke, Chapter 9 [Luke 9]

Luke 9:51 “he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” Luke’s notation here opens his account of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem where He is to die. In this section (Luke 9–19), Luke records many words and deeds of Jesus found in none of the other gospels. A deep debt is owed this evangelist for preserving these moving stories which are unique to his gospel account.

Luke 9:53 “they [the Samaritans] did not receive him” The Samaritans usually did not provide lodging for those going to Passover in Jerusalem, since the Samaritans considered the temple on Mount Gerizim (near Shechem) the proper place to worship Israel’s God. (See John 4:20–21.)

Luke, Chapter 10 [Luke 10]

Luke 10:1 “the Lord appointed other seventy also” The number “seventy” recalls both the 70 special ministers called to help Moses (Num. 11:16; Ex. 24:1, 9) and the 70 families who descended from Noah and populated the earth after the confusion of tongues. (Gen. 11:10–26.) Jewish tradition says these 70 families founded the 70 gentile nations which made up all the earth’s inhabitants. In a real sense, Jesus’ call to the 70 ministers foreshadowed the Christian missionary effort among “all nations.” (See Matt. 28:19; compare the dimensions of the calling of present-day seventies to the gentile nation in D&C 107:25, 34, 97.)

Luke 10:19 “power to tread on serpents” Jesus’ statement here clearly recalls the curse uttered against the serpent in Gen. 3:15.

Luke 10:33 “a certain Samaritan” The mention of the Samaritan (a person which most Jews at that time regarded with contempt) demonstrates Jesus’ use of exaggeration to make his meaning absolutely clear. Note that the “lawyer” who hears the parable refuses to repeat the word “Samaritan” in his answer to Jesus. (See Luke 10:37.)

Luke, Chapter 11 [Luke 11]

Luke 11:15 “Beelzebub” Beelzebub is a variant spelling and distortion of the name Beelzebul, which some Greek manuscripts read in this passage. The first mention of Beelzebub as the name of a deity occurs in 2 Kings 1:2. [2 Kgs. 1:2] Beelzebub means “lord of flies”; Beelzebul can mean either “lord of the divine abode” or “Baal the prince.”

Luke 11:24 “he walketh through dry places” Literally this means “waterless places,” recalling phrases such as “waterless clouds” (Jude 1:12) and “waterless wells” (2 Pet. 2:17).

Luke 11:34 “The light of the body is the eye” A better translation would be: “The lamp of the body.”

Luke 11:39 “full of ravening” The Greek phrase simply means “full of greediness.”

Luke 11:51 “From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias” Abel was the first martyr (Gen. 4:9) and Zechariah was the last (2 Chr. 24:20–22) mentioned in the Old Testament.

Luke, Chapter 12 [Luke 12]

Special Note: It is worth observing that Luke 12–19 preserved a great number of Jesus’ sayings that focus on the devaluation of wealth. This is especially interesting in light of the fact that Luke, a physician, would have been a person of means. The significance is not lost: Luke, substantially wealthy, illustrates by including these sayings that his conversion to Christ has caused him to relegate wealth to a much lower position on his scale of values than before.

Luke, Chapter 15 [Luke 15]

Luke 15:7 “ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance” This reference is to the pharisees and scribes, who considered themselves more righteous than the publicans (tax-collectors) and sinners listening to Jesus. (See also Matt. 9:11–13.)

Luke, Chapter 16 [Luke 16]

Luke 16:7 “An hundred measures of wheat” The Greek koros is a dry measure equivalent to approximately 12 bushels. (See Josephus, Ant. 15:314.) Fifty baths of oil were equal in value to 20 cors of wheat, so the steward reduced both bills by the same amount.

Luke, Chapter 17 [Luke 17]

Luke 17:21 “kingdom of God is within you” This phrase can also be translated here to read, “The kingdom of God is in your midst.”

Luke, Chapter 19 [Luke 19]

Luke 19:2 “chief among the publicans” Although Zacchaeus is called a “chief tax-collector,” that term does not occur elsewhere in extant Greek literature. It is assumed by many that Zacchaeus may have been one who contracted with the Roman government to collect the taxes in this local region. This practice, common in the Empire, involved hiring people to assist in the collection (publicans); often tax-collectors became rich by collecting much more than Rome demanded and then pocketing the excess.

Luke 19:8 “if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation” This passage would be more clearly rendered: “If I have extorted anything from anyone.”