This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology. You can visit my web pages here, but note that they are not kept up-to-date.

Friday, January 22, 2010

"Jesus called Justus" as a misreading of Philemon 23

In Colossians greetings are sent by 6 people, all of whom also send greetings in Philemon, except "Jesus called Justus". But "Jesus" does appear in P
hilemon 23-24, which reads,
Ἀσπάζεταί σε Ἐπαφρᾶς ὁ συναιχμάλωτός μου ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, Μᾶρκος, Ἀρίσταρχος, Δημᾶς, Λουκᾶς, οἱ συνεργοί μου.
Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.
In Col 4:10-11 we read,
Ἀσπάζεται ὑμᾶς Ἀρίσταρχος .... καὶ Ἰησοῦς λεγόμενος Ἰοῦστος,
Greets you Aristarchus ... and Jesus who is called Justus,
Some have suggested that the original text of Philemon had Ἰησοῦς instead of Ἰησοῦ. We would then put a comma after "Christ", and "Jesus" would then be part of the list of those who sent greetings. There would then be a man called Jesus who sent greetings to Philemon and he would correspond nicely with the Jesus of Col 4:11. A difficulty with this hypothesis is that there is no textual evidence for this reading in Philemon 23.

It seems to me that the error was made, not by a copyist, but by the author of Colossians. He seems to have got the names of the greeters from a copy of Philemon. The presence of "Jesus called Justus" in Col 4:11 is explicable if he missed that Ἰησοῦ in Philemon 23 has no final sigma. We should imagine the author of Colossians dictating his text to a trained scribe, while holding a copy of Philemon in his hands. It is hard to compose, dictate, and read at the same time, so a mistake would not be surprising. I think an error by the author of Colossians, who may not have been a fluent reader, is much more likely than an error by a copyist of Philemon, who would have been chosen for his skill. Why are commentators more inclined to blame an unknown scribe than the author of Colossians? Is it possible to calculate the probability of the misreading that I am proposing?

This reading error explains the rather odd "Jesus called Justus" in Col 4:11. He is odd because he upsets the exact correspondence between the names of the greeters in Colossians and those in Philemon. He is also odd because he has a Semitic name. Paul never uses Semitic names for his co-workers. We would have to suppose, as some do, that this Jesus was an evangelist from Palestine, but it would then be surprising that he does not appear in Acts, for example. Also, the name "Jesus" seems to have been reserved exclusively for the founder of the movement, so it would be odd if the Jesus of 1 Cor 4:11 had retained the name.

Colossians no only includes the same greeters as Philemon, it also duplicates their diminutive name forms. I think this shows that Colossians is dependent on Philemon. In the next post in this series I will suggest that the author of Colossians has misidentified Mark. I will then discuss Aristarchus and Demas, and (eventually) get to the all-important Luke.


  1. Oops. I meant Col 4:11, not 1 Cor 4:11 in the penultimate paragraph. This just proves that copying errors DO occur!

  2. Any thoughts about the name "Justus" here?

  3. The name "Justus" works here as a bi-name for "Jesus" because 1) it is Latin and therefore would allow him to fit comfortably into the Greco-Roman world, 2) "Justus" has a phonetic similarity to "Jesus", 3) "Justus" means "Just", which may have been deemed appropriate for a leading believer, 4) the name seems to have been common among Jews. None of this tells us whether Jesus Justus as a real person or just imagined by the author of Colossians. Crysostom identifies him as Titius Justus. James Dunn says that he is "possibly to be identified with the Titius Justus of Acts". I guess this is possible if Titius Justus was a proselyte and received the names "Jesus" and "Justus" at conversion. I think I need to do more on the popularity of the name "Justus" and the types of people who held it. But even if Titius Justus also held the name "Jesus", there is no evidence that he was with Paul at the time of any imprisonment, and it is very unlikely that Paul would refer to him as "Jesus called Justus". So it still seems probable to me that the author of Colossians has misread Philemon 23. What do you think? Any insights from the discipline of textual criticism?

  4. Thanks for your thoughts on Justus. I am skeptical of an identification of the Justus in Col 4:11 with the Titius Justus in Acts 18:7.

    Textual criticism doesn't help because we don't have manuscript evidence of variation in Phlm 23. From a text critical perspective, there is insufficient to read Phlm 23 any other way. At least with the misreading proposal, there is no need to posit an actual text that read that way.

    I don't know what to make of Col 4:11. If the writer had misread Phlm 23, it certainly would have been assisted by prior knowledge of someone known as Jesus called Justus.

  5. Yes, that all makes sense.

    I suspect that the Gallio ruling effectively gave the Jews in Corinth the authority to prohibit their fellow-Jews from being benefactors of the Christians. This would explain the beating of Sosthenes, his departure from Corinth, the departure from Corinth of Prisca and Aquila, and the illegality of the collection for Jerusalem. The departure of the Jewish Christian benefactors from Corinth may go a long way toward explain the divisions in the Corinthian church. Anyway, Gaius Titius Justus's continued benefaction of the church makes me lean towards the view that he was not a Jew and was therefore outside the jurisdiction of the synagogue Jews. So I too am skeptical of the Titius Justus = Jesus Justus equation.

  6. well my name is justus raynor king witch justus to my understanding was the replacement deciple of the deciple who betrayed jesus also another name for jesus my middle name witch means warrior of god and king wel you knoow what that meanz and im curious to find out who i am cuz i noticed sum strange things with my self but ny answrs email me at

  7. The the Letter "J" did not exist in the English Alphebet until 500 years ago, therefore our Saviors Name could have never been Jesus!
    YAHUWAH gave His Son a Name above every name in heaven and on earth, That at the Name being spoken, every knee should bow!!! His Name would have been as His Father's Name, for His Son said, I come in My Father's Name and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. (John 5:43) Our Savior's Name is YAHUSHUA,The name Jesus in Colossians 4:11, is acually the name Yeshua who is called Yustos, a fellow-worker in Messiah, for the Good-News of the Life, Death and Resurrection of our Savior, and the preaching of the coming Rule Of YAHUSHUA, to this world,To Rule it with a Rod of Iron! Come Master YAHUSHUA!
    I hope that this comment helps those who are looking dilegently at the Scriptures for the Truth and understanding, preparing themselves for the Most awesome event to come!

    1. I am confused because the Original spelling of God was YHWH and that we as English speaking folk call him YahWeh. Yet you say Jesus is YAHUWAH, would we be expelling the vowels because as for my research says, there were no vowels in the Hebrew or ancient Hebrew language. So if we took out the vowels it spells the same thing. I find this very interesting I like how you did thanks. :)

  8. Paul says he was writing to them in his hand writing therefore your first proposition is in error, jesus was commo and in those day as it was yeshua justus would probably be to distinguish him from Christ

  9. The Celtic Church was founded by Ioses Justus ,the brother of Joshua Justus the Christ

    1. Yahweh is jupiter. Herod was half jew as was everyone. Hebrew is read right to left so that would be hewhay