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Evaluation of Variant Readings for John 6:69

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Greek Text (UBS/NA) | ἀπεκρίθη αὐτῷ Σίμων Πέτρος, Κύριε, πρὸς τίνα ἀπελευσόμεθα; ῥήματα ζωῆς αἰωνίου ἔχεις, καὶ ἡμεῖς πεπιστεύκαμεν καὶ ἐγνώκαμεν ὅτι σὺ εἶ ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ.
KJV/NKJV | ‎”Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
ASV | “And we have believed and know that thou art the Holy One of God”
NIV | “We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
AMHB | ‎”እኛስ አንተ ክርስቶስ የሕያው የእግዚአብሔር ልጅ እንደ ሆንህ አምነናል አውቀናልም ብሎ መለሰለት”
AMH-NIV | “አንተ አንድያ የእግዚአብሔር ቅዱስ እንደሆንህ አምነናል፤ አውቀናልም”


Table 1.1

Variants Manuscripts
ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ א B C* D L W Samss pbo
ὁ χριστὸς ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ ?66 Sams ly bo
ὁ χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ C3 Θ* f1 33 565 lat Sysc
ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ. b syc
ὁ χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος K N Ψ 579. 700. 891. 1241. 1424. Syp.h 0250 f13 33 ?
ὁ χριστὸς Tertullian (Earliest Patristic)


According to Bruce Metzger, one of the most influential textual scholar of the 20th century, as of 2003 the official list of manuscripts for the New Testament was 5,735. This includes complete codex or fragmented Greek manuscripts of the New Testament (116 papyri; 2, 432 Lectionaries, et. al.). In addition, there are 10,000 Latin manuscripts and 9,300 manuscripts in various other ancient languages such as Syriac, Ethiopic, Coptic and Armenian.” The dates of these manuscripts range anywhere from 125 AD to the invention of the printing machine in Germany in the 15th century. There is no ancient writing that have this many witnesses whatsoever. God’s Word is a well attested document. Sometimes, these manuscripts, however, do differ significantly on certain places and bible translations note them by the phrase “some manuscripts have X or Omit Y“. These different readings are known as “variant readings”. Therefore, Bible scholars determine which of these variant readings are original to the biblical writer and this task is known as “Textual Criticism”.

Today, I would like to take one variant reading, John 6:69. As Table1.1 shows, John 6:69 has five known variant readings and would like to show you as to why most modern translations of the bible have “Holy one of God” as oppose to the King James’ “You are the Christ the Son of the living God”.

Thus I shall discuss first as to which manuscripts have which of these five different variants. Second, I present “ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ/ the holy one of God” is original to John and why. Third, I shall address what difference does this make to our understanding of Christ in particular and John’s witness in general, and the implication thereof.

The Problem

The phrase “ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ/ the holy one of God” seemed to intrigue ancient scribes, as transparently attested in most of manuscripts from the Byzantine tradition, as well as modern commentators who favor a messianic interpretation of this phrase (hence adopting the reading of the Authorized Version.) Next, I shall discuss two issues and two potential exegetical implications for adopting the reading “the holy one of God”.

First, the title ‘holy one of God’ occurs only three times in the New Testament, here in John 6:69 and twice in the Synoptic (Mk. 1:24 and Lk. 4:34), where it is found on the lips of a demon possessed man in the synagogue at Capernaum!

Second, this reading considerably differs from the synoptic accounts of Peter’s confession “You are the Christ the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16; Mk. 8:29; Lk. 9:20)”. It is not hard to imagine that it calls for a possible scribal harmonization as we shall examine below.

The Significance

The first significance for favoring the reading, “ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ/ the holy one of God”, is to preserve the integrity of our canonical witnesses. Each gospel writer presents a complementary portrayal of Jesus of Nazareth. This is the strength of having four independent gospel accounts. The earlier scribal attempt to harmonize the four gospels, to have similar readings, might have led to such harmonization enterprise in the gospel of John (as we shall see later particularly originating from a certain strand of manuscript tradition, namely the Byzantine).

