Jachin and Boaz, James and John

UPDATE: now with translation. See how I deal with the problem!

So I'm working up Galatians for a bit more of a lay course, because I'm too deep in the minutiae of Romans and too far away from knowing how to perform it adequately myself. And that involves settling on a Greek text first, of course—which involves a fair bit of textual criticism. One must at least go through the major variants and make sure one agrees with them.

And, being me, one also checks what we think about manuscript families today, and checks manuscript images online where available. That last bit is a very nice addition from the last time I tried this! Sinaiticus has its own site, the British Library has Alexandrinus posted, and the CSNTM has many, many others. Which is great, because there's no way this merits a vacation!

So I come to Galatians 2:9, and the text reads Ιακωβος και Κηφας και Ιωαννης, "James and Cephas and John." And there are markers enclosing Ιακωβος και Κηφας, telling me I should look at the apparatus. And the apparatus is a mess. But the more I dig through it, the more I think, "What is Cephas doing in this passage?" Why are there three so-called "pillars"? Is three right? How many should there actually be?

Manuscript Evidence

So, what does the apparatus say?
Ιακωβος και Ιωαννης: A
Ιακωβος και Πετρος και Ιωαννης: P46 r
Πετρος και Ιακωβος και Ιωαννης: D F G 629 ar b vgmss; Tert Ambst Pel
Ιακωβος και Κηφας και Ιωαννης: ℵ B C Ivid K L P Y 0278 33 81 104 365 630 1175 1241 1505 1739 1881 2464 Maj vg sy co
Now, that's NA28; in the previous edition, 1175 (a 10th c minuscule) was listed in support of Πετρος και Ιακωβος, which is rather different from where it is now. I would need a vacation to Plano to see what it really says, but fortunately, I don't care that much. It should line up with 81 as an exemplar of the Alexandrian type, and it does. And otherwise, many manuscripts usually lumped under the Koine majority symbol have been permanently broken out in the new edition—but they line up with the majority here anyways. And NA27 didn't list pauci or alii for anything here, so there's no significant deviation in the general run of Koine manuscripts.

What does it mean, though?

The text the committee decided on is by far the majority opinion of the traditions: "James and Cephas and John." The Alexandrian manuscripts largely agree—with the exception of Alexandrinus. Vaticanus agrees, though P46 disagrees with it. 1739, 1881 and 630 agree. The Byzantine Koine agree. And in other languages, the Syriac and Coptic witnesses agree. Early and late, across multiple families, this reading appears over and over again. And it's not corrected or edited in any noteworthy manuscripts we have. But then, none of these readings appear with corrections—but they all appear.

The second most attested reading is purely Western: "Peter and James and John." D, F, and G are the Greek sides of three major Greek-Latin diglots. D stands alone, and was heavily edited, while F and G are likely sisters. 629 is a later diglot, with a heavily reworked Greek text, but its agreement here is valuable because this is a spot where it hasn't been made to follow either the Byzantine Greek or the Latin Vulgate—which both agree with the "James and Cephas and John" reading. Armagh and Budapest among the Latin codices agree with "Peter and James and John," as do some variant manuscripts of the Vulgate. And then there are the Latin Fathers. Apparently, this is also the form cited by Tertullian, Ambrosiaster, and Pelagius.


Now, the phrase "Peter, James, and John" ought to be familiar to you, as Mark uses it repeatedly. It appears in Mk 5:37, 9:2, 13:3, and 14:33, and Matthew also uses it. (Luke uses something similar, but reverses the brothers: "Peter, John, and James." In Acts, when James drops out, the author will continue to use "Peter and John.") That said, how do you think it got into this text? Whatever early readings the Greek sides of the diglots may preserve, this one appears to be at least later than Mark.

But that's not the only way the Western witness here is marked by assimilation to the gospels. The name sequence here goes along with the fact that D, F, and G all decide that "Cephas" should always be read as "Peter." P46 agrees with calling Cephas "Peter" here, but not everywhere; that would seem to be a scribal slip rather than a persistent bias. And it's understandable, because if you know Mark, "Peter" just goes with "James and John" naturally. Kind of like "ham and eggs," or "Barth and Brunner."

Of course, the only time anyone explicitly identifies Peter with Cephas is very late indeed. John is the only one who takes the Greek and Aramaic nicknames "Rocky" and makes them explicitly point to the same man. Paul uses both names in Galatians, but only mentions Peter in passing, in 2:8, as someone the Jerusalem apostles have already approved as a missionary to the (diaspora) Judeans. There's no reason to think that Peter is here in Jerusalem at all.

Stuck in the Middle with You

So we write off "Peter" here as an understandable error. That still leaves us with an option. That "James and Cephas and John" reading, which even P46 agrees with in sequence, has one lone exception. Alexandrinus reads, "James and John." Just James and John, nobody else.