Second, this harder reading facilitates and enhances John’s high Christology. This enigmatic and unique title, the holy one of God, most probably was intended by John to contribute to his divine council theme that is already found in his gospel (reminiscent of the ‘Holy One’ of Isaiah). Jesus is the Son who came from above (John 3:11-13, 31-33), He sanctifies himself for the sake of his followers (ἁγιάζω). In John 10:36, Jesus is the Son whom the Father consecrated (ἡγίασεν) and sent into the world. Jesus then qualifies his claim by quoting from Ps. 82:6, which speaks of the uniqueness of his testimony because he was sent from the heavenly council (John 10:34-35).

Therefore, from the perspective of the Fourth Gospel and its careful use of titles, it seems unlikely that this title was simply an alternative phrase to a messianic description. Rather the solution to the enigma of the ‘Holy One’ must be sought within the appreciation of its uniqueness in John, to this end I shall examine the different manuscript evidences that support the harder reading.

External Evidence

Variant #1: ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ | You are the Holy One of God

This reading is supported by ?75 א B C* D L W as well as Coptic versions. These witnesses exhibit geographical diversity but very strong genealogical similarity (primary Alexandrian)
They range from Greek manuscripts (some majuscules) to Coptic translations.

Table 1.2

Variant Alexandrian Western Byzantine Other
ὁ ἃγιος τοῦ θεοῦ
P75 B C L W
א D

3rd 5th 5th 4th 8th
4th 5th

with good Western support

?75 is a majuscule Papyrus dated around 175 to 225 AD that attests to this reading. It is one of the earliest witness to Alexandrian text type. It follows closely the Vaticanus (B) 85% of the time. It contains the gospels (e) and particularly, the earliest known copy of the Gospel according to John. This later bit of information has significance to the claim that this reading is the original reading.

Codex Sinaiticus א (4th century) mainly attests to the Alexandrian text tradition with strain of western type. The image below verifies the phrase ‘holy one of God’ as shown highlighted in yellow.

Codex Vaticanus (B) is one of the most important manuscripts produced around the middle of the 4th century. It contains both testaments and the apocrypha with the exception of the books of Maccabees, and missing much of Genesis, some of the Psalms, and Heb 9.14 to Revelation. Vaticanus is a tiny majuscule and one of the best representatives of the Alexandrian tradition, considered by several scholars as the most reliable ancient recension of the biblical text.

Codex Ephraemi
Codex Ephraemi (C) Rescriptus (Paris, National Library of France) is a fifth-century Greek manuscript of the Bible

Codex Ephraemi (C) is a 5th century Palimpsest, having been covered by the sermons of St Ephraem. It is an Alexandrian witness that contains portions of every book except 2 Thessalonian and 2 John. The important contribution of this codex to our variant reading, is that it shows the reading before a corrector alters it in the 9th century. Other significant manuscripts that attest to this variant are: Codex Regius (L) of the 8th century, containing gospels that attests faithfully to Codex Vaticanus (B) and Codex Bezae (D) of the 5th century containing the gospels and Acts in Greek and Latin from the Western textual tradition. In addition, an old Latin (itd) translation a Western text type, containing the gospels from the 5th century and two Coptic translations from the 3rd to 4th centuries (Samss pbo) attest to this variant. They represent an early proto-Alexandrian text type.

In summary, the variant “ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ” is mainly represented by the best of manuscript tradition, namely the Alexandrian, which is mostly known for its shorter, harder and fairly reliable witness to the original reading, with less stylistic polishing, harmonization, and high quality of textual transmission. The witnesses also attest to a proto-Alexandrian and Western traditions, hence exhibiting genealogical diversity. Moreover, the variant is represented by earlier manuscripts ranging from the 2nd century onward.

Variant #2: ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ | You are the Christ, The holy One of God

This variant reading is attested by ?66 as well as few versions such as Samss ly bo. ?66 is a Papyrus dated around 200 AD. It contains the gospel of John 1:1-6:11; 6:35b-14:15. The text of p 66 is p66joh39mixed, with elements that are typically Alexandrian and Western with 440 alterations introduced between lines, of which mostly are the scribe correcting his own mistake. It reads:

“και ημεις πεπιστευκαμε̅ και εγνωκαμεν οτι συ ει ο χ̅ς̅ ο αγιος του θ̅υ̅”

The important contribution of ?66 is that it attests to the presence (or a possible scribal addition) of the nomina sacra “ο χ̅ς̅” as early as 200 AD. Likewise, both the Sahidic as well as Bohairic Coptic translations (Samss pbo), discussed above, attest to this variant:

“ϪⲈ (that) ⲚⲦⲞⲔ (you) ⲠⲈ ⲠⲈⲬⲢⲒⲤⲦⲞⲤ (Christ) ⲈⲦⲞⲨⲀⲀⲂ (holy) ⲚⲦⲈ (of) ⲠⲚⲞⲨⲦⲈ (God)”

“It is noteworthy that the New Testament was translated into other languages such as Coptic, during the Koine period that is, while the Koine Greek was still the lingua franca of the Roman world. This gives us an opportunity to see how a certain textual tradition is transmitted to other regions.

Variant #3: ὁ χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ| You are the Christ the Son of God

Witnesses, such as C3 Θ* f1 33 565 and the Latin as well as Syrian (Sysc) versions, modify the second variant discussed above. In place of “ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ ἅγιος” these witnesses read “ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς”. Thus the enigmatic title is altogether revised. The addition of ‘Christ” on the second variant has facilitated a possible further harmonization with Martha’s confession found in John 11:27 (πεπίτευκα ὅτι
σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ”). This harmonization process can be seen as the third group of correctors (C3) altering the text of Codex Ephraemi (a 5th century manuscript) in the 9th century. Similarly, Codex Θ* (038, Koridethi) a 9th century majuscule, containing the gospels and a Byzantine tradition attests to this variant. This manuscript is the original reading that would be subject to correction so that it might reflect the sixth variant that we shall discuss below.

As I indicated above, just as the second variant possibly gave rise to the third variant, likewise the variant ‘ὁ χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ’ might have facilitated ‘ὁ χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος’, thus the harmonization reached its zenith. This assessment is somewhat a reverse of much of scholarly consensus as to the rise of the former variant readings. The variant “Christ holy one of God” and “Christ the son of God” are attested in several earlier manuscripts, before the longer reading adopted in the middle ages (as we shall see in variant# 6). Other witnesses include Minuscule such as: f1 from 12th to 14th century, 33 and 565 from the 9th century, 205 from the 15th century. In addition, we have Latin and Syriac versions ranging from the 4th century to 12th centuries.

In summary, manuscripts that attest to this variant reading are mainly from the western and Byzantine traditions and are relatively later than the above two variants (while the phrase ‘holy one of God’ is as early as the 2nd century).

Variant #4: ὁ χριστὸς | You are the Christ

This variant reading is only attested by an earlier patristic quotation from Tertullian (c. 155 – c. 240 AD) in his treatise titled “Against Praxeas“. He writes:

He turned to the apostles with the inquiry whether “they also would go away,” what was Simon Peter’s answer? “To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life, and we believe that Thou art the Christ. (Tell me now, did they believe) Him to be the Father, or the Christ of the Father?”

This can be explained in one of two ways. He could be reciting one of the variant readings (#2 or #3) without completing the full sentence. However, that does not do justice to his overall argument. He disputes in detail that Christ and the Father are distinct persons. Thus, he concludes with a question: “Him to be the Father, or the Christ of the Father?” In doing so, he reconstructed the verse for us: “that Thou art the Christ… of the Father/God”. For this reason, UBS editors convincingly suggest that Tertullian might have confused Peter’s confession found in Mark 8:29 (Σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστός or most likely a conflation with Luke’s version 9:20) with that of John.