Now, it's dangerous to go haring off after the most minor reading possible. External criteria do not support this reading with any confidence. It's idiosyncratic. One text against the world. (Not that this is an insignificant text!) But it's there. And it's interesting that it's there. And to understand why, it's time for some internal criteria.

Usually, when we see a word bounce around in the manuscripts, as Cephas/Peter does here, we think to ourselves, "maybe that word doesn't belong to the original text." And usually that happens because it's inserted into a manuscript, sometimes over the line, sometimes in the margins, but in a way that leaves it unclear exactly where it belongs. Some other manuscript had it, and this one was "corrected" to include it, and the manuscripts copied from this one will inline the correction. And when there's ambiguity, the insertion winds up either before or after the closest word to the edit point, wherever it made the most sense to the copyist. Different copyists, different copies, and down the line we have supported variants for the insertion before the word and after it.

That's unlikely to be the case here, as we have no variants that preserve "Cephas and James and John." The easiest causal chain from what we have is to suggest that the majority reading was tweaked to change Cephas to Peter (so P46), and then further tweaked to put these familiar names in familiar sequence (so the Latin West). When we rule out Peter, we are left with Cephas always appearing in the middle. Or, in Alexandrinus, not at all.

Scribes and copyists aren't known for deletion. That happens at the editorial level. Accidental omission happens, but more often with small words, articles and particles, things that disappear in your mind when you read them. Words that are part of the major sense of a sentence are less likely to accidentally disappear—or at least not without collateral damage, like would be seen in a line skip. And manuscripts where that tends to happen don't tend to be rated very highly as sources, unless they have other virtues. Alexandrinus is not widely regarded as one of those—it's among the "big three" that have decided the text of our New Testament since we found them.

Scribes are mostly conservative, and that means that the basic tendency is to preserve everything, not to make decisions between options. This is a kind of archival work. All it takes to get the majority witness is a line that ends near the middle of ...ΙΑΚΩΒΟΣΚΑΙΙΩΑΝΝΗΣ..., and a marginal note. Or perhaps someone thought that John was an assimilation to the gospels already, and attempted to replace him with Cephas, who had already been mentioned. (We know that no manuscripts omit John, but we have the luxury of having many, many copies to compare.) Obviously, any such edit would have to have happened fairly early, before even the earliest of our existing manuscript copies—which still leaves a century or more of undocumented time in which it could have happened. That suggests to me that the reading in Alexandrinus is plausibly early, more plausibly so than an error of omission involving only 8 characters.

So, How Many Pillars, Exactly?

Of course, Cephas was already connected with a James, whom I will properly call Jacob, earlier: the brother of Jesus. (... whose name was really Joshua. Jacob and Joshua. Very traditional.) In Gal 1:18-19, Paul talks about seeing Cephas, and seeing nobody else of importance on that trip except for Jacob, the brother of the Lord. Now, the epithet already suggests that there are two Ιακωβοι in Jerusalem. Which is very likely, given the name! If the two Rockies are differentiated by the Greek and the Aramaic versions of the name, that's fine; it's not exactly a traditional name. But if you're called Jacob—if you're named for one of the patriarchs, the man who became Israel—people are probably going to have to find some other way of distinguishing you from the other Jacobs out there.

And we do know of another Jacob/James. And he's mentioned here with his brother: James and John, the sons of Zebedee in the gospels. Whatever the gospel narratives say about them, we have little reason to doubt the basic information that there were these two brothers, and that they were the sons of Zebedee. And the gospels, by and large, treat them as a package deal. Where one is, so is the other. And they are very important men in the history as it's told, which suggests that they were also important men in the history as it happened—even if it didn't happen exactly as it was later told.

Twin brothers, important men, apostles at the heart of the community. Men who "are considered to be pillars." Now, when we call someone "a pillar of the community," we generally mean that they provide major support to our common life together. That they hold up the roof, like a columnar support. And it takes a lot of pillars, usually, to do that. And, of course, we also talk about the "pillars of Islam," and the three-legged stool and four-legged table concepts often used for foundational principles upon which a conceptual edifice of religion is supported.

But what, in Jerusalem, has exactly three pillars? What image is this, to which James, Cephas, and John are compared?

We do know of a structure that is renowned for having two pillars: Solomon's Temple, as described in florid symbolic detail in 1 Kgs 7 and 2 Chr 3, where the pillars are given the names Jachin (more literally Yakhin) and Boaz. The pillars are at the entrance to the temple, and the Book of the Kings has the king standing "at the pillar" to make declarations before God and the people. That's a singular reference, but when we're dealing with Second Temple Judaism, never underestimate the power of the big, florid, symbolic passages upon the imagination of the people.