Variant #5: ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ | You are the Son of God

The fifth variant is only supported by two versional witnesses: Latin manuscripts from the 8th/9th century and Syriac (syc) from the 4th century. Though the external support for this variant is scattered, yet it most likely could be a scribal harmonization attempt with John 1:49 (ἀπεκρίθη αὐτῷ Ναθαναήλ, Ῥαββί, σὺ εἶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ).

Variant #6: ὁ χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος | You are the Christ The Son of the Living God

The witnesses that attest for this variant reading include manuscripts from the Byzantine tradition such as Codex Cyprius (K) of the 9th century and Codex Purpureus (N) of the 6th century with the complete gospel. Codex Ψ (Athous Laurae) of the 9th/10th century containing the Gospels, Acts and Paul’s letters. Another significant witness is Codex Θc
that shows a correction being made. As we have seen in variant# 3, the reading “ὁ χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ” is corrected to have this variant. Finally, medieval minuscule family, f13 from the 12th to 14th century also witness to this variant.

Table 1.3

Variant Alexandrian Western Byzantine Other
ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεου τοῦ ζῶντος
892 (secondary Alexandrian)
Κ Δ Θc Π 700 M syh
Æth -ethiopic
Ψ 0250 f 19 28 1071 1241 syp

892 = 9th

9–11th cent.; syh = 616
Æth – 6th
8–13th cent. syp = 5th

Of all the variants that we have discussed thus far, for John 6:69, this last and sixth variant is unique in several ways. First it is represented mainly by the Byzantine textual tradition (with some secondary Alexandrian). Second, the dates of the manuscripts are considerably late. Third, the textual harmonization with Matt. 16:16 is clearly evident.

The Internal Evidence

In addition to the external evidence, scholars use a method called ‘Reasoned Eclecticism’.

Transcriptional probabilities

The variant readings (2), (3), (4), and (5) appears to focus on variations of “ὁ χριστὸς”, “ὁ χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς”, “ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ“. A preliminary evaluation suggests that these four readings may be “set aside at once on the basis of their slim external attestation alone”
and second that they appear upon further investigation to be the result of harmonization to or conflation with parallel passages (Cf. John 11:27, 1:49, and Mark 8:29 as discussed above). This will leave us with two variant readings (1) and (6). Readings (6), which has good Byzantine and some versional and secondary Alexandrian support, and (1), which has support from primary Alexandrian and Western witnesses, require further attention.

Both readings have parallels elsewhere in the Gospel accounts. The variant “ὁ χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος” can be explained by scribal/copyists attempt to harmonize the two accounts of Peter’s confessions as found in Mathew 16:16, the disciple’s confession at Caesarea Philippi, and that of John 6:69-71. The first variant also has its synoptic parallel in Mark 1:24/Luke 4:34, where an unclean spirit about to be cast out acknowledges that Jesus is “the Holy One of God.” Then Holmes helpful comments:

Conceivably either one could be explained as the result of assimilation to the parallel passage. It seems far more likely, however, that scribes would harmonize the variant “ὁ χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος” to Matthew 16:16, and thereby remove a discrepancy between the two parallel episodes, than that they would create a discrepancy by replacing “ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ” with words spoken elsewhere only by an unclean spirit.

In summary, the transcriptional probability favor variant “ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ” as the more difficult reading. Also this harmonization attempt best explains the rise of the other five readings, namely variations of ὁ χριστὸς and ὁ υἱὸς.