Two pillars, two men. Jachin and Boaz, James and John. It makes a kind of sense. Now, I wouldn't go farther than to put a pair of brackets around και Κηφας in the critical text, but it's an interpretation worth some consideration.

Cognitive Dissonance

The weird thing for me, in all of this, is how insider it suggests the reality was. And it is insider imagery. Even without these two very specific pillars, στυλος also belongs to the pillars of cloud and fire, another double and an image of leadership—but in exile or wandering, not in Jerusalem. It belongs to the structural pillars of the tabernacle, when it was built, and to the pillar of cloud standing over the entrance to the tabernacle, marking the presence of God. In 2 Sam 8:8, in the Septuagint, a reference to the bronze Temple pillars was added to harmonize with 1 Chr 18:8. In 2 Kgs 25 and Jer 52, the bronze pillars, along with the rest of the iconic components of the Temple, are broken down and hauled off to Babylon. The temple in Ezek 40 has the same two pillars. It's blatantly cultic imagery. "The pillars" are two, and they are part of the ideal place for the worship of God. The few exceptions are the metaphorical pillars of the world, the seven pillars of Wisdom's house, generic house pillars like the ones Samson topples, and a couple of references in Song of Songs ... which aren't as lewd as one might expect.

The gospels are written by outsider communities. Nobody there uses the image of "pillars," or really leans too heavily on Temple imagery at all. James and John are "sons of thunder," but they're also Galileans, and part of Jesus' rag-tag band of disciples. Jerusalem is dangerous. Jerusalem is where Jesus faces his enemies. Jerusalem is outside of the gospel communities, because they are outside of the Jerusalem communities. (Also, Jerusalem has been destroyed, and Rome holds the Temple Mount, so Judaism in all its forms has had to learn to get on without it—and one of the ways to do that is to tell stories that write it off.)

Perhaps Peter's an outsider with them. Peter only legitimately appears here as a peer of Paul, who does for the diaspora Judeans what Paul does for the gentiles. But Cephas, Jacob, and James and John are all properly set in Jerusalem, in authority. Paul references them as authorities, because the audience knows they're authorities. This is name-check time. These names have "checked" him. And when Paul name-checks, he does so to say that he owes nothing to these men of authority in Jerusalem, and that in point of fact they had validated his own direct mission from God without imposing anything upon him but a burden of charity.

And we kind of knew this about Jesus' brother, that he belonged more closely to authority in difference from the gospel communities. But to say it of James and John, that they are analogous to the pillars of Solomon's Temple, that they are men of solid and even cultic authority in Jerusalem ... that starts to shake the foundations of what we think we know. That pushes the gospels towards Acts in their veracity, as compilations of important figures set into a story where they didn't necessarily belong. These starring roles alongside Jesus ... who was really in them, and what was it really like? Who were the real enemies? How strong, really, was the opposition between Jesus and the various groups in Jerusalem? And what happened in the years after, that these men, whom we thought we knew as outsiders, are now recognized as pillars?

Update: Translation

Well, after all that wrangling, how would I translate this passage, eh? Here's Galatians 2:6-10:
And from those reputed to be somebody—though what sort of people they were doesn’t matter to me, because God doesn’t accept the front a person puts up—indeed, the reputable ones laid upon me no burden. Quite the opposite! Cephas, as well as James and John, those reputed to be “pillars,” saw that I have been entrusted with the proclamation for the foreskinned, just as Peter for the circumcised, because the one who empowered Peter for mission to the circumcised also empowered me for mission to the nations. And, knowing the grace that was given to me, they extended to myself and to Barnabas the handshake of partnership, so that we would go to the nations, and they would go to the circumcised. The only thing they asked was that we remember the poor, which I was quite eager to do.
I'm not going to outright omit Cephas from the text. We can't just write things out, the overwhelming majority of the time. But if the image of the pillars isn't a reference to Cephas, why should I treat it as though it were? And would it surprise me if Cephas were there? Not at all. In fact, it makes sense of the next episode, in which Cephas is guilty of reneging on the deal!

So what did I do? Did I just, for completely non-gospel-text-related reasons, reproduce the "Peter, James, and John" order? Seems silly, doesn't it? All that complaint just to do something I rejected for a different reason? Something that as a matter of fact appears in no manuscript we have, as "Cephas, James, and John"? But it works anyways. If we have to keep Cephas in the text, which seems reasonable on the preponderance of manuscripts, and if one really digs down to the bottom of the "pillars" image and takes it seriously, what else does one do?


  1. Wow. This is a fascinating discussion. Have you bounced this off any NT crit folks?

    1. Not beyond putting it here, at least for now. I'll be glad of any real critique or comment that comes my way, but I figured on coming back around to do anything serious with it once (if) I finish my run through Galatians.


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