Intrinsic probabilities:

The same may be said for intrinsic considerations. First, Michael Holmes suggests that in verse 69 Peter says “we have come to know, or ‘we have recognized the truth‘ (πεπιστεύξαμεν), implying a new depth of insight on the disciples’ part. Yet the essence of the other variants here—that Jesus is Messiah and Son of God—was already confessed as early as John 1:41 and 1:49. “ἀπεκρίθη αὐτῷ Ναθαναήλ, Ῥαββί, σὺ εἶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ” (John 1:49) “ἐγὼ πεπίτευκα ὅτι σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ” (John 11:27). Just as the knowledge of the demoniacs reached to the essential nature of the Lord (Mk. 1:24; Lk. 4:34) so too the disciples have comes to confess “ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ”, a quite appropriate response to the events recorded in John 6. It also sets up, in a typically Johannine way to John 10:36 (the Father sanctified [ἡγίασεν] and sent Jesus into the world) and 17:19 (Jesus sanctifies [ἁγιάζω] himself for the disciples’ sake). B.F. Westcott agrees with Holmes’ assessment:

Here the confession points to the inward character in which the Apostles found the assurance of life; there the confession was of the public office and theocratic Person of the Lord. To suppose that the one confession is simply an imperfect representation of the other is to deny the fullness of the life which lies behind both

He could not but be the Holy one of God if he was to deal effectively with ‘the sin of the world’ (1:29). Carson also affirms that they saw in Jesus “one who was greater than a prophet, greater than Moses, none less than ‘the Holy One of God’.

In conclusion, the confession in John 6:69 differs considerably from the synoptic accounts (Matt 16:16, Mark 8:29, and Luke 9:20) and concerns directly the disciples’ personal loyalty to Jesus, in contrast to those other disciples who had deserted him (John 6:66), whereas in the synoptic account, the question was framed from the point of those outside of Jesus’s circle “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13). From John’s narrative up until this point, focuses on Jesus being the bread of Life. John’s use of the enigmatic title for Jesus apparently has caused many difficulties for early scribes just as it does for modern scholarship. Therefore, the two accounts of Peter’s confessions should never have been harmonized. The title ‘ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ’ is well attested by the best of manuscript evidences and is today the widely accepted reading. The other variants can be fairly demonstrated as originating from scribal transparent attempt to align the present passage with Matt. 16:16: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God’, thus to bring John in step with Matthew.

Of all the variants discussed above, ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ best fits both the immediate context and the structural development of the book as a whole. Thus all three lines of evidence—external, transcriptional, and intrinsic—come together in support of it, and it is not surprising to find that the UBS and Nestle-Aland editorial committee have “ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ” as the original text of John 6:69.. Also Metzger rightly assigned an [A] rating (= “virtually certain”) in his Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament.




Kurt Aland et al., Novum Testamentum Graece (28th Edition). Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012.

Scot McKnight, Introducing New Testament Interpretation (vol. 1; Guides to New Testament Exegesis; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989.

Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Biblical Studies Press, 2006)

Constantin von Tischendorf, Caspar René Gregory, and Ezra Abbot, eds., Novum Testamentum Graece. (vol. 1; Lipsiae: Giesecke & Devrient, 1869–1894.

J. Warren Wells, Sahidica: The Sahidica Lexicon (Logos Bible Software, 2006).

Michael W. Holmes, Apparatus for the Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (Logos Bible Software, 2010)

Bruce Manning Metzger, United Bible Societies, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.) (London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994)

Tertullian, “Against Praxeas,” in Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe; trans. Peter Holmes; vol. 3; The Ante-Nicene Fathers; Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885

D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John (The Pillar New Testament Commentary; Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991),

Brooke Foss Westcott and Arthur Westcott, eds., The Gospel according to St. John Introduction and Notes on the Authorized Version (Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament; London: J. Murray, 1908), 111.

Andreas J. Köstenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 223. Likewise, Beasley-Murray 1999: 85 n. t.


Codex Ephramei, http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8470433r/f427.image.r=.langEN

Codex Sinaiticus: http://codexsinaiticus.org/en/manuscript.aspx?book=36&chapter=6&lid=en&side=r&verse=69&zoomSlider=0#36-7-16-5

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM): http://www.csntm.org/Manuscript

Pictures of The New Testament Papyri: http://www.earlybible.com/manuscripts/p66-joh-39.html

© 2016, Samson Tilahun. All rights reserved.

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